Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent: May It Be (from the womb to the tomb)

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 12/11/2011

Scene from “Jesus of Nazareth” where Gabriel speaks to Mary…

26In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37For no word from God will ever fail.”

38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1

As we said last week, this advent we are reflecting on waiting, and the role it plays in new creation being birthed in our world. Because when God is ready to act to deliver his people, after years and years of waiting, he chooses to begin with pregnancy. Before the kingdom of God comes to the world out there, it must first come to the world inside of us. Spiritual growth, like pregnancy, is a patient unfolding. It requires endurance. Lots of uncertainty. Periods of deliberate waiting. Pain that is embraced and incubated for the sake of the new person who will be born.

Today we want to focus on Mary’s words to the angel.

“Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

How does holy waiting begin? What is holy waiting like? What comes of holy waiting?

We know how regular waiting begins. It’s almost always forced on us, isn’t it? Something we are powerless to resist. Somebody or something else is making us wait. And so we can either be zen about it all, or angry.

As for what it’s like, well, that kind of depends. Are you Zen about it? Then it’s not so bad. Maybe you find a way to pass the time relatively painlessly. Are you ticked off? Then maybe it’s a little bit of frustration hell as you fume and rage against the machine.

And what comes of regular waiting? There’s really no way to know for sure. Maybe you get what you were waiting for. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you just give up and never find out. Maybe you say, enough is enough! And you take matters into your own hands.

Holy waiting is altogether different.

Holy waiting always has a purpose, and that purpose is always new creation. Salvation. Redemption. Rescue. Growth. New life.

As for what it’s like, 9 times out of ten, holy waiting is painful. And although we are welcome to be Zen or to get angry, it will only postpone, not eliminate, the pain of holy waiting.

And most of all, holy waiting begins with Mary’s prayer: “May it be..”

God’s new creation plan, salvation, redemption, rescue – it all hinges on those who are willing to say, “may it be done to me according to your word.” And then who are willing to enter a pregnant period of waiting.

We see this in Mary. But we also see it, perhaps even more profoundly, in Mary’s son.

Jesus entering womb. May it be. Then born. Entering wilderness. May it be. Then beginning ministry. Entering garden of Gethsemane. May it be. Then resurrection.

And we see it in Jesus’ Father, as well…in the parable Jesus tells about the prodigal son. The son who demands his inheritance early, and leaves home to seek his fortune. May it be, says the Father. And then he waits. And waits. Not angry. Not Zen. Just with pain and longing in his heart, until the prodigal returns.

May it be is how true, holy waiting begins.

It sounds so much like surrender, doesn’t it? So passive. So helpless, powerless even.

It is one thing to have the kind of faith to step out on the water.

It is another thing to have the kind of faith to let yourself be thrown out of the boat.

That is the kind of faith it takes to say, “May it be…” That is the kind of faith it takes to see the kingdom come to the deepest places in our souls. That is the kind of faith that leads to new creation being birthed in the world.

Consider Jesus in his last days before his death on the cross. The death that defeated sin and death and evil, and opened the door to resurrection life. In those last days, Jesus is characterized not by a take charge, make it happen kind of attitude, but rather one of surrender. Isaiah even describes him prophetically as a lamb being led to slaughter.

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2“As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Matthew 26:1-2

paradidomi // to give over into one’s power or use

Sometimes translated “handed over”, sometimes “betrayed”.

Throughout those last days, Judas, and the chief priests, and Pilate, are all described as “handing Jesus over” or “betraying” Jesus.

So, in fact, is God.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up (handed him over, betrayed him) for us all…

Romans 8:32

When you are in a time of holy waiting, it can feel like you are being betrayed. Even by God. [wife in labor… “you did this to me…!”

Nonetheless, neither Mary nor Jesus fight the betrayal. They surrender to it. They allow themselves to be handed over. May it be. Not my will, but yours.

Jesus, extraordinarily, resists the temptation to use his power to escape. In the wilderness, he won’t turn the food into bread. During his arrest, he won’t call in a legion of angels to slay the arresting guards. On trial, he won’t use his words to marshal a defense. He even resists the impulse to nurture anger at the agents of the pain he is experiencing. As he is arrested he says, “All this has taken place to fulfill the scriptures of the prophets…” On the cross he says, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…”

Is it that we must welcome what seems to be the injustice of God before we can experience his true justice? Is there a purer faith than that? Isn’t that the faith of Abraham when he takes his son Isaac to the mountain to be sacrificed?

Both Mary and Jesus have God’s favor announced to them before enduring humiliation of the deepest kind. Mary the impregnated, unwed teen. Jesus the naked, crucified criminal. What a contrast between the announcement of favor and the experience in holy waiting! Holy waiting is filled with the kinds of doubts only that kind of experience can produce.

So what do you hold on to during the waiting?

The words the Lord has spoken to you. “…for no word from God will ever fail.”

All else may be taken from you. That’s part of the pain of being handed over. That’s part of the may it be done to me according to your word deal.

Do you trust that all the chaos swirling around you can be shaped into God’s good purposes while you fix your eyes on what it means to be handed over? While you allow it to be done to you according to God’s word? Do you trust that God can bring about his good purposes even though forces that God has chosen out of his mysterious purpose not to restrain are at work? That God can speak to whomever he needs to speak to?

In waiting, I imagine the doubts Mary must have experienced. Day after day after day. The drama and gossip and looks. Her previously imagined future slipping away. No wedding shower. No wedding celebration. No baby shower.

In waiting, I imagine the concentrated, birthed in pain joy that Mary experienced in hearing that an angel had spoken to Joseph. The joy at the encouragement from her cousin Elizabeth, the parallels with Elizabeth’s story. The wonder at the shepherds arriving. The way in which the words of Simeon and Anna must have landed at the temple.

She had heard the angel. It was being done to her according to the angel’s words. And yet, the waiting was not over. The pain had not yet completed its new creation work. Not even when Jesus was born. Not even when Jesus was doing miracles. No, not until the tomb was empty. Her waiting, in fact all of humanity’s waiting, was joined together with Jesus’ waiting – or perhaps, better said, Jesus’ waiting was joined to our waiting.

It is in the waiting of the tomb that we have our first true fellowship with Christ. It is in the fellowship of suffering that the work of waiting gives birth to new creation, so that we can share in the fellowship of the resurrection.

Because, in the end…

God’s true justice was worked. Every betrayal gathered up and redeemed. The hands into which the handing over happened finally revealed to be God’s hands.

Is there a more revered woman than Mary in the history of the world? Is there a more royally clothed, more fully alive Judge than Jesus? New creation has come through their “may it be done to me” and subsequent waiting.

Through holy waiting, Salvation has come.

Through holy waiting, Redemption has come.

Through holy waiting, Rescue has come.

Through holy waiting, Resurrection has come.

Behold, we are your bondslaves.

This advent, may it be done to us according to his word.

Practical Tips.

Next time you have to wait, do the following:

1. Practice the “May it be done to me according to your word..” prayer in line or in traffic this week. Let yourself be handed over to it. Don’t try to escape it. Don’t try to hurry it along. Choose to let it be what it’s going to be, whatever the cost.

2. Notice your pain and tell God. Instead of getting Zen – achieving some enlightened and peaceful state to coast through the waiting – or getting angry (at the cashier or other people in line or whomever), fix your attention on the pain you are experiencing and talk with God about it. “This is really ticking me off…” “this is really making me anxious…” “Please help this person get a move on…” “I can’t believe this always happens to me; this is my life…”

3. Find somebody to love. Find some way to love the person right in front of you. Even and especially if they are the one making you wait. If nothing else, pray for their blessing.

And then finally, for those who are in a season of holy waiting:

4. Remind yourself of the Lord’s words to you regularly. Daily even.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent 2011: Waiting & Growth

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 12/04/2011

2nd week of advent, season of preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Time in the Christian calendar when we reflect on the experience of the absence of God, on waiting, on anticipation, on longing, on making ourselves ready for God’s incarnational coming into the world.

Did you ever notice in the scriptures how often the people of God are waiting? Noah waits for the floodwaters to recede…

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

6After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

Genesis 8

The king waits as Daniel waits through the night in a den of lions…

17A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. 18Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

19At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

Daniel 6

Sarah remains barren for decade after decade, waiting for a child.

Jacob waits 14 years to marry Rebecca.

The Israelites wait 400 years in Egypt, then 40 more years in the desert.

Jonah waits in the belly of a fish.

Simeon waits to see the Messiah.

The disciples wait for Pentecost.

Paul waits in prison.

So this advent, we are going to spend this week and next reflecting on waiting, and the role it plays in new creation being birthed in our world.

We begin our reflection with Luke’s account of Mary and Elizabeth, two cousins who become pregnant in extraordinary circumstances.

The story takes place in Israel, a small nation under Roman occupation and oppression. Israel itself has been enduring a long period of waiting and pain and uncertainty. It has been 400 years since the last prophet, Malachi, has spoken. Listen for the threads of waiting woven through this account…

5In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both well advanced in years.

8Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.

13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

26In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37For no word from God will ever fail.”

38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1

It is significant that when God is ready to act to deliver his people, after years and years of waiting, he chooses to begin with pregnancy.

Elizabeth’s and Mary’s pregnancies show us that before the kingdom of God comes to the world out there, it must first come to the world inside of us. And that as it comes, we experience periods of deliberate waiting, in which we learn to embrace uncertainty and pain as companions in our waiting.

“To group up spiritually means having growing pains in the darkest part of the night. Some Christians and even some churches have responded to this difficult truth by trying to create shortcuts – promises of easy grace, push button answers to complicated problems, illusions that we can go to church and work to bring in the kingdom out there in the world without entering the fiery process of bringing it into our own soul.”

Sue Monk Kidd, “When the Heart Waits” pg. 25

Pregnancy is a patient unfolding. It requires endurance. Lots of uncertainty. Deliberate waiting. Pain that embraced and incubated for sake of the new person who will be born. [Colin and I playing foosball…]

This is important to us as a centered-set church. Because our faith is defined by our movement towards Jesus, what matters to us is the process of new creation that happens as we take each new step of discipleship towards Jesus. And new creation – although it has many moments that are dramatic and eventful like birth, like the birth of Jesus, or the resurrection from the tomb – also has long periods of waiting where the growth is much more difficult to see from the outside. Periods like Mary’s pregnancy. Or like Jesus’ time on trial and on the cross and in the tomb.

“No aspect of thinking on conversion is more foreign to the American Evangelical experience than this stress on conversion as a process…Evangelicals emphasize emotion and an initial movement. This moment is celebrated, recalled, and when the experience fades, recaptured. But Christian tradition does not agree…Conversion is a continuous and lifelong process. Conversions proceed layer by layer, relationship by relationship, here a little, there a little – until the whole personality, intellect, feeling, and will have been recreated by God.”

John H. Westerhoff, the Spiritual Life, pages 75, 76

Sometimes in our pain, God is a rescuer. But sometimes he is also a midwife.

We have longings for growth. We have deep desires for transformation. For things to fundamentally change in our world, and in our soul, our minds, our hearts, our bodies. Some of those longings come from good visions God gives us of what is possible. Some of those longings come from the pain we know in our current state. The witness of the incarnation of Jesus is that God does desire to rescue us.

But that before the rescue comes, as part of the rescue, God wants to do something deep inside of us that requires patience and waiting and probably pain as well.

And we must not allow our distaste for pain to get in the way of that growth or transformation. Otherwise, things will stay the same.

The natural gradient in us is toward growth. Whatever we use repeatedly and compulsively to stop that growth is our addiction.

Marion Woodman

In our modern world, quick, easy-fix solutions are one of our addictions. We are, many of us, quickaholics and easaholics. [The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking…]

What if Mary had said, Well, I love the idea of the Son of the Most high and all that, but I’m just not sure I have the time and energy for a pregnancy right now. I’m engaged, I’ve got a wedding to plan. Plus, doesn’t that hurt a lot?

At a deeper level, our addiction to quick, easy-fix solutions keep us unaware of what is going on inside of us. It keeps us from growth. As soon as we have pain, our first instinct is to find a way to get rid of it. Preferably with an easy to swallow pill. Worst case, an injection.

How often do we recognize pain as an opportunity to discover some place in us that God might want to bring about new creation? And then trust him with a time and energy-consuming process like a pregnancy to give birth to it?

Perhaps if we could use this advent season to recognize and begin to break our addiction to quick, easy-fix solutions, we could begin to welcome the Kingdom of God within us in new ways, as Mary did.

Sue Monk Kidd identifies 3 rules of our addicted culture that we need to recognize and resist.

1. All lines must keep moving.

To resist entrainment, we must become still.

Pregnancy forces us to become still. Everything else becomes less important than that which is growing within us, preparing to be born.

2. Make life happen.

Mark 4:26 - ...the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain.

Parable of yeast.

Pregnancy reminds us that life is happening all on its own, and our main job is to support it, watch and wait, receive. “Let it be to me as you have said…”

3. Eat Dessert first.

Scott Peck: “Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live.”

Death always precedes resurrection. You can’t have resurrection life without death.

Pregnancy gives us none of what we’re longing for until the waiting and pain are done. Nothing, that is, except a deep, loving connection with the new life growing within us.

In waiting, it may look like nothing is happening. Like we are doing nothing. The temptation will be to get out of line. To abandon the line. Or to try to rush to the front to make things happen.

Pregnancy won’t let us do either.

Waiting is an essential part of following Jesus. He waits in the womb. He waits in the wilderness. He waits in the garden. He waits in the tomb. Sometimes the next step of discipleship doesn’t look like a step at all. It looks like continuing to face him, not changing course, not rushing forward without permission, even though it seems no movement is happening at all.

Waiting is the most persistently active forms of trust, isn’t it? You can take other steps of trust, and once the step begins it has a momentum all its own. But waiting is constant, moment by moment trust.

Sometimes our job as brothers and sisters to one another is to help each other wait while the Lord does deep and transformative work of spiritual growth. Not to get frustrated with one another, but to give each other breathing room to wait.

This isn’t easy; it requires knowing one another deeply to discern if it is hesitation or avoidance of the next step, or if the next step is in fact a step of waiting.

Holy pain is often the key. Is the lack of movement an avoidance of some holy pain? Or is the lack of movement a form of remaining in some holy pain until a holy work is done?

[Circles of communication/intimacy: cliché, facts, ideas, feelings, needs…you can’t move past ideas until you are willing to accept the pain of conflict…but you can’t have any of the deepest benefits of relationship until you move into those last two circles, either…this has application for our relationship with God. Have you been stuck outside of intimate relationship with God because of your avoidance of pain? It’s time to take a step of trust…]

Practical Tips:

1. Pay attention to your addictions. What pain is it helping you avoid? (If you’re not sure, resist your addiction once; instead, stop, sit down, and ask God to reveal your pain to you.) That pain is centered in the place God wants to bring new creation in your life.

“The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate in it and delight in it.”

Eugene Peterson

2. Make a Christmas list. List three things from which you have been waiting for God’s rescue. Pray this prayer each day of Advent: “God, I want your rescue. While I’m waiting, I welcome whatever new life you want to birth in me. Teach me how to wait well.”

3. Find someone else to wait with. (Mary and Elizabeth waiting together…) Sometimes waiting is very lonely, especially when everyone around us is go, go, go. If you are involved in some holy waiting, find someone else who is, too, and do some of your waiting together. If you’re not, find someone who is, and ask if you can join them as a support in their waiting.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Galatians: Love Rules

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 11/20/2011

We know how important rules are for kids.

Don’t hit. Don’t scream. Be respectful. 2 sheets of toilet paper per wipe, max. Be in charge of your emotions. Stay in your bed once we’ve said goodnight, unless you are bleeding or throwing up. Say, OK Dad, when I ask you do something. And then do it. Come put a hand on my shoulder if you want my attention and I’m talking to someone else. And on, and on.

What if, one day, you said to your kids: OK, the rules are gone. The rules were always just temporary, meant to point us toward love. Love is here now, so Love is in charge. Just listen to Love.

What do you imagine it would be like? Planet of the Apes? Animal House?

Lord of the Flies?

If it’s always been rules that have constrained behavior and provided for order and a safe context for healthy growth, what will happen when the rules aren’t in charge anymore?

[15 minute NO RULES! experiment with our kids…]

When we move from an experience of bounded-set community to centered-set community, from Law to Gospel, from rules-based religion to love-based faith, we get nervous in the same sort of way.

Won’t people just use their newfound freedom to get away with murder? Won’t there be all kinds of hitting and screaming and disrespect and whole rolls of toiletpaper clogging the toilet, and temper tantrums and people running through the house all night and the TV set to spongebob 24 hours a day?

First, a reality check. Even with the rules, there was still some hitting. And the occasional outside voice when an inside voice would have been appropriate. And the toilet keeps getting suspiciously plugged far more often than it should, especially in light of how much coaxing you’re having to do to get them to eat anything at dinner, anyway.

Even when our faith communities are rules-based, rules are getting broken all the time. Only, more often than not, it’s being hidden in shame or by malicious deceit. And new ways of misbehaving that the rules haven’t caught up with are more than likely already underway, aren’t they?

But even with that reality check in mind, we still have our yes, buts when we hear Paul describing a faith that places Jesus and his message of good news and his call to love at the center of what it means to be part of the family of God. Especially when he goes ballistic at the most reasonable, Biblically defensible attempt to just add one or two or three things to the Gospel.

OK, we say. We can understand how important it is to have at our center only that which is truly central, and if we add anything to that, that which is truly central will lose its power. That’s what we talked about in more detail as we looked at the book of Galatians last week.

Yes, we say. But…

And most of our buts have to do with all of the questions that come up around the question, “What in the world then is going to get us sinful people to behave, to live in good and right and life-giving ways? What’s going to save us from the seemingly inevitable abuses of freedom that are coming? And what do we do about them when they come?”

Paul’s response begins in chapter 5, where he says in essence:

I hear your concerns. First, no matter what, don’t let your concerns persuade you to go back to rules-based religion.

Second, as to your main concerns: It’s pretty simple. The Love that has come into the world in Jesus Christ is a more reliable guide than any rules, so walk in the way of Love. Along the way, avoid the obvious exit ramps that will send you in an opposing, love-killing direction. And let the Holy Spirit lead you.

Let’s read it:

[quick summary of background first…]

5 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

7You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will have to pay the penalty, whoever that may be. 11Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Life by the Spirit

13You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Paul begins with this strong re-assertion of the importance of keeping Christ and Christ alone at the center, because he knows things will be a little messy and uncertain on the way to freedom, and he knows the human tendency to want to return to what we’ve always known, even if what we knew wasn’t that great in the first place. Because at least we knew what to expect.

[Remember Israel wandering in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt…?]

But Paul doesn’t leave it at that, thankfully. He does give us something to go on, and it’s first referenced right in the middle of his diatribe, and then expanded on later.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.

More literally, only faith operating through love is truly powerful.

Rules-based religion may seem powerful, but actually, real power is only present in the kind of trust in Jesus that gets expressed through love.

Do we want to welcome the kingdom of God amongst us? Do we want to participate in the restoration and renewal and redemption of all things? Do we want to be healed and made whole and be filled with God’s Holy Spirit? Do we want the old creation to be re-created and remade into the new creation present for the first time in Jesus’ resurrection body?

I say we do.

Paul says the only way to get there is faith operating through love.

And that will require some significant learning and adjustment on our part.

13You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Mission statement: together we follow the way of Jesus and create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor, the discounted to count, the disconnected to connect.

Each one of us engaged in the mission has at some level found favor, experienced what it means to count in God’s kingdom, and tasted the joy of connecting to God and his family through Jesus. And we found that favor, started counting and tasted connection all because we turned towards Jesus and received what he had for us.

Not because we got any part of our act together.

Surely, the various parts of our acts that we’ve gotten together have increased our capacity to embrace God’s favor, give all of ourselves to God’s purposes for our lives, and dwell securely in the Shalom that comes from connection to Christ. But none of that was required for entry; Jesus – and cooperating brothers and sisters – gave us breathing room to turn and receive and enter into freedom from sin and death and separation. Freedom, freely given and freely received.

But now, it would be insanity to use that freedom to indulge the sinful nature. We’d just be using our freedom to become slaves again.

The warning against indulging the sinful nature goes two ways. We can’t indulge it to enslave in rules-based religion those who are coming after us and need the same breathing room we were given as a gift (Love your neighbor as yourself; if you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other). And we can’t indulge it to stop walking together on the way of Jesus (serving one another humbly in love), taking the next step of discipleship.

All of our energy in the centered set goes to becoming students in Jesus’ school of love. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. (they’ll know you’re my disciples by your love…)

Not just any kind of love, but Agape love.

STORGE, affection: fondness thru familiarity; PHILEO, friendship; EROS, romance; AGAPE the least celebrated: unconditional love, love that cares for the other regardless of circumstance. Not a single god in the Graeco-Roman pantheon specialized in AGAPE.

Except YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God who so agape-ed the world that he sent his one-of-a-kind, unique Son, that whoever trusts in him would have the life of the heavens, eternal life, the kind of zoe-life that flows from God and never runs out and can’t be taken away and doesn’t decay or get blown around by the winds of this world.

[centered-set; God Agape-ing those far, far away, even turned away from him, calling them to receive his love, inviting them to follow him, further and further into it. Demanding that those who follow learn to imitate his Agape towards one another, which makes space for his Agape to make a home in them, welcoming new creation, because it is after all, Agape that made the world in the first place, love that loves the other and invites the other into one’s love, even at great cost, so that love is multiplied.]

With Jesus as our center, The AGAPE that has made a home in us through the Holy Spirit moves us in discipleship from inside and the AGAPE that is our master, Jesus the anointed one, draws us from outside (like 2 magnets drawn to each other).

And because the law and the prophets were always pointing the same direction as AGAPE, AGAPE himself will lead us to Christ-likeness both more reliably, and more powerfully.

Old creation guarded by law, but dying and doomed nonetheless.  Law a preservation until turning point in history - explosive good news of Jesus, death, rising, pouring out of Spirit.

No going back.  Rules-based religion may be tidy, but it was crucified with Jesus. Along with the rest of the old creation.  

Love has come, and love is the train that carries us into new creation.

Love may look like an uncertain guide - it seems so invisible, doesn't it?  So up for interpretation?  But Agape is personal.  God, according to St. John, is Agape.

Jesus himself.  The Holy Spirit.  

To Paul, AGAPE meant a living, active, life generating, directive, guiding, personal presence living inside of those who follow Jesus!

Paul had encountered AGAPE on the road to Damascus, and knew that AGAPE was WAY more demanding than any law.

Paul said in Philippians, “As to righteousness by the Law—I was perfect.” But AGAPE love is another matter entirely. “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  (Romans 7:15) In other words, Paul was successful at obeying the law, but AGAPE was pushing and pulling him further than the law had ever demanded. [like the difference between a workout routine and a personal trainer…]

So we are going to walk in the way of AGAPE love instead of rules-based religion because we want more than rules-based religion can give us. We want everything Jesus wants to give us. Which in the end, is life. Abundant life.

Paul knows however, that we aren’t super-well versed in the way of AGAPE yet, that we are still learning the voice of our new Master, so he cautions us to avoid some of the obvious exit ramps.

16So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In other words, in the end, the goal is for AGAPE to permeate us entirely, so that we want what God wants, so that our new natural desires lead us on the way of love. That’s walking by the Spirit.

But we still have a sinful nature exerting influence on our desires. So instead of just doing what we want, we need to evaluate our desires and hold them up against AGAPE.

Do our desires lead us to any of those obvious love-killers on the list? Don’t go down that path. If you keep walking on it, it won’t lead you to AGAPE, to the kingdom of God, to life.

Notice Paul’s tone here, though. He’s not shouting, threatening. If he has to raise his voice to get us off those paths, it’s already too late, and won’t do any good, because we’re clearly not trying to take the next step of discipleship.

No, here Paul is using his inside voice. He knows if we’ve chosen Jesus, if we’ve chosen the gospel, if we’ve chosen the way of love, then we want to hear what he’s saying. So he can speak gently to us.

And he continues about the importance of the Holy Spirit in a centered-set faith community.

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Notice how Paul contrasts the “acts” of the sinful nature with the “fruit” of the Spirit. One can choose or not choose to take steps on the way of love or on the various love-killer exit ramps. But one can’t choose to be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These things come as a natural result – “fruit” – of a discipleship to Jesus characterized by listening to the Holy Spirit and taking each next step of discipleship as Jesus leads.

And that’s why rules-based religion can’t get you there. The fruit of the spirit comes directly from the trusting relationship with Jesus that is nurtured in discipleship. If I’m trusting a system, it will bear in me the fruit that that system bears. But it is limited by the limits of that system. If I’m trusting a living, breathing Savior, it is only limited by the life of that Savior. And this Savior has unlimited life, life eternal. And so the fruit of the Spirit is bursting with that life.

It’s like we’re in a sailboat with one of those little electric motors to get us out of the harbor and into the wind.  At a certain point, we have to take our hand off little electric outboard and put our sails to catch the wind.  If we don’t know how to sail--how to lower the boom and rig the jib and trim the thingamajig--we’re going to make a royal mess of things. We will sail in circles, or tip the boat over, or sit dead in the water. We’ll be tempted to go back to little outboard motor.

But Paul is in the boat with us. The motor is the Law. The sails are the gospel. And Paul is saying, “Keep your hands off that motor and learn how to sail, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. We’ll live with the mess until you do. There’s no other way across this lake!”

So what does all of this mean for us as a church?

It means we will not let anything but Jesus occupy our center. It means we will not let anything but the gospel be our message. It means we will not let anything but love be our aim. Because the Bible is our book, and this is what the Bible says to us.

Like Paul (and Jesus before him), when necessary, we will use our outside voices to keep Jesus as our center and the gospel as our message and love as our aim.

It’s easy to get into a bounded set and stop moving towards AGAPE once you’re on the inside.  But there’s no point to being in a centered set unless you want to keep moving.  We are here, together following the way of Jesus, because we don’t want to settle for anything less than everything Jesus has for us.

Which is why we will continuously encourage one another to walk in the way of love, and to avoid the exit ramps that the love-killers provide, and to learn to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as we seek to take each next step of discipleship

But as we do that, like Paul (and Jesus before him), we will use our inside voices. We will seek to come alongside one another and pay close attention to what the Spirit is saying in preference to what our sinful natures are saying, so that we can truly speak the truth in love to one another. Because while Love is loud when it is announcing good news in the face of opposition, it is gentle and humble when addressing sinners and inviting them into the next steps of discipleship.

[notice how the fruit of the spirit isn’t an exhaustive list of virtues, but it is a list of the virtues that a sinner would love to be surrounded by when learning to follow the way of love? Notice how it’s a list of virtues that would need to be present for a centered-set community to work without anyone becoming conceited, provoking and envying one another?]

A note to those who are newbies to a centered-set community of faith, but veterans of more bounded-set religious expressions: in bounded sets, the leaders’ primary jobs are guarding and enforcing the boundaries. And the non-leaders are there to notice infractions and bring them to the attention of leaders. This is not the case when AGAPE defines a centered-set. The demands of AGAPE on everyone who is part of the faith community centered on AGAPE are that we serve one another in love. Which means we are all on the front lines of helping one another discern the voice of Jesus’ Spirit calling us to the next step of discipleship, and on the front lines of helping one another take those next steps.

No one is exempt.

And the primary role of leaders is helping equip the saints for that work of service to one another. Helping us learn serve one another in love, how to discern the desires of our sinful nature vs. the desires that come from AGAPE, how to listen for the voice of the spirit. Which is where we need the scriptures, and the gift of discernment, and the witness of our fellow believers from the first disciples on until today.

And so if you bring some exit ramp behavior to the attention of a leader, if that exit ramp behavior isn’t something that is keeping us from our mission to follow the way of Jesus together, creating breathing room for the disfavored to find favor and the discounted to count and the disconnected to connect, that leader’s task will not be first to address the exit ramp behavior, but instead to help you discover what it means – as part of your discipleship – to humbly serve your brother or sister in love.

This might be frustrating at first J. But press in – there is life down this road, abundant, overflowing, zoe-life.

Practical Tips:

1. Receive God’s AGAPE love for you. Recognize that God’s love is not contingent on you improving. It is not contingent on you staying within some kind of boundaries. God’s love for you simply is. Trust it.

Every step of discipleship from here on out will not add to his love for you. But each step will open your heart to receive it more deeply and empower you to welcome it’s transforming effects on you and your relationships and your world. And that’s why you’ll keep moving forward.

2. Listen to U2’s “When Love Comes to Town” as a commentary on Galatians.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Galatians: All Bait, No Switch

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 11/13/2011

[explain bait and switch…]

So maybe you’ve had this kind of experience:

You want to share the good news of Jesus with someone at work, or a friend, or a family member. You know that Jesus’ good news is good news to you. That Jesus is good news to them. That it contains – for them, and their circumstances – explosive, transformative, life-changing, saving power. But you also know that when they hear it, they are going to have some questions about what else goes along with it.

Like, if I go to your church to find out more about Jesus, will I have to give my money? Will I have to stop partying? Will I have to change something about how I express my sexuality? Will I have to dress differently? Will I have to stop talking the way I normally talk? Will I have to start believing some particular things about the end of the world? Will I have to stop believing some particular things about the beginning of the world? Will I have to change my politics? Will I have to stop smoking? What religious things will I have to start doing? Will something in my past disqualify me from going very far on this journey? Will something central to my identity be a problem pretty soon?

And you’re not sure what to do with those questions. Truthfully, you hope they don’t ask any of those questions until after they meet Jesus. Because you want to be able to say, no, none of that matters, just come, check it out. But you’re also thinking, I hope once they check it out, they fall so in love with Jesus fast enough that once they find out the reality about ____________, they don’t care anymore, and they are ready to change.

And so you feel like you’re sort of doing a bait and switch. Advertising one thing, hoping that once they are in the store and find out it’s not exactly as advertised, they’ll still buy, because after all, it truly is a good deal; they just wouldn’t have come to the store in the first place if you’d told them the whole story.

We are going to start a two week series on the book of Galatians, because Galatians is about the first bait and switch in the history of Christianity. But we won’t get to the scripture itself until nearly the end of the message today. So hang in there.

Let’s begin today by defining the goods we Jesus followers are peddling. Those goods are the good news, the gospel. This is my dad’s 100 word summary of the gospel:


The gospel is good news that our exile from God, others, and ourselves is ending thanks to a great rescue. God has entered the human condition once and for all through his Beloved Son—to reconcile and redeem us by his coming, living, dying, bodily rising, ascending, Spirit-infusing, and promised future coming as judge. Jesus is gathering a community of disciples to bear witness to the future-glorious reign of God breaking into the present, empowering us to work toward the day when heaven and earth are once again fully integrated in a new creation—which through Jesus, has already begun.


It’s that good news that gives us our vision of being a centered-set church. That for us, the one thing we have in common is Jesus and the good news we hear from him and see in him and experience with him. That something about him has gotten our attention, and to one degree or another he is capturing our hearts. So much so that eventually, the only thing of supreme importance in our lives is figuring out our next step in following him. What we might call our next step of discipleship.

We believe that Jesus has announced the good news of the kingdom of God. That God’s kingdom – his good rule and reign that sets us free from everything that might try to enslave us, the rule and reign that brings us life, that makes us secure in his presence – is here now, and it’s coming more and more, and it will one day come all the way, through and through, everywhere, and then everything will be set right: in us, in our relationships, in our world.



Made new.

Set right.

By the rule and reign of God.

And we believe that the kingdom of God comes by Jesus’ authority and the work of his Holy Spirit. Our job, therefore, is simply to receive the grace that lets us see what he’s doing so that we can join in with Jesus as creatively and joyfully and wholeheartedly as possible.

And as tempting as it is to try to authoritatively define exactly what it means to do that [prayer, bible reading, stopping this behavior, starting that behavior, etc.], we know that that responding to that temptation would – despite our best intentions – actually change the good news of Jesus into a religion. And in the end it would cause us to take our eyes off of Jesus and turn them towards things that might be good, but would be less than he is.

So we choose instead to be pilgrims on a pilgrimage toward Jesus, living lives that are responding to Jesus, shaped by his gospel. Sharing what we’ve learned along the way with other pilgrims, but never letting anyone’s response to any particular thing we’ve learned along the way become a criteria for joining together in pilgrimage.

No, instead we will create breathing room for everyone we encounter along our path. Confident that Jesus will work out all of those differences that truly matter along the way.

After all, if Jesus really is who he says he is, and if the kingdom of God really is what Jesus says it is, then all who seek first his kingdom will find that everything else that matters will be added to them.

That’s why we describe our mission this way:


Together we follow the way of Jesus and create breathing room the disfavored to find favor, for the discounted to count, and for the disconnected to connect. Starting here.

And since Jesus is the treasure hidden in the field, since he is the pearl of great price, we simply will not allow ourselves to let anything else – no matter how good and true and right it is – take center stage in our vision.

For example, any one of us might feel sure of what heaven is and how it works, or what hell is and how it works, or how the world started, or how it’s going end, or what behaviors are life-giving and God-honoring, or what actions are destructive and disobedient. Any one of us might feel sure that a particular way of reading the bible, or a particular passage, is the right way and that other ways are the wrong way. But we will not let any of those things we may feel sure about trump the commitment we have to not letting anything get added to the gospel. Because it is the gospel that is the power of salvation for those who trust it. And if we force anyone to trust the gospel, or Jesus, and something else in order to be called brother or sister, than we ourselves do not actually trust the gospel, or Jesus, do we?

Gospel comes from an old English word meaning “good news.” The gospel is good. In fact, it’s the best possible, nothing better anywhere ever. And it’s news. As in new and noteworthy. Unheard of before. Fundamentally unlike the same old same old.

The gospel does what good news does. It drops like an explosive energy into the midst of space and time, and transforms everything about its surroundings and its hearers. [remember Oprah’s favorite things…?]


“favorite things” reaction

Nothing is ever the same again in the wake of good news. The gospel invites us to embrace the new reality that the good news announces and let it work its power on our hearts and minds and bodies and souls.

The gospel is not the same thing as religion.

Religion comes from the root word “lig” which has to do with connecting (as in ligament) and “re” which means again. So religion is a way to connect us again to God and to one another and to all of creation. Religion at its core is as good as people are good and as bad as people are bad. Which means it can be both pretty good and pretty horrible. And religion is most definitely not news. No matter how new the religion, religion is always made out of the same old same old, just in new configurations, for better or for worse.

And so religion does what religion does. It connects and guides and guards and shapes and gathers and defines. Religion can be an agent of blessing people, communities, cultures, or quite the opposite. But because it does its work from the outside in, religion tends not to invite, but rather to usher, with varying levels of forcefulness, and its power is a function of the effectiveness and wisdom of its systems.

Various forms of Christianity, then, are various religious forms wrapped around the gospel.

Thankfully, the gospel is so powerful that it’s possible for huge gaps to exist between the religion it’s wrapped in and the gospel itself, and many people will still buy it, and it will still be a good deal. But sometimes, those gaps between the gospel and the religion it’s wrapped in can be so large that they obscure the gospel. Obscure it thoroughly enough that some people never even glimpse the gospel that lies at the heart of that particular religious form. Or sometimes those gaps are so significant that the gospel sneaks right out of the picture all together, and all you’ve got left is empty religion.

Let’s go back, now, to that hypothetical person with whom you shared the gospel at the start of the message today.

What if you could say, in response to their questions about the religious wrappings:

There is nothing in your past that will disqualify you from getting everything out of this good news that the best person in the world gets out of it – in fact, in a strange way, you may even get more out of it.

There is nothing central to your identity that will ever be a problem as you explore this good news – in fact, you will find that God’s love for you as you are right now is even greater than your own love for yourself right now, and the impact of the good news is always to make us more of who we truly are, rather than less.

What if you could say:

And I honestly don’t know the answers to any of those particular things you are concerned you might have to start or stop because all of that isn’t up to me; in the end it’s up to you and Jesus, and his ideas about all of that might be different than mine.

I can tell you what it’s meant for me, though, if that helps, and how I’ve experienced it. And others can tell you what it’s meant for them.

But none of us knows where your journey is going to start and what it’s going to look like along the way. Because your next step and my next step and his next step and her next step – even though they are all going in the same direction – aren’t necessarily the same at all.

What if you could say:

And if and when the time comes for you to start doing something new, or stop doing something old, you’ll be doing it because you want to, out of some place deep inside of you, out of a conviction that this new way of living is the best possible way to live, that leads to the most joy and satisfaction and blessing, and definitely not because somebody else is forcing you to.

And as to what you’ll have to believe or think, the only thing that is of central importance is the good news of Jesus, and trusting him.


Because Jesus is our center.

And the gospel is our message.

And love is our aim.

And all of that is the case because the Bible is our book, and the Bible is what tells us the story of the gospel, and Jesus, and love.

What if you could say all that?

The truth is, you can say all of that. Because that’s what Jesus says. That’s what the gospel says. That’s what Love says. And, that’s what the Bible says.

In particular, that’s what Paul says in the letter to the Galatians.

The letter to the Galatians revolves around a significant conflict between religion and the gospel. This week and next we’re going to look at it in order understand some of the implications for our church. If the Bible is our book, what does it mean to be a faith community with Jesus as our center, with the gospel as our message, with love as our aim? And how does that shape our mission to follow the way of Jesus together, creating breathing room for the disfavored, the discounted, and the disconnected?

So first, some background on Galatians.

Gospel lands first in Israel, embraced primarily by Jewish people. They continue, most of them, to practice Judaism, but it’s a Judaism that is transformed, fulfilled by the good news of the resurrected Jesus and empowered by the outpouring of Jesus’ Holy Spirit. Some of the main leaders of the church in Jerusalem are Jesus’ original disciples like Peter, and Jesus’ brother, James.

Then the message of Jesus begins to spread, and communities of faith begin to form in non-Jewish parts of the Roman empire. These non-Jewish people are called Gentiles, and their primary religious forms are not Judaism, but various forms of paganism, having previously worshiped Greek and Roman gods. Paul, a Jewish Pharisee who had previously tried to kill followers of the way of Jesus until he had a dramatic encounter with the risen Jesus, is one of the main announcers of Jesus’ good news among the gentiles. He starts lots of Gentile churches, including a church in Galatia.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, an uprising against the Roman occupiers is brewing among the oppressed Jews living there. Since Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem are primarily Jews, there is a lot of pressure from the Jewish religious leaders for them to cooperate. And one of the keys to the rebellion’s success, according to the Jewish leaders, is for the Jewish people to be extra-faithful to the tenants of Judaism, things like circumcision, and keeping kosher, and observing the holy feasts. Which is no problem for the church in Jerusalem, since the Jewish followers of Jesus were continuing to practice Judaism faithfully, just as Jesus – who was also a Jew - had.

By this time, there are a number of Pharisees who have also received Jesus’ message of good news and joined the Jerusalem church. Since they are more educated than the original disciples, they begin to exert influence on Peter and James. They notice what’s happening with all of these gentiles around the Roman empire becoming followers of Jesus and forming communities of faith, and they know it is going to have an impact on the Jerusalem church’s reputation. So a movement starts to convince the Gentiles that they need to be circumcised just as Jewish people are circumcised (not to mention keeping kosher and all the rest).

And they’ve got the Bible to back them up. After all, Abraham, who had been a pagan until he heard God’s invitation to follow him, was circumcised when he became part of the family of God. And these new gentile followers of Jesus were joining the family of God through faith in Jesus, being grafted onto Abraham’s family, so a very strong case could be made that they should be circumcised as well.

It would be tough to make a biblical case, in fact, that they shouldn’t.

But when Paul hears that the gentiles in Galatia are being pressured to be circumcised, and keep kosher, and celebrate the feasts in order to be true members of the family of God in Christ Jesus, and when he hears that they might go along with it, he goes ballistic. And writes a letter to the Galatians.

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that person be under God’s curse! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let that person be under God’s curse!

Galatians 1:6-9

11When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16know that a person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

17“But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!...

21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Galatians 2:11-21

23Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge of us until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

26So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:23-29

12Those who want to impress others by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Galatians 6:12-16

What counts is the new creation. Amen. And Amen.

Next week we are going to look at Galatians, chapter 5 to see what Paul has to say to us about how a law-free gospel helps sinners behave. Because, when it comes down to it, that’s part of what is so uncomfortable about all of this for us. It’s the “yes, buts…” Yes, but what if somebody is doing such or such? Or doesn’t believe such and such? Or won’t do such and such? Or still believes such and such? Yes, but, doesn’t that mean anyone can do anything they want, and there is nothing to stop them? Yes, but…, yes, but…

For now, a couple of practical tips:


1. Read the whole letter to the Galatians, out loud. Better yet, listen to it on audio.

2. Offer Jesus your Yes Buts. Write your “Yes, but…” down on paper. And give Jesus permission to answer your “Yes, but..” After all, discipleship starts between us and Jesus, doesn’t it? So theoretically, if him answering your “Yes, but…” is important to your next step of discipleship, he just might have something to say to you.

3. Sign up to get baptized. Baptism is saying, “Jesus, I’m yours.” Not, I’ve got all this religion business worked out. Or that I’ve got myself all worked out. Just, I see who you are. I hear what you’re saying. I love what you’re doing. I’m yours. Lead on.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1st John: Santa, Lightsabers, Joyful Asking, and Idols

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 11/06/2011

13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

16If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

18We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

21Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

1 John 5:13-21

Our vision of G-d shapes our relationship with G-d.

Competing visions of nature of relationship between human beings and God…

The God who sets things in motion and has a set of rules for us to follow; reward for obedience, punishment for disobedience. Alternatively, a God who is experienced primarily as a mysterious, powerful force for us to figure out how to use to our advantage; learning the right way to interact with him to get what we want. [Watchmaker Santa vs. Force Baby]

The vision Jesus gives us is neither of these.

What we see in Jesus is a God whose primary desire is intimate, cooperative, creative relationship with us. A God who is covering the distance between us by running toward us and by inviting us to turn and embrace him. A God who is up to incredibly powerful redemptive, restorative work in our world, but who has chosen to include us as joint participants, co-laborers with him in his new creation. And so the idea is that there are all sorts of things God desires to do, but he generally only acts when he can do so in cooperation his kids. [Father, Mother, Brother, Friend]

Because fundamentally, the universe the triune God has created is relational. In other words, at the center of everything is relationship.

God, after all, says John, is Love.

By this, says Jesus, everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.

The greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And Love your neighbor as yourself.

After all, what was humanity’s first encounter with God? Not an instruction. Not a pointing finger.

A kiss.

4This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have [echo/hold] what we asked of him.

Ask anything. Start there. It’s a good rule of thumb in relationship with God. Because after all, if you’re asking, your relating. And that always pleases God.

Perhaps you are concerned you are asking about trivial things.

God is not like a frazzled parent who gets overwhelmed by the small requests and doesn’t have time to deal with the big stuff that really needs attention.

Or perhaps you are concerned that you are asking for “wrong” things.

When in doubt, ask away. People in the bible are always asking for the “wrong” things. God is self-differentiated enough, and loves us enough, not to give us what won’t give us life. And again, coming to him with our desires, even our broken desires, is the starting place for relationship.

So ask anything. Start there. But where relationship really hits its stride is when we start asking “according to his will.” Because when we do that, we see God at work in our world and in our lives in all kinds of unmistakable ways. We get the joy of firsthand experience of his power, the joy of partnering with him in the most significant work happening anywhere in the world.

For some of us, the idea of asking “according to God’s will” seems like a religious technicality, the fine print that makes room for unanswered prayers. That’s not the sense here.

The sense here is that as we follow Jesus, our hearts, our desires begin to shift, transform, and become like God’s desires. And so we start to want the same things God is wanting, and we naturally start to ask him to do things that he’s been waiting since the dawn of time to do, and then, wow! Look out! We are in the middle of new creation, in the middle of resurrection life bursting forth in our lives and our world.

The word for God’s will here, is after all, “thelema.” The Greek word that means pleasure, or desire, rather than a set-in-stone plan.

So imagine it’s the Lord’s desire, his pleasure to heal someone. To set someone free from demonic oppression. To release someone from an addiction. To deliver you from some brokenness that has afflicted you for a long time in your life. To help a child find a lost toy. To keep a car running despite the fact that the gas is gone. To miraculously multiply some resources. Imagine that he’s just bursting with anticipation to do that.

And imagine you’re wanting the same thing, just in that moment. And so you ask him – Lord, here’s my request.

What John is saying is that God will do it, he’ll give you your request. Not because it’s magic. Not because you got the formula right. Not because you lived a sinless life that day. But because you had faith – which is just another word for trusting relationship - and in faith you expressed your desire, your pleasure, your thelema will, to God. And for God, this is what he’s been waiting for since the dawn of time itself. You and the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, co-operating in love. Dancing the kingdom dance. Singing the shalom song.

[Basketball season on brink of being cancelled / a last ditch prayer…]

How cool to find out that that not only did God answer the prayer – which means we got to play ball, but also that God wanted me to play ball. Life’s different when you know it gives God pleasure, isn’t it? [Lexi and the presents…]

[Jericho prayer experience / I will shout for you…]

You can bet I’m continuing to pray for those things, with such anticipation that God desires them, too. The only thing that stands between now and having the request in my hands is his timing, and, as always, the free will of others. But that’s the place from which Jesus lived his life, wasn’t it? I’ll take it.

[Turning 40 / and the 3 requests…]

Turns out I’ve been completely reluctant to embrace God’s way of answering, but beginning to discover the joy of realizing that these requests are his pleasure, his desire, his thelema.

It’s at this point that the letter gets a little intriguing, as John gives a specific example of the kind of request we might make “according to God’s thelema will”

16If you see any brother or sister commit a sin (sinning a sin) that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them [zoe] life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

Lots of scholarly discussion and debate on this passage. Is there a particular sin that John is speaking about, for example, that leads to death? One that everyone reading this letter would have known about? Murder, maybe? Speeding? Letting your dog poop on your neighbor’s lawn and not cleaning it up? Judging your neighbor for letting their dog poop on their lawn and letting bitterness build up instead of either forbearing it or talking to your neighbor about it? Driving on the shoulder during a traffic backup? Using your mobile phone during a movie? Sadly, we’ll never know.

I’ll give you my take on what’s going on here.

Centered set / Consider someone on a zoe-life trajectory – a settled, repentant decision to trust the gospel, to follow Jesus. Ask for life for a brother or sister who is on the way of Jesus but sinning; it’s always God’s pleasure/desire to give it. We all sin all the time, even as our next steps take us stumblingly after Jesus. But those sins aren’t going to have their way, not in the end. The zoe-life within us, the Spirit within us, is going to win the day.

(Ever felt reluctant to pray for life for our brothers and sisters who are sinning? Especially if they are sinning against us… We are afraid that it will encourage them, somehow. We are afraid to support, pray for, celebrate fellow disciples if their sin is noticeable enough. Don’t be anxious about inadvertently condoning their sin, John is saying; invest your energies in praying for an increase of the zoe-life within them. Interesting wisdom at work here. Notice the impact on our capacity to love instead of judge with this approach…)

But on a death trajectory, the free-willed person’s hands are closed to the gift. Yes, it’s still God’s thelema pleasure/desire to give them life, but something else has to happen before they can receive it. John’s not saying don’t pray for them, simply that the particular picture he’s painting of relational cooperation doesn’t apply here.

[side note: 1 John 5 seems to me to have all kinds of connections to John 5, where the story is told of the invalid at the Bethesda pool. There we have a picture of a man whose sin is leading to death. 38 years of complaining that no one will help him into this pool with superstitious healing powers. Jesus challenges him as to whether or not he even wants to get well. And then tells him to pick up his mat and walk. For this man heading towards death, the door opens to life when he hears Jesus’ voice, recognizes the truth and authority of it, and responds. By picking up his mat and walking, he is repenting of his helplessness and trusting the voice of Jesus, and the kingdom of God breaks through and brings him freedom/healing. Now he’s on a zoe-life trajectory. Stop sinning, Jesus tells him, or something worse may happen to you. In other words, that sin – the sin of not owning his life and going after what God has for him – was the sin that was leading him to death.]

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

21Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

True, true, true v idols.

True / Alethinos – that which has not only the name and resemblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real, true, genuine.

Idol / Eidolon – image, or likeness.

Anything (or anyone) we attempt to draw life from that is not the one true God made known in Jesus. Something (or someone) we count on to have power over that before which we feel powerless.

An idol has nothing behind it. No Zoe-life in it. No power. Don’t let either hand grasp one. The Lord will take your hands off of it.

Even good things can become idols to us. Even and especially things that the Lord uses to bring life to us. As soon as we let go of Jesus to hold those good things in our hands in his place. [sibling tug of war strategythe enemy does the same to us]

And so sometimes what Jesus has to do – as we follow him – is teach us to let go of our idols so that we can embrace him afresh, and hold tightly. And then those good things (people) can be restored to their proper place as glory vessels and image-bearers, instead of being images, eidolon.

(that’s why the people of Israel were so careful about not even having images / idols of the one true God. God wants us to know him and have relationship with him unmediated by our own creations. He has made a creation that points to him and image-bearers to reflect his glory, but he is jealous for us, and sometimes that jealousy can feel furious, just like his love.)

Healing of cripple by the pool / pool is an idol. Jesus wills, the man wills, the Father wills, holds his healing in his hands and walks toward life…

Practical Tips:

1. Make 3 big asks of God – requests that come from your heart, your deep desires - write them down, and make some sort of reminder to revisit them at least once a quarter for a year. Adjust them if your heart has changed, ask again if they are still your desire.

2. Be a Coal-less Santa. Pick somebody (a follower of Jesus) you’ve been judging because of what you perceive to be their sin (or somebody you’ve just been anxious about because of their sin) and begin to pray that God would give them more of the zoe-life of the heavens. See what happens to them. See what happens to your heart towards them.

3. De-Idolize . Ask Jesus to reveal to you, in your mind right now, something or someone that has become for you an idol.

Don’t rashly quit your job or cut off relationship – your particular idol may in fact be a holy and good thing meant to be used by God as a source of true blessing – but do tell Jesus you want him to be what you have in both hands instead of that other thing or person. And give him permission to lead you in the next steps of discipleship that will bring that about.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

1st John: Echo Jesus

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 10/30/2011

This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

1 John 5:6-12 (NASB)

What this passage is getting at is the answer to the question, “How can we enjoy real, deep, rich, satisfying life?” We who live in a chaotic, insecure world. We who have so much hurt and brokenness in our lives. We who have this ache inside for something more, who get tastes of it from time to time. Is there a way for us to drink deep from a river of life that doesn’t change with changing circumstances and moods, that isn’t subject to forces beyond our control, that isn’t fickle and fleeting?

And what John writes in this passage, which is what he’s been writing throughout the letter, is that the answer is YES! Those who “have the Son” have that kind of life.

Which is good to know, but which also brings up a few other questions, doesn’t it? Such as, “What does it mean to ‘have the Son’?” and “What’s up with all the water and the blood and the testifying and what does that have to do with all this?”

So here’s what we’ll do today:

1. Explore what the water and the blood and the spirit stuff is all about. At least as much as we can.

2. Try to understand the testifying stuff.

3. Describe what it means to say that he who has the son has life.

4. Practical Tips

Traditional Water & Blood interpretations, in reverse chronological order:

· Luther & Calvin: baptism & communion; we should be baptized and take communion.

· Augustine: water and blood flow out from Jesus’ side after being pierced in side by spear (eternal life flowing from Jesus).

· Tertullian: water and blood a reference to the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry (baptism & crucifixion)

My take? Tertullian’s explanation brings us nearest to understanding what John is up to. Especially in light of what more modern archaeological findings have revealed about the gnostic heresy (“a different opinion”) that was probably a divisive influence in the church to which first John was written.

If you’re unfamiliar with Gnosticism, a very brief primer is in order (this will be very brief, and therefore oversimplified, but nonetheless, helpful). One, the gnostics taught that spiritual things were good and true and trustworthy, and that material things were fundamentally evil and false and unreliable. And secondly, as a result, the way to eternal life was through attaining rarified spiritual knowledge and insights. And thirdly, because material things were fundamentally evil, Jesus the Christ and Jesus the human being were separate and distinct from one another. The divine Christ had come upon Jesus of Nazareth at his baptism – which is why Jesus was able to do all the amazing things he did - and then left to go back to the heavens sometime before his crucifixion, because death is only something evil material things experience, but never something experienced by the divine Christ.

You see where this is going?

John is saying Jesus the anointed one (which is what “Christ” means) was anointed by water at his baptism (when the Spirit came from heaven and landed on him, and a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.” And John is saying, not with the water only, but with the water and the blood. In other words, the blood of his crucifixion was also an anointing. Blood ran down his body when the crown of thorns was placed on his head, just as water had run down when he was baptized by John the Baptist. And when the crucified Jesus bowed his head – just as he might have in baptism – he gave up his spirit. Only to have the Father re-animate his body with the Spirit on Resurrection Sunday. The same Spirit that Jesus breathed on his disciples that same day when he anointed them to carry out the mission that had begun with Jesus’ baptism.

In other words, John is saying that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ – the anointed one – through and through: fully human, and fully God. That the Spirit of God was joined to the stuff of the old creation so that the stuff of the old creation could be joined to God and made new again. John is saying that the good news is that the life of the heavens – eternal life – is through Jesus, getting all mixed up with the life of the earth. That the end, when the heavens and the earth are made new and unified again, has already begun in Jesus’ resurrection. And so eternal life is not something we have to wait for the future to enjoy, and then only if we’ve achieved the right level of rarified spiritual knowledge, but instead is something already present among us through Jesus the anointed one.

But maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s slow down then.

It is the Spirit who testifies…

The Greek word for testify is the word martyr. Martyr just means “to bear witness.” So for example, when Jesus was baptized, the Spirit (wind, breath) bore witness that Jesus was God’s son when the voice (breath) from heaven said: “This is my son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.”

This is always what the Spirit is bearing witness to, no matter when we encounter him/her/it. The Spirit is always bearing witness to Jesus as the author of life. And John knows that the gnostics trust the Spirit, because the Spirit is good and true in their view. So he’s saying, “Listen to what the Spirit is bearing witness to in Jesus. Not just in his baptism, but always, everywhere we look.”

Some of you have the Spirit of God bearing witness to that in your soul right now. It’s an invitation from the God to trust Jesus. Listen to that invitation.

And John says that the water and the blood are also bearing witness to the same truth.

This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who [bears witness], because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that [bear witness]: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in [one/unity; i.e., unified in their witness]. If we receive the [witness] of men, the [witness] of God is greater; for the [witness] of God is this, that He has [borne witness] concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the [witness] in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar [made him out to be a false witness], because he has not believed in the [witness] that God has [borne witness to] concerning His Son.

At a deep level, what John is getting at is that all of the life in the universe bears witness to the truth of who Jesus is. The eternal life-filled Son of God, through whom all things were created and who has come that we might have life and have it to the full, if we will only hold on to him in faith.

Water is the life-blood of the natural creation. Every living thing depends on water for life, flora and fauna, from the largest mammals to the smallest microbes. No water, and life ceases. It’s no surprise that God would use a moment when Jesus was immersed in water to bear witness to Jesus as the Life from whom all life comes.

Blood too, is at the heart of the human organism, bringing life-giving nutrients to every cell and oxygenating the furthest reaches of our bodies. No blood, and life ceases. It’s no surprise that God would use Jesus’ bloody death to bear witness to Jesus as the Life from whom all life comes.

And Spirit, which means equally breath and wind, is central to what it means to be alive. Winds blow on a living planet, and breath courses through our living bodies. No breath, and we die. The water and the blood and the spirit are all bearing witness in one accord. With Jesus, there is life. Without him, there is none.

[additional note for the blog version: notice the courtroom image of witnesses. Multiple witnesses make everything more reliable; here we have 3. Also, notice how those who trust Jesus (…believes in the Son of God…) bear witness in their lives to the truth of the life of the ages. We don’t just have to go on faith, as it were – we can see this truth at work in some people’s lives. And beyond that, there is this exhortation to the gnostics that if you don’t believe what God himself has said about Jesus through the Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection, you are in essence making him out to be a false witness. Which would be a sobering thought in that culture.]

And then John brings it all home, all down to earth, all rubber meets the road. Let translate in way that helps us see a little more clearly what John is getting at specifically for us.

And the [reality borne witness to] is this, that God has given us [the zoe-life of the heavens], and this [zoe-life] is in His Son. He who [echo/holds (keeps hold of in his hands)] the Son [echo/holds] the [zoe-life]; he who does not [echo/hold] the Son of God does not [echo/hold] the [zoe-life].

This is what the gospel, the good news, boils down to. God has given us this incredible gift of aionios zoe, the life of the heavens, eternal life, life all life flows from, life that’s deep and undisturbable and overflowing and insistent and joyful. Not he will give it to us someday in the future or that he might but that he has. It’s here now. Here among us. As close to us as our next drink of water, our next heartbeat, our next breath. And this zoe-life is in Jesus. The gift of Jesus and the gift of life are one and the same. You can’t separate them. You can’t have one without the other. The good news is all wrapped up in Jesus.

And so, for those who want this life that God has given us as a gift, John says it’s very simple. It’s not about a complicated ladder of ever more elusive knowledge and learning. It’s about keeping hold of Jesus. Like the way a student driver keeps hold of the steering wheel the first time she gets on the freeway. Like the way a toddler keeps hold of their first helium balloon. Like the way a best man keeps hold of the rings before the wedding. Like the way a special teams player keeps hold of the football when the onside kick comes his way at the end of the game. Like the way a pit bull keeps hold of a tennis shoe. Like the way a mother keeps hold of child in a riotous crowd.

[on stage illustration…?]

Keep hold of Jesus, John tells us. Which means the same thing as seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you. The path to life is in giving our focused energy to Jesus. Where is he today, in this circumstance, in this situation? What is he saying to us? Inviting us to? Desiring for us? Desiring from us? Commanding us to do? Teaching us? Showing us?

Which has implications for the whole of our lives, work, relationships, body, money, and so on… [examples]

And also for our lives of faith, what it means for us to be religious (religion coming from the word for “ligament” – our connection to God.)

One of the ways we think about this here at the Vineyard Church of Milan is in this centered set model

(diagram, show how focus is on the center, on Jesus, on the next step in discipleship…)

Life is in keeping hold of Jesus, not in fixing our eyes on the boundaries, or on others’ relationship to the boundaries… (we can’t know from the outside looking in what is keeping someone from their next step of discipleship with Jesus….)

Because he who keeps hold of the Son has life; he who does not keep hold of the Son of God does not have life.

Practical Tips:

1. Fill in the blank. I don’t have time or energy to look for/listen for/talk to/pay attention to/take the next step in discipleship towards/hold on to Jesus because of _________________.

2. Go Dr. Phil on yourself. “And how’s that working for me?”

3. Put Blank in your Blank. Make a settled decision to move whatever you put into the blank out of the blank, to be replaced by nothing.

Prayer of surrender…

Jesus of Nazareth,

I acknowledge before you my thirst for what you have to give.

I surrender myself, whole and entire — what was, and is, and is to come — to you.

Plunge the wrongs I have done and the wrongs done to me into your fathomless mercy.

Receive me as I am today.

Make of me what I am meant to be, and let me walk in the path of your new creation.