Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sermon 9/28/08 "The Gospel According to the Office Part 2: Beyond Paper Thin Missions"

Moving Beyond Paper Thin Missions

1 John 3:18

We are continuing our sermon series on missions this morning. We have been using the hit television show, The Office to introduce our theme. I want to use some clips from the episode “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” from the fourth season this morning.

In this episode, Ryan, who is now the youngest Vice President in the history of Dunder Mifflin comes back to the Scranton office to help them move into the digital age. He has given them new Black Berry phones and he is introducing a new system using the internet so that they can compete with larger paper companies. This technology is not going over so well with Michael Scott, the regional manager in Scranton. He decides to win customers back the old fashion way, with gift baskets. In this clip, Michael and Dwight try to win back Larry from Office Depot.

Time: 29:23

Setting: Larry’s office

Michael and Dwight bring in basket and put it on Larry’s desk.
Michael WOW, These things are heavy. There’s a lot of stuff in their. We have macadamia nuts cookies and honey mustard pretzels.
Larry You know we closed our account with you right.
Michael Yes, we know
Larry We are with Office Depot now
Dwight We just have not gotten over you and we are dedicated to provide you with the best customer service, the very best personal relationship we can if you ever decide to come back
Larry OK, but I don’t think we are coming back
Dwight Please come back
Michael You know, just enjoy the gift basket and remember we provide a personal touch.
Dwight Remember what we had
Larry Really, it is about the money
Michael Well, just enjoy the gift basket
Larry OK, thanks. You know, it is just that they have the website that makes it easy
Dwight and Michael look upset and leave

Setting: Michael’s car

Michael That guy was so st…. How does he not know how much better we are.
Dwight Sometimes people are impossible and they make you miserable.

Time 30:28

This seems like a very nice gesture Michael and Dwight are making to Larry, an ex-customer. You could even argue that the gesture itself the loving thing to do. However, if we take a closer look, we will discover that the motivation behind the gift basket says something quite different. Michael and Dwight hardly care at all about Larry as a person. They expect that when they give him the gift basket, he will become go back to them as a customer. They are dumbfounded when Larry tells them no. Michael twice tells Larry just to enjoy the gift basket, but both times he thinks that by taking the high road, Larry will change his mind. When Michael gets back to his car, he reveals his true feelings. He cannot believe Larry would not respond positively to his message.

Although this is a business deal, oftentimes I believe we approach mission work in the very same way. We are often motivated to be in missions for the wrong reason so when our efforts are not received well, we often find ourselves disheartened and frustrated.

I want to begin by examining two motivations for mission work that I believe is faulty. I think sometimes we engage in mission work in order to go out and correct people. We have a feeling of superiority and we want to show everyone how much better off we are. I also think that people get involved in mission work because somehow they think God will give them all kinds of rewards. If they are faithful in mission work God will give them blessings here and now and they will be storing up treasures in heaven.

I want to share with you a verse in 1 John that I believe sums up what our true motivations should be for missions. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” To put this into context, let me read the verses that come before this verse.
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a fellow believer is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you?

John begins this section by repeating a truth that we should already know: “To love one another.” He then uses Cain as an example of what not to do. Cain hated his brother and physically harmed him. He them compares those who are not Christians to Cain by saying that those who are in the world hate you and we as Christians do not want to act like that to each other because we are different. Then John makes the jump in his comparison to say that those who hate other Christians are in essence like Cain, a murderer. Instead we are to follow the example of Jesus and lay down our lives for others. John then gives us a practical application to this by telling us that if we have material possessions and we see our brother and sister in need, we better take pity in them or the love of God is not really in us. John then uses these verses to help us draw the conclusion to not just love with words, but with action.

It does not really take an astute biblical scholar to understand that in these verses, John is primarily talking about how Christians ought to act towards other Christians. He goes out of his way in these verses to say that Christians are responsible to take care of other Christians. My focus is not really on whom we should be reaching out to; rather I want us to focus on the motivation behind reaching out that John points to in this letter. I do think that John would not disagree that we need to love those in the world, he was just not addressing this issue in the this passage.

The reason John says we love those in the world, is because we follow the example of love that Jesus gave to us. In several places John tells his readers that that our example of love comes from Jesus in that he gave his life for others. I want to submit that first and foremost, missions should not come from fear of God or from thinking we are going to get some kind of reward when we get to heaven, but missions should come out of a desire to follow the example of Jesus. We love others the way that Jesus did. We serve in mission because we are following the example of Jesus’ self giving and sacrifice. How do we follow the example of Jesus? We need to give out of what we have to those we see in need.

If we approach mission work as a means to follow the example of Jesus in self-sacrifice, we will not be upset when people do not respond the way we hope they would. After all, we know that people nailed Jesus to a cross when he reached out in love.

Moving Beyond Words to Action

At the end of the show “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” Michael spells out some important truths about mission work. He just gotten back to the office after being rejected by two customers and following the directions on the GPS into the lake.

Time :40:00

Setting: Back in the office

Phyllis Did you get any customers back?
Michael Maybe, maybe not; time will tell, but I’ll tell you one thing, these goodie baskets never endangered anyone’s lives.
Micheal and Dwight walk into Michael’s office

Setting: Michael to the camera

Michael Everybody wants new things, new technology. People will never be replaced by machines. In the end business and life are about human connections and computers are about trying to murder people in a lake.
Time 41:00

In Michael’s rant about machines running him into the lake, he makes some important comments. First, he acknowledges that he does not know if his baskets will win anyone over. Only time will tell. When we are doing missions out of the love that Jesus passed down to us, we may not know how people will respond to out efforts. We have to leave that in God’s hand.

Secondly, Michael comments that business and life are about human connections. Mission work is also about human connections. It is about people getting involved in other people lives. Mission work is moving away from mere words and theories to taking action in the lives of people. If we are unwilling to love people and we don’t want to get connected to people, then we are in the wrong business. The thing that separates mission for the sake of mission and mission in the name of Jesus is our willingness to connect our lives with other people. Mission in Jesus’ name means that we have to come to the level of those we are ministering to and we have to care about their lives.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

9/24/08 Notes for the Class: Confessions of an Arminian Part One

Confessions of an Arminian Christian Class

“If embracing Calvinism is the best way to take God seriously, to acknowledge our status as creatures and to experience spiritual liberation, then we want to be Calvinist too!... We appreciate the appeal of Calvinist and respect many of the motivations that draw believers to embrace it…. However It a nutshell, our case against Calvinism is that it doesn’t do justice to the character of God revealed in Scripture. “Jerry Walls and Joe Dongell

Myth 1: Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinist/Reformed Theology

Myth 2: A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism is Possible

Myth 3: Arminian Theology is Not an Orthodox Evangelical Option

Myth 4: The Heart of Arminianism Is Belief in Freewill

Myth 5: Arminian Theology Denies the Sovereignty of God

Myth 6: Arminianism is a Human-Centered Theology

Myth 7: Arminianism is not a Theology of Grace

Myth 8: Arminians do not believe in Predestination

Myth 9: Arminian Theology Denies Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone[i]

Theological Movements from 16th-20th Century

Calvinistic Theology

T- Total Depravity- We are incapable of making any decision to accept God apart from God’s irresistible grace
U- Unconditional Election- God elects certain people unconditionally for salvation and the rest are left in a state of total depravity.
L- Limited Atonement- Jesus’ atonement for sin is limited to those who are elected by God.
I- Irresistible Grace- God’s grace given to the elect cannot be resisted.
P- Perseverance of the Saints- Unconditional Eternal security.
Classic Wesleyan-Arminian Theology

Natural Inability- We are incapable of making any decision to accept God apart from God’s prevenient grace.

Conditional Election- Through prevenient grace, God chooses to elect every person for salvation, but this election is dependant on our free choice.

Appropriated Atonement- Jesus’ atonement for sin is available to all, but is only appropriated by our free choice.

Resistible Grace- God shows grace to every person so that they can make a decisive decision about God. God’s grace can be rejected.

Assurance of the Believer- Christians can have assurance of salvation, but they must continue to work out their salvation.

Myth 1: Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinist/Reformed Theology

- If by Reformed Theology one means: Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone and that human merit must be excluded from as a cause of salvation, then Arminian theology is reformed.
- John Wesley agreed with Calvinism in that: (1) Ascribing all good to the free grace of God. (2) In denying all natural freewill because it is dependant upon grace. (3) In excluding all merit from humanity, even for what they have or do by the grace of God.

Myth 2: A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism is Possible

- Atonement: Calvinist believe the atonement is limited in scope, but universal in value. Arminians believe the atonement is universal in scope, but limited efficacy because it is limited to those who accept by faith.

- Grace: Calvinists believe God’s grace is resisted by those who God chooses to pass over, but irresistible to those who are the elect. Arminians believe grace is irresistible when it comes to the grace that restores our freedom, but resistible when our freedom has been restored.

- God’s Timelessness does not change how God chooses to respond to human beings. The Atonement is either limited or it is not. Grace is either irresistible or it is not.

Myth 3: Arminian Theology is Not an Orthodox Evangelical Option

-Arminians are accused of being unorthodox because they are accused of being followers of the early church theologian Palgius, who was deemed a heritic by the early church for his views on orginal sin

Pelagius vs Augustine


Man has a perfect free will. He can do what God requires.

There is no innate impulse to sin, no original sin inherited from Adam

Sin is the simple choice to do wrong. Man’s sensual nature is the occasion, not the cause, of sin.

Grace, as a cause, is unnecessary to move the will toward God. Christ acts as an example and motivation to right acting.


God created man posse non peccare et non mori (possible not to sin or die)
Man misused his freedom and willed to disobey God, as a consequence he entered the state of non posse non peccare et mori (not possible not to sin and die)

The will became a sinning will. All men share in this evil because all men were in Adam when he sinned and hence sinned with him. All are guilty

God is absolutely sovereign. He is the direct cause of all that is. Fallen man, therefore, is absolutely powerless to will anything against God, or for Himself. If any man is saved and turns towards God, it is only because God has moved man’s will to respond to Him. God changes the inclination of the heart so that the man acts in freedom. Grace is irresistible because God’s will is irresistible. If Christ died for all men, then all men would be saved, but not all men are saved. Since all men are not saved, then God must have chosen particular men to salvation and the rest are left to their sins.


Palagians- Originally Born Sinless and can freely choose God
Semi- Palagians- Originally Born Sinless, but sin in the world makes free choice for God more difficult.
Semi- Augustinians- Originally Born Sinful, but freewill is restored through God’s grace (Arminians)
Augustinians- Originally Born Sinful and cannot freely choose God. (Calvinists)

[i] Robert Olson Arminian Theology (Inter Varsity Press: Downers Grove, IL 2006) The 9 myths of Arminian Theology make up the core structure of the class.

Sermon 9/14/08 The Gospel According to the Office: Thining Outside Our Cubical"

Luke 10:25-37

“Thinking Outside Our Cubical”

My favorite show on television by far is The Office. If you have never watched this show, it takes place in a paper company called Dunder-Mifflin. Michael Scott is the Regional Manager in the Scranton branch. He has a very peculiar management style to say the least. As you watch the show, you will notice that Michael oftentimes has difficulty thinking about anyone but himself. This is clearly shown in an episode in season two called “The Injury.” The episode begins when Michal Scott calls the Pam, the receptionist in the office and asks her to pick him up because he has burned his foot on a George Forman Grill. He explains this by saying that he likes to have breakfast in bed, but he does not have a butler, so he puts the grill at the end of the bed. When he wakes up, he puts bacon in the grill and plugs it in and goes back to sleep. When we wakes back up, he arises to the smell of bacon. On this particular occasion, when he stood up, he stepped on the grill and it clamped down on his foot.

While everyone else in the office gathers around the phone and laughs at Michael, Dwight hurries out to go pick him up. On his way out, he runs into the fence post and hits his head. As the episode goes on, it becomes clear that Dwight has a concussion, but Michael is getting mad because nobody in the office is giving him the sympathy that he thinks he deserves. Meanwhile, Dwight is getting worse and worse.

Finally Jim and a reluctant Michael drive Dwight to the hospital. Here is the conversation in the hospital.

Time: 17:49

Setting: Waiting Room

Michael What do I write under reason for visit?
Jim Concussion
Michael Scratches out something that he has written
Jim What did you write?
Michael UM nothing…. I wrote bringing someone to the hospital.
Jim So you wrote your reason for coming to the hospital.
Michael No No, You know what Jim, this isn’t about me anymore. I made a miraculous recovery today, which is more than I can say for him.
Dwight Falls over and Jims sprays him with water to keep him awake.

Setting: Seeing the doctor

Michael Doctor, what is more serious, a head injury or a foot injury?
Doctor A head injury
Michael Well you don’t have all the information, the foot was severely burned and healed quickly, very quickly. Like suspiciously quickly.
Doctor Ignoring Michael, tells Dwight, I am ordering a cat scan
Dwight What is that?
Michael Before the doctor can answer Since you have the machine up and running, can I stick my foot in so we can take a look?
Doctor For a burn we really only have to take a look at the outside of the foot.[i]

Ends 18:47

Even if this is the first time you have seen any of The Office you can quickly glimpse how self absorbed Michael is. His employee has a concussion, which can be serious if not treated and all Michael can do is think about himself. He is so self-centered that he cannot even fill out the medical form for Dwight without writing down the reason he is in the waiting room.

This clip shows what it looks like to be very self-absorbed. I think we can remember times when we ourselves or the people around of have acted in similar ways. Jesus certainly saw this same type of attitude in his own day. One day he ran into a confrontation that went as follows,
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27 He answered, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' [c]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' [d]"
28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"[ii]
To understand this conversation, the expert in the law probably was not coming up to Jesus because he really wanted to know the answer to this question. He was probably trying to do two things. One, he was trying to make Jesus look bad and, secondly trying to make himself look good. Jesus is not easily fooled, so he lets the man answer his own question. The expert is not happy with this, so he takes it one step further and asks Jesus who he thinks is his neighbor.

For us today, this seems like an easy question, but for Jesus and those around him, this was a big deal. The Jews believed their neighbors were fellow Jews because they were God’s chosen people. The real question being asked is, “Who does God command us to love?” If our neighbors are restricted to a certain group, then we are free to treat others outside this group any way we choose.

Jesus answers this question with a story,

30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii [e] and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'[iii]

Jesus tells the story of a man who is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, which is a common route. This road had a lot of twists and turns in it, which made for a great hide out for robbers. As Jesus tells the story, some robbers jumped out and beat the man and left him on the ground to die. A priest and a Levite come by and walk to the other side of the road. Both of these people in Jesus story were likely on their way to work in the temple. In Jewish custom, it would have made them unclean to touch a dead person. More than likely they passed on the other side of the road so they would remain pure for their work in the temple.

If you think out this scenario it makes sense that these two holy persons serving in the temple would want to remain pure. After all, if they are defiled, they would not be able to perform their temple duties. Maybe they were thinking that it would be better to be safe so they would eventually be able to serve more people.

Then along comes a Samaritan, who would be bitter enemies with this man, who probably was Jewish. He sees him laying there and he takes pity on him. He then does more than feel sorry for him, he takes the time to pick him up, take him to an inn, looks after him for a day, and then pays to have him looked after.
The Jesus says, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."[iv]

Most of the time when we think of this text, we really interpret this text to mean that we should be helpful. I do think this is part of what is happening, but I also believe there is much more theologically going on in the text. As I mentioned, the text is meant to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer is “everyone who is in need.” Just as Michael Scott needed to recognize that Dwight was the one who was truly in need and he needed to be their for Dwight, we have to understand that we have neighbors all around who are in need. This text is trying to help us look outside our own cubical, our own work space, our own church, our own community.

The reason the Samaritan was the one who truly loved his neighbor was because he was the one who was truly able to put aside his own personal needs in order to reach out to someone else. The two people who minister in the temple were so concerned with becoming impure and serving the needs of those close to them, that they neglected the one person in front of them with true needs. The real issue in this passage is about whether God’s love and grace is for our own security and well being, or is it about us extending this love and grace to the world.
The good news is that Michael Scott, at least a minute in one episode is able to put his own life on hold to be there for Dwight.

Time: 18:56

Scene: Walking to the X-Ray Machine
Nurse OK, No electronics past this point, cameras, sound equipment
Michael That’s OK, there with me.
Nurse No metal of anykind.
Michael Alright, well I guess this is where we leave you off.
Dwight I don’t want to do this.
Michael AHH I guess you should have thought about that before you crashed your head on your way to pick me up… Well see you when you get out.
Dwight Oh. Silence as Dwight looks hurt.
Michael Fine, fine. Michael puts his crutches down, takes off all his metal and hobbles into the room with Dwight.[v]

Ends 19:33

In this scene, it is clear that Michael has not totally learned to stop thinking about himself, but he does have to make a decision. He has been using these crutches because he burnt his foot and now he as to decide between keeping the crutches and neglecting to be with Dwight who is scared or giving up the crutches in order to be there for Dwight in his moment of need.

In the same way, Jesus is asking us through the story of the Samaritan who came to the aid of a wounded man, to give up a bit of our own time, energy, and resources, which oftentimes brings us security in order to show compassion to someone who is in need in the moment. That is the place where mission work begins.

[i] The Office “The Injury” Season Three, (Universal Studios: Airs on NBC)
[ii] TNIV Luke 10:25-29
[iii] TNIV Luke 10:30-35
[iv] TNIV Luke 10:36-37
[v] “The Injury”

Sermon 9/7/08 'The Long and Winding Raod Part 4: U-Turns Allowed"

U-Turns Allowed
Acts 9:1-9

I was reading a blog on the internet called “Chillin’ At The Cabstand” and I came across an article entitled “Why Christians Will Never Admit They Are Wrong.” The author of the article concluded 10 reasons why Christians will not admit they are wrong. Some of them were kind of funny like number seven was that pastors would have to find a real job. I do admit that if Christians were proven wrong then I might not have very much job security and that would be a bad thing. The most interesting thing he said was the first on the list, “They are crushed to discover that they don’t have all the answers.” [i]
As we conclude our sermon series on “The Long and Winding Road” where we have been looking at different faith journeys in the Bible, I want us to look at the faith journey of Paul. Paul has an interesting background in which he did have to come to the realization that he did not have all the answers.
The initial story of Paul’s conversion is found in Acts 9. Luke must really believe this story is important because he actually records three different versions of it throughout the book of Acts. The story says,
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6 "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.[ii]
The first time we see Saul, who later changes his name to Paul is when he stands at the feet and gives approval of the stoning of Stephen. In this passage, he has gone to the high priest so that he can go to the synagogues in Damascus and arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem.
You may be wondering why Paul would be doing this. In chapter 22 of Acts, while on trial for being a Christian, ironically enough, Paul tells the Jews that he too, at one time was a Jew who studied under a prominent Rabbi named Gamaliel. He was the person in Acts 5 who convinced the Jewish ruling body not to harm the Christians because if it was not of God, it would die out, if it was, then there would be nothing they could do to stop it.
Paul also goes on to say that he was trained in the strictest interpretation of the law and he was zealous for God. He was a Pharisee, meaning he believed that the Jews were to obey every letter of the law. Paul says he believed this so much that he was to the point of killing people who he thought opposed his view. Paul was a Jew among Jews. He was a fundamentalist to the extreme.
So here is Paul, traveling out to arrest Christians because they are not following the Jewish law. He is convinced that he is doing the work of God. All of sudden a light flashes before him and he hears a voice asking him why he is persecuting the one who is speaking. Paul is unaware of the voice, more than likely and asks who this is. He does use the word “Lord” for some reason. It is quite possible that he suspects it is a divine vision and voice, but he is not sure and confused.
Can you image what Paul was thinking next. The voice response by saying this is Jesus who you are persecuting. WOW. All this time, Paul has been following the thing that he truly and zealously believed and now he is finding out that he is very wrong. He has actually been working against the very thing he us now understanding to be the truth.
Oftentimes I hear people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere about it.” I think Paul’s story blows this misconception out of the water. Paul’s problem was not that he was sincere; the problem was that he was sincerely wrong. He had closed off the possibility of Christianity being true and had gone as far as witnessing and giving his blessing to murder because of his belief.
Starting with the Person in the Mirror

In thinking through this story that Luke tells us three times, it makes me wonder why Paul would be so against Christians that he would hunt them down to put them in prison and even witness their death. He is a reminder that many people do some very harmful things in the name of “belief.” Christians today often get a bad reputation for treating people badly because Christians think so highly of themselves while devaluing other people. For a long time I did not want to admit the truth in this criticism.

The fact of the matter is that often times it is Christians who are very judgmental and hurtful to others. Sometimes it appears that the people who claim to be the greatest Christians are the ones who seem to hurt people the most. I think the reason this is the case is because we find it far easier to look at the faults of others and try to correct them than it is to examine our own hearts and repent and change. We would much rather see all the wrong in the rest of the world than to admit that we may be wrong.

I was reminded of this sad reality the other day when a good friend of mine told me she was almost brought to tears by a person at her work who almost made her cry in the name of Jesus. He asked her who she wanted to vote for and when she answered he accused her of not be a Christian. I know this is a long way from approving of her stoning like Paul did to Stephen, but it is this very same attitude of thinking we can do no wrong while everyone else is a blooming idiot that I believe leads us on the wrong road.

I do want to say that Christians are not the only people who lack humility, the atheist who wrote the article I mentioned earlier has just as a hard of a time admitting his fault as the guy who talked so bad to my friend. This issue of pride and arrogance is the main thing that will keep any of us from following the road God wants us to travel.

U-Turns Aloud

The good news in the passage is that although Paul has done some terrible things. He was self-righteous, egotistical, etc, God came to him on the road to Damascus and gave him a new direction in life. God was pointing him in a new way. He was told later to get up, be baptized, and wash away his sins.

I am convinced that God understands that we are going to get it wrong sometimes. This is why God allows U-Turns in our lives. I want you to understand that no matter what you have done in the past. No matter how messed up your you think your life is, no matter how self-righteous you have been, if you admit that you can and have messed up, then I want you to know that God can and will forgive you. You can make a change in your life. You can move in a different direction.

Not only does God want you to make this move, I believe Jesus still comes to us on our journey and reminds us when we are going the wrong way. Jesus still gives us the power to turn our lives around.

[ii] TNIV Acts 9:1-9

Sermon 8/31/08 "The Long and Winding Road Part Three" Crossing Burnt Bridges"

“How to Cross Burnt Bridges”

Genesis 32:1-32

Most people are familiar with the “Hatfields and the McCoys.” This dispute happened in Kentucky-West Virginia along the Tuck Fork River. The dispute apparently began over a pig. Well, sort of. The dispute was actually over some land that a pig happened to be on. The Hatfields, who were the wealthier family, won the court case and the pig. Next, the McCoys murdered a Hatfield, who had just returned home from the Union army and the rest is history. The fighting finally stopped in 1891. However, to show true piece, the families came together and place the game, “Family Feud.” The winner got a cash price and, you guessed it, a pig.

The Bible has its fair share of “family feuds,” one being between Jacob and his brother Esau. The family feud began when Jacob was younger he had prepared some food and his brother came in from the field very hungry and asked Jacob for some food. Jacob told him that he would only give him food if he sold his birthright, to which Esau does. Jacob had manipulated his older brother out of his birthright. You may find it interesting that the name Jacob means “manipulator” or “heel.”

Then when it was time for his father Isaac to die, Isaac told Esau to go out and get some meat and prepare it so that he would be blessed by his father. When Esau had left, Jacob dressed up like Esau and came in pretending to be him and manipulated his father and received the blessing that belonged to his brother. When his brother found it he was extremely angry and wanted to kill Jacob, so Jacob fled.

If all this was not enough, Jacob went to live with Laban, his uncle and ended up marrying his two daughters. He wanted to go out on his own so he made a deal with Laban. The deal was that Jacob would take the spotted animals while Laban kept the pure ones. Jacob then went out and fed them a certain kind of root, which somehow caused the animals to breed spotted ones. Do not ask me how this happened, but that is what Genesis says. Then Jacob took with him a large portion of Laban’s property. Again, Jacob manipulates someone else, namely his father-in-law.

As we begin into our text, it seems that Jacob’s manipulation may have caught up with him. He has to go past his brother, Esau. Jacob is obviously terrified of this. He has not seen his brother since he stole the blessing from his father. It is obvious that looking back on Jacob’s life, he has been traveling a road of fear. He has been running scared from his brother and even more recently he was running scared from his father-in-law. Now he is coming face to face with his brother who wanted to kill him. It may be that all these years Esau has been traveling the road of anger. The text says,
Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is the camp of God!" So he named that place Mahanaim. Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He instructed them: "This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: 'Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.' "
When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, "We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him." In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, [c] and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, "If Esau comes and attacks one group, [d] the group [e] that is left may escape."
Then Jacob prayed, "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, 'Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,' 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.' "
He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, "Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds."
He instructed the one in the lead: "When my brother Esau meets you and asks, 'Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?' then you are to say, 'They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.' "
He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: "You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, 'Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.' " For he thought, "I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me." So Jacob's gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.[i]

When Jacob, the master manipulator now faces his greatest fear, he cries out to God, “You told me to come here, so therefore you have to protect me.” I know there are other words in here like, “I am unworthy of all the loving kindness and all the faithfulness you have shown me.”

He wants God to deliver him from his brother. I hear a prayer that is just as manipulative as Jacob has been in his past relationships. He says nothing about his own attitude. He says nothing about wanting to make amends with his brother. All he wants is to be spared from the consequences of something he has done in the past. He wants nothing more than to be spared from Esau. It reminds me of a little child who hits his older brother and then runs to his parents to hide when the brother goes to get even.

Then Jacob, just incase his prayers to God would not work, decides to give Esau some gifts. He is hoping that these gifts would satisfy his brother so that his brother would not attack him. He divides these gifts into three rows and sends them out one at a time. This is clever because Jacob is also thinking that if he wants to attack me and I send three companies to gifts, then he will be slowed down by having all this extra stuff. Not only is Jacob hoping to appease his brother, but he is actually preparing a defense strategy. In my mind, he is still trying to manipulate his brother.

I believe if we are honest with ourselves, we all have some of Jacob in us. Oftentimes our prayers to God are not really about being reconciled with others, rather we are really praying that God will remove any consequence from our past actions. We are hoping God will sort of smooth everything over and we never really deal with the things that are at the heart. The problem is, that God does see to the heart and God really wants us to deal with the real issues, just like God will not let Jacob off the hook.

If we just want to escape the consequences of our actions, then we really shouldn’t pray. When we pray for restoration, we must know that God is not going to give is the easy way out.

The good and the bad thing in this text for Jacob, is that even though he may not have taken his prayer to God seriously, God did. When Jacob is all alone, our text tells us a man came and wrestled with him until daybreak. The story says,
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered.
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, [f] because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome."
Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.[ii]

We are not told who this guy is. We do know that Jacob is quite the wrestler because this guy had not prevailed against him. Then, the guy touches his though and dislocated it.

This is wear I see the giant shift in the passage. Jacob will not let go of him until he blesses him. At this moment, the man gives him a new name, Israel and Jacob was blessed. The only one who we have seen that changes names and blesses is the person’s father or God. This is not his father, so Jacob must have been wrestling God.

Jacob asked God to intervene in his life situation with Esau and God does. Although it is not the way Jacob had intended it. Jacob wanted to deal with his brother, but God wanted to deal with Jacob. Jacob thought all this time that he had been running from his brother, but in fact he had been running from something much greater than his brother, God. Before God was going to help him wrestle with his problem with Esau, God wanted Jacob to first deal with him.

What happened to Jacob when he wrestled with God? God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. Someone having a named changed was very significant in the Ancient Near East. The person giving you a new named was claiming authority over you and you were submitting to that authority. By allowing God to rename him, Jacob was submitting to God’s authority. As I mentioned, the name “Jacob” meant “heal” or “manipulator”, but “Israel” meant “God rules.” Jacob went from ruling himself and manipulating others to benefit him to submitting to God.

I want to submit something to you today. We can tell a lot about our relationship with God when we examine our relationship with the people we should be the closest to. It seems to me that when we look at Jacob’s life, he was running in fear from everyone, including God. The problem is that you cannot continue to manipulate God and we must at some point deal with God.

I think this is so important because reconciliation begins with humility. Humility comes when we recognize that God is God and we are not. We understand that we are human we can make mistakes. We also understand that the mistakes others have made that caused our anger are also human limitations. When Jacob realized the world did not revolve around him and he experienced God’s blessing, he was then open to receive the forgiveness of his brother.

[i] TNIV Gen 32:1-21
[ii] TNIV Gen 32:22-29

Sermon 8/24/08 The Long and Winding Road Part Two: SInk or Swim, You Gotta Give it a Whirl"

“Sink or Swim You Gotta give it a Whirl”

Exodus 3:1-10

Some time back, John Michael Montgomery wrote a song called ‘Life’s a Dance.” The first verses says,

When I was fourteen I was falling fastFor a blue eyed girl in my homeroom classTrying to find the courage to ask her outWas like trying to get oil from a waterspoutWhat she would have said I can't sayI never did ask and she moved awayBut I learned something from my blue eyed girlSink or swim you gotta give it a whirl

I love the line. “Sink or swim you gotta give it a whirl.” This motto reminds me of the road travelled by Moses in the Old Testament.
Burning Bush Moments
When Moses was born, the Pharaoh of Egypt had made the decision to kill all of the male children of the Hebrews in order to control their population. He was afraid that they would outgrow the Egyptians and then take over. Moses’ mother and maid servant hid Moses in a basket and floated him down the river when he was a baby. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted Moses. He was actually nursed by his own mother. When Moses was a bit older, he witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew so Moses, in anger killed him. The next day Moses say two Hebrews fighting and when he stepped in to break up the fighting, the two guys told him he had no right to scold them after killing the Egyptian. Knowing that the truth was out, Moses fled to Midian, where he met his wife and became a shepherd. Exodus 3 begins the story of God telling Moses what he intends to do about the situation,

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up."
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am."
"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."[i]
Moses is out minding his own business; he now has a wife and a family. He is working for his father and law and then he walks past a bush that is on fire, but not being consumed. He is very curious about this, so he walks up to take a closer look. When he does, God calls out of the fire. God proceeds to tell Moses what he wants to do and he invites Moses to be the leader.
One thing that is clear from this passage is that God is not hiding his plans from Moses. He has gone out of his way to show Moses what he is about to do. Part of me wonders how long it actually took God to get Moses attention. He may have walked past a number of things before he noticed God. God DOES NOT hide his will from us, rather God seems to go out of the way to help us know it.
As David Harr said to me while I was writing this sermon, “I wonder how many burning bushes we walk past all the time.” We have to understand that God is in the business of bringing liberation through burning bush moments all the time. I am convinced that God continually calls us to liberation and calls us to bring liberation to others all the time through burning bush moments. We need to open our eyes to see these moments so that we can work with God in being liberated and liberating others.
Excuses! Excuses!
The interesting thing about Moses is that even after God speaks to him, plain as day, in a bush that is on fire, he still comes up with a list of reasons why he cannot commit. Of coarse God has an answer for them all. Notice,
Moses says he is unworthy of the task 3:11 God says he will be with him 3:12

Moses does not know much about God 3:13 God tells him who he is 3:14-22

Moses says the people will not listen 4:1 God will provide signs 4:2-9

Moses says he is incompetent 4:10 God will send Aaron to help 4:12

Moses asks God to send someone else 4:13 God will be with him 4:14-16[ii]

From this chart, it is clear that Moses was wrestling with the things God is telling him and for good reason. Moses had just made a life for himself and has a family. God is telling him to give it all up and do these new things. I have heard this type of this called “A Crises of Belief.”[iii] Moses now has a huge choice to make and he is not going to make a change without a fight. However, God counters all of the doubts that Moses has so that Moses agrees to do what God wants him to do.
Hope Floats
As Moses takes this charge from God, he does not have success. As a matter of fact, his very first meeting with Pharaoh was a near disaster. Moses, along with Aaron meet with Pharaoh and tell him that God has sent them to tell Pharaoh to “let the Hebrews go,” to which Pharaoh responds by making their work load harder. The Hebrews then turn on Moses and Aaron because their actions have just made matters worse.
Can you imagine the frustrations of Moses. God has just spent two chapters building up his confidence just to turn around and allow him to fail in front of Pharaoh and to be discredited by the very people he wants to help. Amazingly, this will be only one of many such disappointments and failures. Each time though, God comes back to encourage Moses. In chapter six, God tells Moses to wait and see, that he will fulfill his promise and that he will be Moses’ God.
It is so easy to allow life’s small disappointments, frustrations, and failures to get in the way of us accomplishing God’s desires in the world through us. Not long ago a college student and good friend came by my office to talk about a couple of things. It was more like a casual conversation than me giving her advice. As we were talking, she mentioned to me that she was having a difficult time deciding what God wanted her to do with her life. As she continued on, she told me that she really believed God was calling her to work as a teacher in the Dominican Republic. This person has been to the Dominican Republic a couple of times and really developed a passion for the kids there. This calling made a lot of sense to me given her history there.
The problem she was having was that her major in college was not education. In order to be able to teach, she was going to have to make some tough decisions like changing her major or getting a second major. She may have to even get a masters degree. The problem is not that she does not want to do this work. If you know this person, she is a very hard worker. The problem she is running into is that she cannot get anyone at UTC to help her figure out what she needs to do.
As a result, she has been doubting this calling to go to the Dominican Republic that she so clearly felt God calling her to a short time ago. She is feeling a bit of the discouragement that Moses and Aaron felt when the calling they were so assured of suddenly seemed to be heading a to dead end.
I do want to encourage her and anyone else this morning that just because there may be some moments of sinking or some roadblocks in the way, which does not mean God is closing the door. God could have the door cracked and just want you to push a little. Don’t let failures stand in the way of doing what God is calling you to do. Understand that God will be faithful to his promise for you.
Michael Jordan once said, “If you're trying to achieve something, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around.” I believe God is calling us to follow him on the road he has for you and there will be roadblocks, but know that God will fulfill his promises if we will follow him through the roadblocks.
I believe in some way, God is calling each one of us to be a Moses to someone or in some circumstance. I believe we are all called to walk down the road of liberation. I also believe the main reason we are quick to give up is because we often want to see instant results. When we do not see our efforts pay off overnight, we quickly loose home. We have to understand that God’s promises are fulfilled over time when we take the long haul. We have to be patient as we follow God.
The book of Hebrews tells is that by faith Moses left Egypt because “he saw him who is invisible.” I want to submit to you this morning that those who follow God call in their lives, in the both the big and small things, do so not because they know the going will never get tough, but because they see the “one who is invisible.” They recognize that they may sink and they may fail in the short term, but they are not afraid to follow God because they will eventually swim when God fulfills his promises of redemption.

[i] TNIV Exodus 3:1-10
[ii] Chart info comes from Terence E. Fretheim, Interpretation: Exodus, ed. James Luther and Patrick Miller Jr. *John Knox Press: Louisville, 1946) 52.
[iii] The study book Experiencing God uses this language to describe the process we go through when we hear God’s will and have to make the decision to change our wills to fit Gods.