Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Joyful Humiliation, Joyful Exaltation

Sermon given on Philippians 2:1-11 at Good Shepherd Church in Glendora, Sunday, November 8, 2009.


Bible Passage.

Paul's Teammates- Roll Call :: Colossians 4:7-18

How does one preach a sermon from a passage where Paul simply communicates greetings? Find out here! Final Sermon preached in Colossians series at Revive Church Glendora.


Sermon Outline HERE.

Bible Passage.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Freedom that isn't Free

I have recently re-watched one of my favorite movies, Into the Wild. It is a story of a young man named Chris, recently graduated from college, who is seemingly obsessed with the idea of adventure of being free & isolated in "the wild." Though he has a family who misses him, and though he makes many friends who admire & love him along his journey to Alaska, he spurns their friendship for his adventure. For those who haven't seen it (but should), the movie portrays a very happy character once he reaches his destination- an isolated, beautiful location in Alaska. However, as time goes on, the loneliness sets in, and he wishes to be back in community. His wishes are denied, as the early spring creek he had crossed is now a rushing river, literally trapping him in the wild. To ruin the story further, he dies, thinking of the people he loved.

This movie, based on a true story, intrigues me for many reasons. I can relate to many aspects of the protagonist's life: an affinity for the outdoors, a recent college graduate, and, heck, our fathers both make a living in the aerospace industry! But more than that, Chris had an obsession. He dreamt long and hard about the freedom and vibrancy he would experience if only he were left alone, away from society, out in the wild. Yet, when he had finally achieved this "freedom" which he sought, it became a master to which he yielded his life. He had convinced himself that happiness lay in his idea of freedom; but his idea of freedom, he soon realized, wasn't really free, but just another form of slavery.

I wonder how often we do this with our lives. We fixate our minds on our ideas of freedom, happiness, pleasure, comfort, and purpose. We work hard for popularity, for money, for pleasure, or for possessions. We create false ideas of freedom and happiness by saying "I will be happy when ________________." Or "I will finally be free if _________________." Yet, even if you've lived as long as I have (which isn't very long), you soon realize that your idea of freedom or happiness really doesn't deliver in the long run. Sure, money can thrill us for a season, but soon we realize that Jesus' words ring true- "one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." We place our hope in pleasures, in power, and in life going exactly according to our plan. But soon, Solomon's conclusions when he tried the same thing come back to haunt us- "Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun."

Not many of these things I have in mind are "evil" in and of themselves. Heck, even in the movie, the idea of a trip into the wilderness can be a great thing! (If that were a sin, shoot, my dad would take Paul's title of "chief of sinners"). But when we fixate on them- a trip into the wild, getting away, happiness, sports, sex, popularity, promotions, possessions- the small creek in spring turns into a raging river in the summer, and our souls become trapped and dead. The only freedom that really is free, comes in drinking of the water that Christ gives. When we place our Creator's desires above our own temporal ones, we live as we ought to live. And though his desires for us feel like slavery for a time, in the long run, we realize that "his commandments are not burdensome" and true freedom has been found! 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

RAMBLE: Christianity, Experience, and The Bible

We live in a sensual culture. Everywhere we turn, our senses - usually all 5 at once - are being stroked & stimulated. The art & aim of every entertainer, producer, & advertiser is to enhance our experiences in order to secure our approval. We as humans (especially as sensual, existential 21st century Americans) live our lives with much attention & focus given to experience, feelings, & emotions. Often times, it is not the content of an event/story/etc. that affects us. Rather what is most important is how the event made us feel...

Consequently, there is a danger that we face as Christians in the 21st century. Heck, I think this is a danger that Christians faced in the latter 1st century. I notice at times a recurring & frightening habit creeping up, not only in the lives of churches, but in my own life. There are moments & seasons when, gulp, I live & experience my so-called "Christian walk" with the Bible at arm's distance from my heart. The inevitable result of this neglect of God's Word is not an ultimate rejection of my faith (I still believe in the gospel, I still attempt to live a God-honoring life, etc.) Rather the result of neglecting a steady diet of God's word in my heart is much more subtle...I begin to analyze my Christianity & my "spiritual walk" based solely on my experiences. I begin to form my theology based on my independent emotions. In short, I myself become the standard of my own life.

The fault that I see with this is not strictly with emotions, experiences, & feelings. These are God-given faculties that we use to know & serve God. However, apart from the Bible, we don't know Jesus. Apart from the Bible, there is no "Christianity." Apart from the Bible, there is no foundation for what to believe & what not to believe. Apart from the Bible, there is no idea of how to worship or Whom to worship. Apart from the Bible, there is no clear standard for right & wrong. Apart from the Bible, there is no hint of any exemplary attitude of humility & worship that we should live by...The Bible is God's revelation of himself...It is the way he has chosen to communicate with humanity! Apart from it, there is no communication with our creator & savior...

So...why am I content to live day-in & day-out apart from God's word? Why am I content to allow my experience, emotions, and personality to become the standard by which I live?

The apostle Peter would not allow this in his life, nor in the lives of the churches he shepherded. Consider a few simple thoughts from a stunning passage in 2 Peter 1:16-21.

1. The story of Jesus is true. Peter makes it very clear that the Person we follow is worthy of following, because he really lived, really died, and really rose again. He says, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths...but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (2 Peter 1:16). Peter & the disciples knew Jesus is God because they saw him real, actual, time-space history.

2. Peter had crazy experiences following Jesus. In order to further prove the reality & historicity of King Jesus, Peter refers to the experience of seeing Jesus transfigured gloriously on the "mount of transfiguration" (see Matthew 17:1-8). He talks of this experience emphatically by saying, "we ourselves heard... for we were with him on the holy mountain" (2 Peter. 1:18). I imagine the experience of seeing Jesus' transfigured into glory caused chills down Peter's spine. I imagine it was an incredible "high" to gain a peek of how glorious Jesus will appear to us in heaven. Yet, Peter did not stop his "breakdown" of the story there...

3. Peter says that God's Word is more trustworthy than his own experience. I'm not making this up. Peter writes, "And we have something more sure [than our crazy experience], the prophetic word..." WHA??? Peter claims that the word of God is a more sure foundation for his daily life as a Christian than his own emotional & dramatic experience with Jesus.

So, what's the point? Peter sums up and writes, "You will do well to pay attention to God's Word as to a lamp shining in a dark place..." There exists much uncertainty about truth in our world, and even in our own hearts. Yet the answer is not to hang on to a shallow Christianity, one that is interpreted by emotions, cliches, movie clips, and experiences. Rather, because the Bible is true, our entire lives should be committed to what is revealed in God's Word. Peter walked with Jesus, saw a transfigured Jesus, denied a convicted Jesus, and spoke with a resurrected Jesus. Yet after all those highs & lows (and the emotions that accompany them), his message was simple- above all else, cling to, worship, obey, and follow Jesus through the Word of God, written and preserved for you.