When God Takes Charge
The Old Testament story of Abraham provides a stirring example of what biblical faith looks like (see Hebrews 11).
Abraham was the first of God’s people: the “father of all believers”. For that reason Abraham serves as an prototype: God’s relationship with Abraham and his wife Sarah sets the pattern for the relationship that God longs to enjoy with each of us.
As we have seen, we can often be tempted to take a “secular” approach to our relationship with God: following him, but following him our way. Abraham and Sarah were no different. Time and again God all but forced them to confront their “secular” tendencies.
April 23: The Call (birth of hope, the death of control) (Gen. 12:1-9)
The story of Abraham starts with God. God appeared to Abraham and invited him to a future that was completely unknown. Instead of negotiating those future plans, Abram and Sarai followed.
Our story starts with God. When God approaches us he invites us to a future that is equally unknown to us (whether we recognize it or not).
Abraham’s story—and ours—starts with a promise from God and surrender from us. In fact, surrendering to God’s unknown defines who we are as God’s people.
What has surrender looked like for you? What “unknown” is God calling you to face with him?
May 7: The Waiting (and the Cost of Secular Thinking) (Gen. 16, Gen 21:8-21)
When God delays, we can find ourselves tempted to take shortcuts. Instead of trusting in God completely we begin to find ourselves compromising trying to jump-start the fulfillment of his promises.
As their frustration grew, Abraham and Sarah eventually decided that they had to do something. That “something” was an arrangement with Sarah’s slave girl that would allow her to bear Abraham the son needed to fulfill God’s promise. Not unheard of in their culture, but a clear departure from God’s plan, as they would have known.
Their plan proved to be a disaster. Sure Hagar bore Abraham a son, Ishmael. But their home eventually filled with such bickering that Abraham was forced to send Hagar and Ishmael into the desert to die of exposure. God intervened on their behalf, but the descendants Ishmael and Isaac have been in conflict ever since (think: Jews and Arabs today).
Most of us can think of a time when we have begun to compromise on God’s call in order to get by? Think about time (too busy for devotions, no room to serve others) or finances (can’t “afford” to tithe?).
In Abraham and Sarah, God was shaping a people who would slowly learn to trust in him. He wants the same for us.
May 14: The Gift (waiting, trusting and looking ridiculous) (Gen. 21, 22)
OK, this part is crazy—a couple this old having a baby? (100? 90?) But that’s exactly what the mysterious visitors who visited Abraham’s camp promised from God.
Finally Abraham and Sarah could relax! Well, as much as elderly people can relax while caring for a newborn. They had their child, the next generation was in place.
But that kind of relaxing can change our relationship with God. In the very next chapter God gives Abraham the bizarre command to sacrifice his precious son Isaac. In this heart-wrenching dilemma, Abraham is forced to decide just who he can trust to guarantee his future.
God has a way of doing that. Time and time again we begin to hold on to God’s gifts in ways that border on idolatrous: our people, our possessions, our opportunities and accomplishments. And time and time again God gently loosens our grip on those things so we can hold tightly to him.
Are you willing to let him do that with you?
A Walk Through the Apostles Creed
Part One: March 19, 26, April 2, 9, 13, & 16
Part Two: May 21, 28 & June 4
First appearing sometime before 400 AD, this well-known creed has served a time-tested summary of the message of the Bible. In this series we will the Creed line-by-line (or pairs of lines) and explore a Bible passage that expresses the same truths from scripture.
The series will be handled in two parts. We will begin with God the Father and then overlay its teachings on the life, death and resurrection of Christ with our celebration of Holy Week. We will resume the series a month later to allow us to explore the Creeds’ teachings on the Holy Spirit and the church in time for our celebration of Pentecost, the birth of the New Testament church.
Part One: God the Father, God the Son
Mar. 19: God the Creator
What does it mean to claim God as the creator of heaven and earth?
This has to do with who’s world is it? You treat a place differently if it’s not yours. If this is our world, then we can pretty much approach life as we wish. We can spend our time as we wish, we can form whatever relationships we wish, treat our parents or spouses or children as we wish. We can even exploit the environment without worrying about the long-term effects of our choices.
But the Bible makes it clear that this is not our world: it belongs to God. That awareness changes how we approach each day, because our Creator has plans for us.
Mar 26: The Providence of God
What does it mean for God our Creator to be an Almighty Father? In short: you pray differently to an almighty God than we might pray to a God who simply tries his best for us. We pray differently to a God who is trustworthy. In this sermon I want to help us become more aware of the trust level behind our prayers, and how God can help us grow in that regard.
April 2: Jesus the Son
Here the creed brings us into the mystery of the Trinity. The Bible presents God as a three-in-one being: three separate “persons”, yet still somehow only one God, not a trio. This mystery stretches our faith, but it presents us with a gospel that is based in relationship, from the very beginning.
When the Bible introduces us to Jesus, the Son of God, we are being ushered into a family, children of a parent like no other. In a world where our families often disappoint us, this promise gives us a place to stand.
April 9: Jesus as Lord (Palm Sunday)
Jesus may be the son of God, but that doesn’t leave him without authority. In fact, the scriptures go out of their way to make it clear that Jesus Christ is the leader (Lord) of all and that someday every knee will bow and every tongue confess that that is true.
That claim was never challenged like it was Holy Week, the week before Jesus’ death. As Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he entered a political cauldron where Rome would reject any would-be king, and his fellow Jews would try to pressure him into bringing a different kind of Kingdom than he had to offer.
We have the same trouble. We all have dreams of the empires we’d love to build: the careers, the marriages and families or the things we’d love to do for fun. Something in us wants to take charge of things, to be our own “Lords”. That seems pretty normal—after all, everyone has their pipe dreams. But it’s really hard to enjoy a relationship with Jesus Christ when we’re trying to take his job. And by the end of this week, the whole world will have a chance to discover just how high the price of trying to be our own saviors and lords. As we enter Holy Week, Palm Sunday gives us a chance to re-align around the real Lord of our lives.
April 13: The Suffering of Christ (Maundy Thurs)
The Creed tells us that Jesus suffered under Roman oppression (Pontius Pilate), was crucified, died and was buried. It also tells us that He descended into Hell.
With these claims the Creed takes us far beyond any silly ideas of Jesus being simply a good teacher or inspiring visionary. Something deep and ugly was happening on the path toward that cross. Something that had to happen. Something that reached as far into human suffering as one could go: Hell.
On Maundy Thursday we step into the mystery of unimaginable suffering so we can glimpse unspeakable joy that dawns once healing begins.
April 16: He Rose Again
Here’s the turning point. With that simple claim, the Creed presents the basic point of the Gospel: all that has been broken will be made whole. How do we know? Because Christ did exactly what he promised, taking on the worst of our guilt and suffering, and shattering its grip. On Easter morning every one of us can celebrate his healing as it transforms our scars.
Part Two: The Church
May 21: The Spirit and the Church
Here the Creed begins to show the healing of Christ beginning to spread. This happens through the Holy Spirit, especially through the church. (Note: by the “Catholic” church, it refers to the world-wide church, not simply the Roman Catholic portion of it).
Here we see God’s dream for the church beginning to appear. The Holy Spirit is Christ himself poured out invisibly in and through all believers, bringing the healing of Easter to every place where brokenness still reigns. The church brings wholeness, and the church demonstrates wholeness. That’s why the Biblical church is presented as a community (communion) of believers.
May 28: The Forgiveness of Sins
Sin ruins everything. The sins we have done separate us from God and damage the people and situations around us. The sins done to us add the damage of others to that which we have already inflicted upon ourselves. And to make matters worse our efforts to self-correct our sins usually end up making things worse. Almost everything we do to hide our secrets ends up simply creating more secrets to be concealed. When we “get religious” in an effort to fix what’s wrong we often end up becoming brittle and judgmental.
What’s needed is not to have our sins covered up, or even fixed, but to have them forgiven. That’s what Jesus did with his death and resurrection. That’s why he had to go to hell and back to accomplish his victory. And that’s why the church can be the church: a communion of saints.
June 4: The Resurrection of the Dead/Life Everlasting
Christ’s healing isn’t done. Although the effects of his redemption can already be seen (the “Communion of the Saints”) his renewal is by no means done. Every prayer of thanks for a blessing given today carries with it a sigh for a someday when everything will be made new. The Bible tells us that this will happen when Jesus physically returns to earth and heaven and earth are made new. We ache for that now.
This series ends on Pentecost, the birth of the church. We end the series celebrating the fact that God our Father sent his Son to set us free. By his Spirit we are healed, filled and sustained as we bring his healing to a world that so badly needs it.