Out of Brokenness and Into Unity

In Galatians 3:28, Paul tells the Galatian church that they are now “all one in Christ Jesus.” For the Galatians who struggle with bringing together in one church people with very different backgrounds, that seems to be a challenge. In his book, Participating in God’s Life, Leonard Allen describes what is happening in Galatia as part of God’s greater work in the world to move people “out of brokenness and into unity.” It is the direction that God has been leading people toward since early in the book of Genesis. Allen continues:
One episode in particular emphasizes a shift in direction or a new momentum in God’s plan. From the story of the Tower of Babel we learn that when humans, acting out of pride, seek to unify themselves, they are scattered and their languages are confused. With this in mind, jump ahead several thousand years to Pentecost. Here we see the coming together of many nationalities to hear God’s Word preached by Peter. But the results of Babel make this impossible—how can these diverse people understand the unifying message of Peter? Quite simply, God intervenes and allows the Apostles to speak in languages that everyone present can understand.
The structure is the exact opposite of Babel’s: at Babel a unified humanity comes together to celebrate its own unity and is scattered by God; at Pentecost fragmented humanity comes together to hear from God and God makes that word available to everyone in their own language. The result is that unity, though not achieved, is given. The sign of this new unity is that many diverse people are baptized into one, unified name of Christ Jesus. Babel is reversed and continues to be reversed each time God remakes very different people into brothers and sisters.
Through the power of the Spirit on Pentecost, God overcomes the brokenness of the world. The unifying story of Jesus that was told then day still heals broken lives today!

Fear and Joy

There is so much happening in the last chapters of Matthew, that it is easy to miss little details along the way. In the resurrection account that we looked at last week, one verse hit me differently than it has in the past. The women make the difficult walk to the tomb and are shocked to find it empty. Instead an angel is there with the standard angel message not to fear and another message that changes everything: “He is not here. He is risen.” They are told to take that message to the disciples, then verse 8 gives us insight into what those women were feeling. “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
Fear and joy: that is an interesting combination. It will be a combination felt by the followers of Jesus over the coming days as they learn of the resurrection and encounter Him in person. Before that, they are likely in a time of despair as it seems their world has fallen apart. They probably do not know where to go, what to do or who to follow. Then Jesus shows up and changes everything. Again. What seemed impossible was possible because of the power of the resurrection. It offered those disciples who had run away the chance to begin again. That new beginning brought great joy and at least a little fear.
God also gives us the opportunity to begin again. Our reaction to that news might be the same as theirs: fear and joy. We are joyful to put the past behind us. We are joyful to know that failures and mistakes do not have to be permanent. We might also be fearful because that takes away the excuses about why we cannot do it. With His help we are able to change our actions and attitudes. He is able to change our hearts. When we follow His message to not fear, we can have the joy He promises.
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23


One of the amazing things about scripture is that we can read it countless times and still find new things that we have not noticed in previous readings. Even if we are familiar with the stories of Jesus in one of the gospels, we might miss repeating words, phrases and organizational or structural elements. One of those easy-to-overlook phrases in the gospel of Matthew is “when Jesus finished.” Guided by the Spirit, Matthew uses this phrase five times to transition between the teachings of Jesus and the next part of the story.
  • Matthew 7:28 – “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching.” Here Jesus finishes the Sermon on the Mount and begins a series of miracles.
  • Matthew 11:1 – “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.” After preparing and sending out the 12, Jesus teaches throughout the area, primarily through a series of parables.
  • Matthew 13:53 – “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there.” Following two chapters of teaching, Jesus spends the next five chapters moving between miracles and interactions with the Pharisees.
  • Matthew 19:1 – “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.” Jesus teaches about eternity and His purpose as He moves toward the beginning of His final week.
  • Matthew 26:1 – “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’” After two chapters talking about the destruction of the temple, His return and the judgment, Jesus will be betrayed, tried, beaten, executed and buried.
Matthew 27 seems like a final ending, but we know that in the tomb Jesus had not finished. He would rise again. His resurrection provides an opportunity for transition for all of us.

Spring Forward or Fall Back?

Earlier this month we had that dreaded weekend where we lose an hour of sleep. For me it came on the heels of a flight delay adventure that kept me awake for 31 consecutive hours over the previous two days. I’ve never been a fan of moving the clock backward and forward each year, so I was excited (at first) when I heard the Senate was considering a bill to pick a time and stick with it. After a couple days, I learned that we tried that once before.
“America tried this before — and the country hated it. In the early 1970s, America was facing an energy crisis so the government tried an experiment. Congress passed a law to make daylight saving time permanent year round, but just for two years. The thinking was more sunlight in the evening would reduce the nation’s energy consumption.
It didn’t work, said David Prerau, one of the nation’s foremost experts on the issue. ‘It became very unpopular very quickly,’ he told NPR.
Americans do not like changing their clocks, but they disliked even more going to work and school in the dark for months — the price the nation had to pay for more sunlight in winter evenings.” (NPR, March 19, 2022)
In fact, people disliked it so much that they repealed the new system less than two years after passing it. In 50 years, we forgot the experiment. There’s something within human nature that makes us think everything will be better if _________. In the pages of scripture, we find people looking for all kinds of things to fill in that blank. As Solomon warned, “there is nothing new under the sun.” God provides the answer, and He is the answer.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1)
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Mission or Outrage?

In his book, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst, Ed Stetzer challenges followers of Christ not only to rise above the ever-lowering moral and ethical standards of the world we live in, but also to be aware of the attitude we might have towards those who celebrate those lower standards. The reason he gives for this challenge is simple: “You can’t hate people and engage them with the gospel at the same time. You can’t war with people and show the love of Jesus. You can’t be both outraged and on mission.”
When we bring outrage to the forefront and let it guide our thinking, we are in danger of allowing the same kind of ungodliness that upsets us in others to take root in our own lives. It forces us to categorize people and base their worth on that category. It’s the same kind of thing the Pharisees did when they talked about sinners and tax collectors. How might that look in 2022?
“In the age of outrage, we are perpetually encouraged to view others purely in categories of friend or foe. Are they on my side or are they against me? Do they like my politics and politicians? Endorse my worldview? Embrace my ideology? Outrage is a product of the flesh. It is selfish, divisive, wrathful, and chaotic. In some cases, outrage pretends to be righteous anger, but underneath the veneer, it is simply driven by our fleshly desires. In contrast, engaging the Spirit takes the focus off us (our tribe, our desires, our anger, our anxieties) and places it on God and his glory. When we experience forgiveness in Christ, God entirely transforms the way we see people and communities.”
Let’s strive to be transformed and see people the way that Jesus does. It can help us reach them for Him. That mission is too important to let outrage get in the way.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. – Hebrews 12:14-15

Hurry Up and Slow Down!

In 1925, about half of the homes in the United States had electricity. Edison had introduced the incandescent light bulb a little over 40 years earlier. Alarm clocks gained popularity during those years, although the snooze button did not come around until the 1950’s. As homes added these innovations, everything began to change. Before that, the average American got eleven hours of sleep. Now the average is seven. Although we sleep less, we still think we never have enough time. Thus we are constantly in a hurry. Corrie Ten Boom, who spent years in a Nazi prison camp during World War II, described this new problem this way, “If the devil can’t make us bad, he’ll make us busy.” How can we live counter-culturally in a world that presses us to be in a hurry all the time?
In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer reminds that the antidote to hurry is found in the pages of scripture. There are four practices we can bring into our lives to live at the pace God designed for us.
  • Silence and Solitude – Mark 1:35, Luke 22:39 – How often do you have quiet time to yourself? If Jesus needed it, so do we.
  • Sabbath (Rest) – Exodus 31:13, Mark 2:27 – Did you know that the average American touches his or her phone over 2600 times per day? The times that we used to be at rest are now spent with screens. God rested and gave His people the gift to do the same.
  • Simplicity – Matthew 6:21, 2 Corinthians 1:12 – How many emails are in your inbox? How much stuff do we need? Could the stuff in your garage, shed or storage unit be used by someone else?
  • Slowing – Ephesians 4:2, 1 Corinthians 13:4 – Sometimes we can notice unnecessary hurry in the times we are impatient. In his book, Comer suggests intentionally choosing the longest checkout line at the grocery store. Who does that? People who are not in a hurry do. Once at the front of the line, you can be a blessing to the cashier who likely need some of that.
Eliminating hurry can help us be more ready to be present with God and others.

Authentic Living

For many Christians, there can be a disconnect between knowing and doing. We understand the right thing to do, but we do not always end up doing that thing. For others, they might even set out to do the wrong thing or have the wrong thoughts, while outwardly trying to portray a holy life. Jesus addresses this problem in the Sermon on the Mount.
On the day Jesus sat down to teach, the religious people of His time already knew the rules well. They placed a great deal of emphasis on following the rules, and some were quick to condemn those who did not. In their efforts many completely missed the intent of the rules and how much God cares about their interactions with one another. Jesus challenges their thinking each time He says, “You have heard that it was said…”
God’s desire for His people has always gone much deeper than following rules or changing actions. He wants our thoughts and hearts to be transformed. He wants us to live authentic lives that honor Him. We learn what those lives should look like through the example of Jesus and specifically through His teaching in Matthew 5-7. 
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24

Overcoming Overthinking

On Wednesday evenings, we have been studying people in scripture who have encounters with God. Each week we have talked about what we can learn about God through those encounters. In those stories, we can also see common issues that people have. In the stories we have covered so far, it seems that people struggle understanding themselves and the situations they face in the same way that God does. Because of how they perceive their abilities or the obstacles they face, they tend to overthink which leads to foolish actions.
In his book, Soundtracks: The Surprising Solution to Overthinking, Jon Acuff explains that our false narratives about ourselves become like a soundtrack to our lives guiding us in the wrong direction. He encourages creating a new soundtrack. His begins this way, “I choose my thoughts. I know that doing my best starts with thinking my best. These thoughts will set the course for my actions.”
That concept of thoughts relating to actions is not new with Acuff. It is the same thing that Paul talked about in Philippians 2 when He said to have the same mind as Jesus, and it is the way that Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed. Jesus calls people blessed when their experiences do not sound at all like blessings. He teaches us that we can change how we think about things and about ourselves, and as a result we can live the kind of life He describes in the rest of the sermon. Doing right begins with thinking right. We truly are blessed!

It’s All About Jesus

 I always enjoy this time of year. I prefer cold to heat, although I am not a big fan of the extremes of either. I like to look at all the lights and decorations up around town. I like holiday traditions, meals and time together. There’s another reason I really enjoy this time of year though.
On Sunday mornings each December, we work our way back to one of the gospels to talk again about the life of Jesus. He is the reason for the bond we have together. His birth, life, death and resurrection give us hope. I love taking the opportunity to look at those stories again.
We will begin the Gospel of Matthew this Sunday, and that study will take us through April 2022. We have scripture journals for the Gospel of Matthew available, if you would like to follow along or take notes that way. Let’s all be reminded again what His life means to us and how important it is to be more like Him.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

The Courage to Be Vulnerable

From the time I was fifteen years old until I began full-time ministry at age twenty-seven, I had jobs in a grocery store, a clothing store, a trophy shop, a bookstore, a gift shop, a patio furniture store, a large retailer and an insurance company. Finding a boss or supervisor in those jobs that I would describe as vulnerable was a rarity. They tended to create or accentuate existing barriers between themselves and their employees. It seemed as if they would view vulnerability as a weakness. Sure, there were exceptions to the rule, but the norm was more separation and less openness.
In the church, vulnerability is an asset. The people who make up the church that is described in the New Testament are involved in the lives of one another and allow others into theirs lives. They are not a group of people who catch up on quick, meaningless trivia every now and then. They even choose leaders from among themselves who are every bit as involved in the daily life of the group. Christians need that same quality today, but too often we tend to replace it with walls of privacy and self-sufficiency. We may even fear being vulnerable.
Brené Brown, a professor and researcher, once asked a group of special forces soldiers if they knew of a time when they had seen an act of courage from another soldier that did not include vulnerability. After moments of silence, one soldier answered, “No, ma’am. Three tours. I can’t think of a single act of courage that doesn’t require managing massive vulnerability.” And there it is. There are so many amazing stories of the courage of people in the military throughout history. We would never describe those as weakness. They are stories of bravery and strength. Vulnerability is something to be sought out and valued, not avoided at all costs. And if we are truly to follow the command to love one another, we cannot do that without being vulnerable.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:11-12