4 Books: 4 Questions ~ The Book of Matthew, Change, and Courage

saint-matthew-1147134-1279x1057On Sunday we started our series looking at each of the gospels and why they are written the way they are. Because each gospel is wrote with a different purpose, context, and audience – and we need all 4. Life is complex and we cannot reduce the gospels down to “one story”. Instead, we have one story told from four perspectives and we need all 4.

So on Sunday we looked at the gospel of Matthew.

We learned that it was most likely written to Jewish Christians. We can tell this by how Matthew never explains Jewish customs (like Mark), grounds Jesus’ ministry with echoes to Moses and Abraham (unlike Luke who grounds it in Adam), and focuses in on Jewish questions of how to live.

From this we learned though why this might be so important in that day and age. We learned how the temple was destroyed in AD 70 and how Jospehus writes that millions were killed, and “Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom”.

And while that is certainly brutal, here is why it matters. The Jewish world was utterly rocked by the destruction of the temple. The Jewish way of life as was known was over, and they faced tremendous change, uncertainty, and confusion. And it’s into this milieu that Matthew writes. Matthew writes to a group of Jewish Christians whose way of life has been so utterly compromised that they can’t see the way forward

So Matthew writes about moving through change and confusion.

While we looked at some high level themes, we really landed on the story of Peter walking on the water, and how this story would be so helpful to a group of people processing change. Peter, in the midst of darkness, uncertainty, and confusion does something crazy. He steps further into the unknown. He actually moves further away from what little safety and security remained for him and stepped out into the wind and the waves. He places all his faith, and trust in Jesus and with courage steps out.

And I think this is Matthew’s point commented on in various ways throughout the gospel: the way we get through change is courage and trust in Jesus. 

That’s how we move through the wind, waves, and sea of chaos and uncertainty. And while the temple being destroyed doesn’t change many of our Western lives, we all have our own temples that we rely on. Whether these temples are faith, jobs, health, or wealth they occasionally crumble and seem to crack. And Matthew’s word for us to trust and have courage in the face of uncertainty. Matthew’s words for us when the world is falling apart to step further out in trust with Jesus and follow with courage. Matthew’s message isn’t to huddle in the boat, trying to keep the thing together, but to step out with trust. And that’s where we ended too. Asking us all to take a step of trust.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaFace change with courage and trust.

Teaching Points:

  • We have 4 gospels and need all four.
  • The Gospels tell us how the early church told the story of Jesus in four different contexts – Michael Hardin
  • Matthew is about how to face and deal with change.
  • We still have our own “temples” today.
  • I have no certainty about my future, and you might not either.
  • A theme of Matthew is to have courage and trust.
  • Face change with courage and trust.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you ever thought about the gospels being different before? How does knowing some of the context change things? Are you in the midst of facing any change? What excites you, or worries you about it? What might “stepping” out of the boat look like? How can you be sure to remain focused on Jesus?

Challenge for the Week: To ask Jesus to call you out of the boat, and step out with courage and trust.

Poetry for the Darkness

stairway-to-wilderness-hiking-1400435-1280x960Wilderness Prayer:

I am not asking you

To take this wilderness from me,

To remove this place of starkness

Where I come to know

the wildness within me,

where I learn to call the names

of the ravenous beasts

that pace inside me

to finger the brambles

that snake through my veins,

to taste the thirst

that tugs at my tongue

But send me

Tough angels,

Sweet wine,

Strong bread:

Just enough.

  • Jan L. Richardson

Seven Last Words of Jesus: “Father Into Your Hands…” Lenten Reflection

sevenlastwords-7On Sunday we looked at this saying of Jesus on the cross: “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit”.

There is a lot to be said about this statement, but we just focused on a few details. First, that this is a prayer that quotes Psalm 31:1. This is important because on the cross it was virtually impossible near the end to speak. You died of asphyxiation so speaking was not only difficult, but excruciating. So Jesus, for his last words, prays the first line of this Psalm. And here is the rest of the verse:

I entrust my spirit into your hands. Rescue me, Lord for you are a faithful God. Psalm 35:1

When we take Jesus’ words in light of the rest of the verse we see that Jesus’ prayer is both a prayer of trust, and rescue.

The second thing we noticed was that while the translation of the word, “spirit” is correct in English, it is lacking. When we hear “spirit” we think of soul or the opposite of “body” or the material world. But the word in both Greek and Hebrew has earthy roots. Jesus here is not praying to hand over his “soul” but his entire being. This is why Eugene Peterson’ in his translation, translates this verse as, “I’ve put my life in your hands”. And this gets at the heart of what is happening. Jesus is trusting the Father, not just with his soul, but his entire life.

And what is so remarkable about this, is that Jesus at the end of his life turns to faith. We sometimes cheapen this moment by thinking, “Well Jesus…was Jesus he knew he would be resurrected”. But we are saying that on this side of history. Jesus hasn’t lived it yet, and so while he has faith the Father will rescue him, it simply put hasn’t happened yet. So Jesus is starting into death, darkness, and the weight of sin knowing he is about to be abandoned but in his last moments he doesn’t give up on faith, he gives in to faith. He says “Father I trust you even now”, you are all I can hold onto.

What is beautiful is that because Jesus prayed this prayer so can we. We will never know what Jesus experienced, nor will we ever go through the depth of what he experienced. But because of Jesus, even when we are at our worst, in our deepest struggle, because his spirit lives and moves within us – we can pray this prayer like him. When we come up against darkness that doesn’t quit, death that steals our life, we can choose to trust in God. To say, “Father I trust you with my life” which is where we ended on Sunday.

It was a prayer of unquestioning trust…Uncalculating trust. A no-questions-asked readiness to leave everything in the hands of the Father. Eugene Peterson

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: That if Jesus prayed this prayer, so can we.

Teaching Points:

  • Challenge for Lent: 1) Pray Weekly Prayers of Repentance, 2) Pray Daily Corporate Prayers 2 Chronicles 7:14, 3) Fast Something for Lent
  • There is cosmic significance to what is happening.
  • I entrust my spirit into your hands. Rescue me, Lord for you are a faithful God. Psalm 35:1
  • Jesus’ prayer is both a prayer of trust, and rescue.
  • That if Jesus prayed this prayer, so can we.
  • It was a prayer of unquestioning trust…Uncalculating trust. A no-questions-asked readiness to leave everything in the hands of the Father. Eugene Peterson

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? What can you fast or give up this year? Is there any difficulty you are facing right now? What is it? Can you name it? Can you trust God in the midst of it? What might that look like? Can you pray the prayer Jesus prayed?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Read the story today with your kids. Talk to them about how Jesus, in the most difficult moment, trusted in his Father. Remind them they can always trust in God.

Challenge for the Week: Pray, “Father I trust you with my life”

Is fear driving your future?

Spooky old photoOn Sunday we are looking at the topic of fear. And here is the truth: fear grows when we feel we are not in control. The less control we have in our lives, the more fear takes hold.

And this can happen all over the place. We lose our job, and fear is in charge. A friendship breaks down, and fear directs our decisions. Our Plan A’s turn into Plan B’s and fear has a heyday.

The point is this when we lose control, fear grows.

The problem is that we aren’t ever really in control. I mean I know this is not a fun thing to say – but we actually control so little in our lives. We live with the semblance of control. We plan, prepare, and proceed if we are in control. But things shift, the economy changes, a phone call from our doctor, a friendship fails…and we find out we aren’t in as much control as we thought. That’s when fear fills that void.

But that’s not the only way it needs to be. The options aren’t pretend control, and fear. There is a third option. One of trust that we are going to look at on Sunday.

But before we get there I think there is a good question for us to ask today:

Is there any area of your life that fear is driving?

Because fear is subtle, it is hidden often just below the surface, but it so often drives our decisions, thoughts, and lives. So spend some time asking that question and reflecting on it. Because here is the truth: a decision made based in fear, is rarely the right one. So on Sunday we are going to look at how fear drives us, but also how we can live free of fear. Because there is a beautiful promise in 1 John 5:18, “perfect love casts out fear”. So we are going to work this all together, where hopefully we can leave with less fear, more trust, and most importantly, more hope.

The Relationship Between the Gospel and Trust

trust11

Trust.

It’s a pretty big thing. In fact, if you think about it, all relationships are built on it. It’s something that takes years to build, and moments to lose. It’s something that is the difference from a relationship being healthy, to horrible. It is something we often take for granted, but is the grounding for almost everything.

Trust.

I’m writing a little bit about trust because I think this is one thing we as Christians need to develop most. We need to develop trust. Let’s just be honest: the culture around us doesn’t trust us as the church. Stats show it. Anecdotal evidence shows it. And I think this is something we know deep down. But here is the beautiful thing: it’s something that can be changed. We can rebuild trust in our families, friendships, and communities. And if I can be so strong – this is something we need to do. We need to invest in rebuilding trust and connections with our culture and our communities.

I was talking with someone about why today “gospel presentations” often don’t seem to work. My answer was a lack of trust and relationship. Formal presentations without the basis of trust and relationship simply don’t carry much impact. It’s not that the gospel doesn’t have weight and impact on its own. The point is that the gospel is inherently relational. So when we share the gospel without relationships, it loses impact because its lost something important: trust.

So all of this is simply to say one thing. Trust matters. It matters if we want to follow Jesus fully. It matters if we want to leave an impact on our communities. It matters if we want to be faithful to the gospel and to Jesus. It matters more than we think.

But that’s the difficulty with trust, it’s so easy to take it for granted. But if we want to see lives changed, it can’t be something we take for granted, it’s something we need to cultivate.

Learning to Trust in the Dark Times

Have you ever noticed that difficulty seems to come all at once? Where health challenges, a death, a major car bill, an unexpected family fall out all happens in the same week.1418812_77341743

So the question I want to look at is how do you get through a really difficult week, month, or even year? How do you get through a time where all sorts of crisis happen all at once? Yes of course, as a pastor, the answer is Jesus, but what does that actually mean?

Well what I’ve learned over the years is that the way to get through difficult times is to invest in trust – trust in Jesus, others, and even ourselves.

The first person I try to place my active trust in – is God. I want to be specific what that means for me. For me it means reminding myself that Jesus is good, true, faithful, and loving. When difficulty happens it can so easily take all of our focus and we forget that God is still good and in control. So I seek to remind myself that God is not caught off guard, God is not unmoving up in heaven. Our God is active, caring, loving, and faithful. God will lead me through whatever I am facing, and I seek to place my trust in him.

I also try to trust in my friends. By this I mean those people who God has placed in my life and have been walking with me. Jesus so often shows up in a difficult week through the actions, words, and encouragements of my friends and family. A wife who does something special, a friend who texts to say they are praying for me out of the blue, or some produce from a neighbor. This is how Jesus often shows up in practical ways through other people giving their time, support, and encouragement. This is something I’ve been learning to lean on and even ask for in a difficult week. Ask for care, ask for support, ask for prayer and trust in those God has placed around you.

And lastly, I try to trust in myself. This seems at first rather self-centered so let me clarify what I mean. I seek to trust in who Jesus has called me to be, and how he has been working in my life. What I try to trust in – is the God who has been shaping me, forming me, who is within me, and who will lead me. So when I’m tired, and unsure what to say or do I trust that God will use me. I trust in the abilities he has given me, and the promise that if I’m willing he will use me. I think we need to do the same to trust that God wants to use each and everyone of us. To trust that as followers of Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit within us, and Jesus wants to use the gift and abilities we have to get through a difficult time.

So if difficulty sneaks up on you, or crisis surprises you, this is how I’ve been learning to make it through. Trusting in the goodness of Jesus Christ, trusting in support he’s placed around me, and trusting in who he has called me to be.

So that’s me. What about you? What has helped you get through a long week? Do you have friends or family you can rely on? If not, do you have a church that you can call for support? Are you remembering that God is good and his purposes for your life is good? Are you trusting in what he is doing in and through you?

In essence are you trusting him?

And I hope you are, but if today for whatever reason trust is low here is my prayer for you today:

That God would prove his trustworthiness in amazing and ordinary ways to you this week. That you would sense his provision, his goodness, and his grace. That friends would surprise you with support, and God would assure you of his care. That your trust would grow. Grace and peace.

Goodbye “Leap of Faith”…Hello “Leap of Action”

We often think of accepting Jesus as a “leap of faith”. That you can learn all you can about him, but eventually you have to decide if he is true. You have to decide if Jesus is worth trusting, following, and believing in. We often call this in Christian circles a “leap of faith”. And I agree in all of that.

The thing I don’t agree with is the term “leap of faith”. It’s not that it’s wrong, or that we don’t need to do it. It’s that – that term or phrase is so misunderstood that it leads us down the wrong path. It actually can stop discipleship and confuse the whole process. So I’d like to replace that phrase with a new one. To no longer think of following Jesus as a “leap of faith” but instead as a “leap of action” because that is what true trust requires.

Following Jesus isn’t about becoming so mentally certain in Jesus’ salvation, divinity, or truth that we don’t have any disbelief. It isn’t about having a rational and intellectual leap of faith where we overcome all doubt and believe all the right doctrine about Jesus. Faith, in the biblical sense, is about so much more than that. To have faith in someone is to trust and follow them. It’s not about becoming intellectually certain of key convictions (though that is important). Faith is about becoming certain enough to follow, trust, and obey. And through trusting, following, and obeying Jesus, we become more certain as we experience faith in action and Jesus’ transformation.

Faith is much more about a “leap of action” than just a “leap of thought, belief, or faith”. Because as we know true faith and trust results in change in our lives. The point isn’t just to change what we know; it’s to have a deep change in who we are because of Jesus Christ.

So my point is simple. Following Jesus does require a leap of faith, but this leap of faith needs to lead to a leap of action. The point of faith isn’t to become convinced about Jesus, it’s about becoming changed by Jesus. So from now on I doubt I’ll use the phrase “leap of faith” but I might be using the phrase “leap of action”. Because what I’ve discovered over my years is that as I practice trusting in Jesus practically…my convictions on who Jesus is deepen dramatically…

Faith is Trust in Action

On Sunday we talked about how faith is really trust. It’s an active trust in Jesus. Brennan Manning writes this;

“If a random sample of one thousand American Christians were taken today, the majority would define faith as belief in the existence of God. In earlier times – almost nobody took that for granted. Rather, faith had to do with one’s relationship to God – whether one trusted in God. The difference between faith as “belief in something that may or may not exist” and faith as “trusting in God” is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart.”

That’s what we explored, the matter of the heart trusting in Jesus. The point isn’t to believe that there is a God out there. The point is to have active trust in the person of Jesus as the Son of God who gives us life through his grace and gift. This is the point of being an apprentice to trust in Jesus. But this type of trust isn’t intellectual assent, or rational agreement. This is the type of trust with action, with movement, that actually has feet. Meaning that this type of trust needs to change how we live. That’s the whole point, that what we truly trust in we need to act on.

So I ended with this challenge and I think it’s a good challenge for anyone. To ask ourselves: What is one way we can actively trust Jesus this week? What is one thing we can do to act on our trust?

And depending on where you are at with Jesus what he might tell you is different. But I know he will be telling us all to take a step, and to take action. Because that’s what faith is – trust in action.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: The heart of an apprentice is active trust

Take Aways…

  • The most crucial challenge for the church is whether or not we will become disciples of Jesus.
  • The world needs more people living like Jesus
  • 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. Jesus Matthew 7:24
  • Can you say, “I know my next step to grow…”?
  • Faith is active trust in something, or someone.
  • Being an apprentice of Jesus starts with trusting in him
  • The difference between faith as “belief in something that may or may not exist” and faith as “trusting in God” is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart.” – Brennan Manning

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What do you think the greatest challenge facing the church is? Where is your relationship with God right now – are you exploring him, growing with him, close to him, or centred on him? What is your next step to grow? What next step do you need to take to put your trust into action? What might Jesus be asking you to do? What is faith to you?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment to talk with you kids about “faith”. Say how it is like trusting, that just as how your kids trust you to provide for them, help them, guide them, by actively trusting – asking for help – and obeying. That trusting Jesus is like that. Ask them if they would like to trust Jesus or if they do.

Challenge for this Week:

Find one way to actively trust Jesus this week

What is “Faith”?

This Sunday we are starting a brand new series looking at one of the most important aspects of our faith, becoming an apprentice of Jesus. Dallas Willard writes this:“The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

I think this is true. The world doesn’t need more people who know about Jesus. The world doesn’t need more people who like Jesus. The world needs more people who are willing to follow, sacrifice, and become like Jesus. This is what the world needs; this is what your community, family, and neighborhood needs too. I know this is what I need too in my life.

So on Sunday we are going to start looking at how to become an apprentice of Jesus. We are going to discover how it starts and how we can start to practice our faith. Because I’m sure of one thing, becoming an apprentice doesn’t mean just learning more things about Jesus. It means starting to practice living like Jesus. In Matthew 7:24 Jesus says the wisemen hears his words, and puts them into practice. So on Sunday we are going to discover the very first and most important practice disciples are to take to start to follow Jesus. It has everything to do with where your heart is at and faith.

So before we get there I want to ask a simple question that I’ll try to answer on Sunday. What is faith?

Because I’ve seen pastors struggle to answer it, I’ve heard theologians muddle answers, and I think that’s where following Jesus starts. So how would you answer it – What’s faith?

Quotes to Live By…

I love a good written word, paragraph, sentence, or phrase. They move me and give words to emotions that are difficult for me to describe. So I’ve included here one of my favorite quotes or prayers. I have prayed it often throughout my life. Let me know what you think of it. But also let me know what quotes have moved or changed you?

And who knows maybe I’ll post quotes to live by more often!

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.
-Thomas Merton