Category Archives: Gospel

Jonah and the Surprising Grace of God

Jonah logo - IMG_0588Jonah is a parable-like story referenced by Jesus to dramatically illustrate the Gospel. You can read this “minor prophet” in 10 minutes, but it challenges us to do the hard work of living the Good News everyday with everyone we meet, especially those (who perhaps like ourselves) seem unlikely to respond to the gift of grace. Listen to the first sermon in this 4 part series here.


Also, here is a poem I read by a favorite writer and poet, Scott Cairns, called The Imprisonment of Jonah that cleverly captures the essence of the story. Listen to the author reading it here. (It is from his collected poems, Slow Pilgrim.)

The Bible in a Word – an essay on ‘Flourishing’

Yesterday, on the final day of my Biblical Thought class for the semester, I read this brief essay and then gave it to them along with suggestions for further study. I said,  “Here’s another way to describe what I long for all of you and myself as we’ve explored the drama of Scripture. It centers around the word, Flourish. I’ve become convinced that flourishing is the best modern equivalent for the beautifully comprehensive Hebrew word, Shalom (Peace, wholeness, the way God designed his world and his people to live to the fullest.”) I found myself getting a bit choked up as I read it to them. It was more than a summary; it was pouring out my heart.


Flourishing Our Place in the Biblical Story

There is a universal longing, a desire transcending tribe, tongue, and nation that sits at the core of every human heart. It’s a desire for thriving. For fullness of life. For a life worth living. For flourishing. 

Creation as God intended it, was in a state of flourishing (Shalom). The picture of the Garden was where the man and the woman walked in right relationship with God. Everything was as it was supposed to be.

When evil entered into God’s good creation, humanity experienced the cancerous effect of sin and brokenness. We are cracked images (Eikons), made to look like God, but desperately in need of restoration.

Flourishing begins with the work of redemption that God undertakes in the history of Israel and fulfills in Jesus. God defeats death and evil through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. God makes the way for lost and broken people to be restored to right relationship with God, one another, and the cosmos. Repent and believe the Good News!

We are all in need of restoration. When we receive God’s grace, understand what God made us for, and how we fit into his big picture of restoration, that is when we begin to truly flourish. But it doesn’t end there.

Flourishing goes beyond our personal redemption and includes finding our calling. Knowing that God is glorified when his creation flourishes, we work for the flourishing of others out of gratitude and a desire to extend God’s glory. When we serve other people with our God-given gifts, talents, time and resources, we help them flourish.

What does flourishing look like, then? It’s when the wilderness becomes fruitful. It’s when justice reigns. It’s when righteousness dwells. It’s when people live peacefully. Flourishing is true happiness in God. It’s joy. It’s a fullness of life. It’s wholeness. It’s abundance. It’s Shalom!

Flourishing promotes the common good. It radiates God’s Kingdom on earth. Flourishing is a thriving farm. It’s a booming city. It’s a cure for disease. It’s a new technology for good. It’s a beautiful song. It’s a vibrant street mural. It’s a loving family. It’s a fun friendship. It’s a deep relationship with God. It’s living as an image bearer of our Creator. Flourishing means becoming everything we were created to be.

Finally, although we are called to bring about ever higher levels of flourishing, we know in the end we are giving only a foretaste of the restoration that is to come when God fully ushers in the New Creation. Flourishing in this life is inevitably incomplete because of God’s ongoing mission in the world.

This is what we hope for, what each of us longs for deep in our hearts. In the meantime, we’ve got work to do. God keeps calling us to live our part in bringing about flourishing for our communities and the world. Proclaim and live the Good News!

Lyle Mook – adapted and expanded from an article by Dr. Anne Bradley, The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, 2015

God’s Grace: ‘Free, but not Cheap!’

Hi res 785px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project (1)

The Return of the Prodigal Son was the last completed work of Rembrandt. The famous painter had always utilized biblical scenes, but after the death of his wife, his life took a serious and seeking turn. He began to focus on the central themes of Gospel, especially the cross. He painted characters with humanity and emotion. The Prodigal summed up not only the Gospel, but Rembrandt’s own pilgrimage.

In our series, Prodigal God, we are drinking from the deep well of Jesus’ teaching that is at the core of the Good News from Luke 15.  Listen to all the sermons here.

Below is a helpful listing (from Feb 2) of the steps in the journey of the parable’s two brothers:
_adapted from The Cross and the Prodigal, and Finding the Lost by Kenneth E. Bailey


The Paths of the Two Lost Sons

1. The father pays the price of reconciliation by continuing to endure the agony of rejected love.

2. The younger son comes to the end of his resources. In a moment of truth he sees and admits to himself where his pride has brought him.

3. He turns and starts back admitting that he is wrong – and hoping yet to save himself. (“I know what I’ll do…”) Our central sin is thinking we can be our own lord and savior.

4. The father demonstrates unexpected love in self-emptying humiliation (by running to meet him.)

5. Shattered, the younger son surrenders completely, and offers no alternative for their ongoing relationship. He confesses his personal unworthiness.

6. The father offers reconciliation and sonship, receiving him back into the family. 

7. The younger son accepts in genuine humility, knowing that (his sonship) is a gift of pure grace.

8. The younger son accepts (we can presume) the responsibility of sonship with a new heart. Now he knows, accepts, and can return his father’s love. Service is not now a means to gain more, but rather an opportunity accepted joyously to express love and gratitude. (“From resentment to gratitude” is the movement God wants to do in all of us!)

9. The older son publicly insults his father and poisons the relationship, asserting his prideful self-righteousness.

10. The father, again in self-emptying humiliation, searches out the older son and  gently urges him to accept the invitation to join in the celebration as a reconciled brother.

NOTE: The missing conclusion. The question hangs: “Will the elder brother go into the party?” 

[Jesus is challenging the religious leaders to join him in the true understanding of God as the one who seeks and saves the lost and to see themselves as in need of a Savior; to recognize that their hearts are far from God even as they outwardly see themselves as ‘religious’ and ‘IN!’]


Will we receive and extend the costly grace of our extravagant God?

If Jesus Came to Our Home

logoIMG_8474Our vision at Christ Church begins: “We will be a diverse community that lives the Good News of Jesus Christ for the flourishing of all people…” A right view of diversity comes from the very heart of God. Neil Botts, our Executive Pastor, preached a wonderfully challenging sermon from Luke 5, linked here. A summary and further resources follow. 


The Bible is a story of God’s promise, through the descendants of Abraham, to create a new community of people called the Church, from every nation, tribe, and language who live under his loving and gracious rule. The Bible tracks this promise—from Genesis to Revelation—and its fulfillment through the person of Jesus Christ. Luke 5 shows us what this new community is supposed to look like. Jesus’ violates and breaks through social and religious boundaries and norms to demonstrate that God’s heart is for ALL people. And Jesus demonstrates this all the way to the cross to bring about these new norms.

Therefore, who am I to allow the things that are non-barriers in God’s eyes (things such as race, ethnicity, class, and gender) to be barriers in my own life and in the life of our community?! Jesus makes another point in a graphic way: this new wine—these new norms for relationships—cannot be poured into old wineskins. Therefore, the impossible must happen: I must recognize my brokenness and, through repentance and faith, embrace God’s love in Jesus Christ so that he can replace my heart of stone with a new heart, allowing him to pour the new wine of his love for all people into my heart. People will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ and encounter his love not only by how we love, but by who we love!


Next steps and applications for our lives:

  1. In what ways have you encountered relational barriers because of race, ethnicity, class or gender?
  2. Where have you included people in your relational circle because they fit into your plans or because they were the “right kind” of people?
  3. Where have you excluded people from your relational circle because they did not fit into your plans or they were not the “right kind” of people?
  4. What do you sense God is saying to you about this? What will be your response?
  5. Participate in future discussions at Christ Church on race, ethnicity, class, and gender and related issues.
  6. Immigration Resources: Consider what God has to say before coming to your own conclusions on this topic. Check out these resources:
    Evangelical Immigration Table
    The Immigration Alliance
    Recommended Reading
  7. Join us for our upcoming series on Radical Hospitality beginning Sunday, January 24, 2016 as we continue in Luke, seeking to consider how these new norms Jesus is modeling impact the way we do life together as the church.
  8. Pray regularly for our vision:
    Christ Church will be a diverse community that lives the Good News of Jesus Christ for the flourishing of all people throughout our region and around the world.

           Our Mission Priorities:
           As a movement of people dependent upon God, we will:

             ~Become and make committed disciples of Christ who glorify God and embody
             our faith in every area of life.

             ~Bring compassion, mercy, and justice to our local community and the world in
             sustainable ways.

             ~Start new and strengthen existing Christ Church communities.

Sermon Audio

If Jesus Came to Church

logoIMG_8474One thing is certain. Jesus’s Vision was crystal clear! It was embedded in the amazing prophecy of Isaiah (chpt 61 and 58) that Jesus read in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. This sermon explores what is behind the vision and its implications for us today. (Due to a technical difficulty, this is a ‘studio’ recording, not the original.)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
   and recovering of sight to the blind,
   to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (from Isa. 58:6)
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

There are 4 aspects of Jesus’ vision that must drive what the church is about!

  1. Jesus’ vision is for the whole person – spiritual AND physical;
  2. Jesus’ vision is for the Jews AND all humanity;
  3. Jesus’ vision is to be both proclaimed AND demonstrated;
  4. Jesus’ vision is for the present AND the future.

And so our vision at Christ Church has been put this way. We pray for the grace to live it out!

Our Vision:
Christ Church will be a diverse community that lives the Good News of Jesus Christ for the flourishing of all people throughout our region and around the world.
 
Our Mission Priorities:

As a movement of people dependent upon God, we will:

 Become and make committed disciples of Christ who glorify God and embody our faith in every area of life.
 Bring compassion, mercy, and justice to our local community and the world in sustainable ways.
 Start new and strengthen existing Christ Church communities.

NOTE: I would recommend looking at the great little book by  A. J. Gordon that inspired the name of our Luke 3-5 series. It’s called How Christ Came to Church. (You can find it on the archive of his works here: under his books.) Gordon has wonderful insight into the presence and power of the Holy Spirit for our life with Christ. Here’s a sampling:

Just in front of the study window where I write is a street, above which it is said that a powerful electric current is constantly moving. I cannot see that current: it does not report itself to hearing, or sight, or taste, or smell, and so far as the testimony of the senses is to be taken, I might reasonably discredit its existence. But I see a slender arm, called the trolley, reaching up and touching it; and immediately the car with its heavy load of passengers moves along the track as though seized in the grasp of some mighty giant. The power had been there before, only now the car lays hold of it or is rather laid hold of by it, since it was a touch, not a grip, through which the motion was communicated. 

And would it be presumptuous for one to say that he had known something of a similar contact with not merely a divine force but a divine person? The change which ensued may be described thus: instead of praying constantly for the descent of a divine influence there was now a surrender, however imperfect, to a divine and ever-present Being: instead of a constant effort to make use of the Holy Spirit for doing my work there arose a clear and abiding conviction that the true secret of service lay in so yielding to the Holy Spirit that he might use me to do his work!

Is Jesus Vision really OUR vision?

logoIMG_8474Beginning at Advent, we are preaching through the Gospel of Luke this year at Christ Church. We are taking the first 3 weeks of the new year to explore the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry recorded in Luke, chapters 3-5. We’re asking the challenging question, “Is Jesus’ vision OUR vision?” Listen to the first sermon, If Jesus Came to Town, here. 

Our statement of vision goes like this:

Christ Church will be a diverse community that lives the
Good News of Jesus Christ for the flourishing of all people
throughout our region and around the world.

In this first teaching, we discover:
/ The vital ministry of John the Baptist as the “hinge” figure between the Old and New Testaments; pointing to Jesus through whom “ALL humanity will see the salvation of God!”

/ The importance and hope that comes from true repentance and asking the Lord, “What shall we do?”

/ Why discipleship is for everyday. “Faith at Work” matters to God! (One of our Mission Priorities is to become and make committed disciples of Christ who glorify God and embody our faith in every area of life.

/ How the baptism of Jesus reveals the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and foreshadows Christ’s death and resurrection.

/ How the genealogy in Luke proclaims Jesus as the New Adam!


Jesus has indeed “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14) Does He find us turning to God? Eager to follow him as a true disciple? Living the Good News of Jesus’ reign? Working for the flourishing of ALL the people God loves?

Part 2 will come from Luke, ch. 4, “If Jesus Came to Church!”

Mary’s Magnificat: Soundtrack for a Revolution

Hopelogo2The “songs” of Luke’s Gospel are many and amazing. Zachariah, Simeon, the Angels’ Gloria, and of course Mary’s Magnificat! They are sung throughout the year: morning, evening, and late nite by Christians all around the world. In preaching on the Magnificat, I borrowed this title: “Soundtrack for a Revolution” from a documentary on the “Freedom Songs” of the Civil Rights movement. I would call the Magnificat a “Cosmic Freedom Song!”  It announces our liberation from sin and death and oppression.  You can listen to the sermon audio here.

In a day when so many question if there is a God who really sees and can take action, we need to see Mary’s song in a new light. In the sermon, I reference the poetic structure below that reinforces a powerful truth: What God has promised is already as good as done! 

My soul magnifies the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,     

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
for he who is mighty has done great things for me…

he has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
[he has] exalted those of humble estate;

he has filled the hungry with good things,
[he has] sent the rich away empty…

as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

God DOES notice, and God HAS acted in Jesus!
We can live accordingly and join in the Revolution that His Kingdom has launched!

Living the Good News with Conviction, Civility, & Compassion

15-10-05 F:W Convictions-Civility.012How do we engage the culture in which we find ourselves in a Christ-honoring way? This is a crucial and sometimes complex question for Christians everywhere. There are three essential ingredients from the Scriptures that put ‘flesh’ on being ‘salt and light’ in the culture. God calls us to be people of CONVICTION, CIVILITY, and COMPASSION.  The sermon from Oct. 4th is linked here. I’ve added some additional notes that expand the discussion below.


Civility is becoming recognized as a public virtue far superior to an often mushy Tolerance – which does not even require love for the other as ‘neighbor!’

The central principle from the ever-relevant Scripture in Peter’s first letter:

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (Greek: apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect… (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

Let me take this a step further explaining why I believe God calls us to all three of these essentials… (you can ponder the question of, “what will be missing if all three are not part of our lives.”)

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.024Without CONVICTION, we can be aimless or even compromising, not pointing people to ‘the Good, the True, and the Beautiful’ which come from God.

 

 

 

 

 

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.025Without COMPASSION, we can be impractical and just ‘live in our head’; or worse – be people without embodied love in action, and ultimately become invisible or irrelevant to the culture in need around us!

 

 

 

 

 

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.026 Without CIVILITY, we can become a limited Christian ‘ghetto’ that doesn’t engage the culture. Or, we can be only a marginalized subculture – unpersuasive and the opposite of the Good News aroma of God!

[On the wider level of our culture and the world, the absence or imbalance of these three virtues leads to lack of any respectful dialogue on one hand – or even violence and terrorism on the extreme end.]

(Richard Mouw’s Uncommon Decency is a must read on the subject of civility with convictions.)

So, let’s continue grow in our biblical convictions of truth while embodying and proclaiming the Gospel of hope in Christ – all with a grace and respect among the sacred humans we live with every day!

Tell Me Your Story!

Tell-Your-StoryWe love stories! Before we can talk, we hold out our favorite book to be read. We wait for an encore of our favorite songs. The Bible tells The Greatest Story Ever Told!  “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Cor. 5) Listen to this sermon as we explore not only God’s story, but the power that comes from sharing our stories with one another!  


Here are the 3 practical ways to experience the power of story in your life:

1. Find yourself in God’s Story! Find your true identity in the one who made you and came to restore your full humanity!

2. Pay attention to capture the stories God is writing in your life. God is constantly speaking!

3. Ask the people you touch, “Tell me your story.” Then be ready to tell YOUR story!

Barabbas and the Great Exchange

Jesus and PilateWe begin Holy Week. Sunday’s sermon dealt with a well-known but quickly dismissed character named Barabbas. A deeper kind of exchange takes place beyond the cry of the mob! Listen to the sermon here.

Come to any or all of our three nights of the Easter Celebration of the Arts!  Each night opens at 6 with a special event at 7 . Wednesday is the Cafe music and poetry night; Thursday at 7 is a lecture on Christian Discipleship and the Arts; and Friday at 7 is our Good Friday Worship Service.

My meditation on Barabbas and Jesus led to this poem that I shared for the Arts Celebration. The sermon will aid in understanding the nuances.


Barabbas

But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)  Luke 23:18-19

 The terrorist has a name: Bar-Abbas
“Release Barabbas!”  “Crucify Jesus!”
son of the father
For The Son of the Father?
Anti-messiah, you choose
O mob of pseudo-Jews?
Two accused of insurrection
King for a day or resurrection?
The prisoner swap is strange
Invisible is the real exchange
Brutal, Beautiful, Bold
Slaughtered Shepherd for the life of the world!
Sorrowful Comforter
Wounded Healer
Jesus, among the criminals
Still among the criminals.