Saturday, February 6

Following Christ

 Tim Wu in his 2016 book “Attention Merchants” as a world in which “You don’t sell things to people, you sell people to advertisers (Wu in Harris).” Google, Microsoft, and Facebook didn’t invent the idea, they just took it to another level.  The start was in the 1830s with the birth of the New York Sun. They undersold their competition, charging a penny, and funded the production of their newspaper with advertising sales. What made them really unique was they went after news that appealed to the masses, “This meant stories about ‘melancholy’, suicides, and lewd murders. Anything to grab eyeballs (Harris).” According to Forbes, and other marketing journals, most of us saw 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day. You may not even realize some were advertisements.

Last year was hard for many people. Even those like myself who were out in public found things to be strange and odd. Activities, events, vacations, parties, family gatherings, even funerals had the chance to explode into horrible centers of disease.  Our lives became subject to the whims of a new virus and the learning curve it took us through.

“Last year was a year of again. Each day in 2020 dawned and we got to work again, feed and homeschooled our children again, watched COVID-19 numbers rise again, wondered “When will this be over? “again (Kerhoulas).”

This was a piece in Christianity Today just a couple of weeks ago. About 2021, she notes, “[P]erhaps these unyielding months of the pandemic have…Our lives are full of monotony and repetition, and they always will be (ibid.).”

I believe our texts this morning demonstrate that God has a different pace about Himself. Incarnate, Jesus shows us a different discipline than we have and that the outcome of these two means that God’s blessings are different than we realize.

God’s Pace

I’ve told you about Bob Mumford’s example of patience and training a dog to fetch. The dog isn’t trained when he doesn’t run after the stick but strains forward, ready to go. Training is done when the stick is tossed, and the dog remains relaxed and unmoved until ordered to ‘fetch’.

One of the leaders of Open Doors ministry, which works for persecuted Christians met Pastor Wang Ming Dao who stood firm for Christ until his death in ’91. The Chinese pastor asked Ronald, “Young man, how do you walk with God (Boyd-McMillian 13)?” Reflecting on this he asked, “How can I talk about the Christian life as walking with God when I so often live it at a sprint (ibid.)?”

During Ming Dao’s 20-year imprisonment by the Chinese, the pastor commented that it had become a place of “unchosen, unhurried time… There was nothing to do but to be in God's presence (ibid.).” He summarized his learning from Wang Dao by writing,

"One of the keys to the faith of the suffering church: God does things slowly…We are too quick. We have so much to do—so much in fact we never really commune with God as he intended (Boyd-MacMillan)."

Ming Dao’s prison was our 2020 but his lasted 20-years. Will we learn from it.

God’s Discipline

The gospel of Mark has Jesus going to Peter’s home and healing Peter’s mother-in-law. After Sabbath, in the evening the news of the exorcism and Peter’s MIL caused others to gather at Peter’s home and Jesus healed many of them. Early the next morning Jesus leaves the rest of the household and goes out to a ‘desolate’ place and prays.

Why does Jesus do this? It’s not to regain His power. It’s not to meditate and empty Himself of all the stress. It is to talk with His Father about His next steps. Did you know that Satan wasn’t the only tempter Jesus faced? Right here, He is tempted by those who would be His disciples to return to Peter’s house. Come back Jesus, we have more people to heal. Pretty soon they’ll be coming from all over.

God’s word to His Son was to move into other towns and preach “for that is why I came out” v38. U2’s “Where the Streets have no Names” took over 40% of the time spent on their album The Joshua Tree. The producer, Brian Eno, was so disgusted with the amount of energy being expended he wanted the whole tape destroyed and start over. “There’s a part of Eno that likes instant gratification. He’d rather throw something difficult away and start something new (Songfacts).” Bono did not like the lyrics. He calls them a “sketch…I just wouldn’t have rhymed ‘hide’ with ‘inside’ (Daly).” Bono explains that the context of the song comes from Africa, specifically Ethiopia where he and his wife worked in an orphanage.

"In the desert, we meet God. In parched times, in fire and flood, we discover who we are. That’s my prayer, by the way…Do you want to go to that other place… where the streets have no name (Wenner).”

Bono’s musical invitation is that alone time that he learned from other believers in his life. It is the invitation Jesus offers to Andrew and John when they ask about where Jesus is saying, “Come and see”. It is found in Christ’s offer to the fishermen, “I will make you fishers of men”.

If you an introvert you may be saying, Yes!!! Don’t confuse God’s invitation to a desolate place and prayer as being by yourself, eating food deliveries, and only video chatting. When Jesus is done with this desolate place He goes out into the world. Verse 39 says, “And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” There is a call to being apart, but it is a call that leads us into involvement. We can’t have one without the other.

God’s Blessing

Isaiah shows us some of the blessings of God when we walk at His pace and practice His disciplines. In the midst of the difficulties of life “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” We have heard this verse dozens of times. What does it mean to wait upon the Lord? Does it mean going to a conference, prayer retreats, giving alms, or something else?

We wait upon God’s timing. As we wait, we remember that time doesn’t exist for God. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is not above time; He is outside of time. He is its very creator in all it’s mysteries. He knows it all. Psalm 139:4 says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” Altogether means God knows the very intentions of everything we say. Not just the ones we admit to ourselves but the responses and reactions that flow from dark, deep places in our souls. He knows it ALL!

It never gets old for God. Come to God with the same a dozen times a day and God doesn’t tire of forgiving us. God doesn’t tire of loving us. God doesn’t tire, or regret sending His Son to die for us.

Let me take us back to the beginning of this message where I talked about our last year being a ‘year of again’, one of monotony. G. K. Chesterton pointed out that God understands and celebrates those who are like a child. The child who wants the same book read repeatedly. Or who loves being tossed up in the air and caught “Do it again” they squeal. To the parents, grandparents, and stuffy adults who won’t repeat their desire Chesterton writes:

"For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them (Chesterton)."

Praise God for Jesus’ love; God’s love; the love from the Holy Spirit who lives within us repeatedly forgives, sustains, nurtures, and covers us day-after-day. Let us pray and prepare to come to the Lord’s Table.

Works Cited

Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith That Endures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 2006. Print. 13-14.

Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. Serenity Publishers, 2008. Print.

Daly, Rhian. "Bono Says, 'Where The Streets Have No Name' Is 'Unfinished'." Music, Film, TV, Gaming & Pop Culture News. 2017. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Harris, Michael. "Review: Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants Charts The Battle For Our Mental Landscape." The Globe and Mail. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Kerhoulas, Anne. "What Another Year of Routine Teaches us About God." Christianity Today 2021: Print.

Wenner, Jann S. "Bono: The Rolling Stone Interview." RollingStone 2005. Web. 6 Feb. 2021.

"Where The Streets Have No Name By U2 - Songfacts." Songfacts.com. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Wu, Tim. Attention Merchants. Atlantic Books, 2017. Print.

Work’s Consulted

Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith That Endures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 2006. Print. 13-14.

Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. Serenity Publishers, 2008. Print.

Daly, Rhian. "Bono Says, 'Where The Streets Have No Name' Is 'Unfinished'." Music, Film, TV, Gaming & Pop Culture News. 2017. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Gibbs, Alexandra. "MEDIA New TV Binge-Watching World Record Set at 94 Hours." CNBC.com. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. Little Brown and Company, 2000. Print.

Harris, Michael. "Review: Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants Charts The Battle For Our Mental Landscape." The Globe and Mail. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Kerhoulas, Anne. "What Another Year of Routine Teaches us About God." Christianity Today 2021: Print.

Merida, Kevin. "Gut Instinct." The Washington Post 2002: 10. Print.

Scifres, Mary, and B. J. Beu. The Abingdon Worship Annual 2021: Worship Planning Resources for Every Sunday of the Year. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020. Print.

Wenner, Jann S. "Bono: The Rolling Stone Interview." RollingStone 2005. Web. 6 Feb. 2021.

"Where The Streets Have No Name By U2 - Songfacts." Songfacts.com. Web. 5 Feb. 2021.

Wu, Tim. Attention Merchants. Atlantic Books, 2017. Print.

 

Thursday, January 28

Grace:Unexpected, Unappreciated, and Unused

 Dave Boon and his wife June and a 13-year-old boy, Gary Martinez were headed to a youth group ski trip when they were slammed over a guardrail by tons of snow avalanching down the hillside. It was tossed clear of the avalanche by a tree that the car struck and was left upside-down and pointed back up the hill. Freeing themselves, they were amazed there were no serious injuries.

In reflecting on the accident David said, “The signs say, 'Avalanche Area, No Stopping,' We've driven by their hundreds of times…. We have skied avalanche chutes, worn (emergency) beepers, always carried an avalanche shovel. We've seen avalanches. But in our wildest dreams, we never imagined getting hit in a car by one (O’Driscoll)."

Unexpected

Jesus comes as the unexpected one. His incarnation was debated, prayed for, and sought but as the warrior king who would displace Rome. N.T. Wright wrote,

"Christmas is not about the living God coming to tell us everything's all right. John's gospel isn't about Jesus speaking the truth and everyone saying: "Of course! Why didn't we realize it before?" It is about God shining his clear, bright torch into the darkness of our world, our lives, our hearts, our imaginations—and the darkness not comprehending it. It's about God, God as a little child, speaking words of truth, and nobody knowing what he's talking about (Wright)."

John 1:11 says it best, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” But do we receive Him? Not the Jesus we want Him but as who He is? America’s Four Gods is a 2010 book in which two Baylor professors attempt to define and describe our view of ‘moral authority’. Their novel study method was to extrapolate their answers by “our conception of God to determine whether and how our theological ideas matter for politics and culture (Anderson). Their multiple conception of god flows out of an 85% agreement that God is loving. From this comes a concept of god that is authoritative, benevolent, critical, or distant. None of them reflect the “only begotten son” of the gospels.

From the gospel, recall Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth in which his neighbors say “isn’t this Joseph’s boy” Lu 4:22. Jonah expected God’s to be gracious. That’s why he ran the opposite way the first time God called him. Look at the beginning of chapter 4,

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord … “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? …for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” 4:1-2.

Unappreciated

 In Mark 6 Jesus returns to Nazareth and is rejected. Verses 3-4 reads, “And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” The people knew Jesus. Jesus was a known quantity. Everyone knew where Jesus was supposed to do and what He was expected to say. Before we shake our heads at their lack of faith let me ask, how much do we appreciate God’s grace?

Jonah knew God was gracious. Jonah never mentions repentance at all in his message. Yet “the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put-on sackcloth, from the greatest...to the least of them” 3:5. God’s graciousness seems to overflow when people repent.

Let me suggest you sit down this afternoon and read all of Jonah. It is only four chapters but, spoiler alert it is the most unsatisfying ending for a person chosen to preach God’s love. Like a three-year-old, Jonah is left pouting on a hillside because God saved Nineveh.

“Among the attributes of God, though they are all equal, mercy shines with even more brilliancy than justice (Cervantes).” But do we see that when the people who are saved, preserved, rescued, or made whole people we don’t like? They may well be people we don’t know. People who we are at odds with over politics, morality, or anything else.

What I’ve come across in the lives of many people, including myself, is an attitude that says, “God will forgive me since I asked. I know God wants me to change and I’d like to…but not really.” Repentance and Grace go together.

"When grace introduces us to repentance, the two of us become best friends. When anything else introduces us to repentance, it feels like the warden has come to lock us up. But when grace gets involved, the truths of repentance reveal a fabulous world of life-freeing beauty (Thrall, McNicol and Lynch 155)."

What I find even more bothersome is how easy it becomes to separate my faith from any lasting change in my life.

Underused

The Letter of James is not written to pagans but to followers of Christ. Yet in 4:2-3, He writes, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” We have either heard or heard of preachers who will teach, that if we ask for it in the name of Jesus. For some people it seems that “in the name of Christ, Amen” is a spell to be cast that obligates God to be our puppet. Rick gave me a great mug that says, “I can do all things through a verse taken out of context”. That is so true.

When was the last time you asked for God’s grace? Before I started this sermon, I’d have been hard-pressed to answer that myself. We expect God’s grace. We rely on God’s grace. We assume God’s grace. But have we ever sought His grace or asked for His grace, or waited upon His grace?

One reason for my hesitancy to use God’s grace is that I’ll be expected to show grace to other people who I don’t really like. “But I say to you. You shall love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you so you may be children of your Father who is in heaven” Mt 5:44-45. A preacher friend had an image of a cross on his checks, yes that dates us. He had the bank remove them and he explained to me, “If I want to be butt to someone, I don’t want them to know I’m a Christian.”

I pray that God’s grace will surprise us in unexpected ways. I pray we might become appreciative of God’s loving-kindness that is ever-present through the Holy Spirit. I ask that we may not shy from seeking God’s grace daily. Let us pray.


Works Cited

Anderson, Matthew Lee. "America's Four Gods: What We Say about God--And What that Says about Us." ChristianityToday.com. 2010. Web. 23 Jan. 2021.

"Miguel De Cervantes Quotes." Quotes.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 22 Jan. 2021.

O'Driscoll, Patrick. "Avalanche Sends Travelers Tumbling". USA Today 2007: 3a. Web. 22 Jan. 2021.

Thrall, Bill, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch. True Faced. Navpress, 2003. Print.

Wright, N.T. "What Is Our World." Christianity Today 2006: Print.