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Valencia, California
Studying scripture and preaching the Word to draw us into deeper understanding and more faithful discipleship.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Easter Message Matters

Matthew 27:1-5 (TLB)
When it was morning, the chief priests and Jewish leaders met again to discuss how to induce the Roman government to sentence Jesus to death.  Then they sent him in chains to Pilate, the Roman governor.
About that time Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus had been condemned to die, changed his mind and deeply regretted what he had done, and brought back the money to the chief priests and other Jewish leaders.
“I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”
“That’s your problem,” they retorted.
Then he threw the money onto the floor of the Temple and went out and hanged himself.

Judas hit a pretty deep low…he betrayed Jesus…for whatever reason…because he was greedy?  Because he doubted Jesus would do what he said he would? Because he was tempted? Who knows…what we do know is that Judas betrayed Jesus and would forever be known as a traitor of the worst kind.  And after he did it…the reality kicked in. He did the wrong thing and he knew it.  He wanted to take it back, to fix it, to un do what he had done, but at that point, Jesus had been arrested and was condemned to death…what was done was done. There was no changing it.  He couldn’t undo the past and he likely knew he wouldn’t easily be forgiven.  And even if he moved to tim-buk-no-where to form a new life where no one knew him, this remained true: he knew what he had done.  He would have that knowledge for life.  So, he did what he knew to do, he went to repent. He offered the money back. He acknowledged his sin and he tried to make it right. And the high priests told him, “sorry, can’t help you.” 
And the pain and shame of it all was too much for him to bear.  Judas couldn’t take it.  So he threw the money at their feet and he took his own life.  Judas was overcome with guilt, and shame, and darkness.  And the saddest part is he never got to see or hear the end of the story. Judas never heard the good news—his actions, even his sins, didn’t have the final word.  Yes, Jesus died, but he also resurrected.  Even his worst action wasn’t able to overcome God’s action in the world.  Do you ever imagine how things might have been different for Judas if he had waited, if he could have seen that God was greater than the worst that anyone had to offer.  God wasn’t just greater than Judas and his betrayal, but Peter and his denial, Pilate and his complacency, the Sadduccees and Pharisees and their hypocrisy and lies, the people and their mob mentality, the beatings, the mocking, the humiliation…God overcame all of that. 
But Judas never knew. Judas never heard the good news.
Judas is the name we know.  Even if we don’t know the Bible story, we often know the name of Judas and know he wasn’t a good guy.  But apart from the individual man, there are a whole lot of people who are like Judas.  There are a whole lot of sinners—and generally, we, too, stand among them.  Any sinners in the room today?  Ok, so maybe you didn’t betray Jesus…but maybe you have lied, you’ve been greedy, you’ve lusted, you’ve been selfish, you’ve turned away from those in need, you’ve judged others…anyone? 
            Yeah, confession isn’t much fun, is it?  It’s always easier to look at someone else’s sin than to look at our own, so let’s talk about someone else for another minute.
How many of you follow basketball? And how many of you heard about what happened with D'angelo Russell & Nick Young?  Well, in case you didn't, both men play for the Lakers. D'angelo is an up & coming player and he's young.  And, he decided it’d be a good idea to video a conversation with Nick Young about Nick’s scandals and secrets and "somehow" the video got out.  It's been all over the news and if you've been watching you know things are not good for Russell...his teammates don't want to play with him, they don't want to share the locker room, they don't want to pass him the ball...by some accounts his disloyalty, immaturity, and lack of integrity indicate he should just turn in his jersey because there is no redeeming his situation--ever.
Now you might consider it a stretch because Young isn't the Messiah, but the weight of Russell's situation and Judas' are not far off. They were both part of a tight knit team, they both broke the rules of acceptability for their own personal gain, they did something they couldn't undo, others told them they are stuck to live with their consequences, and by most accounts they should just throw in the towel. Now Russell hasn’t hit the darkness like Judas did, at least not in a way that’s been reported. But I’m sure this week has been pretty rough.  
Now the danger doesn't just lie for the D'angelo Russells or the Judases of the world.  The danger lurks for each of us because the threat of darkness comes not just when we sin but when life happens--when it turns us on our heads. ..when we get the dreaded diagnosis, when we can't eek out any more love in our marriage, when we come to loathe our work,  when our kids break our hearts, when we fall into old bad habits, when we can't pay the rent,  when there's not enough money for the month,  when the abusers and manipulators in our lives keep getting their way. ..all kinds of circumstances can threaten to overtake us.  They tell us it'll never get better.  They tell us there's no hope. There's no redemption.  There's no chance.  Why bother? Just throw in the towel.  Give up!
That's what THEY say. But that’s the verdict before the cross.  But here's the thing. ..none of those things get the final word. ..you know who does? Jesus! Because he lived and died and rose again. Jesus faced the worst. He lived through all the horrible rotten things that happen in this world and he came out on the other side victorious. And he did all that, not for his own sake, but for ours. So that when we face all the horrible awful things life has to offer—by our hand or by someone else’s—we can still find hope and redemption. 
That's the power of the Gospel. ..that's why we need the Easter story...because life and struggles and sins all threaten to do us in but God interrupts,  God intervenes and says "I have the last word and the last word is life!  It's victory!  It's hope!"
Let’s listen to Romans 5 again.

Romans 5:6-11 (TLB)
 When we were utterly helpless, with no way of escape, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners who had no use for him.  Even if we were good, we really wouldn’t expect anyone to die for us, though, of course, that might be barely possible. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since by his blood he did all this for us as sinners, how much more will he do for us now that he has declared us not guilty? Now he will save us from all of God’s wrath to come.  And since, when we were his enemies, we were brought back to God by the death of his Son, what blessings he must have for us now that we are his friends and he is living within us!
Now we rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God—all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done in dying for our sins—making us friends of God.
Do you hear it?  The truth?  The promise?  The hope? While we were still sinners…still stuck in OUR ways, not doing it God’s way, Christ died for us. While we were still getting it wrong, not even close to getting it right, Christ died for us. Most people would question whether or not they were willing to die for a good person…a faithful person, a righteous person who has helped them, but Jesus went and died for all the fools, the folks who jumped ship, the folks who beat him and hurt him unjustly. He died for the ones who betrayed him. And he died for all of us. And since he did that for us when we didn’t even deserve it and through him we are absolved of our sin. We get a new beginning. We get a second chance.  We get forgiveness and grace and mercy.  AND we get even greater blessings.  And those blessings can blow our minds, because they come to us not as Christ’s enemies, but as his friends.  If he was willing to die for us while we were acting like enemies, imagine how much more he would do for us as his friends.  
I don't know D'Angelo, or any Laker for that matter, but I wish I could talk to him and tell him, "This may have been a stupid thing, a foolish thing to do, but it doesn't have to define you forever.  It doesn't have to have the final word.  Because of Christ and his victory over sin and death, HE gets the final word.  He calls us forgiven, redeemed and worthy.  Sure, the world will try and hold onto this. The people around you will call you names and tell you a different story, but you don't have to let them define you. You can choose to claim your identity in Christ instead.   
And the reality is, we all have that chance, we all have the opportunity to push back on the labels and stigmas of the world and instead say we are defined by something and someone much greater.  We are defined by the Risen Christ. And that is news worth sharing.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Framily--week 1 marriage

How many of you have ever had a Lily and Griffith kind of moment?  Maybe out to dinner, maybe for a special celebration, or maybe while cooking dinner, or settling into bed, or driving to see family….one that reveals your hurts and resentments and struggles all at once?  Their exchange makes us laugh a little because there’s  truth in it that resonates for each of us.  The specifics of their story may be their own, but really, each couple has similar struggles. 
As I read through the scriptures for the story of a couple, there were a number of possibilities…though no one really had a flawless moment of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to point to. Even the couples in the Bible struggled and had messiness in their lives. Being among God’s people didn’t protect them from that.  And one of the couple’s with the richest story is Sarah and Abraham. And I read through Genesis marking their story and those two faced a lot together.  And we couldn’t narrow it down to just one moment, or just one story to highlight…it would have been unfair to them.  The richness of who they are is highlighted in their ups and downs.  They start out with a lot of years behind them before they even come together as a couple, then Abraham is called to be God’s leader and Sarah to give birth to the generations that will outnumber the sand on the beach…a notion she laughs at.  They struggle and struggle to get pregnant and finally recruit Hagar to have a son for Abraham, a decision that Sarah later regrets.  –She and Abraham went to Gerar where she played coy— and Abraham pretended Sarah was his sister, which only got them in more trouble down the line.  They continued to try for a baby of their own and finally Sarah got pregnant and then she kicked Hagar and Ishmael out.  And then there was the time Abraham felt called to sacrifice Isaac and took him up on the hill in obedience to God, only to have his son question what exactly was taking place up there.  And it wasn’t long after that Sarah passed away. 
                This couple went through it—the ups, the downs, a few more downs—they were stretched in their commitment to each other and to God.  And they aren’t the only couple like that—not in the Bible or in the modern day.  I think most of us would like to think that if we are called by God, and faithful to God we will be exempt from facing trials, but that’s simply not the case.  We all face challenges. 
                So what is our hope?  Why do we even bother to get married?  Well, I think the hope is that the love we share will continue to make us better as individuals and as a couple and that we’ll find peace and joy and comfort in our relationship.  And it can be easy for that to fall apart…that’s why marriage takes constant investment…you have to talk about how you’re feeling when all you’d really like to do is slam doors or drive away. You have to be forgiving when forgiveness isn’t deserved. You have to show love even when you don’t feel loved.  You have to laugh at the trivial stuff that gets your goat.  You have to remember that you too are wonderful and loveable and incredibly flawed.  Sticking with it requires a lot.  Divorce is a testament to how hard it is—life together isn’t successful on a whim. And when you risk the greatest vulnerability and openness, you’re likely to get hurt—by a breach of trust, by infidelity, by a betrayal, by trauma, by unmet expectations.  And sometimes those hurts become insurmountable.
                I don’t say that to be a nay-sayer about marriage—I believe in it. I stick with and work on mine because it’s worth it.  But I also want us to be honest, it’s hard.  They tell you that when you’re young and engaged…”Marriage is hard” but nothing really tells you how hard it is until you walk the journey together and you face financial struggles, or a major illness, or the loss of a parent, or struggle with infertility, or lose a job, or move away from family—“hard” doesn’t even begin to describe those realities.  And if you are married or have been married or live in a committed partnered relationship, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know…I just want us to be honest about it all.  Because if we pretend it’s all roses and chocolates and cuddling on the couch, then we set ourselves and those who look to us as an example up for failure. 
                We’d like the world to think we’ve got it all together, and really, we shouldn’t be airing our dirty laundry out for everyone to see, that violates trust and often creates some irreparable harm, but we do need to be able to own our imperfections.  So, we’re going to do a little exercise together.  It’s easy to look at another couple and think they’ve got it made, or they haven’t struggled like you have, but there’s a whole lot that lies below the surface that we don’t all talk about on a daily basis. 
                For our exercise, I’ll ask that if you are married or partnered and you’re able that you stand up. And I’m going to share some situations and if it’s true for you and your significant other, you should sit down.  And once you sit, if there’s another that’s true, if you raise your hand so that we can visually bear witness to what we face as couples.  Now, these things relate to what we fight about…some of us call it fighting. Some of us call it quarrelling, or a discussion, or an argument, or a disagreement, or a squabble, or yelling…whatever we call it, it’s the thing you do when there’s tension and dissent.  Now, stand up, and when I say something you’ve “fought” about, I want you to sit back down.
·         How to load dishes into the dishwasher
·         Which way the TP goes on the roll
·         Putting the toilet seat down
·         Dirty clothes that don’t make it to the hamper
·         How fast or slowly you drive
·         Where to spend the holidays
·         Whose turn it is to take out the trash
·         The temperature for the thermostat
·         Who will get up with the baby in the middle of the night
·         How much money you spend
·         How much time you’ll spend with your inlaws
·         How you parent
·         How much you work
·         Who is more stubborn
·         What show to watch
·         What car to buy
·         What amount of debt is reasonable
·         How you communicate your wants or needs
The point is, none of us is immune. None of us, as couples walk through our relationship without struggle.  Being a couple is hard.  It’s hard for Lily and Griffith, for Sarah and Abraham, and it’s hard for us.  We’re two different people trying to come together and make life work. We fight over big things and over little things—almost to the level of ridiculous sometimes. 
Rick said I could share a personal story of ours, so I’ll give a simple example…but one that shows just how easy it is to get into it—and how ridiculous we can be.  One Saturday morning about a month ago, I wanted to get a bunch of things done and so I asked if he would help with just 2 of them…moving the couch, and pulling out the big oriental rug in the living room and he said sure.  And as I worked on other things, he started to wash the cars and had the hose on, so I went to turn it off, and he barked at me. So I walked away and left him to wash the car on his own.  I walked back in ticked off, and decided I didn’t need his help after all….so 6 months pregnant I started moving furniture and vacuuming so I could pull out the oriental rug.  I knew it was ridiculous as I struggled to get around, but I was determined to show him.  At one point I went back out and he said he was ready for the water to be off, I told him to handle it himself and walked back in.  (We practice the utmost maturity in our house!)
Not long after, he finished with the cars and came in to see that I had moved all the furniture on my own.  He shook his head and started to help with the oriental rug.  It’s a huge heavy rug that’s really impossible to move on your own…it easily weighs 100+ pounds and there’s no way I could have managed on my own, but Lord knows I would have tried.  We managed to work together to put the room back together and each asked forgiveness a couple of times over.  It’s nothing big, especially in retrospect, but without humility and a bit of laughter those moments can build on larger hurts and resentments. 
But our covenant to love one another, to forgive and be gracious keeps us striving for better communication, for a deeper affection, and for laughter through it all.  Hopefully for each couple, it’s worth the effort, because we are better with our partner, because we find laughter and joy when we are together. Because they bring us peace.  Because despite all the fights, they still love us and we still love them and we find ways to make it work. Because we don’t want to do life without the other. Because they’ve seen us at our worst and choose to stick with us anyway. Because in being open and vulnerable we are shaped and transformed by the power of love to become better in who we are.  So we stick with it. 
There may not be any perfect relationships, in this room, or in the Bible, but there are certainly ways to be better in our relationship—and that’s when we follow godly wisdom and advice.  When we live the words of Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 13, we become closer as a couple. Listen again to Paul’s words to the Romans:
Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. 10 Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. 11 Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. 12 Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sunday morning prayer

Lord God, my purpose is to serve you.  And in serving you it is to serve your people—to teach them, hopefully to inspire them, to lead them back to you.  This day as I prepare I feel fully ill-equipped. I am tired. I am worn out. I feel completely empty with nothing left to offer them.  Remind me that it is not about me, or about what I have to offer, but instead it is about you and what I take from you to give to them.
Your people need your Word. Your people need your truth. I need those things for myself as well.  Show me how to proclaim your Word with confidence and with conviction. What is it you want your people to hear this morning?