Gardendale Nazarene

to live completely for Christ...

Luke | Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

Kingdom Reversal

Today, I would like to continue a thought from last week. I brought up an issue, that I believe is worth pursuing. The issue is this- When talking about the Kingdom of God, why is there usually a reversal of the current system?

Let me give you a few verses from Luke to illustrate (the first two are from last week’s devotional):

“He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53 ESV)

“…he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” (Luke 12:37b ESV)

“And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.’” (Luke 22:25-27 ESV)

These are just three passages and there are countless passages throughout the Gospels. Why do these stories point us to a reversal of power structures? What does this have to do with the Kingdom of God?

Mennonite author, Donald Kraybill, calls this reversal “The Upside-down Kingdom.” He argues three main points for this upside-down nature of the Kingdom.

First, we live in a social word and society has an ever-changing topography. There are powerful who are high on the mountain and the weak who continually find themselves in the valleys. Jesus reminds us His Father does not see people in this light.

Second, we forget how much we are taught about the world. As children, we are quickly taught what we are to say and how we are to act. Hang around a child for very long and he or she will break a social rule- most of the time it is rather humorous. Then you will hear mom say, “You can’t say that.”

We assume the way things are is the way they ought to be.

All throughout the story of Jesus, He is breaking these rules.
Don’t heal on the Sabbath.
Don’t touch a leper.
Don’t eat with tax collectors or prostitutes.

The Kingdom of God doesn’t play by our accepted rules.

Third (I really love this one!), the Kingdom is full of surprises. Think about it. Many of us are so used to the stories in the Gospels, we have lost their sense of surprise.

The Samaritan is the good guy.
The Prodigal comes home to a party.
Jarius' daughter sits up.
The demoniac goes home to tell his story.
Four thousand people are fed with seven loaves and a few fish.

Okay, I know you get the point, but one more, please…
A virgin and her husband in a small cave that houses animals
The cry of a newborn

This is the upside-down kingdom. A Kingdom that has come to remind us that there is more to life than our social structures. A Kingdom that reminds us that there is a King and He has come to be Emmanuel, God with Us.

A surprise that can only be rivaled by an empty tomb on a Sunday morning.

Thanks be to God!

Advent Readiness

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!”

Luke 12:35-38 ESV

Advent is the season of preparation. This year we have been focusing on preparing for Christ, not just for Christmas. On the first Sunday of Advent, we looked at a similar passage to this one in Matthew’s gospel (24:36-44).

There are some significant things in this parable that apply to our preparation for Christ. Take a moment and reread the passage– this time look for the role reversal.

Did you see it? In New Testament society, your socio-economic role was defined. Masters acted one way and servants had specific jobs for those masters, i.e. helping them get dressed, preparing and serving their food. Now think through what Jesus just said, “The master will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.”

It is the master who dresses himself. It is the master who has the servants sit at the table while he cooks dinner…then he serves them!

Okay, I know some of you are thinking, “Pastor, I see what you are saying, but is this point really worth getting excited about?”

Yes! Don’t miss what the texts are telling us all through Advent– there is a significant tie between Advent and the second coming of Christ. We are called to prepare ourselves for the Messiah, just as the Old Testament prophets looked to the coming Messiah.

When we see this connection, we should get a little excited. How excited? I’m glad you asked! Excited enough to burst into song, because that’s exactly what Mary did!

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Luke 1:46-55 ESV

Beauty of Forgiveness

“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
–Luke 7:31-35 ESV

Today's parable is one we rarely read or take the time to dissect. It is a short parable. Yet if you are like me, it leaves me scratching my head.

So, what exactly is this parable's message? Let's take a moment to dissect it. We have a group of children who played a fun song (possibly at a wedding) and the people didn't dance. Then, they play a somber song (possibly at a funeral) and the people didn't weep.

The issue we see is the people did not respond appropriately. Jesus then brings it home. When John the Baptist came, you thought he was demon possessed. When Jesus came, you thought he was drunk.

In other words, you missed the message of John the Baptist (Repent!). You also missed the message of Jesus (the joyful message of His forgiveness).

How does this parable speak to us today? Let me ask this question– Why do people reject Christ today?

Some might say, Christians are... too boring, too judgmental, too 'goody two-shoes', too involved in politics, too concerned about 'silly things'... The list could go on forever.

Do you know something about this list? It reflects the shortcomings of Christians, not Christ. All of these things reflect our need for a savior. The question isn't, "Do we need forgiveness?" The question is, "Do we respond appropriately to the beauty of forgiveness found in Jesus Christ and His Cross?"

I know it is easy to be overwhelmed by the constant news cycle. I know we are just a little over a week away from the election. The real questions are, Do you hear the children playing the flute? Are you willing to dance to the joyful message of His forgiveness?

We are people who have something wonderful to celebrate. May we see the beauty of Jesus' message and respond appropriately!

Invisible People

In Luke 18, we read the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The story reads, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

We see two characters in this parable- a Pharisee (one presumed righteous) and a tax collector (one presumed unrighteous).

Let’s briefly look at the two characters. First, we see the Pharisee beginning his prayer with thanksgiving, but the thanksgiving is not ‘thanks’ at all. Rather, his supposed thanks turns into judgment. “Lord, I’m glad I’m not as pitiful as those nasty sinners!” What kind of prayer is this?

Then the Pharisee recounts his own righteousness. “I fast twice a week, rather than the once a year required by the law. I tithe on all my produce, not just that which is stipulated by the law.”

The tax collector, on the other hand, understands his place before God. He stands humbly before God and admits his position, a sinner. As we have seen with many of the parables, Jesus loved to use this reversal of characters.

The challenge to me in this parable relates to a quote a few months ago from one of our General Superintendents, David Busic. Dr. Busic wrote, “Who are the ‘invisible’ people in our communities who are not in or touched by our churches? Why are they absent? What will we do?”

I think it is easy to fall into the trap of the Pharisee. Sometimes, it is too easy to look down on those ‘tax-collectors’ in our lives. This parable reminds us that we all approach God in the same way, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

I believe when we understand our place before God, it is much easier to see the ‘invisible’ people in our communities who desperately need God. When we remember our need for God, we can’t help but be moved to compassion for those who do not know God.

This year, I have been challenging the church board with Busic's quote. This challenge is not just for the church board, it is for all of us. It is my prayer, that we pray that God will open our eyes to those in our community that are not 'touched' by the local churches. Will we look down on them as a Pharisee? Or will we join them in prayer, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Trusting God's Narrative

I recently had a writer friend contact me. On his blog, he writes devotionals based on sermons he has heard in the past. He contacts the preacher to make sure he is accurately representing the thought of the sermon he is using. He was working on a devotional and found his notes from a sermon he heard me preach in January 2004.

My first thought was, "Man, I'm getting old. That was thirteen years ago!" My second (and more terrifying) thought was, "Oh no, there is no telling what I said. Do I still agree with twenty-seven-year-old John?"

The sermon was on the temptations of Jesus in Luke 4. This got me thinking about what I would preach differently today compared to 2004. This led me to a central thought on temptation in general.

When you read through the temptations of Jesus, the part of the story that stands out to me deals with narratives. This is what I mean-

Each of these temptations involves the devil changing Jesus' story.
  • With the stone to bread temptation, the devil is asking Jesus, "Are you going to trust Your Father to provide for you?"
  • With the kingdoms of this world temptation, the devil is asking Jesus, "Are you going to trust God in the way He understands power (servanthood and a cross)?"
  • With the pinnacle of the temple temptation, the devil is asking Jesus, "Is God going to protect His Son or has He abandoned You?"

God is the one who directed Jesus' life and the devil's real question is, "Do you really trust God's narrative for Your life?"

I believe this is at the heart of what temptation is. Dallas Willard writes, "This is the basic idea behind all temptation: God is presented as depriving us by His commands of what is good, so we think we must take matters into our own hands and act contrary to what He has said."

We deal with the same temptations that were presented to Jesus. Do we really trust God's narrative of our life? Are we willing to stand in the truth of who God is, even when taking matters into our own hands would seemingly be easier?

My prayer is that we learn to stand in the face of temptation and rely on God to narrate our lives. He loves us beyond anything we can imagine and His life is our life.

This Sunday, we are beginning a new series titled, Renovate: Holiness of the Heart. I am excited about this series and I pray that we open ourselves to what God wants to do in our lives and church through these upcoming messages. You can download a sermon schedule with the passages here.

God is doing great things in the lives of His people. Come join us Sunday as we open our hearts to Him.

Go quickly into the streets

Today, we will look once again at Luke 14:15-24.

Last week, we focused on the basic premise of the parable and the excuses of the guests. For today's devotional, I'd like to look at the actions of the host of the great dinner and our response.

As I mentioned last week, a quick reading of the parable shows us that God is the one throwing the banquet. There are a couple things worth noting here:

First, we see that the host desires for his guests to attend his lavish party. Yet when they refuse, the host sends out his servant to the streets to bring in all who would come. We are met with the host's graciousness and his severity. We see that God is calling all who will come, to come. We also see that there is a time when He is finished with the excuses.

Second, we must take a moment to pause and think through those who came to the banquet. Look at the verses that precede this parable, "[Jesus] said also to the man who had invited him, 'When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just'" (Luke 14:12-14 ESV).

Brothers and sisters, this parable calls us to celebrate God's kingdom in a way that all people hear the good news of our Lord. When I place myself into this parable, I pray that I am one who was invited in off the street. Coming in the poverty of my spirit to join the feast of the ages. I believe, those of us who find ourselves at the table are quickly turned into servants are asked, "Go quickly into the streets and lanes of the town and bring them in..."

May we celebrate God's kingdom that all people hear the good news!

Pastor John
blogEntryTopper

Come, for everything is now ready

Today's parable is one that will take us a few weeks to explore. It is found in Luke 14:15-24.

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

This week, I would like to focus on the basic premise of the parable and the excuses of the guests. A basic reading of the story will show us that God is the one throwing the great banquet. The imagery of a meal as an end time celebration of God's people is a standard Jewish and Christian thought. It is time for the celebration and the servant of tell everyone the banquet is ready.

What happens next is designed to be both absurd and pathetic. Look at the excuses:
  • I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it.
  • I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.
  • I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.

What do these three excuses have in common? They are lame. There I said it– lameness is the common denominator.

Now, why would I say this? Let's put the first two in our context:
  • I have bought a house, and I haven't seen it yet.
  • I have bought a car, and I need to go check it out.

Both of these excuses involved someone buying an item 'sight-unseen'. They are literally saying, "I made a serious purchase and didn't have time to examine what I was buying. Now after the purchase, seeing this item a priority."

None of these excuses are priorities (I'm not saying that marriage is not a priority. In this story, it is not a priority that would keep you from attending the banquet. Why would he not bring his wife with him?).

The question for us at this point in the parable is, "What priorities do you put over the reign and rule of God in your life?"

Take time and think about this question. It is a serious question that deserves serious time.

Now, take a moment to hear from the parable– as important as those items seem to you right now, in the light of the kingdom of God and in the light of eternity, are they really important? Or is there a ring of lameness?

As your pastor, I hope you hear the invitation of the His servant, "Come, for everything is now ready."

Are you going to join in the celebration?

In Christ,

Pastor John
blogEntryTopper

Let the Darkness Fear

Greetings this morning in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I know you share a heavy heart with me this morning. As we watched the news last night, both Heather and I thought back to the chorus we sang on Sunday.

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

On Sunday, I walked through a few of these lines. I told you I personally feel as though the darkness is winning when the attacks across the world seem to increase in severity and frequency.

As the body of Christ, we are challenged to sing, "Let the darkness fear." We are not to be afraid, rather the darkness should fear.

As we work through the parables, I would like to remind you of two little parables this morning.

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

–Luke 13:18-21 ESV

These two little parables have some similarities:

  • Both of these parables describe the Kingdom of God.
  • They are both dealing with very small items in New Testament culture (a mustard seed and yeast).

I know you might be thinking now, "Pastor, I'm not sure how this relates to our current situation? Mustard seeds and yeast?"

I think Jesus' challenge in this parable for us is not to miss the little things. Kingdom work is in the little things.

Take a moment and think about the life of Jesus.
  • From the cry of a newborn in a stable
  • to men walking away from their boats and nets one morning
  • to the touch of a robe by a hurting, lonely woman
  • to the words spoken over Jarius' daughter
  • to the feet washed in an upper room
  • to the One hanging between two criminals
  • to the women carrying spices to anoint a body
  • to a couple confused guards at an empty tomb

These stories were all technically 'little' things. These 'little' things are some of the most significant stories in our faith- and that is my point.

The Kingdom of God doesn't measure 'little' the way our world does.

God's Kingdom is in the prayers we pray. It is in the tears we shed. It is in the hugs we share. It is in the truth we proclaim.

Lord, build Your Kingdom HERE
Here- in the mess, in the hurt, in the loss, in the tears, in the little things
We pray.

The "Why?" Questions

It is Holy Week. This week stands apart from all other weeks of the year. It is this week where we find ourselves walking in real time with Jesus towards the cross. This year, I would like to use Luke 22:14-23:49 as a basis for daily devotionals. It is my prayer that you will use these devotionals as a means of preparing your hearts for Easter celebration.

"And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this."

–Luke 22:14-23 ESV

Most of us have a collection of “Why” questions. Your collection might look like this:
“Why am I going through this?”
“Why do I feel alone?”
“Why am I the only one struggling?”
“Why was I the one downsized?”
“It was his/her decision, why does it effect me?”
All of us deal with the "Why" questions in some form or another. These questions swirl around in our heads, and for many of us, they seem to control our lives.

What if this Holy Week, we could change the question? What if there was one question, if properly answered, could reframe all of our “Why” questions?

When I read the “Why” questions, I hear desperation, loss, pain, loneliness, hopelessness. In the upper room, I hear the answer for a different question.

The question isn’t “Why?”
The question is “For whom?”

In the midst of our confusion and questions, Jesus utters these words, “This is my body, which is given for you.”

For whom did Jesus die? For you– for your questions that seem unanswerable– Jesus died. For the part of your heart that breaks when you think about that situation– Jesus died.

Author David Lose writes, “…we hear in these two words the shocking, unimaginable, and utterly unexpected promise that everything Christ suffers – all the humiliation and shame, all the defeat and agony – he suffers for us, that we might have life and light and hope in his name!”

May our "Why" questions be framed in the knowledge that Christ died for you!

Peter's Denial

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

–Luke 22:31-34 ESV

If you are like me, I read the story of Peter’s denial with a tinge of hopelessness. “If Peter can’t stand, how can I stand?”

I believe a closer examination of these three verses breathes life into a dark time in Peter’s life. The Greek text reveals something the English translations miss.

The uses of the word you in verse 31 is plural. Here Jesus is speaking to the eleven disciples before Him.

However, Jesus changes the number of the word in the next three verses. Each time you is used, it is singular. Here Jesus is addressing Peter. You will note, that I bolded the singular uses and italicized the plural uses.

Why is this important? Here is a fact we often miss- Satan demanded all of the apostles. Then we read that Jesus prayed specifically for Peter. Look at what Jesus prayed, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

When I read the stories in the remainder of Luke’s Gospel and in Acts, I think Jesus’ prayer was answered. No where do we read that Peter’s faith failed. We do read that his courage failed in his denial a few verses away.

I know each one of us has a time (or multiple times) where we feel our courage has failed. The important thing is not that your courage failed. The important thing is that your faith didn’t fail.

Do you want to know the incredible thing? Jesus is praying for you that your faith may not fail! Then we hear Jesus give us some instructions for once we realized we have failed, “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus is praying for your faith to not fail and this Holy Week, my we rest in that fact that the King of Heaven is praying for you!