Monday, September 29, 2014

According to Luke: Why Are You So Anxious?

Why Are You So Anxious?

Luke 12:22-34   (NRSV)

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Earlier this week I asked on FaceBook: “what are the things that you are anxious about?”  The answers really were not too surprising.

·         Health
Beth Caddick said:
Ben's health and all that comes with it - insurance, appointments, prescriptions, good days/bad days, fear of complications - while all manageable causes me to be anxious at times

·         Employment
          Job performance
          Job security

·         Kids --- grandkids ---- parents

·         Future
Keith Howard shared about getting his house sold here in Munster while they set up their new house in Colorado

·         Everything

Face it, some people worry about everything.

One of my favorite people of all time was a constant worrier --- Margaret McNurlan

All I have to do is wring my hands, and many of you know that I am paying homage to her!

But how does worrying help us?

A man was seen fleeing down the hall of the hospital just before his operation. A security guard stopped him before he could leave the hospital and asked, “What’s the matter?”

The man said, “I heard the nurse say, ‘It’s a very simple operation, don’t worry, I’m sure it will be all right.’”

“She was just trying to comfort you,” said the security guard. “What’s so frightening about that?”

“She wasn’t talking to me,” exclaimed the man. “She was talking to the doctor!”

Maybe in that situation we should be worrying ---

But Seriously --- how does worrying change ANYTHING?

Jesus very clearly tells us two things in our passage today.

1.       Instead of worrying --- we should TRUST GOD

2.       Worrying is at best --- a waste of time!

For whatever reason, many of us have become convinced --- maybe only on a subconscious level --- that if we "worry enough" we can prevent bad things from happening.

When my girls lived at home --- even when they were home on a break from college --- if they went out for the evening I COULD NOT GO TO SLEEP
          Anybody else do that?

I would wait up until they came in the door, and then I could go to sleep.

I am not sure what I was expecting to happen --- and how my waiting up worrying did anything --- but I was convinced it did.

Studies show that excessive worry --- not only doesn't prevent bad things from happening --- but it can also create all kinds of negative effects emotionally as well as physically.

Worrying is feeling uneasy or being overly concerned about a situation or problem.

With excessive worrying, your mind and body go into overdrive as you constantly focus on "what might happen."

The problem with excessive worrying is that we lose begin to lose sight of reality
          A sense of impending doom can overtake us
          Our fears become even more unrealistic

Excessive worrying can affect our daily life in that it can:
·         interfere with our appetite
·         damage our relationships
·         cause us to lose sleep
·         which of course can cause increase stress (and more worry) with work

One of the side effects of worry is that many people try to self medicate it away

Which, of course, can lead to
·         overeating
·         smoking
·         using drugs or alcohol

As if that isn't enough ---- excessive worrying can also lead to all kinds of health problems.

The hormones that are produced by worry have all kinds of potential negative effects.

According to WebMD some of the physical reactions that can happen as a result of worry related stress hormones include:

·         Difficulty swallowing
·         Dizziness
·         Dry mouth
·         Fast heartbeat
·         Fatigue
·         Headaches
·         Inability to concentrate
·         Irritability
·         Muscle aches
·         Muscle tension
·         Nausea
·         Nervous energy
·         Rapid breathing
·         Shortness of breath
·         Sweating
·         Trembling and twitching

And of course all those can lead to very serious medical conditions such as:

·         Suppression of the immune system
·         Digestive disorders
·         Muscle tension
·         Short-term memory loss
·         Premature coronary artery disease
·         Heart attack

If excessive worrying and high anxiety go untreated, they can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts.

In the December 2006 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings medical journal they shared the results of a study looking to see if worrying can add (or take away) years from a person's life.

I don't think that the researchers were thinking of our passage from Scripture --- but the conclusion suggests that Jesus was right.

But it also revealed a surprising secondary conclusion --- suggesting that NOT being a chronic worrier can add not only an hour, but perhaps even years to your life.

The study began back in the mid-60s when some 7,000 students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a test that, among other things, measured the participants’ tendency to be optimistic or pessimistic.

Of that group, 1,630 were found by the test to be clearly pessimists and 923 to be clearly optimists.
The rest fell somewhere in the middle of a continuum between the clear extremes.

Over the next four decades, 476 of those who had taken the test died, from causes ranging from accident -- to illness -- to suicide -- to homicide.

By tracking and collating all this information, researchers determined that --- the pessimists had a significantly greater likelihood of dying sooner from any cause than did the optimists.

As the dry language of the findings report puts it,
“... those who scored as pessimistic had decreased rates of longevity compared with optimistic individuals.”

It also said,
“The current results replicate, in a non-medical sample, those of [earlier studies] that suggest that optimism is associated with increased survival.”

                             NOT WORRYING CAN HELP YOU TO LIVE LONGER!

WOW!  Jesus was right!

But the other thing that Jesus tells us is we need to replace our worry with TRUST in God.

Trusting God is hard

I think it is hard because we are not really sure what it means to TRUST God.

And I will be honest, I don't think "the Church" has done a very good job on explaining just what it means to TRUST GOD.

We are all over the board in our advice.

Let me try to explain

For some people, trusting God means turning EVERYTHING over to God.

And that can get played out in a hard version and in a soft version.

In the hard version it can take the shape of:
IF it is God's will --- THEN God will make it happen.

In this extreme version:
I don't need to do anything but wait for God's will to take place

We have seen this played out in the news when a family refuses to let a hospital or doctor treat their sick child.

For them, to allow a doctor to treat the illness is not trusting God.

Now for most of us, that makes no sense.  We have come to the position that God uses medicine to heal us.

However, and this is the softer version --- we still believe that God has given us --- or sent us to --- a special doctor ---
Thus a doctor who is a believer is for some a plus and for others a necessity.

For most of us --- who call Ridge Church home --- and have grown up in main-line protestant churches ----- we believe in a concept called FREE WILL

That concept too has a soft and a harder version --- and this affects how we understand trust.

The soft version believes that while we have a free while --- God still interacts and intercedes on behalf of people.

God sometimes breaks the laws of nature and performs what we commonly call MIRACLES.
And those miracles happen --- we often believe --- to those people who have a large amount trust or what we would call a strong faith.

The harder version believes that God gives us choices and that our choices and actions determine the outcome ---- and not divine intervention.

God and the Bible are there as guides to help us in our choices.

In this understanding ---- God is not seen as an arbitrary interventionist in human lives.

This goes without saying ---- but I want to affirm ---- we, of course, are all over the spectrum on these concepts --- and one of the things I have observed is that we often are not consistent (or even rational) in our beliefs ---- understandings --- about them.

But regardless of where we stand --- Jesus is calling us to recognize that by putting our trust in the way of God as demonstrated in the life of Jesus ---- our lives will be better.

So, what does all that worrying do?

Instead of worrying --- get busy making a kingdom difference for Jesus.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

According To Luke: SuperSize Me

SuperSize Me
September 21, 2014

Luke 12:13-21   (NRSV)
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

I was watching the news when they were describing a man involved in criminal activity.  They said that he was a white male, about 5’ 8”, 165 pounds and older --- (And I thought to myself, well two outta three are me)
And then they added somewhere between 50 and 60 years old

Wait a minute --- I am not “OLDER”

It is funny how our perceptions of things change

There is a great piece that has been credited to George Carlin --- but it is pretty clear it was not from him.

But if you were to search for it on the web it would come up as George Carlin's Views on Aging.

Whatever comedian wrote it, it is pretty funny and true!
Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we're kids? If you're less than 10 years old, you're so excited about aging that you think in fractions.

'How old are you?' 'I'm four and a half!' You're never thirty-six and a half. You're four and a half, going on five! That's the key.

You get into your teens, now they can't hold you back. You jump to the next number, or even a few ahead.

'How old are you?' 'I'm gonna be 16!' You could be 13, but hey, you're gonna be 16! And then the greatest day of your life ... . You become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony . YOU BECOME 21. YESSSS!!!

But then you turn 30. Oooohh, what happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk! He TURNED; we had to throw him out. There's no fun now, you're Just a sour-dumpling. What's wrong? What's changed?

You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, then you're PUSHING 40. Whoa! Put on the brakes, it's all slipping away. Before you know it, you REACH 50 and your dreams are gone.

But wait!!! You MAKE it to 60. You didn't think you would!

So you BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50 and MAKE it to 60.

You've built up so much speed that you HIT 70! After that it's a day-by-day thing; you HIT Wednesday!

You get into your 80's and every day is a complete cycle; you HIT lunch; you TURN 4:30 ; you REACH bedtime. And it doesn't end there. Into the 90s, you start going backwards; 'I Was JUST 92.'

Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. 'I'm 100 and a half!'

Studies suggest that Americans spend about 10 hours per day either watching TV, surfing the internet, reading books, newspapers or magazines, or listening to music.  Some studies I came across said that the average American watched almost 5 hours of TV EACH DAY.

Yikes --- and all that media time means that we are SuperSizing ourselves.

The United States is #1 in the world in obesity.

Two-thirds of Americans are considered overweight

33% of the USA population is considered obese -- that is a 13% increase since 2010.  I am not sure that is a statistic we want to lead in . . .

To compare our “one-thirds” to the rest of the planet, the World Health Organization estimates that while one third of the world is well fed, one third is underfed and one-third is starving.

Deborah Lynn Merrill, visited Cambodia on a mission trip to an orphanage.

In her blog she wrote:
“The people in the cities will not drink bottled water. We drink nothing but bottled water because the water here is not filtered. We even brush our teeth with bottled water. The hotel we were in last night had brown water. Some in our group went without a shower. Some poured bottled water over their heads and called it good.

“The reason Cambodians in the city will not drink bottled water is because they see all the Western tourists drinking it. And they think we’re fat! They think it’s the bottled water that makes Westerners fat! They may be on to something. They’re drinking bad water which probably has a parasite or two in it. We aren’t getting the parasites that so many Westerners could probably benefit from — to lose weight!! Now everyone in our group calls bottled water ‘fat water.’ ‘One large fat water for me please — to go!!’”

Americans drink about a gallon of soda a week, along with a half-gallon each of milk, bottled water, coffee and beer.

If you total the calories in a week’s worth of these beverages, we spend a day and a half’s allowance of calories just on our drinks.

And that generously assumes we take our coffee black, as opposed to 25 percent of a day’s calories going to each Venti Mocha one consumes!

More than half of all U.S. households own stocks or mutual funds, which seems reasonable until you realize that over three billion people — more than half the world population as of 2010 — live on less than $2.50 (US Dollars) a day.

More than 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 USD per day.

To put that in perspective, the average American spends about $7 USD a day on entertainment alone, and more than twice that on transportation.

According to another report, the average American’s net worth amounted to $144,000 in the year 2000, more than 100 times higher than the average Indian or Indonesian, whose assets totaled $1,100 and $1,400, respectively.

Satisfying the world’s yearly sanitation and food requirements would cost only $13 billion — that’s the amount people of the United States and the European Union spend annually on perfume.

Again, it adds up quickly.

Average Joe or Jane American looks like a fat, rich fool at this point.

But the problem with reports like the Statistical Abstract is that we rarely see ourselves in the data.

Unless the Census Bureau is lying to us, we must realize that we are the most over consuming people on God’s earth.

We’re a culture of stuffed barns.

Stuffed barns.

          Have you ever heard that phrase before?

Oh yeah, that is what our scripture talks about this morning.

Jesus is asked to take up the issue of greed and accumulation when someone asks him to play arbitrator in a family inheritance squabble.

Jesus rhetorically asks who made him to be the judge of the man’s fiscal fighting, and then what does he do? ---- Jesus immediately acts as the judge of his life.

Jesus makes this into a teaching moment and he cautions his followers against the subtlety of greed and accumulation.

The parable that Jesus tells is a classic tale of the rich getting richer.

The rich fool in our story — who is a wealthy farmer — has a bumper crop that exceeds his storage capacity, so he does what many of us would do --- he decides to build bigger barns to store his blessing away.

While Jesus’ parable about the rich fool should make most of us a little uncomfortable, we typically consider him some kind of ultra-rich Donald Trump figure.
But he’s not — he’s just the Census Bureau’s average American when compared to the rest of the world.

If he were living today’s Census Abstract averages, he’d be 30 pounds overweight and watching his 70 inch flat-screen TV.

It seems to me that the biggest challenge here is for us to find ourselves in Jesus’ parable.

Our abundance of possessions is so subtle and so culturally accepted that it goes largely unnoticed.

The problem is that most of us don't think this parable applies to us at all.

Just consider the number of self-storage facilities around us — the “bigger barns” of our day.
          It is a booming business

Or let me ask you ---- When is the last time you could not afford something you needed and not just wanted?
How many times have you been unable to provide a meal to your family for the day?

Have you ever struggled to buy a gift for someone who seems to have everything?

Or have you ever caught yourself being envious of the nicer car, home or clothes that someone else has when the truth is you aren’t lacking any of those things?

In Death by Suburb, David L Goetz writes about how comparison "with the Jones'" fuels accumulation in our lives:
“The suburbs seem to promote a kind of vigilance on the possessions of others. It seems to be more than just good old-fashioned coveting … it’s ubiquitous, heightened vigilance — roving eyes, like a sentinel — eternally on point to compare myself to those I perceive have more than I do. I’m always weighing my immortality symbols against others.”

I think that this is exactly what Jesus is warning against when he says to “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (v. 15).

Jesus understands that the appetite for more is subtle,
          so he says be intentional in looking out for it.

The problem with the rich fool in this parable is not that he was wealthy or that he had a great harvest.

The problem is that he did not understand the spiritual reality behind all he had.

The Bible is consistent in the theme that:
·         we are given to — so that we might give to others;

·         we are blessed — so that we might be a blessing;

·         we are loved — so that we might love;

·         we are reconciled — so that we might reconcile;

·         we are forgiven — so that we might forgive.

The problem with greed and accumulation is that rich fools — then and now — forget that blessings are intended to be used to bless others.

I know that you have seen the bumper stickers on people’s cars that says: “God bless America.”

You have to love the patriotism

But there is a major oversight in those bumper stickers!
          God already has blessed America!

Think about it.
It’s like, what are we asking for here?

When we look at our reality against the reality of the world around us, we realize how much we are the farmers building bigger barns.

Instead of asking God to bless America, we need to ask how America can be a blessing to the world . . . through our choices.

So let me conclude with some practical --- maybe simple --- antidotes to accumulation:

  • ·         Go through your closets and drawers once a year. If you didn’t wear a piece of clothing in the last year, give it away.

  • ·         Consider shared ownership of possessions with your neighbors. There are tons of things we own which we don’t need exclusive use of. Do two homes need two lawn mowers? Sharing possession combats accumulation and builds relationships with the lost.

  • ·         Journal a list of all the things you need to live and another list of things you want for your life. Commit to purchasing only from the need list for the rest of the year.

  • ·         Make a list of your monthly budget categories in order of amounts spent on each. Look at how your charitable giving compares with your accumulation line items — clothing, eating out, entertainment, grooming, hobbies, etc. Does the order need to change?

  • ·         For the next month, every time you appreciate something that somebody else has, stop to pray for your own contentment with how you have been blessed.

  • ·         Don’t rent a storage unit. If you have one, consolidate to only what you can fit in your home.

  • ·         Christmas shopping in start soon. Declare a price limit on family presents, go with a no-gift Christmas, or spend as much sponsoring a local shelter as you do on gifts.

If we are not careful, our well-fed, sedentary, affluent lifestyle can lead us away from being “rich toward God”.

But the message of Jesus is that we are blessed to be a blessing.

Leave the bigger barns to the rich fools of the parables and the rich fools of the census and commit to being better at sharing than at storing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

According To Luke: Are You Salty?

Are You Salty?

Luke 14:25-35   (NRSV)
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

When I was growing up --- if somebody was referred to as "salty" it wasn't a complement.

People who were referred to as speaking with "salty" language meant that they were probably cussing.

So, being salty wasn't a good thing.

But in our passage this morning Jesus seems to be asking us to be "salty".

So what is it that Jesus meant when he asks us to be salty?

Luke puts this story in the context of a very difficult discussion on what the cost of being a disciple is.

Jesus seems to want to make sure we all understand just how much it will cost us to be a follower of Jesus.

Jesus uses a number of very challenging illustrations --- especially in our English translations.

The first Jesus says:
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

He isn't serious is he?

Do we really have to HATE our parents -- our spouse --- our children and our siblings?

Do we really have to HATE life itself?

I thought Jesus ethic was to LOVE one another? 
Now he is telling us to HATE those that we love?
          I am so confused!

Let me try to put this saying into context --- but as I do, I think we need to keep in mind just how serious Jesus is about the message here.

First, according to Allan Culpepper in his commentary on Luke, he writes:
This is "a Semitic hyperbole that exaggerates a contrast so that it can be seen more clearly.  'Hate' does not mean anger or hostility.  It indicates that if there is a conflict, one's response to the demands of discipleship must take precedence over even the most sacred of human relationships."

In other words --- GOD MUST BE FIRST.

Certainly that isn't a new or surprising concept.

The first two commandments of the Ten Commandments tells us that God is God alone and that God must be the absolute center of our lives.

Remember the Shema or Jesus Prayer ---
"Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength."


Second, according to Culpepper:
"this saying may have had a very practical function in the lives of the first Christians.  In the Gospels we see the disciples as an itinerant band.  It has been suggested that this portrait reflects the situation of the earliest Christians.  Discipleship required a willingness to leave home and family and travel with minimal provisions from village to village in order to proclaim the gospel."

Sometimes I feel like I really understand this concept.

As I drove out to LA last month I thought a great deal about all the times that I was not there for my family.

All the times that I sacrificed my time with them for what I thought was the way of Jesus.

Sometimes, I have absolutely no doubt, but that in missing the soccer game, or the family dinner, I did the right thing.

          Especially when it was a time of crisis.

But I missed many other family functions just because I felt guilty that I had to give them up for such and such a meeting or church function ----- And I think I was wrong!

But that is neither here nor there.

What Jesus is challenging us with is --- is the reality that if we want to be a disciple God must be first!
          God is first
          My friends and family are second
          I am third

Remember that saying that was popularized in Brian's Song.

Then Jesus gives us two parables that might have been titled: Fools at Work and War.

The stories are pretty simple:

Jesus tells us that a prudent person would never begin a project unless they could be sure that it could be completed.

A king would never go to war unless they knew that they had enough soldiers to at least make the odds even.

Jesus seems to be saying --- by logical extension --- that God has not entered a redemptive process without being prepared to complete it --- and Jesus did not set his face to Jerusalem without being prepared to face what was going to be required of him there.

Jesus is saying none of us should step forward as a disciple unless we are prepared to forsake EVERYTHING for the sake of following Jesus.

And then we get our SALTY passage ---- and in it Jesus seems to be asking: WHERE DO YOU STAND?

·         What are your priorities?
·         What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom?

·         Where are you being SALTY for God?

As I pondered this passage a question kept coming back to me --- for me it is a terrifying question --- because I am taking it very seriously.

I am convinced that the message of Jesus is an invitation for you and me to join him in building the Kingdom of God --- not up in heaven but in Munster, and Hammond and Gary and Afghanistan and Iraq.

And if that is true --- and I am convinced it is --- a question comes to mind --- God seems to be asking --- HOW HAVE YOU MADE A KINGDOM DIFFERENCE THIS WEEK?

Have you ever asked yourself that?

That is a tough question!


But before you start beating yourself up ---- let's start with some real simple ways that we can make a kingdom difference.

Did you smile?

Did you stop the gossip (or pass it on)

Did you perform a random act of kindness?

See it really isn't that hard.

And while we all need to start with the simple ways of making a kingdom difference ultimately Jesus wants us to continue to grow and nurture Kingdom values in our lives.

But I think there is a second part to that question that is maybe even more important, because when we read the Bible God is more concerned about community than he is about individuals --- so God asks us --- HOW IS RIDGE CHURCH MAKING A KINGDOM DIFFERENCE?

Everything we do --- we should be asking ourselves that question --- and if we can't figure out a way that it makes a KINGDOM difference --- then we shouldn't be doing it!


This past Thursday at the Munster Chamber of Commerce meeting that was held here at Ridge Church --- the leaders of the Munster community meet here at Ridge Church three or four times a year (I think that is great!)

But at the meeting we had a presentation by Adam Gawlikowski of Applied Leadership Services and he talked about having an elevator speech.

Have any of you heard that expression before?
          An Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a speech that you might give to a stranger in an elevator (or any place else where the opportunity arises) to introduce yourself.

Now obviously Adam was talking about these speeches as a means to sell or introduce your business or product --- but I think it applies to us as followers of Jesus as well.

When given the opportunity --- what would you share about your faith and relationship to Jesus?

When Jesus asks you where you stand --- in many ways he is asking what you belove.

Who is Jesus to you?

How does your life demonstrate that you belove him?

If you want to wrestle with this (and I hope that you do) I invite you to join me beginning on October 5th as I lead a class designed to help you understand what you belove.

This class certainly would be beneficial for those who have children in confirmation (because we will be looking at similar topics as the confirmation class) as well as those who have committed to being a mentor.
          But it would also be beneficial for YOU.

We will look at topics ranging from scripture to theology to history and spirituality.  One of my favorite sessions is titled HERETICS WE HAVE KNOWN

It is an opportunity to wrestle with what we mean when we say Jesus is Lord.

The whole point of the class is that I am not going to give you the answers --- what I am going to do is help you explore the questions.

If you have questions about this class --- grab me and let's talk

Finally, in your bulletin this morning is a half sheet flyer inviting you to get involved in a ministry team.  It is a chance for you to put what is important into practice.

I challenge you to shock me --- Tuesday morning when I come in to the office don't let there be a stack of 10 or 20 of these be waiting for me --- let there be a stack of 100.

Everybody can fill one out.  There is a place for everyone to be in ministry!

I am convinced that when we stand before God on the day of our death God isn't going to ask us if we believed in the virgin birth --- how we voted in the latest election --- or even how much money we gave to the church ---- I AM CONVINCED that the question that God will ask each of us is HOW MUCH DID YOU LOVE?

How much we love is reflected in the ways that we help Jesus build the Kingdom of God here on earth.

So be salty for God.

Add God's flavor to your life and let it add flavor to those that you meet.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

According To Luke: Who Is Getting In The Door

Luke 13:18-30    (NRSV)
He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

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

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Great teachers constantly tell you the same central point over and over again in a variety of ways.

It doesn't matter if one is teaching history or geography or literature --- there is usually some underlying principle that continues to peculate to the surface.
Sometimes the message is shared verbally --- other times it is shared non-verbally

Jesus may have been the greatest teacher because throughout his brief life we constantly can see his central message.

And that message, of course, is the coming of God's kingdom.

There is no doubt, but that the Kingdom was Jesus focus.

The question that I am often left struggling with is:
·         Is the Kingdom the focus of my life?
·         Is the Kingdom the focus of Ridge Church?

When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God he uses a number of images to illustrate this concept.

But we are struck with a small obstacle in our attempt to understand this Kingdom that Jesus proclaims.

For most Christians --- when we hear the word Kingdom of God --- we think of heaven --- and when we think of heaven, we think of life after we die

The problem is --- when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of God -- he wasn't talking about some place we go after we die --- rather he was talking about the world that God envisioned for us all here and now!

A few chapters later in Luke, Jesus will be asked about where the kingdom is --- because the Jewish expectation was that the Messiah of God would usher in a new age and that it would be recognizable to all.

Luke 17:21 The Message
Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you.”

God's kingdom is in our midst! 
It is a PRESENT reality!

We have spent quite a bit of time talking about what that Kingdom might look like this summer.

What are some of the hallmarks that we have talked about?

·         Justice
·         Mercy
·         Community

Jesus understanding of God’s kingdom was strongly influenced by the Hebrew Bible prophets.

Micah tells us pretty clearly what the values of God’s kingdom will be:

Micah 6:8   (NRSV)
what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

So in our passage this morning, what is Jesus telling us about the Kingdom of God?

We have two very different illustrations on the Kingdom this morning.

In the first, Jesus says that the Kingdom is like a mustard seed.

I don't know about you --- but hearing that doesn't mean a great deal to me.

Matthew, in his version of this story does give us some more information. 
He tells us that a mustard seed is the smallest of seeds.

Why would Jesus compare God's Kingdom to a mustard seed?

I mean the mustard plant is hardly very noble --- in the Hebrew Bible, God's Kingdom is often compared to a great and mighty Cedar --- but a mustard plant??

It would seem as if Jesus' emphasis is not of the glory of a future kingdom, but rather on the present sign of its presence.

This is a parable on the Kingdom's beginnings --- not on its future glory.

The Jewish people in the first century expected a mighty cedar --- but Jesus ministry was more like a tiny mustard seed --- a promise of the mature plant.

Then there is our second parable --- this time comparing the kingdom to some yeast.
It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.

Yeast is old fermented dough that is added to a lump of fresh dough in order to start the leavening process within it.

The Greek word that had been translated as mixed really means "to hide" --- and it implies secrecy rather than the normal part of preparing bread for baking.

So the woman is trying to “hide” the yeast in a bunch of flour

What is also interesting to note is that the woman tried to "hide" the yeast into a huge amount of flour. 

Our passage tells us that she hid the yeast in three measures of flour ---
Three measures would be equivalent to about 50 pounds of flour --- enough to make bread for 150 people!

It seems to me that the point of this parable is made in a rather humorous fashion.

Like the yeast, the Kingdom is powerful and uncontainable.

Its enemies may seek to conceal it, but like the yeast it will eventually leaven the whole lump.

While the parable of the mustard seed dramatizes the presence of the kingdom in its insignificant beginnings --- the parable of the yeast reminds us that even small beginnings are powerful and eventually change the character of the whole.

It certainly is a metaphor for the ministry of Jesus --- who would have ever believed that an itinerant preacher from the Galilee would change the world!

Then we get to the difficult part of this passage ----
If the beginnings of the Kingdom is small -- but the result is great --- will many be saved or just a few?

That is the question that is posed to Jesus.
“Lord, will only a few be saved?”

As is typical with Jesus --- the answer is a paradox

Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.

When we hear this passage --- what do you begin to think of?

Once again, for most of us, we jump to an almost immediate association with heaven
"What must I do to get into heaven . . ."

But I don't think that is what Jesus is talking about.

I believe that this is an invitation to experience and be a partner in the Kingdom

Jesus has already told us that the Kingdom is working its way through creation --- i.e. the parable of the yeast

And Jesus is telling us that becoming part of the kingdom is not easy

If we want to become part of it we have to discipline ourselves to choose the narrow door --- not the wide and easy one.

As many of you know, when I turned 51 a couple of years ago, I decided to take up running.

When I turned 50 I decided to complete a marathon walking, but now I decided I wanted to try and actually run one.

For 10 months, 3 to 5 times every week, rain or shine, I would be out running.

Because one of the things I figured out pretty quick --- If I didn't do the hard prep work --- I would never be able to finish.

Two years ago this October, I completed the Chicago Marathon.

I got home late Sunday night from my road trip to LA and Phoenix

It was a long and arduous trip, but I am so thankful that I was able to do it.

I was in LA for just about 24 hours --- I wish I could have stayed longer --- but I still had to drive to Phoenix and deliver some furniture to my parents.

Monday morning, Nancy and I got up at 4 am to drive to Oak Brook Illinois to run a half marathon.

It was the worse race of my life

It's not that I wasn't prepared physically ---- I had done the training.

The problem was I wasn't prepared mentally --- and by mile 10, I was ready to quit!

But I persevered and struggled my way across the finish line.

I think the same thing is true with the Kingdom.
          We have to prepare ourselves physically

          But we also have to prepare ourselves mentally

We need to recognize that the kingdom is an opportunity for us to participate with God in transforming the world into God's image.

But many of us want short cuts --- we want the reward without the hard work.

Jesus came with one goal in mind --- TO OPEN UP TO YOU AND ME THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

Jesus came to invite us to share in that kingdom.

Now while Jesus uses some challenging language here, in the parable of the yeast he has already told us that the Kingdom is complete. 
All the flour rises, not just some of it. 
The kingdom cannot be stopped!

Jesus wants us to focus on living with Kingdom values

Unfortunately, we have spent 2,000 years rationalizing the expectations of the Kingdom, and shifting from it being a way of life to a way of believing.

Jesus calls us to Kingdom life

Life filled with: