…There Your Heart Will Be

Over the last three weeks, we have been dwelling in what Randy Alcorn calls “The Treasure Principle.”  Pastor Aaron has meditated on scripture and experience that points to the simple fact that “God owns cattle on a thousand hills” and invites us to participate in God’s redeeming work in the world. The three basic principles have been:

  1. You can’t take it with you, but you can pass it on ahead.
  2. Learn from the legacy you inherited to create a legacy for the future.
  3. The only way to be free of materialism is by giving.

The challenge of applying the Treasure Principle is that we often forget those thousand hills that God owns and instead cling to “our” possessions, even though we know they can never give us abundant life and ultimately belong to God anyway.

In the story of the wealthy person wanting to inherit eternal life Jesus is stopped by a young man who “wants it all,” including eternal life.  It’s a good thing to want, but Jesus sees through his question to the deeper one:  “How can I squeeze in everything I want and still get heaven too?!”  So Jesus challenges the final obstacle keeping this young man from having a heart truly set free of the tarnishing treasures of this world.  He challenges him to let go of his worldly possessions.

It’s absolutely crucial that we revisit this story over and over again.  At least once a year as we revisit how we manage our resources.  Here’s the never-forget-nugget:  Jesus does not need his cash, but God wants his heart.  And Jesus makes it pretty clear: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What’s more astonishing still about this passage is the reward Jesus points us to.

People need to know WHY they do things.  It’s natural to found our actions on good reasons that transcend our own lives.  Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him.”  And the same Jesus teaches that we can give generously, with cheerful hearts, because of what we know our relatively minuscule dollars and cents will accomplish in the hands of the Creator, by whose grace we live and move and have our being.

For reflection:

  1. Not all of our worldly possessions are “money.”  Can you think of anything that you would really struggle to let go of?  Why would you struggle?
  2. Here’s an even more abstract version: can you think of anything immaterial (like family traditions, personal beliefs or values, etc.) that a person might struggle to let go of?  Can immaterial “possessions” like these still be obstacles to an abundant life in Christ?
  3.  Do you think Jesus wants everyone to “sell everything you own” and give it to the poor?  Why or why not?  If not, then what is the deeper meaning of this saying for every single one of us to apply to our lives?

Many blessings,

MM

 

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“God Made You Alive…”

Colossians 2:6-15

My family and I were in Washington D.C. the week before Independence Day, doing as many of the “tourist” things we could: the White House, the US Capitol building, the National Archives, and so many museums, monuments, and memorials.  Most of what we saw had something in common — the IDEA OF FREEDOM.  Having achieved freedom from the British monarchy, can you imagine how our country’s founders would have felt if the new U.S. citizens continued to pay royal taxes anyway?

The Colossian church had experienced an unprecedented freedom in Christ: “God made you alive with Christ” (2:13).  But some new ideas (now often called “the Colossian heresy”) have permeated the congregation that are threatening their newfound freedom with “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (v.8).

What makes these ideas hollow and deceptive?  Essentially, they are promising a greater spiritual fulfillment than what Christ alone offers.  But they find their origins in “human tradition” and “principles of the world.”  Human tradition and worldly principles needn’t all be categorized as wrong or bad, but the fact is that they are not absolute.  That which is not absolute cannot offer something absolute.

The fullness of life which God freely offers in Christ is an absolute promise, which the Colossians had already experienced, and which God, the Creator and Source of life, is powerful to fulfill.  So there is no need to augment it with legalistic religious practices, intellectual gymnastics, or ecstatic experiences.   As the song proclaims: “Christ is enough for me; everything I need is in You.”

It’s not always easy to remember this, which is why Paul urges us to “continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him” (2:6-7).

For reflection:

  1.  What ideas are “out there” that suggest Christ isn’t enough for a full life?
  2. Do you ever struggle against the temptation to “add” things to your spiritual life, as though Christ were not sufficient?
  3. “Rooted in him”: Try reading the Bible or praying with the posture of listening for God, intentionally asking God to speak to you.
  4. “Built up in him”: Jesus triumphed over the world humbly, on the cross.  Try being a humble servant to someone extra this week, or giving  some extra time and energy to your community.

Many blessings,

MM

 

 

Woven Into a Tapestry of Love

Colossians 1:24-29; 2:1-7 (MSG)

Paul is using loaded, political language (whether we like it or not) that is much more than mere advice for Christians.  It ultimately got him killed.

There is so much here for followers of Jesus that helps us understand what it means to be citizens of God’s subversive Kingdom.  At UPPC, we don’t “preach politics” by worldly standards.  We preach the Word of God as it is revealed in scripture…which sometimes has unavoidable public implications.*

Some people feel that Christian faith is a private thing that has no place in the public sphere.  And others feel that there’s no place for dialogue about public life in the private faith of the church.  But that leaves us with nowhere to process it!  So it’s important to remember that Jesus led people in public life, as well as private spirituality, and Jesus’ followers are called to engage in both.

Polis is a Greek word that refers to the “city” — an organized people under an organized government.  The “politic” therefore had to do with the ruling of the people.  So you can see how disruptive it would have been to the power-holders of Paul’s day to proclaim that Christ was ultimately ruling the empire.

What does it look like to be ruled by Christ in our cities?

  1. To love our neighbors as ourselves.  And yes, there is no qualification on the concept of “neighbor.”  Our challenge is to get over our presuppositions and love those whom God puts into our lives.  Always.  As a Christian, we are not permitted to view and treat people differently than what God sees and values.  We are not permitted to demonize or lionize people for political gain, as though they are the ultimate “problem” or “solution.”  If your politics are shaping your faith, you’ve got it backward.  Our faith is to shape our politics.
  2. To demonstrate Christ’s values in the public sphere.  Peterson’s translation of Paul’s words reads: “I want you woven into a tapestry of love” (2:2).  We do have predecessors in our nation’s history: the abolitionists, child labor laws, and civil rights, among others.  But this does not mean to christianize a nation by defeating opponents.  The Church represents Christ’s love in the public sphere because Christ is victorious, not because we want to be victorious.  Christ motivates us because in our baptisms his life is our life, and he is our Master.  We are shaped and driven to act by his grace and mercy, and because he is the one to whom we must give an account.

For reflection:

  1. How aware are you of local public life and how it’s affecting people within our 5-mile radius?  Are you more or less aware of that than you are of national or global public life?
  2. What would it look like to demonstrate Christ’s values in the public square from a posture of victory, rather than from a posture of striving for victory?
  3. How uncomfortable does this topic make you?  What do you do when you feel uncomfortable about something in scripture or from the pulpit?

Many blessings,

MM

 

 

 


*I just arrived home from a week in Washington D.C. and thought it was worth noting that “public life” represented by federal government is, though often the most visible in the news and social media, not the most influential in our daily lives.  The public life at the city, county, and state levels tends to have far more day-to-day influence over us.  Are we as aware of local public life as we are of national public life?

Stumbling Blocks to Community

1 Corinthians 8

We’re following the overall Biblical narrative of God’s covenant community, beginning last week with the establishment of the covenant.  But almost immediately, God’s community began to replace God in their hearts with idols (see Exodus 32:1-14).  And of course there was a pantheon of “deities” in the 1st century Roman culture of Jesus and the apostles.

In this chapter, Paul begins a long discourse on an issue that was threatening to divide the young Christian community in Corinth.  Some of them understood the “gods” weren’t real, while others were still struggling with that concept.

But the problem wasn’t really idol worship itself.  It was the way that people “in the know” about it didn’t act with love toward those still trying to figure it out.  They were basing their behavior on their knowledge, rather than the more important ethic of love.  So Paul reminds them: “Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up” (8:1).

When Christ’s community comes to enjoy being “in the know” about something, it’s easy to grow complacent and to forget that there are plenty of others who would like to be part of the community but feel like outsiders–like middle schoolers trying to find a seat in the lunchroom.  If someone wants to experience the Christ-community but is given the cold shoulder, that very community can become a stumbling block to them.  But in the Christ-community, it should never be difficult to find a seat at the table.

In our congregation, there are many types of smaller communities, or “group life.”  Ministry teams, music groups, youth groups, small groups, groups of friends, parent support groups, etc.  And those groups are a blessing from God to support and encourage us in life and faith.  So rather than becoming so accustomed to our groups that they become like closed clubs, how can we leverage the blessing that they are to “build others up” who may be longing for community?

For reflection:

  1. What kind of “Group Life” do experience in your church community?
  2. When is the last time you invited an outsider to consider being part of your group?
  3. Why can it be challenging to invite people in our group life?
  4. What are the potential repercussions of group life that tends to be insular or “closed”?
  5. Is it possible to experience both the intimacy of healthy group life, while also being intentional in helping people find or create community?

 

Peace,

MM

 

Lent Prayer Guide, week 1

About Lent: Lent is a season during which we remember the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.   This guide is designed to be a guide for those who wish to wholeheartedly enter into the story behind Lent, just as Jesus’ disciples did.  You may have been following Jesus for decades.  You may have never set foot in a church.  At the foot of Christ’s cross, none of that matters.  All that matters is that God gave his only begotten Son to save the world.  To save this town.  To save you.

For the season of Lent, I’m going to pause my normal routine of summarizing and reflecting on the sermon, and offer this resource for guided prayer and scripture reading.  To use this guide, simply follow the instructions for each part, giving yourself enough time to absorb the content and enter in with your body, mind, and spirit.  

Week 1: The Cross of Christ is Where We Find God

Silence:  Close your eyes and take five deep breaths.  In this moment of silent time, let your daily concerns fade into the background of your mind.  

 

Pray  (Read the following slowly, intentionally, and in silence):

Loving God,

you call us back to you with all of our hearts.

I feel your call for me deep in my heart

and I know you want me back

as much as I want to return.

Please, Lord,

give me the wisdom to know how to return.

Make my journey back to you this Lent

one of grace, forgiveness and gentle love.

Amen.

 

Read (Read the following passages slowly, intentionally, and aloud):

Matthew 26: 1-5; 14-15

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”…Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Galatians 1: 11-12

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Reflect (Read and consider the questions, reflecting in silence, speaking, and/or writing):

  1. In the passage by Matthew, there are three points of view to consider: the disciples’, the chief priests’, and Judas’s.  Imagine yourself seeing Jesus from each point of view.  What is the experience like?
  2. Paul insists that the good news he shared with the Galatian church was divine in origin.  What do you think it must have felt like for Paul to come to a knowledge he was convinced was from Jesus Himself?

 

Read (Read the following passages again, aloud)

Matthew 26: 1-5; 14-15

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

3 At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, 4 plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 5 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”

14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver.

Galatians 1: 11-12

11 Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. 12 I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

 

Pray (Pray the following slowly, intentionally, and now aloud)

Loving God,

you call us back to you with all of our hearts.

I feel your call for me deep in my heart

and I know you want me back

as much as I want to return.

Please, Lord,

give me the wisdom to know how to return.

Make my journey back to you this Lent

one of grace, forgiveness and gentle love.

Amen.

 

Action

What can you do, this week, to make room for a personal encounter with Jesus?

 

Many blessings,

MM

2018: Moving Forward

“The Church must be outwardly focused to be inwardly strong.”  

This morning, Pastor Aaron shared some of the fundamental principles that made the original followers of Jesus bond so permanently, and which to this day still solidify the Church’s identity and purpose.

When Jesus initially called disciples to himself, he identified himself as having a purpose: “I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 4:19).  Even after Jesus’ ascension, the early church simultaneously saw health in their community and rapid growth.

The reason?  Purpose.

“Healthy community flows out of a unified cause — not the other way around.”

So the question each of us is asking today is: “What part is God calling me to play in the purpose God is fulfilling through this congregation and in this community?”

For reflection:

  1. Have you ever shared a common purpose with someone so powerful that it created a lasting bond?
  2. Have you ever lacked a common purpose with someone and felt your friendship grow weak?
  3. If you had to tell a stranger what UPPC’s purpose was, what would you say?
  4. If you had to tell a non-Christian what your purpose is as a Jesus follower, what would you say?

Many blessings,

MM

The Impact of Generosity

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

When we let God’s grace into our lives, we live and grow as a community of grace.  But to let God give, there are things we have to give away.

It turns out there is no magical formula for being able to tithe (give 10% of one’s income to the ministry as an acknowledgement that it, and everyone we have, belongs to God.)  Craig and Jill discussed their frank conversations and decision-making as a married couple, and the freedom they’ve found in giving to God first rather than last.

We all know that if we put God last, there’s often nothing left to give, and even if we do give it is often out of compulsion, guilt, and it can cause real anxiety.  The whole thing unravels.  But when we put God first, and let our saving, taxes, and bills come next, our lifestyle more easily adapts to these wiser priorities.

Pastor Aaron fielded questions from the congregation that they texted live, during the service.  Here are a few fun questions for you to reflect on during this season of giving:

  1. If you suddenly came into a million dollars, what would you do with it?
  2. Is there anything in your lifestyle (a.k.a. expenses) that you could actually live without?  What could you not live without?
  3. If God doesn’t need money, why does he command us to give?

Many blessings!

What the Lord Requires of Us

Thousands of years ago, God set up a system by which he would bless the world through people: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3).  During the second temple period, the system was the same as it had been since God gave Moses the Law: everyone bring a tenth of their best wealth to the temple, so the storehouse would be full.  So that…who would be blessed?

Those in the most need.*

But when the chosen people of God aren’t faithful in this calling, the community suffers.  This faithlessness of God’s people and its repercussions are at the heart of Malachi 3.  Of course God could solve all the world’s problems.  But scripture is clear from end to end: God plans to bless the world through you, me, and all whom he calls.

The good news in this passage is that God intends to abundantly bless the community who are faithful stewards of what God has given.  Note: to bless the community.  There’s no individual “prosperity gospel” here.  This is not a call to manipulate God into fulfilling our wish lists.  This is a call to join God in blessing others, so that we, like the faithful before us, can have our names written in the scroll of remembrance as those who honored God.

For reflection:

  1. What is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to giving a portion of your income to ministry efforts?
  2. God’s law has always been to give the first 10% of our income.  Does this challenge you?  Why or why not?
  3. Can you think of a time when you gave from your personal income or wealth and experienced God’s provision afterward?
  4. Do you think our city would change if every Jesus follower gave the first 10% of their income to ministry efforts?  If so, how?

 

Many blessings,

Mike

 

 

*See Deut. 14:28-29.

Sharing Burdens

Revelation 7:9-12

Last week, we heard about “pilers,” that is, people who tend to pile up their homes or offices with the clutter of everyday life.  And while we’d like God to bless our mess, what we really need is transformation.

In so many places worldwide, people’s lives are “piled” with messes that they cannot transform.  They come in the form of poverty, injustice, disease, corporate and cultural challenges, and many more.  And of course the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is active in the world.  Moreover, God is calling us to engage people’s “messiness” by sharing their burdens with them.

In this way, we hope to move ever closer to the vision John had in the book of Revelation: a great multitude from every nation praising God for the freedom God has given us in Christ Jesus.

For reflection:

  1. When you consider the needs of your local community, what needs stand out the most?
  2. When you consider the needs of the wider world, what needs stand out the most?
  3. Have you ever “shared someone’s burden” with them?  What was your experience?
  4. Have you ever had someone else share in your burden with you?  What was that like?
  5. Regardless of the way we serve others, it requires a degree of self-sacrifice.  What might you have to give up, or give away, from your normal routine in order to answer God’s call to share in others’ burdens?

 

Many blessings to you in gracious service!