Recently I’ve been thinking about Jesus saying we need to become like little children to inherit the Kingdom of God. And I’m sure there are lots of really great interpretations of this verse, with lots of really meaningful applications.
But the one I’ve been thinking about today is what if Jesus is talking about imaginations?
I mean as I think about my own kids, the one thing they have is so much imagination. And imagination, along with wonder, seems to be something we lose as adults.
Just recently I’ve had two interactions with Asher that remind me of the wonder of imagination. One, I was sleeping and he hit me with a stick and said, “Wake up daddy – I hit you with my magic stick. See it work you wake up” and he bounced off singing, and waking up all his animals. Then we were wrestling and he stops me and says, “I win daddy – I have laser eyes *blink blink* I got you again.”
These are things that never ever occur to me…
And I know that Jesus could be talking about a lot of things, but what if he’s talking about how we won’t be able to enter the Kingdom unless we can imagine it?Unless we can maybe dream up what it might look like? And how it might actually affect our lives right here and now?
What if part of the problem of us seeing the Kingdom really changing lives and changing communities ~ is because of our lack of imagination for how it might happen? What if our shrunken imaginations are actually shrinking the possibilities for the kingdom?
Ever since Asher beat me in wrestling with his laser eyes I’ve been thinking about that question. What possibilities might Asher see for the Kingdom that I’m missing? What might Asher fearlessly try that I wouldn’t? What might I see if I had the imagination and wonder of a child fully invested in the Kingdom of God?
I don’t have any great answers to that question…but I think it’s a great question to start with. And so while I don’t how it all plays out, I’ve been praying a new prayer recently because of my kids, “God give me eyes to see your world with childlike imagination.” Because once we start dreaming, and imagining we can also start following.
On Sunday we looked at the second and third “woe” of Jesus. And a series examining the “woes” of Jesus isn’t something that is generally fun, but it’s so needed. We, as a culture, don’t do great with responsibility and reflection; we do blame, turning a blind eye and busyness really well. Which is why we need Lent to slow down, reflect, and listen to God’s Spirit.
So on Sunday we looked at how Jesus calls the Pharisees blind. How they believe they are helping God, but are in the way of God’s movement. How they go to great lengths to make converts but because they are blind, make them twice as bad. How rather than condemning making oaths that you intend to get out, they implicitly agree with it. How they are blind and don’t even know it.
And that’s the trouble with spiritual blindness, you don’t know you are. You think you see things clearly when you are actually on the wrong side of God’s movement.
And we only have to look back a little ways in history to see how often people in the church have been on the wrong side of the Spirit of God’s movement. When we look at how people argued slavery was ordained by God, how women are inferior to men, how it’s right to kill in Jesus’ name in the crusades, or more recently, how the church treats people with mental health challenges. I could go on and on about how we have clearly been blind in the past to the movement of God.
I brought this up because if people in the past were sure they weren’t blind, but turned out they were – then we need to acknowledge the fact that we most likely are blind in some ways to the move of God as well. That if the religious, moral, and spiritual elite (Pharisees) got it wrong, if the church has got it wrong in the past, how can we be sure we have it all right? So the challenge though is that we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know where we are spiritually blind.
So we landed on this main point: In our blindness we can oppose the movement of God. And the way we discover our blindness certainly doesn’t come from listening to my voice or words, but from the voice and words of the Spirit. So we challenged ourselves to pray a radical prayer daily this week: GodReveal the areas of blindness in me.
The only way we will discover our blindness and be healed from it is if we listen and hear the Spirit speaking to us. Because I know there are areas in my life I’m spiritually blind, and I need to see clearly to follow clearly. So that’s our challenge ask Jesus to reveal areas of blindness to you, and listen for him so we can follow clearly.
Big Idea: In our blindness we can oppose the movement of God.
We, as a culture, don’t do great with responsibility and reflection; we do blame, turning a blind eye and busyness really well.
Holy Spirit if we are missing the point show us.
It’s not enough to follow God, You have to follow God in the right way.
If you have a false idea of God, the more religious you are, the worse it is for you – it were better for you to be an atheist. William Temple
In our blindness we can oppose the movement of God.
We’re all blind but didn’t know it.
The way we will discover our own blindness is to listen to the Spirit.
Reveal the areas of blindness in me.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? Why or why not? Is there something you could give up this year for Lent? Have you ever considered that you might be “spiritually blind”? Can you think of other examples of “spiritual blindness”? Why is being spiritually blind so very dangerous? Are there any areas you feel you might be blind to?
Challenge for the Week: God Reveal the areas of blindness in me.
On Sunday we looked at the first “woe” of Jesus and opening up the series and the practice of Lent. I shared how Lent isn’t fun but necessary. Necessary because the truth is we as Christians need to challenge ourselves to live and look more like Jesus. Stanley Hauerwas writes this:
It is surely the case that many of us are kept from entering the kingdom by the lives we lead as Christians. Our problem is very simple – we simply do not know how to live as a people who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord.
And I believe that is true. Lent then is a time of re-centering on how to live like Jesus, appreciating his sacrifice, taking a hard look at our lives, and asking for challenge and conviction.
Lent also matters because it prepares us for Easter. We spend so much time preparing for Christmas but the true Christian holiday is Easter and I think we need to invest time and energy into that as well.
And lastly, Lent matters because it can save our faith. If you practice Lent then at least yearly you will go through a season that is slower, inward focused, repentance focused, and one that is a bit darker. And this matters because somehow we’ve bought into the illusion that the Christian faith is all light, rainbows, and sunshine. So when our lives turn dark, as can happen, we think we’ve lost of our faith. Lent reminds us that going through a dark time is actually part of faith.
So with that we kicked off our series beginning to look at the seven woes of Jesus found in Matthew 23. We focused in verse 13, and the first woe.
The first thing we realized was that the Pharisees weren’t bad people, they were people deeply desiring for God to move. And in many ways we slant the Pharisees in Christian circles so that they are different than us, but they really are very similar to us. And this is why then when Jesus condemns them we need to hear these words and apply them to ourselves. We need to make sure we are following Jesus, and not just our ideas about Jesus.
So Jesus says, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”
And in this Jesus starts to bring up the offensive reality of the gospel. That the gospel, or entering the Kingdom of heaven, isn’t offensive because of who it rejects but who it includes. The Pharisees were busy sharing who was in and who was out. The difficulty is that the people they were rejecting were the people God was including. So Jesus comes to them and confronts them and says – you exclude people from God’s Kingdom (shutting the door), and then refuse to enter yourself. You not only bar other people from going in, but refuse to enter yourself.
Jesus throughout his ministry welcomed people into the Kingdom the Pharisees didn’t believe deserved to be there. And the truth is that the people Jesus welcomed into the kingdom – tax collectors, prostitues, and sinners – didn’t deserve to be in the kingdom. And neither did the Pharisees. It was an act of grace and mercy.
So Jesus confronts the Pharisees for rejecting the people that God is including. But this isn’t about them, it’s about us. So we came to this main point because we do the same thing the Pharisees do. The main point is this: God’s Kingdom and grace is bigger than all of us.
The question though is are we acting like the Pharisees? Are we barring people from entering? Are we excluding people God’s spirit is including? Would Jesus say to us, “Woe to you for shutting the door, on people I’m inviting in”? It’s a really important question, one that we landed and ended on.
I invited people to really reflect on that question. Are there people in our lives whom we are rejecting that God is including? Are you standing in the way of what God is doing? Do we have enemies that we believe don’t deserve God’s kingdom, or to be part of what God is doing – as they are?
So to make this personal and practical we ended with this challenge: to pray for our enemies daily. The truth is it’s hard to reject people we are daily praying for, and that is what will ensure we don’t stand in the way of God’s movement. So the challenge for all of us was simple: pray for our enemies and get out of the way for God to move. Because the Kingdom is bigger than we think, and God is inviting people in.
Big Idea: God’s Kingdom and grace is bigger than all of us.
Lent isn’t fun, but is necessary.
Going through a dark time doesn’t mean we’ve lost our faith, it’s actually part of our faith.
The gospel isn’t offensive because of who it excludes, the gospel is offensive because of who it includes.
Jesus welcomed in people the Pharisees didn’t believe deserved to be there.
The Pharisees in the name of God are denying the movement of God.
The kingdom is big enough for everyone.
The gospel is for everyone wherever they are at or it’s not the gospel.
No one deserves the kingdom, but we are all invited to it.
God’s Kingdom and grace is bigger than all of us.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? Why or why not? Is there something you could give up this year for Lent? How have you seen in the past people getting in the way of what God was doing? How have you in the past excluded people God was including? Who are the people you need to pray for and work to include in God’s kingdom?
Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families
Talk to your kids about the reality that God’s kingdom is for everyone, even the people we struggle with and really dislike. Start to teach them to pray for those who are their enemies. Start to lead them to live like Jesus through prayer.
Challenge for the Week: Pray for our enemies daily.
On Sunday we looked at the story of Daniel and the Lion’s den. We really dove into it, past the simple highlight, and into the world of power and politics. The story of Daniel is set in the world of power, politics, governments, and kingdoms. And at the heart of the story is one simple but compelling question: where does your allegiance lie?
That’s the question we explored on Sunday. Does you allegiance lie with God above, or those around you? Do you follow our heavenly king, or earthly rulers? Who gets the final say in your life – God or yourself?
What we saw was how one man changed an entire nation. While it might sound extreme to say that but that is exactly what Daniel did. Worship of God was outlawed and Daniel had to choose where to place his allegiance. And rather than placing his allegiance with the powers around him, he placed it in the power of God above him and he changed his world.
Daniel was saved from the lion’s den, and the law outlawing the worship of God was overruled and turned into a farce. Through Daniel’s courageous act to challenge the powers that be, he brought about change.
This is our calling as well as Christians, as it has always been. We are called to follow God’s voice and his commands to stand up for justice, the orphan, widow, and foreigner. Our gospel is a political gospel in that it calls us to stand up to the kingdoms and rulers of this world seeking to follow God’s calling of loving him and loving others. Stanley Hauerwas once wrote:
Jesus’ death was a political death. If you ask one of the crucial theological questions – why was Jesus killed? – the answer isn’t “Because God want us to love one another.” Why would anyone kill Jesus for that? That’s stupid. It’s not even interesting. Why did Jesus get killed? Because he challenged the powers that be.
I think that is true. Our calling is to be like Jesus calling into question the powers that oppress and marginalize.
So we wrapped it up by asking one simple question: where does your allegiance lie? And as we explored it we asked people that when this week’s decisions arise between following Jesus and following the rules of this world, that we choose Christ. This is how we change the world. Doing this means sometimes you get thrown into a den of lions, sometimes you get thrown into a furnace, and sometimes you get nailed to a cross. But what does happen every time we are faithful to God, we see God’s Kingdom come, we see the Spirit move, and we see the world changed one small bit at a time. And that’s what following Jesus is about, following Jesus one step at a time.
Big Idea: Who has your allegiance?
This world is running contrary to God’s Kingdom
How do you change a world that is going in the wrong direction?
The Gospel is a political reality and a political statement
His Kingdom is not based on killing, lying, or coercive power. His Kingdom is based on sacrifice, life, and truth.
Key choices set the direction of your life
It’s not the knowing that’s hard, It’s the doing that’s hard
The longer you wait to make the right decision, the harder it is to make the right decision
This story is about allegiance
I may not face life and death decisions everyday, but I do face decisions to bring life or day into my life everyday
We need to suffer the consequences of following God
Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What did you take away? What was new? Where is your allegiance? Is it to God or things of this world? What made you most uncomfortable when we were talking? What grabbed your attention or your heart? How is God asking you to live our allegiance to him in this world this week?
Discussion Questions for Young Families Talk with your kids about the things of this world that aren’t from God (Hunger, war, violence, disease). Talk to them about how as Christians we are called to stand up and change those things. Ask them which things they want to change and then find a way to do it (i.e. sponsor a child, build a well, go to a homeless shelter etc)
On Sunday we are exploring a difficult topic. We are talking about money. Here is the difficulty though with this topic. Whenever money is talked about people can get defensive and uncomfortable. This has often been because the church has talked about money so poorly, seeming like all we care about is a bigger offering. But money, wealth, and finances do need to be talked about in church because of how it can affect our lives. Whether or not we acknowledge it money has a huge influence on our lives. Here are just a few examples:
Marriages often split over finances and fights about finances
Financial stress can bleed out into all sorts of relationships that we have
Many of us are scared about our future in relation to money, wealth, and security
And so we should talk about how to find peace, life, and hope. The truth is that if Jesus talked about money so should we, and he talked about money a lot:
Jesus talked about money more than anything else, other than the Kingdom of God
Jesus talked about money more than heaven and hell combined
25% of all the parables have connections with money
I think the point is that Jesus knew that money is a stress, it is a focus, and it can steal our peace. So he talks about it to give us freedom, life, and a new perspective.
So here is a sneak peek into the big idea for Sunday. It has two parts but I’ll share the first part now: God doesn’t want your money. This is true, and on Sunday we’ll be exploring Mathew 6 to find out why that’s true. Why God isn’t really interested in your money, why we won’t be having a second offering, and why money isn’t the issue, it has something to do with our hearts.
I think a lot about the future. I think a lot about my sons’ futures. I sense both of them have different paths in life. I’m already sensing their different personalities and as I pray for them I’m sensing God will use them both in deep but different ways.
But what I’m realizing is that how I raise them will affect what they live for. So already I’m praying for strength to be able to raise them to be courageous, grateful, grace-filled, and to have a sense of wonder. But this will be tough. This goes against what the world, marketing, and society teaches us. Namely that what we want out of life is personal happiness. Unfortunately nothing can be further from the truth…
Stanley Hauerwas writes, “What you want out of life is not happiness but to be part of a worthy adventure you want to have something worth dying for.”
The difficulty is as a dad how do I help them to see this? How do I teach them that they don’t need stuff to be happy they need someone worth following and life worth leaving. That’s right leaving. They need something worth dying for. They need something bigger than themselves to give themselves to. They need Jesus.
So the question is how do you help little boys who love fire trucks, and Kraft dinner to see and learn this? How can you help them to see past TV and see the poor, hurting, and broken around the world and in our neighborhood? How do you help people see the Kingdom that is hidden all around them?
Well what I know for sure is you can’t force it. This type of life has always been an invitation. Jesus says, “Come and learn to die with me” (Luke 9:23) A statement that on the outside makes no sense, but it’s an invitation I can’t refuse. Yes, giving grace to people who don’t deserve it doesn’t make sense. Giving generously to people who will never repay you doesn’t make sense. Forgiving enemies, welcoming the broken, making room for the messy, and making your life about others doesn’t make sense. And while it might not make much sense, it does make a difference…
So while I’m not totally sure yet on how to help my boys find an adventure worth following, I know it will require a few things. It will require many prayers, sleepless nights, and a lot of sacrifice on behalf of Krista and myself. But it’s worth it because one day I hope to sit with both my boys and share with them Jesus’ invitation to take up your cross and follow him. And I hope that we might do it together…
I’d like to let you in to the secret world of “professional ministry”. Want to know the number one question that comes up between pastors? No it’s not, “How has God been faithful to you?” and it’s not even “Are things busy?”
The number one question that comes up in the beginning of most pastoral first meetings is this: “How big is your church?”
Now it doesn’t come up right away but often near the beginning of a first conversation when pastors meet. They ask where the church is located, what denomination, and then eventually try to feel out the size of the church. While it might be unintentional, what is often perceived is that if your church is large, you’re doing well. And if your church isn’t large that maybe you’re not as successful.
But here is the problem with that perspective, and why it matters for you even if you’re not a pastor.
First off, we need to remember that the church belongs to God, and not to a pastor anyway. What this means is that we don’t own what we are called to shepherd and serve. Secondly, size doesn’t mean you are being successful. Being successful means being faithful. And both of these two principles are true in any profession, role, or calling. We do not own what we have been given, and being successful has nothing to do with size, profit margin increase, new promotions, bigger houses, or better parking spaces. Being successful is about being faithful to what God has called you to do.
So if God has called you to be faithful in raising you kids, do it to the best of your ability. Who cares if your neighbours’ kids get better grades. Focus on being faithful. If God has called you to start a business, who cares if your MBA friend has launched one bigger and faster. Focus on being faithful to your calling. And if the pastor down the street has a bigger church, God bless it, because your calling isn’t to be large, it’s to be faithful.
In essence, in God’s Kingdom our callings don’t need to compete. Asking the question who will be the greatest in the kingdom – isn’t a kingdom question. Because in God’s Kingdom our different callings don’t compete with one another, they complement and complete God’s plan.
I learned this from my son. We were racing around the house, and this time I won. He started dancing all around and said “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, you win…Daddy I win too! You first and I’m first. We’re all first”. This is maybe something Christians, and pastors in particular, should learn. We don’t need to compete, in Christ we’re all first…
This Sunday we talked about how God’s Kingdom is like a party.
But not just any party a great party where different people mix, connect, and are invited. God’s Kingdom is like a great banquet where invitations go out to the unlikely, unnonticed, and unwanted. It’s this party where everyone gets great food, where lonely people connect, where people who are down have fun, where boundaries are crossed and life begins. And you’re invited not because of who you know, but Jesus who knows you. This is a picture of what God’s Kigndom is like.
So my challenge to you this week is simple: throw a party.
Throw a good party. Throw an awesome party. Invite friends, neighbors, and people would never get invited. Get great food, great music, and have a great time. Samir Selmanovic “Christians know how to talk about life, but they don’t know how to love life”. Let’s prove this statement wrong this week. Let’s love life and help others to love it too by our grace, generosity, and inclusion. Throw a great party, and watch as God’s Kingdom surprises you all around.
Following Jesus means throwing parties…so get busy loving life by throwing a party…
Here it is Sunday morning and I’m still thinking about last Sunday where we talked about grace. I’m still thinking it all through. Something that has really lasted this week was what we began the sermon with last week – a quote from Mrs. O’Brien in Terrence Malick’s new film “Tree of Life”. She says this:
“There are two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one to follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself, and get others to please it too. It likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy, when all the world is shining around it, when love is smiling through all things. They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to you, whatever comes.”
The more I reflect on this quote the more I think it’s a challenge of the Kingdom. In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus clearly shows that he runs his Kingdom on Grace. The challenge is that he is clear that if we don’t live by grace, we may find ourselves at odds with his Kingdom. As Malick says, making an illusion to Jesus, there are two ways through life, grace and nature and we must choose our path.
I believe that is the question for you and for me that I am still reflecting and grappling with. That, if the Kingdom truly runs by grace, if its rule is grace, its way of life is grace, then the implicit challenge is: are we living by grace?
Would your friends and neighbors say you give grace? Would your family characterize your life as a life of grace? What about the people who meet on the road driving to work? What about the cashier?
There are only two ways through life, one of grace and one of nature. And Malick is right, “No one who loves the way of grace has ever come to a bad end”. Because Grace is the way the Kingdom runs…
If you were to describe God’s Kingdom in one word what would it be?
Take a moment and actually think about it. If a friend were to come up to you and say, “I’ve heard about this Kingdom of God – what’s it really like?” How would you choose to describe it? What picture would you paint?
In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – Jesus consistently shares a picture of God’s Kingdom that is compelling, inviting, and challenging all in one. He says God’s Kingdom is like a party.
That’s right, a party. Think about it – Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding. He says often that the Kingdom of God is like a party, a feast, a wedding, or a celebration. For Jesus, a good picture of the Kingdom is a party, great get-together, or a celebration.
What a great picture.
The question is – “What is it about a party that reveals God’s Kingdom?”
That’s what we’re going to explore on Sunday. But I’d love your ideas and thoughts ahead of time! Comment or email me.