Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sermon: Seeing Caterpillars as Butterflies - Matthew 4:17-19

You can listen to an audio version of this sermon here.

Please open your bibles to our text for today which can be found in the gospel of Matthew 4:17-19.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."

This is our primary passage for today as we examine what was it that Jesus saw in these mere fishermen that at the very beginning of his ministry, he sees them and calls them to be his disciples. When we read “he saw two brothers”, what was it that Jesus saw in them? Why would they be the ones that he would so heavily invest in through his time, his teachings and through these relationships? Jesus’ method for discipleship involved calling a small band of people and spending the last remaining years of his life with them.  As we’ll see later, he devotes his earthly ministry primarily to apprenticing these disciples to become His body in the world, to be sent as He had been sent.

Before continuing down this path about specifically investing in a small number relationally, in an apprentice-like manner, we need to step back and try to open our eyes to the way in which God looks at us, and the history of humanity’s true image. So we’re going to take a brief excursus and cover Genesis all the way  to the end of the book of Matthew, seeing the image of God.

 So, in the beginning  God created the heavens and the earth, and he created humanity different and unique , the pinnacle of His creation. In the first chapter of Genesis Scripture says in verse 26: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” and then later in verse 27 Scripture says that God did what he planned “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God formed humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed his very life into him. You’ve heard the phrase “Like Father, like son” right? The same way in which God is spiritual, personal, moral, relational, rational, emotional and creative, so also was humanity created with these incredible attributes, in the very image of God. You see, humanity’s original purpose was to be God’s representatives, his very image and likeness here on earth, and to fill the earth with God’s glory. That’s why the first command that God gives is for his image, through us, to fill the earth as he tells Adam and Eve “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” God’s vision was for the earth to be filled with those created in his image, and thus to see His attributes lived out through us, His children.

Of course, we know that in chapter 3 of Genesis, that something went terribly wrong; a moment that we call The Fall when the image of God in humans was deeply marred and distorted. When our parents, so long ago, chose not to submit to God, to not trust in Him, to not listen to His voice, “[h]umanity’s relationship with God was ruptured. Moral purity was lost, replaced by a sinful nature. Personality was corrupted, producing an array of psychological problems. Knowledge was degraded by false philosophies and vain imaginations. Emotions were turned to selfish desires. Creativity was spoiled by evil purposes and pursuits. The uncorrupted image of God was replaced by the fallen image of the fallen Adam.” (Don Dunavant)

The image of God wasn’t completely destroyed but since Fall every one of us born, life Father like son, has inherited a broken and marred image of the one true God. The Good News, the gospel, is that in the fullness of time, a second Adam, the very son of God who is in every respect the image of God came to restore that image in us. Colossians 1:15 says “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1:3 says “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” The same way in which through the first Adam the image of God in humanity was marred and distorted, so through Jesus, the second Adam, the image of God in humanity is restored. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The good news is that the image of God, which every single last human has, every Son of Adam, every daughter of Eve, that image though it is sometimes barely recognizable is fully restored through the image restorer Christ Jesus, who became human to restore the image of God in humanity and to bring glory to His father as that image is restored throughout the earth.

In Matthew 28, when Jesus says “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” he is recasting the original command given by God to Adam in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 God told Adam to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and thus filling the earth with the image of God. In Matthew 28, Jesus says the same thing, only the way in which we fill the earth with God’s image isn’t through having as many physical children as we can have, but by seeing the image of God in others restored, bringing them to the Master, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and who specializes in restoring the broken, the marred, the distorted to what our heavenly father intended – for us to reflect his glory and his image through all the earth.

This is the great purpose of Christ’s Church. To see the image of God restored to the ends of the earth. Now in order to do this we have to begin by seeing the masterpiece in others. As part of preparing for this sermon I was able to read a lot of book that actually came close last year to being used as our Church-wide study one year. The book is called Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others through the Eyes of Jesus .It’s excellent and after we finish this Church-wide study, I encourage you to consider using it on your own or as a life group. The overriding image that John Burke uses is that we are covered in mud, but we are masterpiece since we are created by the master artist God. If you were walking down the street and you saw a bunch of trash and in the middle of the trash you saw this mud caked piece of art that looked completely worthless, but you notice through the mud, through the gunk, that there is the signature of a master artist. It’s a Rembrant, or a Michelangelo or you get the point, you realize this piece of art, though it’s completely trashed and covered in mud is priceless. What do you do? Do you leave it there, or do you take it to someone who is a master at restoring pieces of art? Well the same is true for us, that when we look at others we should see them not superficially, but as bearers of the image of God, as God’s masterpieces.

We’ve played this video its entirety at our Monday night service before, but I wanted to share with you because this young man, in his art, so clearly speaks about God as a master artist.

“You are the maker’s handiwork, a living masterpiece.” Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” When we look at ourselves, when we look at others do we see with the eyes of God, do we see masterpieces? Or are we experts at picking out the mud?

You may have heard some of these stories about how some pastors have dressed up as homeless people to see how the congregation would treat them. Just this last November a Mormon bishop named David Musselman used a makeup artist and posed as homeless man before church services one Sunday. He said that at least five people asked him to leave the property and that many “actually went out of their way to purposefully ignore me and they wouldn’t even make eye contact…I’d approach them and say ‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ Many of them I wouldn’t ask for any food or any kind of money, and their inability to even acknowledge me being there was very surprising.” Were they seeing the Mud or the Masterpiece? By the way, I thought about trying this out myself but remembered that when I was serving in Orlando at our church’s homeless ministry how often I was already mistaken for being homeless, I guess because of my beard and I don’t dress up very often.

In fact though, the reason I stand before you today as a believer in Jesus Christ, as a servant to you, as a minister of Word and Sacrament, is because when I was 22 years old, fresh out of college and teaching Science rather poorly, a pastor looked at me and saw not who I was, not the arrogance, not the stand-offishness, not the defensiveness, not the whole host of mud that covered me from head to foot, but instead saw the masterpiece that God had created. He deeply invested relationally in me and he pointed me to the master who could restore the masterpiece in me that day by day I might be transformed into his likeness more and more.

Jesus, as he called his disciples, saw them not as mud, but as masterpieces, created in the image of God. John Burke writes “I’m convinced that our problem is not that we need more evangelistic tools, methods, apologetic arguments, or missional strategies— in fact, none of these will be worth anything if we don’t first see ourselves and others through the eyes of Jesus…As I study the life and interactions of Jesus with very sin-stained, muddied people, it becomes evident that Jesus could see something worth dying for in all the people he encountered. Jesus could see past the mud to the Masterpiece God wanted to restore…Jesus demonstrated a spiritual vision that he wants to impart to us— to see the Masterpiece he sees in us, and to renovate us to become people whose hearts reflect what God sees, under even the muddiest sin-stained life. Jesus saw God’s Masterpiece, waiting to be revealed by his grace, and as a result, many people actually became what he envisioned them to be.”

As we continue this series, picking up on what Pastor Michael shared with us last week about Apprenticeship, I want to leave you with this final imagery of seeing caterpillars as butterflies because while the imagery of being a masterpiece is strong, and biblical, it helps us understand how God sees and values people, it is also static, whereas Jesus invested in others not to see them become static pieces of art, but to spread their wings and fly. As we read in Matthew 4:17-19, Jesus called His disciples by saying “Come, follow me” and then saying what “I will make you fishers of men.” Peter, Andrew and the other disciples followed Jesus closely for roughly one year. They weren’t fishers of men yet; they needed to be equipped. During this time they listened and they watched as Jesus apprenticed them for a purpose. Then Jesus, after that year, sent them out to do the very things Jesus had been doing. Do you remember what we read in Matthew 4:17-19? What was it that Jesus began to preach at the very beginning of his ministry? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” About a year later Matthew 10:5,7 says “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:… As you go, preach this message:  'The kingdom of heaven is near.'  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.” Jesus sent them out to do the very things Jesus did for them. They reported back to Jesus and he taught and apprenticed them more and then two and half years later Jesus commissioned them to lead his church, restoring the world wherever they went.

If you want to make a huge difference in the world, focus on investing in a few, in seeing in just a few caterpillars as butterflies. This was Jesus’ strategy. To bring a small number of people alongside him, to invest in them, to apprentice them, to see them becoming beautiful, active, fluttering butterflies. How do you even begin to identify an apprentice? Of course praying is the first place to start. Jesus spent an incredible amount of time in prayer, in Luke 6 he spends all night before calling those whom he would apprentice and disciple. You can also look for a few attributes that Burke points out that help contribute towards a good apprentice. You need to make sure they are F.A.S.T. – Faithful, Available, have Spiritual Velocity, and Teach-ability.

Faithful means that the person is not flaky that you can count on them doing what they say. This is an incredibly important attribute. Could you imagine Jesus getting ready to walk in to Jerusalem and the disciples he sent not bringing the donkey? Checking his sun dial watch, where are those guys?

The second is closely related and that is Availability. Can this person commit to be present? Sometimes work schedules or season of life issues make it impossible to really develop a person. If you had asked me to join your life group and be your apprentice these last 10 months with my own health issues and our son being born, I just wouldn’t have been in the right season of life for an intense, fruitful apprenticeship.

The third is Spiritual Velocity and this comes from the “ApprenticeField Guide” that we’ve been reading together as a staff and on Session. Usually we see a Jesus-centered life as one where someone is either “in” or “out” like in this diagram on the left. As you can see Person A has crossed the point of conversion and Person B has not. Person A is “in” and Person B is out. What is actually better in choosing an apprentice is not whether they are “in” or “out” but where they are headed. In other words in the second diagram you see Person A may have had a ‘conversion experience’ but is not currently living a life of spiritual velocity, going towards Jesus, while person B, is moving toward Jesus but hasn’t quiet crossed the line of faith yet. Do you think Jesus’ disciples totally got it when they were called? Of course not! But, they were moving in the right direction, towards Jesus, and Jesus saw that. Is the person you are considering as an apprentice someone who wants to be in on the mission of helping people find their way back to God, to seeing God’s image, his masterpiece restored in the lives of others? Are they taking steps to live this out? If so, they have spiritual velocity and are ripe for the opportunity to become an apprentice.

The last letter is for Teach-ability. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Is the person eager to learn more about the way of Christ?

I encourage you, holistically we need to see ourselves and others as created in the image of God and needing Christ to restore that image. We need to see ourselves and others as masterpieces, as a living works of Art he wants to restore to it’s full value. We also need to see the potential apprentices in our lives, perhaps ourselves as potential apprentices, and seek out caterpillars who become butterflies just as Jesus sought fishermen who would become fishers of men.

Sermon: The Prayer God Hears - 2 Kings 19

You can listen to an audio version of this sermon here.

Please open your bibles to 2 Kings Chapter 19. 2 Kings may not be a book of the bible that you frequent very often! It’s in the very front of your bibles. You have the first five: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These are followed by Joshua, Judges and Ruth and then you run into these doubles: 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles. If you hit any prophets or psalms you’ve gone too far! Again we’re in 2 Kings Chapter 19, we’ll be going through the whole chapter so I encourage you to keep your bibles open.

 For those of you joining us we are on the second to last sermon in a series called “Under Siege” on the life and times of King Hezekiah in the Old Testament. As a reminder to where we are in the story thus far: the nation of Israel was ruled by the kings Saul, David and Solomon, but after Solomon the nation was divided into North and South. The North retained the name Israel and the South was known as Judah. Regardless of how they divided themselves, the larger geo-political issues were still going on and that is basically that the kingdom of Israel finds itself wedged between two nations. To the Northeast is the kingdom of Assyria and the Southwest is Egypt. Both the North and the South decided to rebel against Assyria and try to make deals with Egypt. As a result Assyria conquers the North and we read just two chapters ago (2 Kings 17) that part of the spiritual reality that was behind God permitting the North to be taken into exile was that the North under the leadership of king Ahaz were all worshipping idols and false gods. The South under Hezekiah’s leadership, however, removed all the false idols and worship. We read just one chapter ago that “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel” (2 Kings 18:5). So the North, doesn’t trust God, leans on false idols, false places of comfort, and false things that claim to give life, and a result they are conquered and go into exile. The South, does trust God, and restores proper worship, so what happens to them, do they get attacked? They are attacked too! We discussed how in life, even when we prepare, that there will be these times, these moments where we feel “Under Siege” and are overwhelmed even if we are faithful, in fact Scripture points out that often times those who are faithful can be guaranteed to face troubles because of our faith. So today we join Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19. The field commander of Assyria has basically told the people that there’s been no reason, no confidence to have in thinking they will escape defeat . Your army is pitiful, your king is full of lies, and your god will be unable to help you just like all the other cities and nations we’ve conquered. We’re going to lay Siege to the city of Jerusalem, surround it, and cut of all life so that you’ll get the point, he says in 18:27, of eating excrement and drinking your own urine. This is how bad it’s going to get.

Lets’ read what happens next in the first verses of 2 Kings 19:

When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They told him, "This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. 4 It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives."

So the first thing Hezekiah does, after tearing his clothes – a reminder of how intense this situation is – have you ever been in such grief or under such pressure that your emotions warranted you tearing your clothes off. I sometimes wonder if shirts back then were easier to tear than nowadays or easier to replace. Anyway, after he expresses this despair and goes to the temple he sends a message to Isaiah, the prophet of the Lord. This is HUGE because in the context of the overall story of all these kings since Solomon, all these kings are unfaithful and God sends prophets to them not they go to the prophets seeking a word from God. This is in itself an incredibly valuable lesson for us that in the trials of this life we are to go to the Word of the Lord and if we are his people, like these physical kingdoms Israel and Judah, if we are part of God’s family and we don’t seek Him out, get ready because He will seek you out. Hebrews 12:6 says that “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Maybe there is an area in your life right now that you know that is out of step, or out of place and needs to be brought back into line – I can think of like 15 in my own right now. It’s not that God is going to forsake us or that he will let us go, or that He’ll ever cease loving us if we don’t do all the right things, but God loves us as a heavenly Father so when we ignore these areas in our lives, God is patient, but he disciplines those he loves the same way parents discipline their children for their own good. In the stories of these kings, over and over again they are unfaithful and go their own ways and God sends his prophets, mouthpieces, his Word to them and what Hezekiah does is a complete break from the normal story line because he, himself, on his own initiative sends word to the prophet of God, Isaiah.

Hezekiah’s first step is to go to Isaiah, the prophet of God. In the Old Testament there are three particular offices that are held in the government of God’s people. Kind of like we have 3 branches of government but completely different. The office of prophet had the particular role of being the mouthpiece of God. Sometimes people think that a prophet is someone who tells the future, and that happens sometimes if that’s what God wants to say – usually its repent and come back to me or this is going to happen, but the word prophet (Gk: prophetes) means “one who speaks for a god.”  The other two offices are Priest and King – and I love diagrams so here’s one I stole from Google images. So the King, in this case Hezekiah, rules as God’s representative, the Prophet, in the case Isaiah, communicates and reveals to God’ people the words of God, or the Word of God, and the Priest represents the people before God in His temple, in His throne room through prayers and sacrifices. As an aside, this theology of the offices is why our church has a session of “ruling elders” in ways acting in the kingly office, pastors, who we call “teaching elders”,  bringing and teaching the Word of God in ways acting in the prophet office, and deacons through acts of service, mercy, and sacrifice, particularly concerned with the heart of God’s people in ways acting as the priest office.

So Hezekiah goes to the prophet Isaiah, to hear from God. What does that mean for us? Who should we go to, especially in these times of our life where things are out of control, we feel under siege, who is the prophet that we go to?  Jesus is the only one who fulfills all three of these offices – prophet, priest and king. When we say Jesus is Lord, one of the offices we’re acknowledging is that He is the king of kings, that he is the Lord of our lives, that one day all knees will bow before him as king and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). The same way Hezekiah goes to the Word of the Lord in Isaiah the prophet, we go to Jesus Christ who is the Word of God (John 1). Jesus Christ is the communication, the revelation, the Logos, the Word of God become flesh. Hebrews 1:1-2  is printed in your bulletin and says:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

Verse 3 says “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Jesus is not only the Word of God, He is God. He’s so much better than even the prophet Isaiah, than anything or anyone else we could go to. Don’t go to a psychic, don’t go to Oprah, don’t go to a deceased love one, don’t go to a saint, don’t go to an angel or a spirit, don’t come to me, go to the Word of the Lord – go to Jesus Christ, THE prophet,  the Word of God, God himself.

Because Jesus himself, is all three – prophet, priest, and king, there is more than one perspective in approaching him. As prophet, as the revelation of God, the Word of God, we approach Him through the Scriptures which we call the Words or the Word of God. Christ is the center of these words. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and He is the good news of the New Testament. When we go the Scriptures, the Word of God, God’s revelation, we are going to Jesus. No matter what issue you may be going through, God’s Wisdom, God’s Word is a sure foundation, a solid rock on which you can lean. It’s what we do here every Sunday (and Monday night!), we go to God’s Word and apply it to our lives.

Returning to our reading for today, God speaks to Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah as the Word of God, and says to him in verse 7:  “Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.'" God makes a promise to Hezekiah that the king of Assyria is going to get his. After this communication from God, the king of Assyria sends messengers again telling Hezekiah how all these other nations and cities have fallen and how their gods weren’t able to anything about. So what does Hezekiah do, lets pick up in verse 14

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: "O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim,

Hezekiah goes to pray to God, and in the Old Testament, he went where literally God’s presence was said to reside, behind the veil, behind the curtain, to the innermost room, the Holy of Holies where the throne of God and God’s presence was said to reside. He goes to the throne room of the Lord. When Hezekiah says that God is enthroned between the cherubim, he’s talking about these two cherubim, or angels, on the ark of the covenant that is in the space. The text we read today isn’t clear as to how far or how close he gets to this inner sanctum, this was usually reserved for the high priest, that third office that we mentioned earlier, because it was considered an incredible honor, but also an incredibly terrifying thing to go into God’s presence, to stand before the God of the universe with all his power and might, and you can imagine its overwhelming to think about being directly in God’s presence.

Of course, we can’t go to the temple in Jerusalem whenever we need God, it’s not there anymore, and even if we could something fundamentally changed when Jesus opened up a path to God. As he told the Samaritan woman at the well that it wouldn’t be on the high places, the mountains, like in Samaria, or even in the temple at Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in Truth that people would worship God. We don’t go the throne room in the temple, which was just a shadow of the real deal, but we go directly to the literal throne room of God through our high priest – Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:19-22 says:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

When we are under siege in this life, we have an incredible privilege that Jesus has opened up by the sacrifice  of his blood and body. Christ died on a cross, that in our prayer life we might directly and boldy enter the literal throne room of God, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I myself, am so guilty of this, that we so often don’t take advantage of this amazing privilege to pray for our own circumstances and for others, to speak to God himself, to go into the throne room of God, through what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Now with regards to how we pray and what we pray, we could fill another hour and then another and then another. The title of today’s sermon is “The Prayer that God Hears” because in verse 20 after Hezekiah prays God responds and says “I have heard your prayer.” Of course God is able to hear all things, and can hear all prayers, just like his in all places at all times. Yet there are moments and places in our lives where God is especially present, and there are moments and prayers in our lives where God says, like he does to Hezekiah: “I have heard your prayer.” After pouring over this text there is one aspect about this prayer that stands out to me. Even though Hezekiah is under Siege in  a way that he is fearful about his own life and an entire city under his care, he prays a God-centered prayer.

When he prays, Hezekiah goes to the throne room to Bring Glory to the Lord. Picking back up with verse 15:

15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: "O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. 17 "It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands. 19 Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God." 20 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria.

Hezekiah starts his prayer by recognizing and proclaiming that God is the God, the only God. He’s not a god created by human hands (v. 18), he is on his throne as the Creator of heaven and earth. Jesus when he taught us how to pray begins the same way “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” It’s very often, in this world of instant satisfaction and consumerism, that we mistakenly view prayer as a way in which to get what we want, for ourselves, for our kingdoms. If you want to be sure that your prayer will not be heard, like Hezekiah’s is heard, then focus your prayer life completely on yourself, what you want, and your own kingdom. Here’s a funny video I ran across when preparing for this sermon about the low view of prayer our culture might lead us to.

Our prayers, as our lives, should be centered on God, to give him glory through all that we are, all that we do, and all that we pray for. Psalm 79:9 displays the biblical mentality:

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name's sake.

Hezekiah ends his prayer saying “deliver us…so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.” God responds to Hezekiah’s prayer, he answers it, not because Hezekiah is perfect, not because Hezekiah did a ritual or prayed the right words in the right order, but because Hezekiah’s heart was to see God’s glory and name proclaimed to the ends of the earth. In verse 34, God says “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”  God acts, he responds to Hezekiah prayer because of the promises He had made to David and for his own sake. When we rely on God’s promises, when we pray to exalt Him, and to see His kingdom come, this is the prayer that God hears and acts upon. In the final verses of this chapter (35-37) we read

35 That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning-- there were all the dead bodies! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. 37 One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.

Sermon: A Church for Hypocrites - Matthew 23:27-29

You can listen to the audio of this sermon here.

Please open your bibles to Matthew chapter 23. Today we conclude our sermon series entitled “Credible…Why Believing Makes Sense.” This morning we will tackle the topic of hypocrisy. In Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God he quotes two law students. Helen says “I have to doubt any religion that has so many fanatics and hypocrites…there are so many people who are not religious at all who are more kind and even more moral than many of the Christians I know.” Jessica, another law student says “The church has a history of supporting injustice, of destroying culture…if Christianity is the true religion, how could this be?” Many, many people, some sincerely seeking God, have had such incredibly awful experiences with Christians that the difference between Christ and those who claim to be following Him so closely jars them and scars them so completely they never return to faith again. Ghandi is quoted as saying “I would have become a Christian until I met one.” Before we continue, and examine why so many have had these experiences with hypocrisy, let’s read what Jesus said about the problem. I’m going to read Matthew 23, verses 27 through 29. This is a brief section of Matthew 23, but if you have your bibles open, just glance through the chapter. Starting in verse 13 Jesus uses the word for hypocrite over and over again. He seems to particularly be fond of the phrase that we begin with, Matthew 23:27-29:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. 29 [Here’s that phrase again] "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.

This is the Word of the Lord. So Jesus paints in fairly graphic terms what hypocrisy is. A hypocrite is one who pretends to be other than what they are. The word hypocrite in the Greek language meant actor. So translated literally Jesus says “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you actors!”  We are hypocritical whenever we put on a show, whenever the reality of our hearts, our true selves, does not match our external behavior. The greater this disconnect between the inside and the outside, the greater the measure of hypocrisy. Jesus is calling the leaders of the religious community, the teachers, out on the floor by saying that on the outside according to the things which they do publically they appear very much to be upright but that they are just actors putting on a show. On the inside Jesus says they are full of wickedness as he very graphically describes their hearts, their true selves as the rotting corpses that would be inside a tomb.

Read this chapter when you get a chance. Jesus goes off on these guys. The question for us today is, if we are the Church, the bride of Christ, how is it that over the last two thousand years hypocrisy  has continued to be such an issue for us? If Jesus, or Lord and master, the one whom we follow our whole selves is so anti-hypocrisy, speaks so clearly about this issue, why is this of all things something that the Church as a whole continually has to answer for?

There are three types of people that contribute to this image: the nominal, the immature, and the self-righteous.

When I graduated college, much to the dismay of my parents and their pocketbooks, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted to be. So what do you do with someone who has a biology degree and no clear idea of their future? You make them a teacher and put them in charge of others at a stage of life where they are the most impressionable. One of the classes I was asked to teach was Environmental Science. I thought no problem. I grew up watching cartoons like Captain Planet and Swamp Thing where the heroes literally used their superpowers to stop pollution. Well as I taught this class through the year I began to realize that I was an environmental hypocrite. One day we talked about proper waste disposal and that evening I cooked myself a dinner of French fries. When I was done, I did what I usually did, I went outside and poured the hot oil out directly onto the ground, preferably on an ant pile or some other insect. As I poured the oil out I thought how just hours before I had taught about how, particularly in Florida, even cooking oil can become a contaminant to the groundwater which we all rely on and I realized what a hypocrite I was. I publically taught that we should dispose of oil, batteries, paint, etc… in a way to preserve our environment and be good stewards of the earth, and yet in private did no such thing. I claimed that I cared about the earth but my actions proved otherwise. I was a nominal environmentalist.

That word nominal means “in name only”.  I was, in name, an Environmental science teacher and but in action I was no such thing. I had thought that I was someone who cared for the environment simply because I grew up during a time when environmentalism was reaching its peak. Again, my Saturday morning cartoons were about fighting pollution. My entire culture was saturated with the importance of caring for our earth, so I just assumed that I cared for the earth. The same is often true in cultures that are predominantly Christian. Many people believe they are Christians when they are truly not Christians. Many grow up and are surrounded by a culture in which most everyone goes to church and they think, my family is Christian, my neighbors are Christian, I must also be Christian. In Mark 8:27, Jesus asks his disciples “Who do people say I am?” and they reply that “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others one of the prophets.”  There was an incredible amount of confusion and misunderstanding about who Jesus was in the 1st century. How much more misunderstanding is there today about who Jesus really is and what it means to be his follower? The Church is filled with those who misunderstand who Jesus is or don’t know him at all. When people join Trinity they share their faith journey with the Session and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard this, in fact its true in my own life:  I grew up thinking I was a Christian and understanding the faith, but never really got it until later in life.

How can we tell who is a nominal Christian? Those who are Christians in name only? Scripture tells us that while we can claim to know God with our words, our actions are also an expression of that relationship. In other words, if we are hypocrites, if our actions aren’t matching our claims, then one possibility is that we are actually nominal Christians, Christians in name only who in reality don’t know God. Titus 1:16 says “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”

This isn’t always the case, sometimes we experience this disconnect between what we say we believe and what we do because we are immature in our faith. We know that when we become followers of Jesus Christ that we are not instantly made perfect, but rather we have a lifetime of being made more and more like Jesus.  The author of the book of Hebrews describes the fundamentals of the faith as milk such that infants would be sustained by, but that there comes a time when we transition to solid food and a more solid faith. Hebrews 5:14 says “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Most everyone has experienced physical immaturity of some nature and the same is true of our spiritual walks as well. 

The last type of person that contributes to this image of hypocrisy within the church are the self-righteous fanatics. Tim Keller describes this well:

 “Many people try to understand Christians along a spectrum from nominalism at one end to fanaticism on the other. A nominal Christian is someone who is Christian in name only, who does not practice it and perhaps barely believes it. A fanatic is someone who is thought to over-believe and over-practice Christianity. In this schematic, the best kind of Christian would be someone in the middle, someone who doesn’t go all the way with it , who believes it but is not too devoted to it. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that the Christian faith is basically a form of moral improvement. Intense Christians would therefore be intense moralists or, as they were called in Jesus’s time, Pharisees. Pharisaic [or self-righteous] people assume they are right with God because of their moral behavior and right doctrine. This leads naturally to feelings of superiority toward those who do not share their religiosity, and from there to various forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression…What if, however, the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us? Belief that you are accepted by God by sheer grace is profoundly humbling. The people who are [self-righteous] fanatics, then, are so not because they are too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed to it enough.”

Galatians 2 describes this story where Peter comes to the city of Antioch where Paul has been sharing the Gospel with the Greeks there. At first Peter is great, he’s eating with Paul and the Greeks but then some Jewish believers come up from Jerusalem and when they arrived, Peter separates himself from the Greeks, the Gentiles, and doesn’t eat with them anymore according to Jewish law. Galatians 2:13 says “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” Peter has lost sight of the Gospel, that Jesus didn’t come to give us one more set of rules to try and follow as close as we can. The Gospel is that we are justified, we’re made right, not by observing a set of rules but by faith in Jesus Christ. In fact when Paul calls Peter out on this, he doesn’t say Peter you’re breaking the rules that Jesus gave us. We’re allowed to eat with Gentiles. Paul writes “I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” The true gospel brings us to a faith that is based on God’s grace and when our hearts are in line with this gospel truth, we can’t help but be humble. When our hearts drift away from this gospel back into moralistic religion we become self-righteous and hypocritical.

Those who know that it is by grace that we have been saved know that it is better to Be Broken than to Act Alright. If the Gospel is that by God’s grace, we as broken people are shaped day by day to look more and more like Jesus Christ, than it’s only natural to expect to find the Church filled with immature and broken people who still have a long way to go emotionally, morally, and spiritually. Just look at the guy preaching to you. The title for this sermon, a church for hypocrites, is not meant to indicate that I think we’re especially hypocritical at Trinity, but that we believe that the church, as it is often said, is a hospital for sinners not a museum for saints. There’s a welcome video that we have on the Monday night service website that says “This church is not full of hypocrites, there’s always room for one more.” We all find our hearts, at times, out of line with the gospel, falling into hypocrisy because we are broken. We welcome nominal Christians in the hopes they might come to know Jesus as the Lord of their actions not just what they say. We welcome immature believers and hope that together we might grow in our faith to the place of being able to distinguish good from evil. We welcome the self-righteous fanatics that they might truly hear the gospel of grace and count their good works as filthy rags

When I first told people that I had become a Christian, I received a variety of responses. One that stuck with me, because I was so baffled by it, was when someone said “Oh, you’re Christian now, does that mean you think your perfect?” My response was “No, that’s why I am a Christian.” I became a follower of Jesus Christ, not because I thought I could be perfect, but because I realized I never could. When we act like everything is alright, when we put up fronts, or put on a show for others, we essentially close our hearts and our minds to the grace of the Gospel. It is so difficult to grow in faith when we refuse to let our faults see the light of day. So often we put on shows for each other, particularly when people hear I’m a pastor they try to act better when they are in front of me which is hilarious to me considering my own particular past. This is one of the reasons I like to stalk people on Facebook, particularly younger people, because it gives me a glimpse into their real lives. My hope is that we will be a church and this campus will be a safe place for people to admit they are broken rather than a place where we feel like we have to pretend and act like everything is alright.

This is the ultimate cure for hypocrisy, to be a church where people have experiences with authenticity. As much harm as hypocrisy has done, when people have an authentic, real encounter with those who love Jesus Christ, who are honest that they are broken people in need of God’s sheer grace, who are quick to repent, who don’t judge those outside the church (1 Corinthians 5:12), who speak the truth in love, and who point people to Jesus rather than to trying to be as good as you possibly can, then God works amazingly through His Church. 

Often times people only have experiences with hypocrisy in the Church. We are called as the body of Christ, honest about our reliance on God’s grace, to be vocal, to be welcoming, so that others might have authentic experiences with God through us as His instruments. There are lots of well thought out answers from this sermon series that we can give to objections people might have to our faith, but unless they experience something real, unless they experience the authentic outflow of love and grace we’ve received in our own lives through Jesus Christ, those answers will mean nothing.

A Sermon: Faith Makes Sense - 1 Peter 3:15

You can listen to the audio version of this sermon here.

Hebrews 11:1  says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This passage is often times taken out of context and misapplied to teach that faith is blind trust. I see this all the time, particularly out on the internet. In fact if you just Google the word faith, one of the definitions is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”  Here’s a quote from an author who seems to be piggy backing on this Hebrew’s passage:  "Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.” The picture that is painted here is that faith is completely blind and yet that’s not at all what Hebrews chapter 11 is teaching. Hebrews 11 is actually teaching that we can have faith and trust in God’s promises on the basis of evidence, on the basis of his past behavior and ability to keep His word. Hebrews chapter 11 is all about how we can trust God because he’s been incredibly consistent in keeping his promises. The whole chapter, which is often referred to as the Hall of Faith or the Heroes of Faith, describes people in the Old Testament who had faith in the promises of God and were vindicated. Their faith was a strong trust in a person, in this case their trust, their faith was in God. So they trusted this person, God, for the things which they had not yet experienced, the things they had not yet seen, they trusted that when God made promises, he would fulfill them. One example, God tells Abraham that he will have a child despite he and his wife’s old age, Abraham has faith in God, he trusts God’s promise even though he cannot see or hold the child until the promise is delivered. Faith is trusting in God for that which he has promised us, those things we don’t see, but our faith is not a blind faith.

Think about it this way. If I promise my wife, after I come home from Men's Fraternity on Saturday mornings, I will take care of the kids and you can sleep in. She can have faith in this promise, in the unseen, she hasn’t yet seen me taking care of the kids, yet she can trust in me and this trust, this faith that she has in me, is not a blind faith. She knows who I am, she’s experienced a relationship with me, and she has plenty of evidence to expect that I will keep my promises.

Having faith doesn’t mean that we have to blindly accept things, we can have a reasonable faith. Now to be certain there will always be a bit of mystery in our relationship with God. He’s God. In fact, I can tell you there’s always a bit of mystery in my relationship with my wife, and yet I have complete faith and trust in her. Each day that I wake up, I don’t cross my fingers and hope that she’ll do the things she says. So also with God, we’re not called to run “face-first and full-speed into the dark.” God wants us to love him not just with our guts and our emotions but with our minds.

In fact Jesus says in Matthew 22:37 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your MIND!Our passage for today is 1 Peter 3:15, which you can see on your notes page. It says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. Today we’ll look at three different types or categories of reasons, or evidence, that we have for our faith, our trust in God, but before we do, let me encourage you to really take this passage to heart. We need to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. If you’re not at a place where you are prepared to explain any of the reasons for why you have faith, why you trust in God, then be authentic and open about that, but don’t shut down the conversation with someone who is searching by saying “I believe this because I believe this, end of conversation.” When we turn faith and trust in God into blind faith and refuse to be prepared to give an answer, to give the reason for the hope and faith that we have, we misrepresent our faith and contribute to the misperception that faith in God is for the ignorant and those who are unable to think. Our God is the author of creation, the author of humanity, and the author of our minds. Let us love him with all of our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds. And let us be prepared to give the reasons for the hope and faith that we have. To that end, let’s look at three different types or categories of evidence or reason for why believing makes sense.
We are, by the way, beginning a new series this morning called Credible…Why Believing makes sense. In this series we’ll be looking at common objections to the Christian faith. As you can see on the front of your bulletin, next week Pastor Michael will examine the reliability of Scripture, then we’ll discuss why Jesus claims that He is the only way, then some reflection on the issue of pain and suffering in a world created by a benevolent God, and finally how to talk to the millennial generation about the truth and grace of God. So, back to our sermon today, on a faith that makes sense…

The first category are philosophical reasons that we might give for the hope that we have. What I mean by philosophical reasons is that our minds are capable of using reason and logic to come to valid conclusions without actually having to physically experience them. Here’s a simple example, we know that lions are carnivores, and you tell me you have a pet named Fred and that Fred is a lion. The logical conclusion is that Fred is a carnivore. I don’t need to go test this out physically to come to this conclusion. I’m able to use logic rather than putting myself in danger! A little more complicated, but similar is Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein, amazingly, determined that space and time are not absolutes, but rather they are relative to the position of the observer. In other words, Einstein, working as a clerk in a patent office, was able to, through his mind, come to the conclusion that time can actually move faster or slower depending on different conditions. Einstein didn’t have the ability to control time and space in the patent office, but he was able to come to these conclusions through his mind and through thought experiments. Later these unseen conclusions were proved trustworthy as experimental data came in, but originally this was armchair science. There’s a whole branch of physics called theoretical physics that is based on mathematical models and abstractions rather than experimental data.

This same type of evidence and reasoning can be used when we think about the existence of God. The apostle Paul, himself, used these types of arguments. In Acts 17 we read that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him.” There are a number of thought experiments or philosophical arguments that provide compelling philosophical reasons for faith and trust in God. We can’t possibly go into all those arguments this morning, but I’ll give you one. This one is called the Transcendental argument. More simply put, a transcendental argument is any argument that states there is no foundation without God. In other words, when you stop and really think about it, if there is no God what is the foundation for morality, reason, purpose, and so on. A transcendental argument focusing on morality would say without God, what basis do we have to say some actions are morally right and some actions are morally wrong. As Dostoyevsky's Ivan Karamazov says “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Without God there is no basis for morality and yet it is very apparent, that across the globe there exists within every human culture an expression that some things are morally right and some things are morally wrong, there’s disagreement on what those things are, but this human impulse logically implies that there must be a moral foundation, and that since morality is an expression of personal relationships, there must be a personal foundation from which they proceed, namely a personal God. If you remove God from your philosophical framework you remove the foundation for morality. This is just one version of a transcendental argument. You could say the same thing about our ability to reason and think. If there is no God, what is our foundation for saying that we can actually trust our minds that have been shaped by impersonal and random forces? A science professor at Cornell featured in Ben Stein’s movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed , states the obvious conclusion and consequence when you remove God from your philosophical framework. Dr. Provine said that if you remove your belief in God, which he did, then this is life: We live, we die, and we’re gone. There’s no hope, there’s no real purpose in life. There’s no point in anything. Philosophically, if you remove God from your worldview and you are logically consistent, the result is nihilism, despair, and hopelessness which no reasonable human can practically live out or accept.

Obviously we can’t go into depth with all the philosophical reasons and arguments for God here this morning, I welcome your emails or free lunches to continue this conversation, but what we can say is that there are real, cogent, and reasonable philosophical reasons to believe in God. These arguments have been made for centuries and no one has been able to simply dismiss them as blind faith, as “walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.”

The second type of  reasons we might give for the hope that we have, perhaps a little more tangible and accessible, are experiential reasons. Christianity is not a blind faith but is actually based on what was seen. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 to the church of Corinth about the death and resurrection of Christ and what does he say? Does he say: “Hey just trust me, Jesus is God!” Does he say: “Just close your eyes and believe!” No, Paul writes and argues that he has seen Christ, and not only him but 500 others saw him. Paul wasn’t writing hundreds of years later, just fabricating an event, he was writing within the lifetime of the original witnesses an saying go and check what I’m saying, there’s 500 other people who saw this happened. If you marched 500 witnesses into a court that testified that an event occurred, willing to lose their possessions, willing to be thrown into prison, willing to lose their lives on the word of their testimony, most courts of law would rule that this event actually happened. This source checking happens in multiple places in the New Testament. Mark 15 is talking about Jesus going to be crucified and verse 21 says “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” This verse would be incoherent and useless unless Alexander and Rufus were alive and you could go talk to them. It’s like having footnotes today. When you read inclusions of details like this, the bible is saying this person is still around and you can go check my sources.

Acts 2:32 says God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” The Christian faith, our trust in who Jesus says he is and the promises he makes, is not based on blind faith, but on experiential data that has been reliably transmitted and recorded.

Now, when people read these testimonies, and the evidence presented, they come to different conclusions because ultimately we’re all biased. Tim Keller puts it like this “If you were reading Caesar’s Gallic Wars, an ancient historical document, and evaluating whether or not it happened, you would be objective because it wouldn’t matter to your life whether it was true or not, however when you read the bible and ask did Jesus really say and do these things, that of course, if it’s true has a huge impact. No one is really objective, you can’t read something like that, knowing its impact and be objective. We may want it to be true, we may want it to not be true, but we should be skeptical of our skepticism.

The final type of reasons we might give for the hope that we have are heart reasons. 1 John 5:10 says: “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.” Sometimes we have convictions based on logic or philosophy. Sometimes we have convictions based on the data that exists in the world. Sometimes we have convictions based on our own personal emotional and spiritual experience. The apostle Paul was a devout Jew. When he first heard of the Christian faith and found out that followers of Christ were discarding almost half of the Old Testament scriptures, those laws and teachings on sacrifices and ceremonies, he thought Christianity can’t be true. What happened to his questions that he was able to become a devout Christ follower? Certainly there are ways to reason from the Old Testament scriptures to those of the Jewish Faith, Paul himself reasons with those in the synagogues, but Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ. Paul had an existential moment and experience where he was changed by God. It’s not unreasonable to explain to people that you’ve had a personal experience with God, you can’t categorize it or fully dissect it, but you have a new heart and a new life because of it.

Honestly, this is the place that most people connect. Most people are open to hearing about your own personal experience, if you’ve had one, with God. Most people, not all, but most aren’t argued into believing and trusting God and it’s been my experience that many have internal, heart reasons for why they have trouble accepting God or putting their trust in Him. Perhaps you’ve heard of Francis Collins, the scientist who was the leader of the Human Genome Project and currently serves as Director of the National Institutes of Health. In this video he share’s how he came to believe, partially through philosophical arguments like the transcendental argument but primarily through being affected in his heart existentially.

As we conclude, let me offer this final point on how we are to be prepared to give a reason for our hope. Sometimes we are discussing issues that we don’t know a lot about. It’s impossible to be completely prepared to be able to argue with an atheistic science professor with multiple Ph.Ds one day and then the next day to argue with another professor who has spent his life studying philosophy, the next an expert in sociology, and so forth. We should be informed, but we may not have a personal calling into those particular fields. We are a body of believers, each with our own gifts and our own callings. There are those, and you may be one of them, with a specific calling as a Christian scientist to speak into that field. There are many books and experts that you might find helpful in this area. Just to give you two quick recommendations: I recommend The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller, there’s a study that goes with that if you wanted to do it with a life group. I also recommend The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel who was an atheist journalist for the Chicago Tribune that came to believe after examining the evidence, the case for Christ.

You might not be called to be the leading expert in any of these areas, but no matter what your calling, we can all share our own encounters with the living God and have reasons for the hope that we have.

A Sermon: Keep Calm and Stay Spiritually Strong - Luke 6:39-45

You can listen to an audio version of this sermon here.

I watch that video and I wonder sometimes if having kids really the best course of action. I mean it is an incredible amount of work. Your life is completely changed.  You end up thinking videos like this are funny. It’s no wonder that God made the act of procreation so good because the act of raising that creation is difficult to say the least. Last Sunday, Pastor Benita shared some of the struggles that she and I are having as parents and of course this week in preparation for this sermon series that we’ve been on called generational grace, I was more reflective on parenting. One morning that I was in charge, Sophia, our four year old was in timeout and screaming at the top of her lungs while at the same time our four month old Ezra joined in the cacophony with his own screams because he was reaching that witching hour crankiness just before nap time. During this dueling screamathon I checked on Sophia to find that she had stripped and thrown both her diaper and her dress out of the timeout zone while continuing to scream. Ezra, not to be outdone, wasn’t letting up. In the midst of this morning scream fest I thought about today’s sermon: “How to Stay Strong.” How do you stay strong in the midst of parenting? In this series we are focusing on parenting but as we listen to Jesus today his words in Luke 6 were meant for his disciples with or without children. The context of parenting can certainly provide a stressful illustration in which to apply our master’s words, but remember whatever the context to breath, keep calm and stay spiritually strong.

Please turn your bibles to Luke 6, as we examine verses 39-45.

He also told them this parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. 43 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Jesus gives us four pairs here to consider. First two blind men, second a teacher and a student, third two brothers, and fourth a bad tree and a good tree, and we’ll look at them but here’s the main point of this text and of today’s sermon, if you don’t hear anything else, hear this from God’s word: The best way to serve, disciple, grow, lead anyone, especially your children, is to first focus on yourself. We've all heard the familiar mantra of the airline flight attendants during their pre-flight instructions, "...make sure to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before attempting to help someone else put on theirs." The same is true spiritually, we must breathe deeply of God’s spirit ourselves before attempting to help our children or anyone as spiritual leaders. Be filled yourself so much that out of the overflow of your heart you speak and teach, out of the overflow of your heart you act in the lives of others, out of the overflow of your heart you lead others spiritually.

Ok, so the first pair are two blind men. Jesus says “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” The unspoken answer, of course, is no! A blind man cannot, or should not lead another blind man! They will fall into a pit. The word for pit here isn’t just like a pothole, it’s a kill yourself deep hole in the ground. There’s an incredible amount of danger involved if someone who is blind, unable to see, is being guided by someone who is just as blind. The point in effect is this: if you try on your own to lead yourself and others spiritually, you and they are in danger. No matter how many books you’ve read, no matter how amazing your technique, no matter how many children you’ve raised, if you try on your own to lead yourself and others spiritually, you and they are in an incredible amount of danger. The best way to serve, disciple, grow, lead anyone, especially your children, is to first focus on yourself. The best way to lead others is to be led by Jesus.

The second pair is a teacher and a student. Jesus says “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” In the ancient world the teacher-pupil relationship was a personal one. A student would virtually live alongside the teacher and by the very nature of this close teacher-pupil relationship, a student, when fully trained would be very much like his teacher, not only in knowledge but in being. Of course the same is true for our children. Jesus says like teacher, like student and so also we can say like parent, like child. Those we seek to spiritually lead, especially our children, will become like us. They won’t become the things we say, they will become who we are. Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. The best way to serve, disciple, grow, lead anyone, especially your children is to first focus on yourself. The best way to disciple others is to be discipled yourself by Jesus.

The third pair are two brothers and you’ve probably heard this one before or maybe even used it. Jesus says “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” In this case people who are judging the specks in others are too busy examining others to see their own faults correctly. In this parable, the speck is a small flake of wood, or straw and the plank is the main beam of a building. Once again Jesus is driving us to be self-critical before thinking about being critical of others. That word hypocrite literally means “play-actor”. In other words, when we attempt to teach or lead others, and we haven’t focused on ourselves we are like actors in a play. We’re putting on a front, a mask, a costume, a show and pretending. I can tell you what we all know, we can be actors, and we all are at different times, but you can’t keep that act up all the time. Our spouses, our children, anyone you spend considerable time with or invest in, will see whether we are the real deal or if we are just acting, just hypocrites. You can do every trick in the book, be the best teacher, and still find that those you invest in will reject everything because of your relationship with them, because they see the real you. Kids don’t usually reject Christianity because of bad teaching, but because of bad relationship. The best way to serve, disciple, grow, lead anyone, especially your children is to first focus on yourself. The best way to grow others is to first ask Jesus to remove the plank out of your eye.

The last pair is a bad and a good tree. Jesus says "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit…The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” The fruit that we produce, honestly whether that fruit is our actions, our teaching, or our children, reflects what is at the core of our being. You will produce what you are and not something different. What we say and do, is an outgrowth of who we are. This is the gospel, the good news. The good news is that we don’t save ourselves. We don’t follow a list of rules or behave in a particular way and therefore change our hearts. Instead, the good news is that we are given new hearts through our trust in Jesus Christ, and he reshapes us in our deepest thought and being and out of the overflow of this new heart comes our speech and actions. The best way to serve, disciple, grow, lead anyone, especially your children, is to first focus on yourself. The best way to lead others to God through Christ, is to experience God yourself and overflow that experience to them.

The next three points on your notes page, are some practical ways to be filled up to an overflow out of your heart. The first is to be filled intellectually. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are people of the book. We believe that the primary way in which we listen to God, are instructed and taught by Him, is through His Word. This is good timing for this sermon as it is fall and as our children go back to school, so also should we. You can take advantage of the different offerings here at Trinity. We have classes Sunday morning, and also Wed. night. I hear that Wed. night class is being taught by a couple of incredible pastors. We didn’t plan this, but God did, as we finish this series focused on generational grace the Norwoods who offered their testimony last Sunday are teaching a group intentionally for parents. We also live in an incredible age of information. There are also amazing resources online for our own discipleship. We have a free subscription to RightNow Media for our life groups which has over a thousand videos. Just to give you an idea, as I prepared for this sermon there were 37 different studies on parenting each with 8-10 sessions. The video we watched earlier was from one of those. Be filled intellectually by God’s word, take advantage of the resources available, and overflow this knowledge into the lives of others. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but it seems to me that often times people who have the gift to cut hair, often have the gift of gab. I was getting my hair cut by one of our covenant partners here at Trinity and was delighted as she shared what her life group had been studying. She does this not only with me but with others who come her way as well. She is so excited, so filled by God’s teaching in her life and out of the overflow of her heart, she speaks. Can a blind man lead a blind man? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Be fully trained, be filled intellectually by our teacher, Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

Next, be filled relationally. We primarily, and normatively, encounter God through His Word, but we also encounter Him through each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Romans 12:4-5 says “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all others. I love this passage, because it is of huge relief to me to realize that I am not responsible on my own to be everything that the Church is to be. On my own I cannot be a preacher, a teacher, an administrator, missional, attractional, a prophet, an apostle, a missionary, a father, a servant, and so on. But we, together as the body of Christ, as the family of God, form one body empowered by God to be the body of Christ in the world. Take advantage of being part of a large family. Go and serve in the nursery or in children’s ministry or in youth ministry alongside others. Practice on other people’s kids before you have your own. Learn from those who have spent their entire lives invested in children. There’s someone who works in the nursery that Benita and I like to call the “baby whisperer” because she is incredible with children. I encourage you to read this week’s excellent blog written by the head of the nursery, Jill Means, to get an idea of all that goes on over there. Not only can you go and have parenting, and many different other ministries here, modeled, but most importantly take advantage of the emotional and relational support that comes from being connected here with our church family. Men’s Fraternity begins Saturday, September 14th at 6:00 AM. There’s good material, intellectually, scripturally based, but from what I can tell it’s the relationships as these men gather together to learn about being being better fathers and husbands. It’s one of the reasons that I’m excited this year, to take part myself in Men’s Fraternity. Also, ask people to pray for you and to help you. I can honestly say that this last week it has been overwhelmingly apparent that our church family has been praying for us. Benita shared a lot of our struggles with you last week and while we’re still working on things, I can’t describe the amount of peace that has been in my heart through it all. In the midst of both of our kids screaming in the story I described at the beginning of this sermon, I have been completely calm, uncharacteristically calm. I’m confident it’s because of the prayers of this church family. Be filled relationally with the body of Christ and it will overflow into the lives of those you invest in.

Finally, be filled spiritually. God speaks to us through His Word, and through each other, and also when we spend time with him as our heavenly father. Think of it as parallel parenting. God parents us as we parent our children or disciple others. Our Father in heaven pours into us as we spend time with Him, and that overflows, cascades down into our other relationships as we pour into others. The closer we get to Christ, the closer our children will get to Christ. Exodus 34:29 describes when Moses spent time directly with God the Father. It says When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. Moses came down from speaking to God with the Ten Commandments in his hand, and his face was glowing. The time he spent with God literally caused his face to be radiant and then as he approached his children, the Israelites they were keenly aware that Moses had been with God. When we truly spend time with God spiritually through prayer, just speaking to him and being in a relationship with him, we are changed and filled spiritually to the point of overflow into all our other relationships.

Be filled intellectually, be filled relationally, be filled spiritually by the triune God who pours out his love and grace so abundantly that it will overflow in all areas of your life.

Today we are filled spiritually as we celebrate the sacrament of communion. We remember the past, the night before Jesus died as he spoke to his disciples he called them his children and did what we are about to do with bread and cup. In this present moment, we approach God and ask Him to fill us with His Spirit, to be one with each other and with Christ. We look forward to the future, when we will all gather together in the heavenly messianic banquet as one family. As we are filled spiritually in this moment, let us remember that we are filled so that we can overflow. We eat the body of Christ so that we can go out and be the body of Christ. We ask God to cleanse our hearts so that out of the overflow of our hearts we might speak to others.