Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Create Breathing Room

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/27/2012

a video recording of the sermon is available at


Previously: together we follow the way of Jesus.

Jesus is the center of our action

We are on the move

We haven’t arrived

We’re going to somewhere, from somewhere

The question is “What is our next step?”

It’s not that complicated

This week: create breathing room

What is breathing room? It’s space where something good can happen. It’s relief. It’s what we need when we are suffocating, when we can’t breathe because something has happened to us that’s knocked the wind out of us. It’s what we need when everything is closing in on us and we are overwhelmed.

We are designed to be able to contract our diaphragm, expanding our chest cavity, creating a vacuum that draws oxygen laden air through our noses, down our windpipe and into our lungs, which exchange carbon dioxide for fresh oxygen, readying it for delivery to every cell in our bodies. And then, in the same breath, to expel the toxic carbon dioxide back into the air around us, where it can be used for good purposes by this great green planet.

It happens naturally, unconsciously all the time.

Unless. Unless something gets in the way, keeps us from breathing. And then we are in serious trouble. Because without fresh oxygen, without getting rid of carbon dioxide, we haven’t got much life left in us.

Sometimes, something as simple as breathing room is the difference between life and death.

It’s the same with life at the deeper level of our spiritual lives. Because intimate connection with God is as important for life as being able to breathe is.

God is the true source of all life, human life included. He’s the source of joy, freedom, peace, hope, yes, even love itself.

And we are designed to naturally, instinctively depend on him for our life, to receive from him, to breathe in his love and peace and joy and hope with every breath, and to expel the anxiety, despair, anger, hatred, bitterness, jealousy, envy, and fear that builds up in us as we live in this broken world.

It’s meant to happen naturally, unconsciously, all of the time.

But apart from the breathing room Jesus creates for us in his resurrection, and the saving work he did on the cross, it doesn’t. Because of our sin, and the sinfulness of others, we find ourselves disconnected from God, out of his favor, thinking we don’t matter to him. And so in our suffocation, we look for life other places.

What we need is breathing room. What we’ve found in Jesus is breathing room. What we’re called to create for others is breathing room.

[examples in church – compassion, youth, children’s, worship celebrations, small groups, etc.]

Pentecost Sunday today. The day we celebrate the Father pouring out the Holy Spirit of his son Jesus on the church.

In the Greek language, the language the accounts of Jesus and the early church are written in, the word translated “spirit” is pneuma. Which means spirit, but also “wind” and “breath”. The holy spirit of God is the holy breath of God. On Pentecost, God breathes on humanity. Like he breathed in Adam’s mouth to give him life, through the Holy Spirit, God breathes on us to give us new life.

It is the holy spirit that empowers us to experience the nearness of God’s presence, to hear his voice directing us, expressing his love and favor to us. It is the holy spirit, the holy breath of God that works transformation and healing in us, and in our relationships with others. It is the holy spirit that restores the image of God in us, allowing us to participate with him in making all things new through the saving work of Jesus on the earth. It is the holy spirit, the sweet breath of God, that brings hope and joy and freedom and peace to our lives.

So today we’re going to talk about what it means to say that Jesus creates breathing room for us, and what it means that he has called us to create breathing room for others. Then, in June, we’ll look specifically at how we are to create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor, for the discounted to count, and for the disconnected to connect.

Let’s read from John 20, where John writes about the pre-cursor to Pentecost. The time when Jesus first gives his holy spirit, his life-giving breath, to his disciples.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

John 20:19-22

Let’s understand the context first.

A couple of days earlier, Jesus had been executed on a Roman cross. The various powers in Israel perceived Jesus and his followers as a threat to their interests, and so they had cracked down on them. They’d arrested Jesus, convicted him in a mock trial, crucified him, and were making sure his scattered followers didn’t try to mount a retaliatory rebellion. Jesus’ disciples were crushed, the world closing on them, suffocating. Their master – the one they’d put all their hopes in – had been humiliated and killed, dashing their hopes and ruining their lives. And now they were afraid of being hunted down and arrested themselves.

The disciples are disfavored.

A week earlier, they were the most blessed of people, favored to be called friends by the miracle working Messiah.

But now the so-called Christ has been disgracefully killed, cursed to hang on a tree. The kingdom they’d put their hopes in had been a mirage, and they are left with nothing.

Disillusioned friends of a fraud, all of them. The world is turned against them, holding not even pity for them.

The disciples are discounted, too.

Once they had dreams of glory, sitting at their Master’s hand. Healing the sick, casting out demons, forgiving sinners, wielding the authority of God’s Son.

And now? Fools who’ve proven themselves capable only of being duped. No second shot at glory just around the bend; they’ll be lucky if their fishing boats and tax collecting booths still have room for them. The world isn’t full of potential, only disappointment. [shel silverstein, “sister for sale”]

And the disciples are disconnected.

The community they had been born into, the community that had once been the community of promise for them had cursed them. So they are huddled together behind locked doors, cut off from their original source of life.

They’re not even connected to each other, except in fear, confusion, and doubt. Not life-giving connections, for sure.

And they’re disconnected even from their God, because it seems that everything they knew and believed must have been wrong. Would they ever find forgiveness from Yahweh? Would they ever be able to enter the Temple and offer sacrifices again, or worship in a synagogue?

Let’s read again, now, with that context.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

Here we see the beauty of breathing room in a nutshell: people cut off from every source of life, locked in a room, when, suddenly, they find that things are different than they were just moments ago, and God himself is there with them, breathing his new life into them, if only they will receive it.

This is what Jesus does for us.

Breathing room.

This is what we are called to do for others.

Breathing room.

Creating breathing room is a lot like an embrace.

It begins with open arms that communicate favor to the other.

Followed by taking the other into yourself – making yourself vulnerable to them

And then opening your arms so they can go and be who they are made to be

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Here we see the first gift of grace that creates breathing room: Jesus’ presence, announcing peace.

A few things happen for the fearful, disconnected disciples all at once. First, despite the locked door, they are not alone. Talk about surprising. Would like to have bottled the amount of adrenaline released by their adrenal glands in that moment.

But not only are they not alone, they are really not alone; they not alone at all any more. Their aloneness, their disconnection with their community, with each other, with God himself, had ultimately been a result of Jesus’ absence in their lives, in their world.

So his presence, all by itself, is the difference between disconnection and connection, the difference between fear and peace.

Jesus’ simple statement, “Peace be with you!” gets to the heart of the matter. Peace. More than what we usually mean by peace. Shalom. Wholeness, well-being, with a relational emphasis. A greeting that says all is right between you and me. May all be right between you and God. May every cause of fear flee from you, and may you spend your life in a settled condition of peace. Jesus’ presence, announcing peace is a gift of grace that creates breathing room for the disconnected to connect.

This is the open arms of the embrace. The announcement that I have made room for you within my self.

Because all room making begins with making room in the self. We may want to make room for people in the kingdom of God, in our church, in our ministry teams or in our small groups. But breathing room always begins with the room we make in our selves. Shalom. Peace be with you. You are welcome in my life.

Then, Jesus is vulnerable with them. He lets them know him as he really is, scars and all.

After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

This is the second gift of grace, the gift of one’s self.

It’s in his vulnerability that they see him for who he really is. The one who suffered the death they are afraid of, but now is alive.

This is the wrapping of the arms around the other. This is the part of breathing room that makes real what was promised by the open arms. It says that not only will I receive you as you are, but I will let you see me as I am. I will let you wrap your arms around me.

And then finally, the breathing room is made complete as arms are opened in release, in sending, in invitation to be fully who you were meant to be, doing what you were meant to do.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

The gift of grace that was present in the announcement of peace the first time is said again, now that the disciples know from whom it is coming and what it really means, and then Jesus sends them out on their mission, filled with the gift of grace that is his holy Spirit, the wind that moves them out into the world, alive to God’s purposes for their lives.

He doesn’t hold them back, lock them into himself, hang on to them desperately. He releases them into their true purpose as disciples. Favored, Counted, and Connected family members. Filled with his holy spirit, a holy breath they can breathe in now that he has created breathing room for them.

This is our chalkboard assignment from Jesus. As people for whom he has already created breathing room, to go and create breathing room for others.

Before we finish with some practical tips, we need to understand one final truth. Remember that all room making begins within the self? We need to understand that room making is no small, or painless task. No, in fact, that is where the hardest work happens.

Because when Jesus made room in himself for us, it cost him everything. That is what the cross is all about. On the cross, Jesus made room within himself, within God, for us, just as we were, in our sinfulness. On the cross, Jesus embraced us even as we were rejecting him.

Because the truth about embrace, about creating breathing room, is that when we are doing it, we are allowing ourselves to be enriched by the other, just as they are. Jesus, on the cross, was God allowing himself to be enriched by us, still in our sinfulness, even though it cost him his Son.

There isn’t time to do justice to this idea today, but perhaps you have noticed this much at least. Those who love the unlovable are enriched by the unlovable, in a way that those who do not, are not. Think about those who love the sick, the dying, the deformed, the malformed, the poor, the ugly, the broken, the hurting, those who others might even call enemies in this world. Have you seen how rich their lives are? Because they are allowing themselves to be enriched by the other.

This is what our master, Jesus, does towards us. He invites us to do the same towards every other he sends our way or sends us to.

And this is central to the meaning of the end of this passage:

If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

If we are faithful to our mission to create breathing room, we will see the glorious power that is released when sins are truly forgiven.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Practical Tips:

1. Pay attention to your handshakes and hugs this week.

2. Try to embrace one person you might otherwise avoid each day this week.

3. Pray the Lord’s prayer in one breath, and make a commitment to follow Jesus in creating breathing room for people whose lives feel as empty of God as your lungs felt of breath at the end of the prayer.

Follow the Way of Jesus

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/13/2012

a video recording of the sermon is available at


Last week: together we.

This week: together we follow the way of Jesus.

[example of my mom…]

What does it mean for us as a church that together we follow the way of Jesus?

It means that for us Jesus is where it’s at. He’s the center of the action. We are defined in relationship to him. If Jesus is ever off our radar screen, we’re off our rockers. We’ve lost the plot. But if Jesus is in view, no matter how bad things look, we’re right where we are supposed to be.

It means we are on the move. Or preparing to move. Or ready to move. Or watching for Jesus to move.

Which means we haven’t arrived. Which means we should never take our shoes off and put our feet up. Or feel smug. We’ve got a long ways to go and a lot to learn.

It means we are on a journey to somewhere that Jesus is leading us. From somewhere else, somewhere that Jesus has been as well.

It means that the question that matters, no matter where we happen to find ourselves, is "what is our next step?"

It means the thing we are helping each other do is figure out our next step and take the next step.

It means it's never that complicated, really.

16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18At once they left their nets and followed him.

19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

John 10:3-4

Consider this:

Following the way of Jesus starts with his invitation to us.

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said…

Without delay he called them…

He calls his own sheep and leads them out…

We all have that in common. Jesus found us where we were, doing what we were doing, and said, “Come, follow me.”

The path we are on is a path of discipleship. A journey Jesus has initiated for each one of us and is personally in charge of.

The way of Jesus isn’t like U.S. 23, where everyone is on the road for their own reasons, heading to their own destinations, doing their own thing.

Which changes how we see one another along the way of Jesus. Which is as brothers. Sisters. Family. Teammates. Everyone joined together with us on his way was handpicked by Jesus. He sees something in each one of us. If we were smart, we’d learn to look closely enough to see that too, and trust his eyes when we still can’t see it.

There’s no competition. No needing to get there first. No cause for road rage. Nothing lost by stopping to help someone fix a flat.

Consider this:

On the way of Jesus, Jesus goes ahead of us. The way is marked out by him, and the path he already followed to the cross, leading to resurrection.

Nowhere that the way of Jesus leads is territory Jesus hasn’t already journeyed.

If it leads us to suffering, it’s suffering he’s already experienced.

If it leads us to joy, it’s joy he placed for us there.

If it leads us to forgive, he’s already forgiven.

If it leads us to surrender, he’s already surrendered.

If it leads us to bear burdens, he’s already borne burdens.

If it leads us to die, he’s already died.

If it leads us to life, it’s the life he has already within himself.

Which means we can trust him. We can trust his way, no matter what we learn of it.

Pray for the sick? We can trust him.

Cast out demons? We can trust him.

Live in dependency on God instead of on our own strength or resources? We can trust him.

Love our enemies? We can trust him.

Forgive those who have wronged us? We can trust him.

Confess our sins? We can trust him.

Turn the other cheek? We can trust him.

Care for the poor? We can trust him.

Welcome the stranger and the outsider? We can trust him.

Use our power for the powerless? We can trust him.

Bank on love always winning? We can trust him.

Practice radical generosity? We can trust him.

Maintain a posture of humility and service all the way to the end? We can trust him.

Don’t prepare defenses for ourselves? We can trust him.

Take off our masks and vulnerably be ourselves before others? We can trust him.

Express gratitude and praise even when storm clouds are closing in? We can trust him.

Leave everything we’ve known behind and be willing to start fresh with nothing but what God provides? We can trust him.

Consider this:

On the way of Jesus, we follow expecting to be sent out.

Because on the way of Jesus, it’s not just about us. It’s about all those whom Jesus loves and is extending his invitation to.

Some of us will be sent to the disfavored, the discounted, the disconnected in our community.

Some of us will sent to particular people in particular moments.

Some of us will be sent to other parts of the world.

Some of us will be sent to plant churches.

But wherever we go, Jesus is with us through his Holy Spirit.

5“All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:25-27

Finally, consider this:

Our most important skill on the way of Jesus is the ability to hear and recognize the voice of Jesus.

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

John 10:3-4

I know for many of us, this can seem intimidating. What does Jesus’ voice sound like? It seems so spiritual, mystical.

But the picture Jesus paints isn’t an intimidating picture. It’s sheep. Recognizing the voice of their shepherd. It’s like how kids recognize their mom’s voice. It’s like how we still do recognize our mom’s voice. It’s the voice of the person who loves us, and always has, right from the beginning.

Perhaps this will help.

Every inclination we have, every thought, impulse, desire, drive, motivation is a response to one of two voices. The voice of fear, or the voice of love.

Fear is the way of the world, but love is the way of Jesus.

Fear says get what's yours, no one is looking out for you, you're all alone, you'd better go along with the crowd, don't trust anyone, hide, go back, live in anticipation of the worst. 

Fear drives us like a slave master, a whip at our backs.  

Fear makes us retreat into temporary comforts.  Comforts that come at a cost to others. Because fear is a thief, and it is robbing this world blind.

Love isn't like that. 

Love says receive the gifts I've prepared for you, your Father is looking out for you, you're never ever alone, be who you were made to be and both you and the world will be better for it, trust God and fear him alone, stand confidently in the open, move forward, live in anticipation of the best.

Love leads us by the hand. 

Love leads us into temporary discomforts, even suffering, even death.  But it is discomfort, suffering, death that paves the way for blessing for others. Because love is a shepherd, and he is laying down his life of his own account, only to take it up again, in resurrection form. Along with all who follow him.

[The story of Israel coming upon the borders of the promised land – Caleb and Joshua vs. the others, the voice of love vs. the voice of fear. Wandering and death is always the price of listening to the voice of fear. Joy and life is always the reward for the listening to the voice of love.]

Practical Tips…

1. Face a fear with love at your side. Go face something you are afraid of with someone who loves you. Pay attention to what fear sounds like and what love sounds like and how they are different.

2. Decide to follow. Make a commitment to Jesus to follow him, instead of just believing in him. Do it out loud or in writing.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Together We

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/06/2012

a recording of the entire celebration, including the sermon is available at


Together we

follow the way of Jesus and

create breathing room

for the disfavored to find favor

for the discounted to count

& for the disconnected to connect.

Starting here.

This is our chalkboard assignment from Jesus. He’s called each of us to himself, and placed us in community with one another, and said, “Here’s what I’ve brought us together to do.

Some of us will be raising kids

and some of us will be feeding the hungry

and some of us will be making music

and some of us will be working with computers

and some of us will going to Costa Rica or Russia

and some of us will be fixing air conditioning units

and some of us will be mowing lawns and some of us will be working hard in order to be extravagantly generous

and some of us will be throwing parties

and some of us will be teaching and some will be cleaning toilets

and some of us will be healing the sick

and some of us will be interceding

and some of us will be making coffee

and some of us will be shopping

and some of us will be changing diapers

and some of us will be putting out parking signs every week

and some of us will be driving teenagers from here to kingdom come.

But all of us, together, in all of it, we are following my way – which is simultaneously the hardest and the most beautiful path in the world - and creating breathing room for the disfavored (whom I love to no end, and so will you) to find favor,

and for the discounted (whom I see as treasures beyond measure, and so will you) to count,

and for the disconnected (whom I have gone to the ends of the world rescue, and so will you) to connect.

And as we do, we are going to do something great here. I’m going to make something great out of you. I’m going to change your life, and the lives of your family members, and your friends, and even your enemies. I’m going to make something great out of this corner of the world. I’m going to change its prospects, its future, its reputation. People are going to grow up here, and recognize that this is a blessed place, a place teeming with life and hope and beauty. I’m going to be easy to find in you, and in this place, and people are going to come to here, and to you, looking for me.

You may not feel prepared, you might have a lot of apprehensions, but I’ve got everything you need and you’ve got nothing to be afraid of, so let’s start now. Let’s start here. Let’s go!”

[conversation with Fred…]

So we’re going to spend the next several weeks unpacking this assignment Jesus has given us, exploring this vision.

Today, just those first two words.

Together we. [invite people to say it together…]



Together we follow.

Together we create breathing room.

Without the together we, following the way of Jesus and creating breathing room are both impossible and lifeless. Discipleship and mission are twin callings central to the Christian life, and both are meant to be done in community.

Consider this:

The way of Jesus is a way traveled in company. Even Jesus’ first adventure, his testing in the wilderness, which we often imagine as a lonely trial, wasn’t undertaken alone.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

Matthew 4:1-2

Consider this:

The great commission, too, is given not to individuals, but to a community.

8Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (y’all). And surely I am with you (y’all) always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

Consider this:

Jesus told his disciples that they will be known as his students because of their love for one another. And this kind of love is only possible when people are together in community and mission.

34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35

Consider this:

One of the defining images of the church in the scriptures is the image of a body made up of many parts:

12Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

1 Corinthians 12:12-14

A body without a “together we” animated by the Holy Spirit is nothing more than a lifeless statue, and a body without many parts that pretends to contain the presence of God is nothing more than an idol.

Finally, consider this:

God himself is a “together we” God. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. 3 persons, 1 God. God himself a loving community of harmonious oneness. Father loving Son, Son loving Father, the love between them so powerfully personal as to be a person, the Holy Spirit.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4:16

[Harmony illustration…Sweet in the mornin’…]

Our mission to create breathing room is all about making space for people to come into an awareness of the triune God’s embrace of them, his welcome of them into himself, into his loving community of harmonious oneness. Out of the fractured human race, shattered by sin and trapped in suffocating isolation, God is making a new family. A family in which people are freely themselves in the truest senses of freely and of themselves.

The way of Jesus leads us into the heart of this loving community of harmonious oneness. It is the point of forgiveness. Of perseverance. Of holiness. Of salvation and redemption. It is the point of humility and surrender and generosity. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, the point of love.

[Pentatonic Scale illustration…]

Together we.



Everything we do as a church starts here. With together we. We might do everything else just right, but if we don’t do it together – which is where love is born – it is worth nothing to Jesus and the forward movement of his kingdom.

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body ⌈to hardship⌉ that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Properly understood, we could substitute “but have no together we” for “but do not have love” and the passage would retain its truth. Together we, and then all the rest can follow in its proper place.

We worship, together.

We pray, together.

We serve, together.

We announce the good news of Jesus, together.

We give generously, together.

We celebrate, together.

We grieve, together.

We endure, together.

We grow, together.

We love, together.

So, let me draw out one significant implication for us, and then close with a couple of practical tips.

For us, together we means that the image of the Prodigal Father’s embrace is our disciplined posture towards one another and towards others.

We embrace one another as brothers and sisters on the way of Jesus. And we embrace every stranger as one whom God desires to welcome into his family.

Not all of us will experience every one of the others of us as brothers and sisters in our personal lives or our homes, etc. – certainly not at first - but we must begin by embracing one another as brothers and sisters on the way of Jesus. Fellow family members taking our next steps towards Jesus.

And all that we do together with one another as a community of faith will give us opportunity to extend that embrace in more specific ways, as Jesus leads us together.

Perhaps as fellow worshippers, inviting strangers in.

Or eating companions at a meal, inviting strangers in.

Or teammates on a ministry team or outreach event, inviting strangers in.

Or surrogate family members in a small group, inviting strangers in.

Or in the richest of friendships as God opens our hearts to one another, inviting strangers in.

Together we.



Practical Tips:

1. Invite 1 for 1, 1 time, once a month. Commit to inviting one person to do one thing you do in ministry or life with you one time once a month. One person with whom you don’t normally do that thing. Note: “with” you has a flexible continuum of meanings.

2. Tune in and stay tuned. We are going to give energy and effort to getting better at communicating this year, so that “together we” can increase in our life as a church. [video streaming, web, newsletter, etc.]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Life, Death, and Fruit

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 04/29/2012
Video recording of the service available at  *you’ll want to skip to 35 minutes in for the start of the service, and an hour and 6 minutes for the start of the sermon*
[Bus chase story…]
Our mission:
Together we
follow the way of Jesus
& create breathing room
For the disconnected to connect
For the disfavored to find favor
& for the discounted to count.
Starting here.
The reality of the way of Jesus is that it involves testing, difficulty, trials and tribulations. It is a way filled with celebration and leading to resurrection life, but if we don’t know how to respond to the hard parts of the journey, we won’t be able to effectively create breathing room for others as Christ intends. Last week and this, considering what James, the brother of Jesus has to say about this in the first chapter of his letter.
God’s blessing on the man who endures testing! When he has passed the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Nobody being tested should say, “It’s God that’s testing me”, for God cannot be tested by evil, and he himself tests nobody. Rather each person is tested when they are dragged off and enticed by their own desires. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin; and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear family. Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes down from above, from the father of lights. His steady light doesn’t vary. It doesn’t change and produce shadows. He became our father by the word of truth; that was his firm decision, and the result is that we are a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
James 1:12-18
Blessing – happy – beatitudes
Endures same word as patience earlier
Testing – same root word as trials, sometimes translated temptations, but only because ancient understanding was that tests and trials were occasions for temptation. Here seems to be an emphasis on the internal tests, rather than external trials and tribulations.
Identify confusion over “God tests nobody,” since we see references to God testing lots of people (Genesis 22:1 “Some time later God tested Abraham…”). Thus translators’ attempts to reduce confusion by making one tests and the other temptations.
I don’t think the tension between the two ideas (God tests vs. God doesn’t test) is a bad thing. There are times we experience God testing us for the sake of more life, surely. But James seems to be talking about the internal tests that come when difficulty stirs our sinful desires to get life from outside of the place that we are, instead of from God who is present with us in it. God isn’t interested in stirring those sinful desires. He doesn’t have them, he doesn’t do that. What is God interested in? We’ll get to that.
Ancient understanding of the stars as gods with powers to control fate. God is father of lights, giving good, perfect gifts, not fickle.
Notice the pattern in this passage. Life. Death. New creation. That will be important. Life, death, new creation. This is the Christ pattern, woven even into the words of this letter.
Notice also the two different procreation images. One of our desires giving birth to sin and eventually to death. The other of the Father giving birth to us as the first fruits of his new creation.
And right in the middle of all of it, the hinge on which it turns, the gravity around which everything orbits, the grace, the good and perfect gifts of God the Father.
Let’s begin there, with the goodness of God towards us. For James this vision of God is central to what it means to be a Jesus follower. God is a father who is showering his creation with good and perfect gifts, pouring out blessing upon blessing for the sake of blessing. Not a demented manipulator toying with his playthings for his own twisted pleasure.
This matters to us when we are enduring testing. Whatever form that testing is currently taking.
Broken circumstances.
Broken families.
Broken relationships.
Broken bodies.
Broken minds.
Broken hearts.
Broken dreams.
Broken pasts.
Because it can feel like God’s out to get us for reasons only he knows. Or punish us for our failings or sins. Or that he has left us hung out to dry in the wind because of our supposed uselessness to him.
It’s natural for us to wonder. It’s easier for us to attribute the pain we are experiencing in difficulty to an external source rather than an internal one. Ever stub your toe on a chair and then kick the chair out of anger at it? Stupid chair!
The same thing happens with even the simplest tests. Someone lets you down by doing something inconsiderate, thoughtless, rude, or even downright malicious. Along comes the testing. How will you respond? Graciously? Angrily? Bitterly? It’s hard. Demanding. Puts you in a bind. This isn’t how you’d planned to spend your energy and time.
Who’s to blame? Clearly, someone. And the simplest someone to blame is the inconsiderate, thoughtless, rude, malicious someone. Clearly, they are in some measure to blame for our suffering. But are they to blame for the testing that the suffering opens the door to?
Enough tests come, and it’s not just about the particular someones anymore. Why difficulty after difficulty? Why won’t it stop? Why me?
Who’s to blame? Must be someone powerful. Clearly, it’s God. Or at least, it seems pretty clear, as clear as anything can be in the kind of fog that tumbling into trials and tribulations wraps us in.
But James says hold on, maybe something else is going on.
Don’t be deceived, my dear family.
James says those pessimistic perspectives on trials, on difficulties, on testing are deceptions. Lies. Crafty distortions of the truth, close enough to be believable, but fundamentally false. The fearful whispers of darkness and death.
Don’t believe them, James says. Reject them! Resist them! Because…
Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes down from above, from the father of lights. His steady light doesn’t vary. It doesn’t change and produce shadows.
God is good, the giver of perfect gifts. So good that everything good comes from him. Every joy, every delight, every beauty, every wonder, every pure pleasure comes from him. Which means every thing that is not a perfect gift is decidedly not from him.
Furthermore, God’s not like the sun moving through the sky, making things look one way in one part of the day, and another later on. No, he’s like a steady noonday sun. Everything lit up, shadow-less.
God is neither causing our suffering, nor is he trying to obscure our vision so as to confuse us.
The truth is just the opposite. God is leading us by the hand into the most blessed of blessings. God is shining pure clear light on the world so that we can step forward on well lit ground.
So what, then? What are we to make of all this testing, all these trials?
Well, James says that for the person whose life is given to the master, Jesus, whose life has come under the authority of the strong and risen Christ, these difficulties that lead to testing are part of the road to resurrection life. They are harbingers of blessings, not curses.
God’s blessing on the man who endures testing! When he has passed the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
And what is to blame for the testing?
Nobody being tested should say, “It’s God that’s testing me”, for God cannot be tested by evil, and he himself tests nobody. Rather each person is tested when they are dragged off and enticed by their own desires.
Our own desires, it seems, are the real culprits. In this case, James seems to be referring to those desires within us that have their roots in the old, sinful, broken creation that Jesus came to rescue us from. Lust, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, pride, sloth, and the like.
James pictures those desires seducing us in the midst of difficulty. Inviting us to embrace them for the life they promise us, instead of looking to God for life in the midst of our difficulty.
Back to our simple example. Someone lets us down by doing something inconsiderate, thoughtless, rude, or even downright malicious. They are to blame for their lack of consideration, or thoughtlessness, or rudeness or malice. But they are not to blame for the testing, the trial that ensues. The blame for that lies squarely on those broken desires still alive within us.
[DC, illness, etc…]
And if we surrender to their seduction, sin is conceived. And grows up in the world. And eventually spawns death, all on its own.
Contrasted with that is the way God gives birth to new creation life.
He became our father by the word of truth; that was his firm decision, and the result is that we are a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
No seduction or deception here. God declares that he is our Father with his firm decision. He desires it, and he makes it so. Our broken desires give birth to death; God’s desire makes us his children. He speaks new creation into being in us the way he made the first creation, with his word. Through Jesus, the word made flesh. The word of truth.
…and the result is that we are a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
Do you know the purpose of fruit? It is to be an attractive enough and sweet enough container of seeds that some animal will pick it up to eat it and carry it away so that the seeds are spread and new trees grow up everywhere.
And do you know what ripens the fruit to make it sweet? It is essentially a dying process stimulated by an organic hormone called ethylene. And in that dying it becomes sweeter and sweeter, less tart. More and more attractive, colorful. More fragrant. More and more likely to be carried away and buried under ground to grow up into a new, life giving tree.
(Interestingly, an ancient technique for ripening a fruit is to wound it…)
Something like that is happening with us when we undergo trials and tests. Each test brings broken old creation desires to the surface as they attempt to seduce us, to make us turn from God for our life and search life out in something else. To get revenge instead of to forgive. To lust to get instead of to love to give. To nurse bitterness instead of lavishing generous grace. To curl up in sloth instead of working tirelessly for a harvest. To be envious of others instead of grateful for God’s good gifts to us. And on and on.
If we give life to those desires by welcoming their advances, the new creation parts of us shrivel and die. But if we starve those desires, and endure the tests, holding on to the way of Jesus and his good news, those desires die in us, and through the agency of the Holy Spirit, we ripen.
God’s blessing on the man who endures testing! When he has passed the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him….
God is interested in transforming the broken world with the resurrection life of his son Jesus, and he’s invited us into that life and into that mission. So he’s present with us in the testing, knowing the trial that it is. Enduring with us as we endure. It’s a strange endurance, because we must endure until we die to any particular desire. God is dying with us as we die to those sinful desires. And when we die, we’ve passed the test, and we receive the crown of life. Just as Christ Jesus has done before us.
Holy Spirit, help us see Christ with us in our trials!
Holy Spirit, help us see Christ enduring with us as we endure!
Holy Spirit, help us endure until we have died to ourselves, as Christ already has before us.
Holy Spirit, help us hold on until nothing has a hold on us except the love of God, that we might bow low to receive the crown of life.
Holy Spirit, help us to become with our Savior the first fruits of God’s new creation, so that in our dying to ourselves, the seeds of God’s kingdom can be scattered near and far and resurrection life can sweep over the face of the earth!
Practical Tips:
1. Save some seeds in your wallet or purse. Eat a piece of fruit, clean and dry the seeds, and place them in your wallet or purse, someplace they will remind you regularly of this passage.
2. Write the word “endure” somewhere you will see it often. If you’re in the midst of testing produced by difficulty, remember that your most important job is to simply to endure. To not prematurely end the testing by letting your own desires drag you off the way of Jesus.

Tumbling Into Joy

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 04/22/2012

As someone who loves to play sports, and perhaps especially as someone who loves to play well enough to win, I have learned to not always trust my natural instincts. At least not at first, not until my instincts have been properly trained. Because so often what feels natural may not get you to the level of skill you want. [junior high basketball, learning the jump shot, tennis learning to serve…] Over time, what I’ve learned is that if someone whose proficiency you admire tells you to do it a different way, and when you first begin to try it feels totally wrong and unnatural, that that feeling of wrong and unnatural is probably a sign that you are on the right track. And to trust it, embrace it until it becomes second nature.

Which brings us to our text today.

My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What's more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything.

James 1:2-4

James probably younger blood brother of Jesus. (lit. Jacob, translated in English as James, maybe because King James who commissioned one of the earliest English translations wanted to see his name there) Seemed to see him as brother earlier on in Jesus’ ministry, not Lord until later. (Can you imagine going through the internal shift to call your sibling Lord?) At the time of this writing, main spokesperson of the church in Jerusalem.

James is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy. He doesn’t beat around the bush, he doesn’t pull any punches. We see it in this letter, and it seems to be part of the reason he is eventually executed by the high priest in Jerusalem.

However, whenever he tells it like it is, he always gives his reasoning. He’s not like the authority figure that demands unquestioning compliance – do it because I said so! – he’s like a dad that wants his kids to understand the why behind the what so that when they grow up they have internalized and owned for themselves what he wants them to know and do.

James does that here.

My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because

He gets right to the point, doesn’t he? “learn to look at it with complete joy.” Even though his point sounds pretty crazy and unrealistic.

Let’s be honest, who does that naturally?

Usually, if we saw someone doing that, we’d wonder if they had it all together, wouldn’t we? We’d wonder if they were living in some kind of denial.

But James just comes right out with it.

Complete joy, he says.

Not, learn to recognize the silver lining.

Not, learn to see that it’s not as bad as it seems.

Not even, learn to have a positive attitude.

But learn to look at it with complete joy.

It’s a head turner kind of thing to say. If it were anyone else, we might wonder what they’d been smoking. But this is James. Brother of Jesus. Leader of the first church in Jerusalem. A guy who knew what he was talking about when it came to trials and tribulations of all kinds.

He’d seen his brother wrongfully arrested, tortured, and killed for political expediency. That counts as T&T. That wouldn’t feel like complete joy, would it? But James also saw the rest of that story. Saw his brother alive in a resurrection body. Saw his brother slip out of our 3 dimensional volume into the invisible dimensions where the God who is as near as our next breath dwells in fullness. Experienced the Spirit of his brother unleashed into the world on Pentecost, alive in his own soul, whispering to him, empowering him, enlivening him. And something about that experience, and others like it, revealed something profound and true to him about the nature of trials and tribulations this side of the resurrection.

So we listen. And thankfully, he gives us a high quality, grade A USDA because.

…because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What's more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything.

Now, let’s be honest. Our first response probably isn’t, yes – I’m going to have patience because of this! Hot golly gosh darn, that’s all I’ve ever wanted in life – look out joy, here I come!

Maybe if the because were: because you know that these trials are the only thing between you and a convertible Mustang GT, or some other desire of your heart, and everything is going to work out just the way you want.

But no, the because is about patience and about what patience does to transform us. Sometimes we want Twinkies, but James seems to be giving us tofu. So let’s spend some time giving his words a chance to work on us, see what kind of life they might give to us if we attend to them.

Back to the top.

My dear family.

James has tenderness in his voice, not harshness. He says what he says here because he loves us. Because he is rooting for us. Because he’s got a treasure he wants to pass on to us. This isn’t a corrective you’ve blown it, now take your medicine talk, this is gather around the table, I want to tell you something wonderful.

…when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations…

The Greek words themselves have a tumbling quality to them, alliterative p’s rolling off the tongue

Peripesete poikilois peirasmois / per-ee-pes-ete poy-kee-lois pi-ras-mois

Which is how it can feel when we are in a season of trials and tribulations. It’s like we’re are out of control, tumbling. It’s disorienting, you can’t tell which way is up at any particular time, all you can tell is you’re going down. And it’s like they just keep coming, just when one seems to be ending a new one seems to be starting.







your favorite team,

a power outage,

a speeding ticket,

you name it - everything seems to be unfair game.

The net effect, of course, is the opposite of joy. When we’re tumbling into various trials and tribulations, what we feel is despair. That it’s never going to end. That it’s going to destroy us. We can’t see clearly, everything is darkness and shadow and storm. [free throws at basketball game…]

But James says that feeling of despair is a lie built on a false foundation of unreality. A fa├žade around the true truth of the reality pressing forward from God’s kingdom future to meet us. An illusion shrouding us from seeing Christ’s blessed presence in God’s kingdom now in which we abide. James says instead,

learn to look at it with complete joy…

note: he’s not saying simply “be joyful” – that would be impossible for most of us, and false at best. He’s saying learn to look at these things with complete joy…

[As a parent, learning to see an angry, tearful response as a sign of progress, instead of with discouragement. As a pastor, learning to see the unsettling falling apart of shakable faith as forward progress, not backsliding. Learning to see sore muscles as a sign you’re getting stronger, fitter, not dying.]

What James has come to see is that for the disciple of Jesus, everything is working together for new creation purposes. Everything is working together towards resurrection. For those learning to follow the way of Jesus together, bound in fellowship to Christ through the holy spirit of the good shepherd, God’s goodness is infiltrating everything. Even the trials and tribulations that are conceived in the pit of hell for our destruction. And if we could but see it, if we could learn to look at it through clear eyes, the joy already present in us through Jesus would be unshaken, unrattled, unchipped, uncowed, unbowed,


Hegeomai: "learn to look at it" from the root of lead, rule, command. This is an act of discipleship, a leading of our selves in the way of Jesus. It is process. It takes intention. Some parts of us will take more leading and discipline than others. It’s a learned perspective; it’s not how we will naturally look at such things.

And it’s generally simple, but also just plain hard work. We remember the words of our teachers. We call them to mind regularly. We immerse ourselves in the good news vision of reality that Jesus gives us, declaring to the obstinate parts of us that it’s true. And we ask for help when we need it.

…because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience.

When we are tumbling into trials and tribulations, our faith is put to the test. Do we believe the good news anymore? Do we trust Jesus and the path he has put us on? Or do we despair? Do we choose a different, easier road? One of our own choosing that seems less prone to problems and pitfalls and persecution from the evil one? This is our faith being put to the test.

And what comes out in us if we stand against despair like a willow tree in a wind storm, if we hang on to the good news like a mountain climber whose finger strength seems to be giving out, if we remain on the way of Jesus like a driver in a rainstorm who can see nothing in front, but only the shoulder of the road on either side when they roll down their window? What comes out, says James, is patience.

Hupomone / hoop-om-on-ay: “patience, endurance”

Because faith will never find its full satisfaction until the kingdom comes in its fullness at the end of the age. And so out of every act of faith comes patience. Endurance. We trust the good news Jesus announces. We keep our feet on the way of Jesus, or we climb back on when we’ve found ourselves off the path. And we draw nearer to the day with every act of faith. We come closer to the source of life itself. The old creation withers within us and the new creation sends out shoots above the ground. Our faith is strengthened, but it is not done being exercised. And what comes out is patience. Endurance.

[Pararescue Jumper Training film…]

Comment on “so others might live” and the endurance that will yet be demanded so that joy might be multiplied…

What's more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything.

This to me, is where what James is saying gets really interesting. Patience, holding on to Jesus in faith, trusting his good news in the midst of tumbling into various trials and tribulations, has an effect. And that effect is that it makes us complete and whole, not falling short in anything. Perfect and complete, lacking nothing, some translations say.

In other words, new creation itself is born out of the faith we exercise in hard times. Resurrection enters the world only after betrayal and arrests and trials and torture and thorns and tombs.

New creation is the most joyous of joys. Resurrection is joy beyond telling. But it is always wrapped in burial cloths before the light of Easter morning enters the cave.

And hear this as well, not only is new creation itself, and resurrection itself, joy in its purest form, but the new creation is doused in joy unending, and the resurrected know joy in their bones. And so the infinite joy is doubled.

And so James is saying, learn to look at these things that we are tumbling into, that are sometimes tumbling us, and see them for what they really are. They are the signal fires of stampeding joy. The grass and trees may catch fire around us, we may be burned, the ground may shake beneath our feet and we may not be able to keep our feet under us, but joy is on the move. And more than that, let the tumbling have its complete effect. Even if all it has produced so far is patience, that patience is itself the thing that announces the promised joy will surely arrive.

Practical Tips:

1. Memorize these verses, substituting “my dear family” for your first name. Whether you are tumbling now or have smooth sailing. Despair is easier to resist when you can catch a glimpse of what’s really happening. And these verses remind us of what’s really happening. Say them to yourself.

2. Ask God for a “stop” image, or maybe it’s a “start” image.

[show images of fire/new growth forest..]

3. Ask a joyful person for an outside perspective.

4. Watch Surviving the Cut.