Lent: Choosing Sacrifice

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on March 1, 2015)

Mark 8:31-38.

I’ve often thought of Peter rebuking Jesus as a great reminder that everyone makes mistakes.

Peter has just had such a high point, being the one person who correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah, and not just like Elijah or John the Baptist or some other prophet. And yet here in the section today, he totally blows it and gets a stinging rebuke from Jesus.

And what I mean by a great reminder that everyone makes mistakes is actually: this makes me feel really good because I know my mistakes are nowhere near as bad as Peter’s stupidity here. That’s sarcasm, of course, but the reality is there’s a good bit of truth in it. I’ve often thought that Peter’s mistake of correcting Jesus, of acting like he knew better than Jesus did, is one that I don’t make.

The annoying part of looking at this passage again has been the realization that actually, I do sometimes make the exact same mistake that Peter does. I think many of us do. I actually think American Christianity as a whole often makes Peter’s mistake. So let’s dive in and see what the mistake was, see how we do it too, and then look at Jesus’ words to find a way to correct the mistake and live as we are called to live. Continue reading

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Lent: Facing Sin

(Message given February 22, 2015 at Newberg Friends Church)

Psalm 25: 1-11

I love the fact that I’ve lived 23 out of the last 29 years in Newberg.

There’s something beautiful about getting to be a part of a smaller community for that long, to build relationships, to pastor with people that I’ve gotten to know over a lot of years. There are some difficulties to it, though, and one of the biggest is in regard to speaking regularly.

I always want to be able to share things that will be practical and not just theoretical. I want to share in a way that makes it easy to grasp how the part of the bible we are looking at could be applied to your life this week. The best way to do that is to share examples and stories, to see the ways these things are lived out. But…most of my life is lived with YOU. Or with people you know.

Today one of the things we are tackling is how to deal with sin. It’s tricky finding practical examples that are ok to share. I see people dealing with stuff in healthy and some unhealthy ways; but I don’t think people would appreciate it if I made their challenging moments as sermon illustrations.  Continue reading

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Christ’s Life

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on February 15, 2015)

Last Sunday after the service, I had a great and very honest conversation with someone.

Talking with him cemented something in my own mind, and that’s what I want to share with you today, my own thoughts as a result of that conversation.

I’m really glad that we spent months carefully looking at what Jesus actually taught in the sermon on the mount. I’m glad we challenged ourselves last week to put Jesus’ teachings into practice. I think it’s the kind of corrective that we on the Evangelical church side of things need to have. Wisdom, building on the rock and not sand, involves our actions. It involves us doing what Jesus teaches. It isn’t just about what we believe. I’m glad we emphasize the importance of trying to do what Jesus teaches.

For me, that goes hand in hand with something else, another aspect of life with God that is also in the “essential” camp. I’ve lived long enough and watched my own successes and failures enough to realize that if life with God is only about obeying and doing what Jesus said, there is going to be a problem. I don’t seem to have it in me to do it all the time.

That conversation last week after service reminded me how important it is to hold two things together: yes, Jesus taught us how to live, and there are many ways throughout history that the church has failed to call us to those difficult things. And yes, it is also true that Jesus offers more than just teaching. The faith that we share as a community here at Newberg Friends also believes that Jesus has broken the power of sin by dying and being raised from the dead. The life and death of Jesus give a power to our lives that I have not found elsewhere, the power to actually live as we were born to live.

Our community stands on those two things: Jesus as teacher, and Jesus as resurrected Savior who transforms us. For me, for us, to leave out the transforming power of the death and resurrection of Jesus is to miss something essential. Teaching and the cross go hand in hand. Continue reading

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Put Them Into Practice

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on February 8, 2015)

‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:24-28, TNIV)

Jesus, skilled teacher that he is, brings the Sermon on the Mount to a close with a powerful image.

Building on the rock, building on sand…this is a picture that worked in the arid desert of first century Israel, and it works in our world of today. We get the power of ocean and wind and storm. More importantly, we have Google images, and can subject ourselves to increasingly ridiculous images of what it means to build on a rock.

1 2 3 4 Continue reading

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Integrity and Wholeness

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on February 1, 2015)

Do you ever look at a word, and stare at it, and then all of a sudden the letters just make no sense any more? It just looks weird and wrong?

Pageant. Pageant did that to me recently. Page ant. An ant that’s a page? Like a medieval knight attendant ant who gets stuff for you? Or origami, like an ant made out of a page from a book? Pay-gent. P-agent. Like an agent who gets paid? Look at it too long, and eventually all meaning just flies out the window.

Honestly, this is the perfect analogy for what seems to be happening to me at the end of the sermon on the mount. The harder I look at Jesus’ words, the weirder it gets and the more confused I am. This can cause problems, say, when you come home on a Friday night and try to talk about your day with your wife, while in the kitchen, say, and everything she might hypothetically say to try and help you out, you might hypothetically argue with Every. Single. Thing. she says.

“Pageant.” “BUT IT COULD BE PAGE-ANT!” “Pageant, a show, a gala, an extravaganza.” “IT COULD BE PAY-GENT!!!”

Hypothetically, this could be symbolic and illustrative. Continue reading

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Distilling the Sermon on the Mount

(As part of today’s message, I tried to interpret and condense the Sermon on the Mount. Several people asked for a copy, so I’m putting it here on the blog. Read for yourself in Matthew 5-7 and see if it works for you.)

Here is my expression of what Jesus teaches:

Chapter 5

You poor ones, you lacking ones, you meek ones, you ones full of need and grief: you are blessed. You will be blessed! Blessing comes when you go “all in” with me, even if others attack you for it. When you go “all in” with me, you flavor the world. You light it up. A better way to say it is, you are the channel through which my flavor and my light get expressed in the world. I am the fruit that will come out of you, when you dig your roots into me.

I’m not throwing out all the rules and actions and instructions God gave earlier. In fact I’m calling you beyond the letter of the law to a higher standard of mercy and love. It’s a difficult call I am placing on you, one which will require sacrifice from you. But I’m going to offer the biggest sacrifice. I am going to out-give you, out-love you, out-grace you, out-forgive you. I’m setting the example and the standard and I’m inviting you not to just get by, not to just be better than other people, not to find a passing grade on the commandments. I’m asking you to be as giving and loving and forgiving as your heavenly Father is.

Chapter 6

But don’t do this stuff to impress others. Don’t try to impress me or God’s people with your resume of spiritual activities. Trust that God sees what you do and loves you– even if no one else notices. Talk to God. And when you do, put God in the rightful place; worship God, honor God’s name.

Ask for and learn daily dependence. Ask for and remember that God gives you what you need each day. Ask for the forgiveness God wants to give, and don’t hoard it for yourself…forgive others, too.

If you do all this stuff to get attention, or to prove yourself to me and to the world, it’s futile. All those good deeds on display will rust and get moth-eaten. But when you walk with me, set your attention on me, develop a life of dependence on me…that’s the lasting treasure.

There’s such anxiety when you pursue other things than me, other things which in reality rust and get ruined. Pursue me. Seek me. Know me. Learn from me. Receive from me all the gifts I want to give you. This is the key!

Chapter 7

If you’re trying to please other people or trying to criticize what they aren’t getting right, your judgment of others is keeping you from knowing me and receiving from me. Just come to me! Ask, seek, knock. I love to give! You don’t have to earn it. If you presume you’ve already got it…if you’re sure you’ve achieved and have done it all…well, you certainly won’t ask ME for help. I wish you would put down your credentials and just come to me, know me. Ask, seek, knock and enter.

I’m sad to say there are so many pursuits, so many doors, so many things that can keep you from knowing me and walking with me. There are even people who will try to keep you from me. Watch what comes out of them. Watch what comes out of the people who follow them, and see if it looks giving, loving, and forgiving like me. If not, don’t be fooled. It won’t last and grow.

In fact, there are people who will say all the right things and even do some amazing things, and they will be so confident and presumptuous that they deserve good treatment from God because of it. Please don’t fall into that trap! Remember how I taught you to pray: cultivate a daily dependence on our giving God. Not on your actions.

Cultivate a daily dependence on our giving God. Dependence isn’t presumptuous. It isn’t all talk and no follow through. Dependence is trust. It’s knowing and being known by God.

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Trees and Fruit

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on January 25, 2015)

Play a little game with me–one of these things is not like the other. Can you find the unique one?

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Some of those were subtle, some really obvious. For me, after all these months we’ve spent in the Sermon on the Mount, and after reading today’s section many times in the past two weeks, these verses have felt like that red apple among the green ones. These verses have just screamed at me: we are different than the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Continue reading

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