Lent: Seven Woes of Jesus ~ Week 2: Blind Guides, Hell, and Learning to See

glasses-1554870-1280x960On 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: God Reveal 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.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaIn our blindness we can oppose the movement of God.

Teaching Points:

  • 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.

Blindness and Learning to See – When you Think You Can See

Oblinds-1436458-1279x1646n Sunday we are continuing in our series “The 7 Woes” for Lent. We are looking at the condemnations that Jesus makes to the religious leaders of his day, and asking what he would say to us. I know it’s not easy, but necessary.

On Sunday we are going to look at this “woe”:

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!  “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’  Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?  And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding.  How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne.

We are going to be looking, in essence, at how we can be blind to what God is doing, and how we aren’t actually following God. This is a pretty big topic and a pretty hard topic because here is the truth: the Pharisees thought they were following God but they were in God’s way. And the same thing can happen to us. We can think we are following God with righteousness, holiness, and dedication only to have Jesus say we are blind and a blind guide.

So to prepare for this Sunday here is what I think we should all do – we should pray and ask God to reveal himself to us. We should ask him to reveal the ways in which we are blind. Because the truth is if we are moving in the wrong direction, we need to know The trouble is we need to hear God first. So my challenge before we even get to Sunday is just this: to listen to the Spirit. That’s the first step to learning to see.

Breaking the Grip of Greed

1390009_45620103On Sunday we are looking at the Deadly Sin of Greed. This may be the biggest temptation that Christians face in the west. It’s also certainly the most mentioned sin in the Bible, we just don’t read it. The sin of Greed is the sin of Idolatry which drives so much hurt in the world. As Paul says, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

But here is the problem with greed. We all know that greed wrecks relationships, businesses, and lives deeper and faster than most other things. We all know how toxic greed can be. How it can drive people to become workaholics, trap people in spirals of debt, and bring about deep insecurity in others.

We know this. We’ve seen the effects of greed. We’ve seen good people make awful decisions because of it. We’ve seen relationships suffer from it.

What I don’t think we know is how to break it.

Greed happens so easily and quickly, and we don’t know how to break it. Or even more importantly to stay free from it.

We have a nice house, and go to someone else’s nicer house and like ours less. And all of a sudden greed catches us. We watch TV, see a lovely vacation spot and start dreaming about how happy we would be with more money, and greed catches us. We save, go out to a great restaurant, have a great meal, and then see regulars there and wish we could be them. And again greed catches us.

It is so easy to get caught up in greed, so on Sunday we are going to look at how to break it. Because I think that’s worth finding out.

Understanding and Exploring Spiritual Warfare

854353_87050096On Sunday we started to open up a series taking a look at the topic of Spiritual Warfare. We began with a great quote by C.S. Lewis who writes this:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe and feel an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

And I think he’s right. There are two dangers; one of dismissing the reality of evil that is external to ourselves, and the other is to search for it and become totally fascinated with it.

We talked about how in the Bible from Genesis through to Revelation there is a clear picture of an opposing force to the will of God in the world. Sometimes this force or forces goes by many different names; evil, chaos, Leviathan, Satan, principalities and powers. The point is that the Bible seems to point to the reality of evil and powers of darkness that are outside of humanity and seeking to affect humanity. This viewpoint is especially seen in Jesus. Jesus did not just come to free us from personal sins, but to conquer evil, Satan, sin, and death. Jesus saw himself as combatting and challenging the forces of darkness that bring about death, destruction, and division.  N.T. Wright, writes: “One of the key elements in Jesus’ perception of his task was his redefinition of who the real enemy was . . . The pagan hordes surrounding Israel [including Rome] were not the actual foe of the people of the YHWH. Standing behind the whole problem of Israel’s exile was the dark power known in some Old Testament traditions as the satan, the accuser. The struggle was coming to a head and was therefore cosmic.”

The point is that if Jesus believed in the powers of darkness around him, we should be open to believe it as well. Because once we recognize the reality, we can work towards their finality.

I ended with this quote on Sunday and I think it’s true, and deep. So I’ll end with it here as well.

Some think spiritual warfare is only deliverance. Others emphasize pulling down strongholds in the heavenlies. Still others say spiritual warfare is doing the works of Jesus – preaching, teaching and living the truth. Yet another group says all this is impractical. They claim we should focus on feeding the hungry, resisting racism, and speaking out against social injustice. I believe we have to do it all. Pulling down strongholds is only important if people are led to Christ as a result. However, some are deaf to the preaching of the gospel until we deal with hindering powers.  And some can’t break through into victory until bondage is broken in their lives. We must do it all, as appropriate and as God leads. – Dean Sherman

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Darkness is real and we need to change it

Take Aways…

  • Spiritual Warfare: Is standing and fighting against the darkness and evil in this world
  • There are forces that stand opposed to the will of God
  • We need nuanced views, not bumper stickers.
  • There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe and feel an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. C.S. Lewis
  • The Bible right off the bat recognizes a force opposed to the will of God.
  • The Bible unequivocally speaks of powers of darkness, Satan, demons, spirits, and other powers not only consistently but pervasively
  • Three approaches to interpreting passages with supernatural evil: dismiss them as figurative, ignore them as unnecessary, or engage them critically
  • Jesus believed in supernatural evil
  • Understnaidng Jesus means understanding what he came to change
  • Jesus did not just come to save us from our personal sins, but to overthrow all evil, hate, war, sin, and hurt.
  • The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8
  • The assumption that undergird Jesus’ entire ministry is the view that Satan has illegitimately seized the world and thus now exercises a controlling influence over it. Greg Boyd
  • If we don’t believe in the reality of evil and darkness around us we will not be effective in destroying it
  • There are two equal dangers to dismiss the reality of the devil, and to search for the devil in all sorts of ways
  • We need to use discernment to discover what is health and unhealthy

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was new, what was challenging? Did you have an areas of disagreement?

What are your thoughts about supernatural evil? What did you think of C.S. Lewis’ quote? What darkness do you see around you? How can you stand against it this week?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take sometime to talk to your kids about today’s topic. Remind them that whenever they face anything dark in their lives, or scary that Jesus is stronger and already defeated them. Give them a sense of security that Jesus is always with them.

Challenge for this Week: Stand against the darkness around you

Politics, the Kingdom, and Daniel and the Lion’s Den

131.Daniel_in_the_Lions'_DenOn 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.

Sermon Notes

Big Idea: Who has your allegiance?

Take Aways…

  • 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)

Challenge for this Week Give God you Allegiance