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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book Review: "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A real page-turner but ultimately unsatisfying.

It’s taken me two months to write this review because I didn’t know how to articulate my basic reservation about Ready Player One. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I did grow up kinda geeky in the 1980's so many of the recursive pop culture references were nostalgic fun, but I’ve never been much of a gamer (I’ve got books to read!) so I didn’t quite resonate with the main thrust of Ready Player One which is digital living in a gamer’s dreamworld on steroids (think TRON meets Avatar meets War Games meets Minecraft meets...you get the picture). RP1 did, however, keep me turning pages–the mark of a good yarn. I wanted to find out what happened to Parzival, Ache, and Art3mis, and I wasn’t ever sure how it was going to turn out (another sign of good storytelling).

I enjoyed Ernest Cline’s creative dystopian world-building and thrilling plot-twists, but I hated the incessant crassness and crudeness. Do people really talk like that? Just because of the interminable foulness, I couldn’t recommend it to any of the young people in my life who might be a natural target audience.

But that wasn’t my biggest beef. I couldn’t figure out how to say what I disliked the most about Ready Player One until I read Alissa Wilkinson's Vox review of the new movie version of RP1. She says:

Ready Player One presents itself as a story about a gang of brave, scrappy heroes who are motivated to save the world — but only the virtual world, the one that keeps them from engaging with what’s really going on in the physical world.

And the movie applauds this. It very obviously wants us to cheer for our heroes as they try to save the OASIS from destruction. I sat watching this all unfold, disturbed by the implication here: that we out in the audience are supposed to be on the side of escape. In fact, we are on its side, engaging in a movie that functions as an escapist fantasy itself.

It’s a little hard not to feel like the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

By the end of the film, the only concession to this weird dissonance comes in a sort-of statement that it’s probably good to take off the headset and actually interact with the real world now and then. Not to think about how the in-world injustices might map onto real-world injustices, or to fix problems.” Read the whole thing.
Yes, that’s it! The movie must capture the book in this regard. Everybody in this dystopian future admits that their world is terrible and that there isn’t that much to do about it, but what is really really important is to save virtual reality and videos games. Umm. No.

In 2018, I’ve committed to getting offline more, reading more paper books, going for more hikes in nature, remembering that I’m an embodied creature on purpose, and relating to people eye-to-eye and face-to-face. I haven’t given up on the digital world (I’m posting this online, after all), but I know that the mediated world is mediated and secondary. So, I don’t mind escaping for a bit into an engaging story about escaping, but making escaping the whole point of life leaves me empty and unsatisfied. As Stein said, “There is no there there.” If you read RP1, strap in for a ride, but also prepare to think critically about what the author and his characters believe are the best things in life.


View all my Goodreads reviews.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Book Review: "Slavery By Another Name" by Douglas Blackmon

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War IISlavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon

Totally devastating exposé of the horrifying history of neo-slavery in the United States AFTER the Civil War.

I’m ashamed that I didn’t know hardly anything about the shameful forced labor of African Americans from the Civil War to the second World War. I knew that Reconstruction was incredibly hard and that sharecropping was backbreaking work for very little if any profit. I knew that prejudice continued unabated, that blacks were hated, lynched, disenfranchised , segregated, and mistreated. But I did not know they were re-enslaved in massive numbers through fraudulent, sketchy, brutal and high-handedly evil practices. Even worse, I didn’t know how hard these cases were to prosecute and to reach any semblance of justice.

“Certainly, the great record of forced labor across the South demands that any consideration of the progress of civil rights remedy in the United States must acknowledge that slavery, real slavery, didn’t end until 1945–well into the childhoods of the black Americans who are only now reaching retirement age. The clock must be reset” (pg. 402).

I should have known this. It is our history. But it is a shameful history that we’d rather not recount. A decade ago, Douglas Blackmon did us a great service by uncovering and documenting this dishonorable history. I can’t imagine the painstaking work he did to dig out the facts and assemble them into this compelling narrative of so many reprehensible events.

One of my personal commitments in 2018 is to read much about the problem of racism, staring it in its ugly face, and to “not look away” when its offensive reality makes me uncomfortable. It’s so easy to skip to the parts of life we like, but the truth will set us free. If you want to learn about the truth of the wicked new slavery that arose after the Emancipation Proclamation, I highly recommend this unflinching book.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

[Matt's Messages] “Blessed Is He Who Comes In the Name of the LORD!”

“Blessed Is He Who Comes In the Name of the LORD!”
Palm Sunday :: March 25, 2018 :: Psalm 118

We’re going to take 2 Sundays off of our study of the Gospel of Matthew to focus on what we often call “Passion Week” or “Holy Week,” the time between the Triumphal Entry of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on that donkey on Palm Sunday through to the Crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday and then the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the following Sunday.

You know why I picked Psalm 118, right?

I picked Psalm 118 for today because verses 25 and 26 are the words that the crowd shouted at Jesus as He rode that donkey into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.

Verse 25 starts with the words, “O LORD, save us.”

And the Hebrew there is “Hoshi ahna” which when transliterated into Greek becomes “Hosanna!”

And then verse 26–which is what the choir sang this morning and what Marilynn put on the front of your bulletin–is also the title of this message.

“Blessed Is He Who Comes In the Name of the LORD!”

That’s a long title, but it’s a good one.

It’s a Palm Sunday message.

My question this week was why did they shout these words out of Psalm 118 on that day?

And so I went back to study Psalm 118 which I’ve never preached before, and I said, “This is what I want to preach on this Sunday.”

Psalm 118 is a festive psalm. It’s obviously a happy, joyful, elated, ecstatic, rapturous song.

The people who are singing this song are clearly happy. They are worshipping and they have so much to be thankful for.

It could easily be a psalm that we used at Thanksgiving.

In fact, the ancient Israelites did use it at their Thanksgiving, the Feast of Tabernacles.

Interestingly, they also sung it during the Passover celebration.

Psalms 113-118 are called the “Egyptian Hallel” because they were full of praise to the LORD for Israel’s rescue from Egypt. And they were sung, all 6 of them, at the Passover.

You know at the Last Supper, when Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before going out to the Mount of Olives, you remember that?

Well, this is the last hymn that was normally sung at the Passover, so it very likely was the song they sang as they left the Upper Room and went the Garden of Gethsemane.

Isn’t that interesting?

Now, we don’t know when this psalm was originally written or who wrote it.

It kind of sounds like King David, but his name isn’t on it like it is on others.

So it might be one that is in the style of David but written by someone else.

Many scholars believe that it was written for a specific major event in Israel’s history and to be used as part of the procession for a festival.

Many believe that it was written to be used in the dedication of the new temple after the exile in the book of Ezra (cf. Ez 3 & 6). We don’t know for sure.

I’d like to know, but I’m actually glad I don’t know.

Because with psalms like that, where you don’t know all of the historical details, it’s really easy to immediately feel how they relate to our lives today.

So many of these words are going to feel like you can apply them directly to your life right now. You can sing them right now!

Some of them won’t. There are a few strange features here that are very Hebrew and very Israelite. So we have to think about them in their original context before moving over to 2018. But it’s just a short mental jump.

Now, as I read it, I want to you to try to picture it in your mind.

I think there is a little bit of a movement here, a progression, as the psalm unfolds.

Verses 1 through 4 are an opening, and introduction, and I think you’re supposed to hear various people respond and sing out with their parts.

And then verses 5 through 18, there is like one major voice that speaks. And that could be the voice of the Israel together, but I think the singer is the King. A King David or a King like King David. And he sings his testimony.

And then in verses 19 through 27, what I think happens is that king reaches the gates of the temple and they sing about his entrance into the temple and about the worship procession marching right up to the altar and celebrating the salvation of God.

And then the lone voice sings out again basically the same thing that he started the song with it–thanksgiving to God for goodness and His unfailing love.

Did you hear the exuberance? Did you hear the joy?

Can you see why the happy pilgrims shouted from Psalm 118 when they thought that Jesus was their Messiah processing into town?

Here He comes!

“Blessed Is He Who Comes In the Name of the LORD!”

Did you hear all of the repetition?

This psalm is full of repetition.

It is incredibly full of repetition. (See what I did there?)

Starting with this first section. Verses 1 through 4.

#1. HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER.

The worship leader calls upon the people to respond with thanksgiving. V.1

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

And then he calls out to various people to say it with him. V.2

“Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’

Let the house of Aaron [where the priests come from] say: ‘His love endures forever.’

Let those who fear the LORD [every believer] say: ‘His love endures forever.’”

You know what this is like?

It’s like a liturgy.

You next week, we tend to do a liturgy like they do all over the world.

Let’s practice right now.

I’ll say, “Christ is Risen.”

And what are you going to say?

“He Is Risen Indeed!”

Christ Is Risen.
He is Risen Indeed.

Christ Is Risen.
He is Risen Indeed!

That’s what the psalmist was getting going here with Psalm 118.

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good”

And what do you say? “His love endures forever.”

Let Lanse Free Church, “His love endures forever.”

Let the Lanse Ladies say, “His love endures forever.”

Let’s the Men of Lanse say, “His love endures forever.”

Let all who fear the LORD say, “His love endures forever.”

That word “love” is the Hebrew word “hesed.” It means God’s steadfast love. His loyal love. His gracious love. His covenant love.

It’s the steadfast love that is new every morning. Like we learned about this Fall in Lamentations chapter 3.

The psalmist says that the LORD is good, and that we know it because His love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out, it just goes on and on and on.

“His love endures forever.”

That phrase is repeated again and again in the psalms.

In fact, in Psalm 136, it’s repeated with every single verse.

You think that some of our worship songs get repetitive?

God loves repetitive worship songs! Just read Psalm 136!

“His love endures forever.”

That statement is worth repeating, amen?

And the psalmist is going to come back to it one more time at the end.

But first, he’s going to tell us some stories about God’s faithfulness.

One voice rises out of the crowd. I think it’s the king who is singing. Verse 5.

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free.”

#2. MY STRENGTH, MY SONG, MY SALVATION.

The sing was in trouble. He was in distress. He was hemmed in and constricted. He was surrounded, but he called out to the LORD, and God answered by placing him in a spacious place. He set him free. He rescued him.

He’s got every reason to praise the Lord.

Now, catch all of the repetition in this section (verses 5 through 18), there’s a lot.

Look at verses 6 and 7.

“The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.”

Sounds like David, doesn’t it? He says something very similar in Psalm 56 which gets quoted in Hebrews 13.

“The LORD is with me.”
“The LORD is with me.”

Do you sing that song to yourself?

That’s the song to sing when you are worried. When you are afraid. When you are tempted to be anxious and apprehensive and scared.

“The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Well, a lot, right? Man can do a lot of things to us.

But what can they do, really? Nothing of consequence if the LORD is with us.

If God is for us...who can be against us?

“The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.”

If God is your helper then what can you expect but ultimate victory?

Now, that doesn’t mean that Christians can only expect victory. We know the Bible stories. We know how Paul was treated. We know how Job made out. We know what happened to our Lord on Good Friday.

But we also know what Paul expected. We know the very end of Job. We know what on Resurrection Sunday!

“The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.”

So therefore, verse 8 and verse 9.

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.”

Do you hear the repetition?

Which is better? To trust in men or to find your safe place in the Lord?

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD.”

He’s the only safe place. Men will let you down.

Which is better? To trust in princes? Politicians, nobles, leaders or to trust in the LORD?

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD.”

Politicians will inevitably on some level always let you down.

We don’t put our faith in government.

I have a friend who says, “Even the best of men are men at best.”

A some people are truly wonderful. But they all have feet of clay.

Not our Lord! He is completely trustworthy.

He is completely safe.

And He saved the singer. Verse 10.

“All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off. They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off. They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off.”

I would have loved to have heard this sung, in Hebrew, by the king.

The nations surrounded him. That’s why I think this is the king singing. Because it’s national. The Gentiles had him surrounded.

But he prevailed. He cut them off. He fended them off. How?

“In the name of the LORD.”

That means in the power of the LORD. Under the banner of the LORD.

Not on his own. Not in his own strength.

But in the name of the LORD.

It was scary. He was surrounded. It was a like a swarm of bees. Anybody?

But then they burned up like a thorn tree tossed on the fire. V.13

“I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD helped me. [Here’s Who He is:] The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

Do you feel it?

This singer knew just how dangerous a situation he had gotten caught in.

He just about fell, but the LORD came to His rescue.

So now the LORD is his strength, his song, his salvation.

The LORD is the theme of his life.

Does that sound familiar?

Does that sound like something you could sing?

You’re not a king, but if you are a Christian, you are a rescued person.

You are saved soul.

Verse 14 is a quote from Exodus 15. The song they sang after the Red Sea Rescue.

“The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

That’s what we sing if we are Christians, isn’t it?

That’s “Amazing Grace,” right?

“The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

And it’s everyone that sings, right? V.15

“Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: ‘The LORD's right hand has done mighty things! The LORD's right hand is lifted high; the LORD's right hand has done mighty things!’”

Wahoo!

I love that repetition. It’s to put a exclamation mark on it.

Everybody sings. Everybody shouts!

“LORD’s right hand has done might things!”

Everybody is celebrating. Everybody is whooping it up.

God has given us the victory. God has rescued us.

He has become our strength. Our refuge. Our helper.

He has become our song. He is what we want to sing about. He is the theme of our lives.

He has become our salvation. He has picked us up and pulled us out. And saved us.

And the singer knows that he has everything to thank God for. V.17

“I will not die [not today!] but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely [I’ve suffered], but he has not given me over to death [I’m right here, praising the LORD!].”

That’s his testimony. And it’s why he’s here today to march up in worship to the temple and give a sacrifice of thanksgiving the LORD.

Do you feel it this morning?

Do you see all that you have to thank the Lord for?

Are you singing in your soul, “He has done great things! He has done great things! He has done great things. Bless His holy name.”

I think in this last section, we’re supposed to see the king ride up to the gates of the temple with all of the people gathered round. And he sings out verse 19.

“Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.”

And then either he sings again or the gatekeeper sings back verse 20.

“This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter. [Whatcha gonna do here?]

I will give you thanks, for you [LORD] answered me; you [LORD] have become my salvation.”

That’s what I’m here to do! I’m here to bring thanksgiving to my Savior.

And nobody thought that I would make it. V.22

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

We’re going to come back to that next week.

Jesus fulfilled that one, too, didn’t He? He sure did. (We studied it in Sunday School today, too.)

But this time it’s the psalmist, probably the king, maybe David that sings it.

Everybody had rejected him. It looked like he was no good. Down for the count.

But instead, he’s been lifted up. And put in the most important spot.

And it was the LORD who did it.

“...the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

We can’t believe what we are seeing. But we are seeing it with or own eyes!

And so we sing on this day. V.24

“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Not just any day, but this day. This day of salvation.

This day we celebrate our salvation.

“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Do you feel how happy they are?
How thankful they are?

This is a Sunday morning worship service, isn’t it?

This is people getting their praise on because they know that they are saved.

And they know they have a Savior. V.25

“O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.”

“Hoshi ahna”

“Hosanna!” “O LORD, save us!”

Now by the time of Jesus, that phrase, “Hosanna” meant more than just, “Please save us.” It also meant, “I praise you because I know you’re going to save us.”

We know that God saves.

We know Jesus that you have come to save.

And we say, “Bless you!”  V.26

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.”

This isn’t the same kind of blessed as in the beatitudes.

This is the other kind.

This is not so much a state in which to be congratulated. It isn’t saying that this person is flourishing, though of course they are.

This is the word of blessing. This is God landing blessing on someone.

God bestowing His blessing on someone.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.”

If you come in the name of the LORD (like the king who cut off his enemies in the name of the LORD (in verses 10, 11, and 12) then you are receiving the blessing of God.

And then I think the second sentence is a response back in song.

“From the house of the LORD we bless you.”

They are singing to each other.

I wonder if the Lord Jesus sang back to the people.

The Bible doesn’t say.

But He did say that if the people kept quiet, the stones would cry out.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.”

And the singer says (v.27), “The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”

Do you see the progression?

First the song, then the gates of righteousness.
Then the house of the LORD.
And now right up to the altar of sacrifice.

Verse 27 is hard to translate. You can see how in the NIV, they have branches in their hands. And that’s just like they did on Palm Sunday, right?

But you can also translate it, “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar.” (ESV of Psalm 118:27b)

So the picture there is bringing the sacrifice, the lamb perhaps, all tied up and then up to the altar to be killed and his blood poured out as a sacrifice.

“Thank you, Lord, for your salvation!”

That’s where the psalm ends. With the same note of thanksgiving that it started with and was carried along with.

#3. GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD!

Verse 28.

“You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
[Say it!] his love endures forever.”

What does that altar make you think of?

The Cross, right?

Where the perfect Lamb of God was sacrificed in our place.

Not just a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

But a sin offering. A guilt offering.

Jesus sacrificed HIMSELF for us.

He was the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

So we have even more to be thankful for than the first singers of this psalm, don’t we?

Or at least we know more about what we have to be thankful for.

We know what it cost God to ultimately show us that His love endures forever.

We know now what it means for JESUS to be our strength, our song, our salvation.

So we can now give thanks and exalt the LORD like never before.

Because of Jesus.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "You Are The..."

“You Are The...”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 18, 2018 :: Matthew 5:13-16 

This is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Perhaps the greatest message ever preached, and certainly preached with the greatest authority by the world’s greatest teacher.

We’re going to take a few months, in fact, to work our way through it. We’ve already dedicated three Sundays to Jesus’ Sermon, and we’re just 12 verses in!

Jesus has gone up on a mountainside and is teaching a great crowd that have begun following Him. And He’s invited them to live the good life as His disciples.

Jesus has invited them (and therefore us) to follow Him and to live lives that are blessed, full of well-being, in a word...flourishing.

But, as we’ve seen the last two weeks, the good life is may be not what you might expect.

The flourishing are those who are needy, sad, lowly, unsatisfied, and even persecuted.

Jesus’ teaching is surprising; it’s counter-intuitive; it’s downright strange to our ears.

Because it’s a teaching that comes from the Kingdom of Heaven which challenges all of the kingdoms that we know so well.

Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of Heaven which is a very foreign country to our experience. It’s like nothing that we’ve ever seen or heard.

Except in echoes...

We were made for this kingdom, and we don’t even know it.
We long for this kingdom, even though we have not yet seen it.
But now that it’s being revealed, we’re being made ready for it.

To be ready for this kingdom means repentance.

Jesus said, “Repent! (Turn around.) For the kingdom of heaven is near.”

So from the get-go, Jesus is calling us to change.

And the rest of His Sermon will rock our boats even more.

He wants to turn our lives upside down.

You can’t receive this message and stay the same.

Now, today we’re only going to move forward 4 more verses. Matthew 5, verses 13t through 16. Very famous verses. Very familiar verses. You may have memorized them or sung songs about them when you were growing up. (Which is awesome. These are very good words to memorize!)

But today, I want to back up and read from the beginning of the Sermon.

Because I realized something this big week that I have never noticed before. Never even thought about before.

It was right there in front of me, but I’ve never seen it.

Here’s my big insight. You ready?

Verse 13 comes right after verse 12.

Pretty impressive, eh?

Verse 13 comes right after verse 12.

What I mean is, who is the “you” there in verse 13?

Who is Jesus talking about? Who is He talking to?

It’s the same people that Jesus has been talking about and talking to from verses 3 through 12.

It’s the same, “You.”

The beatitudes people. The blessed people. The-strangely-enough-they’re-flourishing people.

That’s who Jesus is talking about and to in Matthew 5:13-16 when He tells them, who they are.

The sermon title for today is simply, “You Are The...”

And we’ll have two obvious ways we will finish that incomplete sentence. The two ways that Jesus finishes that sentence in this paragraph.

I’ve preached on this passage before, several times, but I’ve never really grasped that these words flow out of the beatitudes.

They don’t exist on their own in some contextless-memory-verse kind of way.

The “you” of verse 13 and verse 14 and verse are the same people who are called strangely-called-blessed in verses 3-12.

Did you see how verse 13 flowed right out of verse 12?

I never saw it before.

The “you” of verse 13 is the same “you” as in verse 11.

The “you” that is blessed even though (or even because!) you are being persecuted for following Jesus.

It’s the same people who have just been described as living out the upside-down good life described in the Beatitudes.

That is who is salt and who is light.

It’s Jesus disciples.

The followers of Jesus. Those who have become citizens of the kingdom of heaven by faith and are living a different kind of life.

We’ve got two points this morning, and you’ve already guessed what they are.

#1. YOU ARE THE...SALT OF THE EARTH. V.13

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

Now, notice that Jesus says that this is what you are.

“You ARE the salt of the earth.”

He’s not saying that we need to become the salt of the earth but that we already are the salt of earth–that is, if we are the “you” that He’s been talking about all along.

Remember, last week, I said that He looked His disciples in the eye when He said verse 11. Well, He’s looking them in the eye again today.

“You are the salt of the earth.”

Now, what does that mean?

You know, that's a strange thing to say.

We're used to it because we've heard this over and over again.

But it's a strange thing to say, "You are the salt of the earth."

What does that mean?

Well, it doesn't mean what we sometimes mean when we call someone the “salt of the earth” and we mean that they are a kind of honest and humble and homey kind of a person. "He's the salt of the earth, he is."  Kind of “down to earth.”

Jesus is saying something different than that.

He’s not saying that His disciples are “down to earth.”

He’s saying that they are like salt for the Earth. And I don’t think He means the ground there. He means the Earth. The world. It’s parallel to what He says in verse 14 about the “world.”

"You are the salt of the earth."

What does that mean?

Well, what does salt do?

It melts ice on the roads?

It's a fertilizer?

You know, there have been at least 11 different interpretations of why Jesus uses salt in the Sermon on the Mount.

Here’s one. This is a salt shaker that I stole from the Wild Game Dinner last night.

We use salt on our food to flavor it.

That could be a part of what is meant here.

But I don’t think that was the biggest reason they used salt in the ancient world.

What salt was mainly used for in that culture, that pre-industrial culture, before there was refrigeration was to preserve meat and to purify things. To clean things.

Salt was a preservative and a purifier more than a seasoning.

It was a flavoring, too. So, Jesus could be saying that we give flavoring to the world.

But, I think that what Jesus is emphasizing is that Christ-followers deployed into the world are a preservative and purifying influence on the world.

They hold back corruption.

At least, we are supposed to.

I think the main point of salt is that is has an effect. It has an influence. It does something.

When you add salt to something, things happen.

And when you add salt to meat, it doesn’t corrupt so quickly.

So Jesus is saying that His followers will have a positive preserving effect on their world.

But only if they don’t lose their saltiness.

Did you see that in verse 13?

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

Now, technically, salt can’t stop being salt chemically.

But something that is called “salt” can start to get additives and impurities and contamination and not be worth calling salt any longer. Or worth using any longer.

Like if you said, “Pass the salt, Pastor Matt,” and I passed this to you, and you sprinkled it on your excellent venison last night, but then you took a bite and you found out that I had added pepper and paprika and cinnamon and cumin to the salt.

How would that taste?

What if I added in some dirt, as well? There’s still some salt in there. It’s still “the salt,” but it’s lost its saltiness.

The Greek there for “loses its saltiness” is actually something like, “becomes foolish,” as if the salt has lost its mind or gone off the righteous track.

Can salt like that have a positive preserving purifying effect?

No. It’s useless. It’s worthless. It’s “no longer good for anything,” except something to walk on.

So what is Jesus saying?

He’s saying that we are supposed to be different.

Jesus’ followers are different.

We are like salt that has an effect on the Earth.

But we are not supposed to become just like the rest of the Earth.

We can’t preserve or purify anything if we allow ourselves to be contaminated.

I don’t know about you, but I would hate for Jesus to tell me that I am basically a useless disciple.

I’d hate for Jesus to tell me that I am a worthless disciple because I’m really no disciple at all! I’m not salt.

Salt is sodium chloride. And look at me. I’m not sodium chloride. That’s not me. I’m everything but.

Do you see what I’m saying?

What does it mean to be salt? It means to live out the values of the kingdom.

It means to be a disciple of Jesus.

It means to live out the virtues of the beatitudes.

Because verse 13 comes after verse 12.

Want to know if you’re salt?

Are you poor in spirit?
Do you mourn?
Do you choose meekness?
Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness?
Are you merciful?
Are you pursuing purity of heart?
Are you a peacemaker?
Are you persecuted because of righteousness?

Then you are salt!

You are sodium chloride.

You’re the genuine the article.

Stay that way.

But what if your life looks like the opposite of the beatitudes?

What if you consistently choose the anti-beatitudes?

What if you are prideful?
What if you are unfazed by sin and suffering?
What if you grab what you want when you want it instead of being meek?
What if you don’t care about righteousness? You could take it or leave it.
What if you refuse to show mercy?
What if your grasp impurity to your heart?
What if you love fighting and harbor bitterness?
What if you run hide and run away from persecution pretending you don’t belong to Jesus?

Well, then you are not salt.

And as disciples go, you’re not worth very much.

Do you see how Jesus is calling us to live out the good life that He has just laid out for the disciples?

Not perfectly but truly.

The key application question is, “Are you salty?”

Not like a pirate. And not like a sarcastic person. That’s what people tend to mean when they say, “Stay salty, my friends.”

But like a Beatitudes person. Do verses 3 through 12 describe me?

Am I salty?

Am I salty at work?
Am I salty in my relationships?
Am I salty in my neighborhood?
Am I salty in my family?

And what do I need to do to stay that way?

Because it’s only as we’re different from the world that we have a positive effect on the world.

I think that’s even more clear in verses 14, 15, and 16 where Jesus says the same thing but with another and even more striking image. V.14

#2. YOU ARE THE...LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

You!

He looks them in the eyes and tells them that this is who they are.

“You are the light of the world.”

Now, Jesus is the light of the world, right? Absolutely.

But we belong to Jesus so we are the light of the world, too.

Notice, again. He doesn’t say that we become the light of the world.

We are the light of the world through the gift of Jesus.

But that light has purpose. It has a goal.

What is the purpose of light?  To shine, right?

Light in the Bible means illuminating, purity, truth, revelation, glory.

It’s making the glory of God visible. V.14

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. [It stands out. It shines.] Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

The whole point of light is to shine. Right?

The other day, I used the flashlight app on my phone to find something in the shed at night.

Do you know what I mean?

I have this app that turns the flash on my phone camera into a flashlight so that I can find stuff in the dark.

So, I turned it on, but you see how I have this flappy thing on my phone case?

Well, it was closed up like this. So the light was on but I couldn’t see anything because it was covered up.

It wasn’t helping me at all, but it was still draining my battery!

That’s what Jesus is saying.

How dumb is it to light the lights and then cover them up?

That’s a useless light.

The whole point of being a disciple is shine for Jesus. V.16

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Now, here’s where my big insight plays in again.

What are those “good deeds” in verse 16 that we’re supposed to be doing?

They are not “good deeds” by being what we don’t do.

Like what sins we don’t commit.

Do you see what I mean?

This isn’t so much “they don’t cuss,” “they don’t get drunk,” “they don’t cheat.”

It’s the positive things that Jesus’ disciples do.

It’s living out the beatitudes!
It’s hungering and thirsty for righteousness.
It’s being merciful.
It’s being peacemakers.
It’s choosing meekness.
That sort of thing.

The word for “good” in “good deeds” in verse 16 is kalos and it means beautiful.

It means morally beautifully.

The things Jesus’ followers do are morally beautiful. They shine.

Now, sometimes, they are going to do that and they are going to get persecuted.

Verses 10-12 told us to expect that and to rejoice when it comes.

But verse 16 tells us that some people will see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven!

I love that “Father in heaven.” That’s a mindblowing phrase. We are used to it, but it’s something that Jesus that is new with Jesus, a gift of Jesus, and it’s amazing.

Did you notice that the Father gets the credit for our living out these good deeds?

In the next chapter, some people try to do “good deeds” to get praise for themselves.

That never works.

But Jesus says that we should “let our light shine before men” that they may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven.

Of course that means that we can’t hide. We can’t run away from following Jesus.

I don’t know about you but when Jesus started to promise persecution, I started to think about how to protect myself from that persecution.

Because I don’t like pain.

But Jesus says that we are the salt to the earth. That means we’ve got to get out of the saltshaker and into the world.

And Jesus says that we are the light of the world. That means that we can’t hide away and pretend we don’t know Jesus.

Even if it means getting hurt for it!

Jesus is calling us forward (no retreat!) to boldly follow Him and live out the values and virtues and norms and culture of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The application question is, “Are you shining?”

You are the light the world. Are you acting like it?

The world will sit up and take notice when we actually live differently than they do.

For example, take our Hide the Word verse for right now.

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Live that out.

Live it out in real time and in real life.

Not just on paper.

And not in your own strength.

You can’t do it in your strength.

But do it by faith.

And the world will sit up and notice.

Be the salt. Be the light.

Not by being flashy, but by being Jesusy.

And the world will see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

You know I am whatever is the righteous version of proud of you all.

I love watching you put on something like the Wild Game Dinner last night.

All of the work that goes into that.

Food, tables, chairs, sound equipment, greeters, servers, door prizes, the time spent!

And such good attitudes.

And what do you get out of it?

Well, you are being meek when you serve like that.

And you are hunger and thirsting for righteousness when you want men and women to trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

And when you serve like that, you are being peacemakers. Hoping to bring people into peace with God.

And somebody might laugh at you for putting on the Wild Game Dinner.

Because it’s not a fund-raiser. We don’t make any money at it.

What are you doing all of that if you don’t make any money?

Blessed are you if you put on a Wild Game Dinner for people just out of love and a desire for them to know Jesus!

Well done. You are salt. You are light.

Stay salty and let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise (not you!) your Father in heaven.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "The Good Life (Part Two)"

“The Good Life (Part Two)”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 11, 2018 :: Matthew 5:7-12 

Since before Christmas, we’ve been studying together the Gospel of Matthew which is a theological biography of the most amazing Person Who ever lived, the Lord Jesus Christ. The first four chapters gave us a bit of His backstory. Where Jesus came from and Whom Jesus came from and how Jesus got His start in ministry. His baptism, His temptation, His calling of the disciples, His healing the sick, and His teaching and preaching “the good news of the kingdom.”

His message was, “Repent (turn around), for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

And crowds have begun to follow Him, so He’s gone up on a mountainside, sat down in the authoritative posture of a wise teacher, and has begun teaching His disciples, His followers, and the crowd listening in what we now tend to call, “Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.”

Jesus’ sermon spans three chapters (chapters 5, 6, and 7) of Matthew, and I read the whole thing to us a few weeks ago in one sermon. It doesn’t really take that long to read.

But it can take a lifetime to learn!

In the Sermon the Mount Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Is the Kingdom present or future?

Yes, right?

It’s both. The Kingdom is already here. Jesus said it had come near, and that’s because the King has come.

But the Kingdom is also not here yet. Not in full. Not complete. Not what it will be–when the King returns.

And in this sermon, Jesus teaches how His followers (and that’s what we want to be! How His followers) are to live right now in light of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And Jesus teaches this material with unequaled authority. Unparalleled authority. Nobody outside of God has ever taught with such original, underived, natural, unquestionable authority as Jesus taught right here.

When He was done, everybody marveled at the authority that He was teaching with.

King Jesus is delivering what some have called His Kingdom Manifesto.

And it’s part and parcel of what He wants taught to all of His disciples, including us today.

But the particulars of what Jesus has to say can be very surprising.

Jesus turns everything upside down.

We saw that last time, didn’t we?

Jesus often says the unexpected. He teaches with a twist that you didn’t see coming.

In fact, He starts the whole sermon with a twist.

With this little word here: “Blessed.”

Right?

The word is “Makarios” in Greek, and it’s very hard to translate into English. We use the “blessed,” but this isn’t the kind of blessing where God’s puts a blessing on someone, like a word of blessing down from God.

And translations use the word, “happy” but that’s too emotional and kind of a “thin” word these days.

The word, “makarios,” means to be in a state to be congratulated.

We said last week that it means to be fortunate, to be well off, to be...one sharp scholar has recently suggested the word, “flourishing.”

Which is a little awkward, but it really gets across the sense of the living goodness of the word.

We said that the Australians, “Good On Yer” or our saying, “Good For You,” or “Way to Be!” kind of get there, too.

Have you ever asked someone how they are doing, and they say something like, “I’m in a good place right now.” ?

Or maybe somebody else said it to you, “I think you’re in a good place right now.”

“You are where you need to be. You’re living well.”

“You are really flourishing.”

That’s what Jesus is saying here.

But that’s not the surprising thing.

The surprising thing is what kind of people Jesus says are truly blessed!

I would have never come up with this list.

But it’s exactly what Jesus leads with.

The needy. The sad. The lowly. The unsatisfied.

Those are the kind of people Jesus says are in a good place!

And really, because of how He’s saying it, Jesus is inviting His disciples to live in this way.

He’s saying, “This is the Good Life.”

This is the way to be.

This is the Kingdom Life.

This is King Jesus’ answer to the age old philosophers’ question, “What is the good life?”

“What is the best life?”

“What is the best way to be?”

“What does the flourishing life look like?”

Well, the answer might be a little hard to receive.

The Sermon on the Mount is at various points hard to receive.

Because the world is broken and so are we.

So we struggle to live as we should and as the Kingdom will be.

Jesus asks us to live out the values and customs of the Kingdom while we wait for it to arrive in full. And that’s not always easy.

But it’s always good!

So last week, we noticed that all 9 of these beatitudes follow the same pattern, and it’s important.

First there is a statement of blessing or happiness or flourishing.

“Blessed are...” Jesus says.

And then there is a description of the kind of people who are blessed.

And then the reason for their blessing is given.

Blessed are people X for reason Y.
Blessed are people X for reason Y.

Flourishing are people like X for the reason Y.

And for the first four, the kind people were really strange. You might never have guessed that those kind of people were living the good life.

And I actually think that’s true to varying degrees of all of these.

But the poor in the spirit, the mourners, the meek, and those unsatisfied with their own righteousness or with all of the injustice in the world–those folks are blessed.

And all for good reasons!  “Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They will be comforted. They will inherit the earth. They will be filled with righteousness.”

The kingdom has come and is going to come.

And so those who live the kingdom life are blessed.

Let’s look at the next one. Verse 7.

“Blessed [flourishing] are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

#1. THE MERCIFUL.

Same pattern.

If you are merciful, good for you. You are living the good life!

You’re in a good place.

Now, most of us would agree with that, but it’s not always how it feels, is it?

Did you ever have somebody in your grasp, and the last thing you wanted to show them was mercy?

I’m sure you have. I have.

In those moments, being merciful, showing compassion, being forgiving, helping somebody out, almost feels wrong. It definitely feels unnatural.

To be kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it?

Somebody who actually deserves the opposite?

That’s a different kind of living!

I think this is where we often go wrong on social media. We often form judgments about the shameful things that people do out there, and we get our pleasure from castigating them online.

We heap on the shame and outrage about what those bad people are doing.

What if we committed to being merciful online?

Not giving everybody a piece of our mind.

Telling somebody off.

Ridiculing their behavior. Which just might be ridiculous.

What if we didn’t do that? What if we were known for being merciful in our communication?

In our offline relationships. Husband and wife. Brothers and sisters. Co-workers. Neighbors.

Blessed are the merciful.

Does that describe you?

It better. Because this is a description of Jesus’ followers! This is what a disciple looks like.

And I’m sure it does. Not perfectly. But truly. I’m sure that every genuine believer in this room has been and is merciful.

By the way, we’re hear these themes pop up again and again in the Sermon on the Mount and in the rest of the Gospel of Matthew.

He’s not done talking about showing mercy. He’s going to circle back around on all of these ideas as the book unfolds.

Why?

Why are the merciful to be congratulated?

Just because they show self control?

I mean, they probably aren’t getting justice in many of these situations!

If you show mercy, you may not see justice. (That’s how it feels!)

What does Jesus say? V.7

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

When is that? That’s in the kingdom, right?

That’s future tense. “They will be shown mercy.” Already, but not yet.

That’s what Kingdom is for sinners like you and me! It is pure mercy that we enter it at all.

“Our sins they are many, but His... MERCY IS MORE!”

This is not a legalistic thing. “If you forgive 7 people, you will have 7 sins forgiven.”

If you are merciful to 10 people, then you will receive 10% mercy in the kingdom.

No. At the Cross, Jesus showed you lavish mercy! And in the Kingdom you will know it like you can’t imagine.

So having been shown mercy and knowing that unbelievable mercy is coming, what kind of person are you going to be?

Now, the opposite is also true. By the way, what is the opposite of “blessed” in the sense of “makarios?”

It’s not cursing per se.

It’s “woe.”

In chapter 23, Jesus will issue some “woes” to the Pharisees.

And it’s fair to turn verse 7 around and say, “Woe to you if you will not be merciful, for you will not be shown mercy.”

To whom do you need to show mercy this week?

Because that’s living the good life.

Jesus did it. Right?

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Let’s look at the next one. V.8

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

#2. THE PURE IN HEART.

“Flourishing are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

What does it mean to be pure in heart?

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that you heart is 100% squeaky clean right now.

How do I know that? Verse 3.

We are poor in spirit. We don’t have what it takes.

We don’t measure up, and we know it. We have empty spiritual pockets that can’t impress God. We are sinners by nature and by choice.

I can’t be that and also be utterly holy at the heart level. Not until Jesus comes back!

This must be describing the direction my heart in which my heart is pointing.

It must be describing a pursuit of purity at the heart level.

A love for God and single-mindedness about living for Him.

A new heart that is a gift from God. That’s what He must be talking about.

I won’t be pure in heart unless God does a work in my heart.

I’ll tell you another thing that it isn’t. It isn’t purity on the outside.

I think that’s what He’s emphasizing.

Jesus is going to talk a lot in the next few chapters about not putting on a religious show on the outside and having an untransformed heart on the inside.

“Flourishing are the PURE IN HEART.”

Not just the pure in ritual.

Not just the folks who show up for church in their Sunday best.

But their hearts are far from Him.

“Flourishing are the pure in heart [WHY?] for they will see God.”

Wow.

What a promise that is!

Again, it’s a promise for the Kingdom to come.

And it’s something that not even Moses got to experience. Right?

Jesus is the new and greater Moses, and He’s promising a greater experience that even Moses had.

Remember when Moses asked, “Show me your glory!”, and the LORD passed by Him and in the cleft of the rock, and all he got was a glimpse of the afterglow of His back, so to speak?

John said, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.”

And now that One is saying that the pure in heart will see God.

Revelation 22:4, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

I’ll say they are blessed!

I want a piece of that!

“Blessed are pure in heart.”

Does that describe you?

I’ll bet it does. I know it does for every genuine believer in this room.

Do you love God? Are you pursuing God? Not just on the outside but on the inside? From the center of your being?

If not, I invite you to repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.

And put your trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the cleansing of sins, and the hope of eternal life, seeing the very face of God!

Jesus’ death and resurrection make it all possible to have a new heart a pure heart and be blessed.

Look at the next one. V.9

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

#3. THE PEACEMAKERS.

This doesn’t say the peaceful. It is says the peacemakers.

These are the people who pursue peace and try to make peace happen.

They are flourishing.

Peacemakers are the ones who work hard at bringing people together and act as agents of reconciliation.

They know and use the powerful words.

Let me tell you about some really powerful words that have the ability to change the direction of relationship.

Are you ready?

“I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.”

Those are some powerful words right there.

And peacemakers know them and they know how and when to use them.

Some people think they are peacemakers, but they are really (what Ken Sande calls), “peace-fakers.” They pretend there is peace where there really isn’t.

And the opposite are “peace-breakers” those who stir up trouble and bring division into relationships.

Jesus says that we are called to be peacemakers, confronting where necessary, issuing apologies where appropriate, and handing out forgiveness wherever possible.

And not just doing it ourselves but helping others to do it, too.

Guess what? That’s what a disciple looks like! That’s what Jesus’ followers do.

That’s what the kingdom looks like, and here’s the promise.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

As we live the good life, we will be recognized as offspring of God Almighty, bearing the family resemblance.

When?

Well, it can happen now. But this is future tense, “will be.” I think it’s talking about the Kingdom.

One day, the Sons of God will be revealed.

He’s talking about us!

Those who have received Jesus. Those who believed in His name.

We are the children of God. And we’ll be recognized for as such.

And in the meantime, we pursue peace.

Are you a peacemaker?

You better be.

Because that’s what Jesus says we’re supposed to do.

And it’s what Jesus did, right? Nobody brought peace like Jesus did!

“The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.”

“He is our peace.”

Jesus is restoring shalom to the world.

That’s His mission, and we are called to join Him in it.

Where do you need to spread some peace this week?

Not faking it, but making it.

To whom might you need to say, “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.” ?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Last set. V.10

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

#4. PERSECUTED.

This is the most unexpected one of the whole bunch.

Jesus still fits another twist into this before He’s done.

“Flourishing are those who have been persecuted.”

I would have never thought of that one!

Good for you! If you have experienced oppression and persecution for doing what is right.

You’re in a good place!

This one isn’t even something we do. It’s something that is done to us.

All we’re doing is seeking righteousness. We’re longing for it like in verse 6. We’re hungry and thirsty for righteousness.

And someone comes along and dings us for it!

We’re treated badly.
We’re opposed.
We’ve made enemies.

And not because we’ve done something wrong!

All we’re doing is following Jesus!

And they’re hurting us here.

In verse 11, Jesus gives one last beatitude and it’s the same one He just did.

It’s like He expands it or unpacks it.

And He personalizes it. Listen. Verse 11.

“Blessed [flourishing] are you [not just “they” out there, but “you.” He’s looking you in the eye.] when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you [catch this] because of me.”

Because you are following Jesus, you will be persecuted.

You will suffer for it.

And good on you!

You should be congratulated if you are persecuted for Jesus’ sake.

In fact, you should jump up and down with joy! V.12

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This is the one that Jesus says the most about.

Blessed are the persecuted. Why? Because they join the long line of prophets of God who were persecuted, and they will be richly rewarded.

“GREAT if your reward in heaven.”

V.10 is the same as verse 3. The persecuted get the same thing as the poor in the spirit.

They get the kingdom. They get it now. And they will get it then.

And they will be rewarded.

Three thoughts about applying that to our life today, and then we’ll be done.

First, prepare yourself for persecution.

It will come.

If our Master was persecuted, then who are we to think we will escape it?

That’s not to say that it will be the same for all of us. Not everyone will be crucified.

Some will just get (v.11) insults and slander.

But everyone who desires to follow Jesus will experience some persecution.

If we don’t, we’re doing it wrong.

And that’s persecution, not for doing things wrong, but for doing things right. “Because of righteousness.”

And second, don’t stop following Jesus because of the persecution.

It’ll get hard, but don’t stop. Don’t run away.

And don’t stop doing the other beatitudes when it gets hard.

Keep being needy, sad, lowly, and unsatisfied.

Keep being merciful!

Keep being pure at heart and being peacemakers.

Don’t stop when it gets hard.

And don’t complain about it and whine about it and demand your rights all of the time.

Instead, rejoice and be glad when you are persecuted for following Jesus.

Remember in Acts 5 when the apostles were arrested and then FLOGGED for following Jesus and what did they do when they were let out, they ran around complaining about how badly they were treated?

No. They had just been flogged, but Luke tells us, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

They knew that one day they would vindicated.

So they didn’t stop.

Instead, they celebrated.

That’s upside-down, friends.

And that’s the good life.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Book Review: "A Sacred Sorrow" by Michael Card

A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of LamentA Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament by Michael Card

A beautiful elegy to tear-filled faith.

Michael Card’s A Sacred Sorrow is a rich, searching, wise, authentic, and accessible (re)introduction to the “lost language” of biblical lament. For the last few years, I’ve been reading everything reliable that I can find on lament in the Bible. I think the 21st century American church needs that kind of tear-filled faith woven back into our prayer lives, corporate worship, and imagination. Pain and suffering are sadly normal in this broken world, and thankfully God has not left us without tools for living in, responding to, and walking through inescapable sorrow. But all too often we have not had access to or a workable understanding of lament (at least in the majority of conservative American evangelicalism that I’ve experienced). We prefer praise. We attempt to get past or get over our pain. We try to smile it away. We know that we’re supposed to trust, to hope, to consider it all joy, and to consider the joy set before us. And we don’t realize that we are also expected to and invited to weep, wail, and wrestle with God.

Enter Michael Card with his short meditations on the lives and laments of Job, David, Jeremiah and, most importantly, Jesus. Card writes about the dark, lonely, uncomfortable, negative, jagged parts of Scripture and how they are in there for our good. And he does it in an experiential way. Most of the things I’ve read so far on lament are academic and abstract. They express the ideas of lament well, but Michael Card sings them. You feel it. And you know that it is right.

A times he over-reaches or overs-peaks. At least he says things in stronger ways that I could say myself based on the data I have. I have to admit that Card could just be utilizing poetic license, or he may see things I just can’t see...yet. I’m very glad that I’ve read it, and I will recommend it to others who want to help restore the rawness of faith in a minor key.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Book Review: "Destination Unknown" by Agatha Christie

Destination UnknownDestination Unknown by Agatha Christie

A delightful meaningless romp.

The queen of mystery took a break from Poirot and Marple to produce a post-war action/adventure thriller story about the mysterious disappearance of scientists all over the world and the unlikely spy who cracks the case. Always moving (to a destination unknown), along the way there is murder, adventure, mistaken identity, and even love, all with that Agatha Christie tongue-in-cheek humor and charm in a decidedly more Hitchcockian vein.

Destination Unknown is Tommy and Tuppence meet “The Lady on the Train.” Good clean fun. I’m surprised it’s never been turned into at least a made-for-tv movie. Recommended for a palate-cleansing reading break or a rainy afternoon.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "The Good Life (Part One)"

“The Good Life (Part One)”
Jesus’ Sermon the Mount
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 4, 2018 :: Matthew 5:3-12

Last time, we saw that Jesus was drawing large crowds.

Jesus had been baptized by John and tempted by Satan, and had now begun His public ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing (4:23-25).

He had begun calling disciples, followers, to Himself.

And He told them that if they followed Him, Jesus would make them fishers of men.

And men were coming. Big crowds of people were coming to hear Jesus teach.

Jesus had been, like John the Baptist, preaching, “Repent! Turn around! For the kingdom of heaven is near.”

And big crowds had gathered to find out what that means. What does He mean by Kingdom of Heaven?

And like a new and greater Moses, Jesus had ascended up onto a mountainside, sat down in the authoritative posture of a teacher, opened his mouth and preached what we now call, “The Sermon on the Mount.”

Do you remember what He said? I read the whole thing to you a few weeks ago. Do you remember?

Do you remember how it hit you?

How it made you feel?

The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five major blocks of teaching in the Gospel of Matthew and arguably the most important.

Jesus teaches like no else. He says things that no else ever would.

And He teaches with a full authority. An unmitigated, unparalleled authority.

He doesn’t teach with a derived authority. He teaches with His own authority.

And out of His own authority He differs with the religious leaders of that day. What He says contrasts with them. Argues with them. Overrules them.

In fact, He even overrules Moses in this Sermon!

Not that Moses was wrong. The Law of Moses was the Law of God.

But Jesus is going to update and change that Law!

Because of Who He is!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The point is that this is Jesus’ Sermon. It’s all about Him and all about Who He is and all about what He wants from us and for us.

And when at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, on another mountainside, Jesus tells the apostles to make more followers of Him, He commissions them to teach new followers to obey all that He has commanded.

And that includes Matthew chapters 5 through 7.

This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

This is what it means to follow King Jesus.

It’s a description of living within the Kingdom of Heaven which is near.

And the Kingdom of Heaven is unlike any other kingdom there ever was.

There’s so much surprise here. So many twists.

So much that is unexpected and counter-intuitive.

And counter-cultural. And upside-down.

Jesus’ Kingdom is a kingdom that challenges every other kingdom, including the little kingdoms we set up in our hearts and lives.

So these marching orders that King Jesus will issue our way will often make us uncomfortable.

The new laws, the new rules, the new norms that we are called to live under as citizens of this Kingdom of Heaven will challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable, often at a loss.

They are different than what we are used to. They are different than what we are comfortable with.

They are different than what the other kingdoms say.

They have a different language and rhythm and custom and culture than the other kingdoms, so they will require some change on our part and some time to get used to. (That’s why repentance is necessary.)

But living in this Kingdom is the greatest thing and will be the greatest experience that we can ever imagine!

And it all starts in verse 3 with what I’m going to call Jesus’ invitation to “the good life.”

More popularly known as the “The Beatitudes.”

Which comes from the Latin (this is our year for Latin, I guess) “Beatus” which means “a state of being happy or blessed.”

We don’t use that word “beatitude” or “statement of happiness or blessing” in other way in our modern culture, so it’s not easy at first to understand what it means.

There are 9 beatitudes in verse 3 through 12. We will not get through all of them today. I expect to only make it through the first four.

They all follow a set pattern. It’s really obvious as you read them, but it’s also really important.

First there is a statement of blessing or happiness.

“Blessed are...” Jesus says.

And then there is a description of the kind of people who are blessed.

And then the reason for their blessing is given.

Blessed are people X for reason Y.
Blessed are people X for reason Y.
Blessed are people X for reason Y.

And there are 9 of them.

There are some subtle differences between them, but they all fit that pattern.

Blessed are people X for reason Y.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

At least for most of them, and I think you could argue for all of them, the people who are called blessed don’t seem very blessed at all.

What I mean is that Jesus picks out some strange people to called “blessed!”

The twist isn’t a surprise ending to the Sermon the Mount.

The twist begins in the very first sentence. In the “opening salvo” of the Sermon!

Jesus loves to turn everything you expect upside down, doesn’t He?

For example, this word “blessed” that shows up in every verse.

It’s really hard to translate. “Happy” sounds too emotional and too temporary.

But this isn’t “blessed” as in a word of blessing that comes from God.

Both Hebrew and Greek have a different word for that kind of blessing.

This is a word “Makarioi” in Greek (and its Hebrew companion is “Ashre”), and it means to be in a state which is to be congratulated.

It means to be in a really good place.

It describes a person whose life is good.

I’m reading an excellent book right now by a professor at Southern Seminary who got his PhD from Trinity, and I think we were students at Trinity at the same time back in the 90's. His name is Jonathan Pennington.  [Check out these videos of Dr. Pennington on The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing.]

And he translates this word, “Flourishing.”

“Flourishing are the poor in spirit...”
“Flourishing are those who mourn...”
“Flourishing are the meek...”
“Flourishing area those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...”

Now that hits our ears a little awkwardly, doesn’t it?

I don’t think even Pennington likes it over much either, but it really gets at what this word originally meant.

He says that in Australia they have a phrase, “Good On ‘Yer.” That comes close.

We use the phrase, “Good For You!”

Or “Way to Be!”

To be “blessed” in this way is to be in a state of well-being.

It is to be living the good life.

Do you want to be living the good life?

Of course you do! That’s what everybody wants.

Well, this is what Jesus says is the good life.

This is the good life, according to Jesus.

King Jesus.

And so this is a description of discipleship.

This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

This is what a disciple of Jesus looks like.

This is what it means to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven right now.

And it’s the life that Jesus is inviting us into.

The good life.

Now, by the way, this is a grace-based invitation. These beatitudes are not laws to follow to earn God’s favor.

“Work up your poverty of spirit, and God will owe you some kingdom.

Jack up your purity of heart and God will show you Himself!”

That’s not how it works.

It never has, and it never will be.

That’s what just talked about all last year in Galatians, and we just went over it again this morning in Sunday School.

This is not some salvation by good works sort of thing.

This is a grace-based invitation to live the good life according to Jesus.

The only problem is that Jesus’ description does not sound like a very good life!

I mean if you were going to put on social media the hashtag, #blessed, what kind of things would you be posting on?

What do you think is the good life?

What do your friends think is the good life?

What does the world say is the good life?

I know that I would have never guessed these on my own!

Let’s look at them. Look at verse 3.

“Blessed [flourishing] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Good for you! Way to be!

Living the good life are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

That sounds strange, doesn’t it?

It’s supposed. Jesus wants it to.

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit?”

I don’t think it means that you don’t have any spirit. Or that you don’t have enough spirit. This is not a rally cry at the High School.

“We’ve spirit, how about you?”

It means, in a word, that you know that you are:

#1. NEEDY.

You don’t have what it takes spiritually speaking to impress God.

You haven’t arrived.

You are poor. You are at the end of your own resources.

And spiritually speaking, you are turning out your pockets, and all you have is lint.

D.A. Carson says, “Poverty of spirit is the personal acknowledgment of spiritual bankruptcy. It is the conscious confession of unworth before God. As such, it is the deepest form of repentance.”

It’s the opposite of what the Pharisees had.

They said, “Look at me! Check me out!” I’ve got what it takes to impress God.

Bryan Elliff says, “It is the lack of inward capabilities and resources to achieve the virtue and heart-level righteousness that Jesus calls us toward. In our desires, emotions, mind, and in our relationship with God, we come up short.”

But does that sound like the good life?

Yes!

Oh yes. Because that’s exactly what we are. We are needy.

And paradoxically, that’s the kind of people who make up Jesus’s kingdom. V.3 again.

“Blessed [flourishing] are the poor in spirit, for [notice the FOR] theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The folks who are needy and know they are needy are the kinds of people who own the kingdom. They belong to the Kingdom.

They own up to their spiritual poverty, and amazingly, they own everything there is!

“...for theirs is (not just will be but is) the kingdom of heaven.”

Remember the Kingdom is already but not yet.

It has come now, and it will come later.

But those who own up to their own spiritual neediness have the kingdom right now.

Isn’t that amazing?

By the way, this helps to understand the rest of the beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.

I think it comes first because you need it to get the rest.

Because you are not going to see yourself in some of these.

Some of you feel so condemned by the Sermon on the Mount.

When I read it to you a couple of weeks ago, you were just looking at your feet and hoping to go home. Just feeling shame.

Because you know that you don’t measure up.

Well, this says, “Good for you!” that’s the first step of living the good life.

You don’t measure up.

You are a mess.

And so am I.

Admit it. You. Are. Needy.

This helps us to understand the rest of the beatitudes.

But it does more than that.

It describes who we really are right now.

If you belong to Jesus, then this is you.

You are blessed.

You are flourishing.

You belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s not just something you hope for or wish you had, it’s yours by grace through faith in Jesus.

You are living the Kingdom Life right now.

It’s not as good as it gets.

That’s still to come. But it is really good because you belong to the King you belong to Kingdom, and that is truly the good life.

You’re flourishing. Even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Look at the second one. Verse 4.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Flourishing are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Those who mourn are really living the good life, for they will be comforted.

So in a word:

#2. SAD.

I’m not sure if this is sad because you are suffering or sad because you’ve been sinning.

It could be either. It could be both.

I lean towards both.

The mourning here could be more repentance. Hating your sin. Being so devastated by realizing just how poor you are and how it goes against the holiness of God.

True disciples deeply regret and sorrow over their sin.

But I tend to think that Jesus means any kind of genuine sorrow. Any kind of sadness that comes from any kind of suffering.

Especially grief over the loss of a loved one.

And Jesus says, “Good for you if you are sad.”

You are blessed if you are sad.

Because our world is sad.

You see it right. You see it correctly. You are feeling the right thing.

Anybody who thinks that Jesus wants us to just grin and bear it has never met Jesus.

“Jesus wept.”

Jesus mourned.

Jesus never sorrowed over His own sin, but He sure sorrowed over ours!

But Jesus says that being sad like this is the good life.

Why? What’s the “for?” v.4

“...for they will be comforted.”

That’s future tense.

Not that God doesn’t provide some comfort now (this verse is God comforting us now!), but there is a promise here of a time when every tear will be wiped away.

By whom?

By God Himself!

Things are not as they seem.

Followers of Jesus are sorrowful and mourning and blessed all at the same time.

Right now, the sad life is the good life.

Because some day there will be no sad life, and all of the sadness will have been worth it.

Number three.

#3. LOWLY. V.5

“Blessed [flourishing] are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

The meek are the lowly. They are the humble. They are the people on the bottom rung. They are the gentle ones that aren’t exercising power.

It’s not necessarily that they don’t have the power, but they don’t throw their power around.

They don’t use their power or their strength (if they have it) for their own agendas.

They use any power or strength they have been given for the agenda of the Kingdom.

This is a choice they are making.

A choice you and I are making.

Because this is a description of a Christian, of a follower of Jesus.

We are lowly. We are humble.

That’s our calling.

It’s the calling to be a servant.

Jesus did this one, too, didn’t He?

It’s not that He didn’t have strength or power, but He didn’t use it for His own agenda, His own selfishness. He took the form of a servant.

And He lived out His Father’s agenda.

He was meek and lowly of heart.

And because of that, He was given the highest place and His name is higher than any other name!

Jesus as a servant was blessed. He was flourishing. He was living the good life.

What’s the for in verse 5?

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Again, it’s future.

It’s okay to take second place, to put somebody else first.

Because you are going to inherit EVERYTHING.

You won’t lose anything by serving others because you are going to inherit a re-created earth. And forever!

You see how you are flourishing even as you are lowly?

Now, this is something you choose.

Being this kind of meek is.

Being this kind of humble is a choice.

It’s what Jesus is inviting you to do with your life.

He’s inviting you into the good life.

Be needy.
Be sad.
Be lowly.

Take second place. Serve the people around you. Drop down a notch.

And you’ll be blessed.

You’ll flourish. Now and especially then.

One more.

#4. UNSATISFIED.

Isn’t Jesus strange?

I would have never come up with this.

Of course, I’m the strange one. He’s the definition of normal.

But I’ve never lived in a normal world.

And that’s the point. V.6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

You are flourishing if you are hungry and thirsty.

You are living the good life if you are unsatisfied.

If you are longing, hungering, thirsting.

Have you ever been really hungry?

I mean like gone a few days without eating hungry?

How about thirsty? Gone a day without drinking?

Jesus knew all about hunger and thirst.

And He says if you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, then you are blessed.

Righteousness is obedience. It’s holiness. It’s doing what is right. It’s a right standing with God because of right living.

And it’s justice. It’s doing what is just and right.

And Jesus says that those people who can’t get along without righteousness are flourishing.

Those people who are unsatisfied with their own righteousness and with the righteousness they encounter in the world...they are blessed.

You see what I’m saying?

These people know that this world is not as it should be.

And they know that they are not as they should be.

And they LONG for the world be as it should be.

And they LONG for them to be as they should be.

Does that sound like you?

Good for you!

Way to be!

(V.6)

“... for they will be filled.”

I think that means filled with righteousness.

If you are unsatisfied now, that’s good. Because you will be satisfied.

You will be conformed to God’s will.

And the world will be conformed to God’s will.

Jesus’ kingdom will come in all of its righteousness!

He rules the earth with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Right now, everything is upside down.

That’s why what Jesus says feels upside down.

But one day, Jesus will make everything righteous-side up.

And if you long for that right now, good for you.

You’re living the Good Life.

So, needy, sad, lowly, unsatisfied...that’s where it’s at?

That’s blessed?

It sure is!

According to Jesus, that’s the Good Life.

And He should know.

Because at the Cross, he took on our spiritual poverty, he carried our sorrows, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death.

He was famished for righteousness.

And He won righteousness for all of us.

At the Cross, He turned everything upside down.

And now He gives us the Kingdom and invites us to live the Kingdom life.


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