The Politics of the City

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So we have this biblical wisdom- Christian beliefs, theology- based on scripture. And we have a mandate to live them out. Biblical wisdom teaches us what is desirable- and politics is a way we implement it. Biblical wisdom teaches us what ends are desirable. While politics teaches what means are effective. Wisdom is the end- politics are a means to that end.

Now the means doesn’t always justify the end- so biblical wisdom also tells us what means are permissible- not all laws are lawful…scripturally. You can find a clear example in the sanctity of life issue, i.e. abortion and euthanasia. But what about the poor? There are different and perfectly acceptable political means that we can disagree on as ways to try to remedy that.

  • Biblical wisdom is the heart changing, lifelong growing and maturing guidance that comes from scripture and the gospel. It’s bottomless.
  • While politics has a very limited scope. There are only so many ways to apply government, laws and regulations.

But when we take God out of the equation, we’re left with politics alone- and that’s pretty limiting. Trying to use politics alone to make the world a better place is like using an ice pick to sculpt a glacier.

Listen to the whole talk here:
Or here: https://www.cedarrun.net/sermons/the-politics-of-the-city/

Performance Anxiety

Performance Anxiety

Sometimes, we get nervous about whether or not to get involved in something.

  • Because there is always the risk of failure.
  • We expect a lot from ourselves.
  • And we live by the mantra: risk versus reward.

But what if there really wasn’t a risk? What if we’ve been dreaming risk up as an excuse not to try something? Or to put pressure on ourselves to ensure high performance?

In the ministry that I’m involved in, I always worry that people won’t join, that the ministry will be a failure. But guess what: even if they don’t, its not on me.  It’s hard to break the performance based model we are accustomed to- but the gospel says Christ performed for us already and our acceptance is based on that- so whether or not what your involved with performs well or feels like failure when it doesn’t perform well- is no longer the issue.

  • So what that does is frees us up to take base-jumping level risks.
  • Since the outcome really isn’t on you, you’re free to be faithful.
  • Now I’m free to risk spectacular failure for the Kingdom- because worldly performance benchmarks (i.e. how good a pastor I am) are no longer the basis for my acceptance.
So just take a chance and be a faithful servant.

The Toil of Pleasure

The Toil of PleasureIf the author of Ecclesiastes sounds so modern, it’s only because he has captured the utter despair of life without meaning, and how death brings it all to an end. At least he believes in God though. And because Qoheleth believed in God, but questioned him, he’d be a good modern day believer as well. We believe in God and Jesus and that he died for us- but we struggle with what it means in the everyday- for wisdom, for our work, for pleasure- and how we live it all out. Click to listen to last weeks talk…

 

Or click to download: https://www.cedarrun.net/sermons/the-toil-of-pleasure/

More Than You Can Handle

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True or False: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Answer: True (but platitudinous:), i.e.:

* If God doesn’t give us more than we can handle we’ll never be able to handle more.
* How do we grow if we are not challenged?
* Where do we learn, if not from our failures?

BUT… that conventional wisdom doesn’t go far enough. We need to keep going. Until we get to the gospel.

Because if we ARE able to handle things ourselves, outcomes become performance based. There are two problems here: failure… and success. If your a Christian, it can become gospel short circuiting self-salvation as we subtlety begin to judge our own worthiness based on our works. And guess what, even if you’re saved you can fall for the joy killer that is works based salvation.

Here’s how it works: You believe in salvation by faith. But you’re a functional self-saver. And its leading to performance anxiety. The answer is to get back to the gospel. Since we are not judged by any performance other than Christ’s, we can stop being so outcome driven.

Our job in the “more than we can handle”- is to love God, love our neighbor and to follow God’s commands. Yes, we are to do things to resolve whatever we are “handling”- but only through the lens of love. And its only the gospel that allows us to act that way.

  • When the outcome is up to God, and the pressure is off- we can afford to be be loving and caring.
  • When the outcome is up to us- we become ruthless and judgmental.

We judge ourselves and the actions of others based on whether we’ve beaten the tyranny of the “more than we can handle.” And we no longer act out of love. Sure, in our success, we may give God a cursory tip of the hat- but there is always a secret part of us that is proud that WE did it. And oppositely, when we fail- we become despondent, frustrated with others, and angry at God.

The gospel tells us that Jesus performed perfectly, so we wouldn’t have to. That we’re accepted based on His performance, not ours. So don’t let performance anxiety creep back into your life. The gospel gives you the freedom to adopt loving your neighbor as yourself as your driving principle rather than the drive to succeed at all costs. Because the cost of “success” in life (being perfect) is paid for by the cost of love at the cross- the life of Jesus. Jesus was judged for the perfect outcome, so we wouldn’t be judged by the imperfect one. So in that sense, everything is more than we can handle.

Strange Blessing

Strange Blessing

In Numbers 6:22-27 the Lord said to Moses: Tell Aaron and his sons, This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

This makes perfect sense to us- the way we close out a Sunday service even, but to Moses, this must have been a strange blessing. After all, he had begged God to see his face, but the closest he got was being hidden in a cleft as God passed by. So what’s different now?

Their sin has been dealt with. The difference here is that Israel is now being purified by the sacrifices of the priests. If your a Christian, because of the sacrifice of the final high priest, Jesus, your sin has been dealt with, too. So now you can see God’s face in Jesus.

God puts His name on them. He makes them His. My old high school Dean was also my basketball coach. He used to have an old set of possession arrows from the scoring table on his desk. Meaning when you sat in front of him, he owned you. God owns you. You can’t manage Him or dictate terms to Him.

Lastly, if God has given you his name, in a real sense he’s given you your identity and who you are to be and become. So you don’t get to manage Him, he gets to manage you. You can’t manage Jesus. You can’t squeeze him into your free time. He gets to manage you. It’s the difference between wanting to see God’s face or just seeing what you can get out of him.

Wilderness Worries

We spend a lot of time worrying and complaining about things we can’t control. When Israel was in the wilderness, they spent a lot of time worrying and complaining to Moses and Aaron. You could say they gave their pastors an earful. And as they looked back upon their years of Egyptian slavery, not only do they not remember how hard it was- they remember it fondly. But when God delivered them from Pharaoh, they were freed from every kind of slavery- religious slavery, political slavery and economic slavery.

But the people could remember was all the food they used to get: figs and pomegranates, and grain- and they even had grapevines, so they could go to happy hour on Fridays.

They’ve got a short memory when it comes to what they had to do to get all that. If we don’t produce at our jobs today, we get fired- not fun. When they didn’t produce- it meant death, or not eating, or being beat and whipped. But now that they’d been freed, even though they live in the desert- they’ve should have been able to trust God’s grace. And that’s been hard to swallow.

It’s hard to swallow for us, too.  If you’re a Christian, you’re no longer a slave. Your job may feed you and your family- but its no longer your master. You’re bank balance may provide security- but not eternal security. And the McMansion you always wanted is no longer your palace, now its just a roof over your head. Or your political party is in or out of power- but now it neither makes you giddy nor crushes you.  None of that is who you are any longer. The pressure of that kind of slavery is off.

It’s no longer your working or worrying to obtain any of it that sustains you. Jesus accepts you whether your a CEO or unemployed; swanky suburb or house falling down around you (or no house); whether your guy or girl won or not. You shouldn’t be basing your joy or worth on anything other that God’s grace.

Off the Hook?

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Should I serve inside the church or should I serve outside the church?  Yes…

This is how as an interrogator, I learned the hard way not to ask compound questions.  Did you rob the bank on Monday or did you rob the bank on Tuesday?  Yes.  So which is it?

  • If you serve inside the church walls… does that mean you are off the hook outside the walls?

Christians are called to both serve both one another AND the needy, i.e. “the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you.”  When we serve one another inside the walls we are serving by extension the ministry of God’s Word.  When we serve outside the walls we are serving the ministry of God’s Work.  Both Word and Works are necessary.

There is the danger of thinking that if we usher or work in children’s ministry, that we are absolved of working in the community.  As a pastor, spending all my free time inside the walls, I even tried to convince myself that I was off the hook.  Nice try.

We only hurt ourselves when we forgo community work because God ordains that kind of service as one of the ways that He changes our heart (i.e. sanctifies us). In short, I hate going, but once I’m there I feel like it was great idea (that’s simple heart change).  And while he’s changing our heart, other hearts are changing as we model (and yes even speak about) the gospel.

We are called to be God’s agents in world repair- the Jewish term is Tikkun Olam.  I especially love Isaiah for his Two Cities Theme: the city of man vs. the city of God- it’s currently a poor crime ridden ghetto filled with people who abuse each other.  But in the end we see its transformation into a Holy City.  Even though its not here yet, we are to be part of that transforming process- now.

Striking Christ

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Water of Contention- Numbers 20

NoVA feels like one of the most workaholic cultures in the world. As the 80s band Loverboy sang: we’re all working for the weekend. We strive and contend with God to get him to give us what we want, when we want it. What’s the one thing you have to have or do- that, like water, is your most basic and core need? That you have to stay on top of? And when things don’t stay on schedule, causes us to strive and contend- and there is no rest until you get it. So how do we get to a place of rest where we can trust in God for our most basic needs? How can God quench our thirst? Not just physically, but spiritually.

  • Check out this talk on Numbers 20 and how a quarreling, contentious and thirsty Israel tries to hold God’s feet to the fire and how when we do that we’re actually laying our rod across Christ’s back:

Suburban Gospel

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How can a saved Israel (Exodus), learn to obey such a holy God (Leviticus) in thankfulness for their rescue?  Numbers continues the journey of Israel as they seek to become the people God set them apart to be.  In Numbers 1-10, through participation, orientation and purification, God continues to reconnect His people to the one true “bigger thing”- Himself, as they continue their journey with Him in their midst.

The Beauty of Gospel Community

John 17:17-24

God and Jesus were spiritually and supernaturally connected before the world began. When Jesus gives us his glory- we have access to the same kind of supernatural community. Gospel community unifies, sanctifies and glorifies.  We can only be unified in God and Jesus to the extent that we are unified in one another.  We can’t neglect the work and commitment it takes to study, worship, and have fellowship together.