Trading Our Birthright

Photo by Steve Tsang on Unsplash

Do you remember the story of Esau and Jacob in the book of Exodus? They were twin brothers and could not be more different. Isaac became a skilled hunter and Jacob stayed at home with his mother. Isaac, as a man who loved wild game, loved his son Esau. Rebekah, spending time with Jacob at home, loved Jacob.

There was a time when Jacob was home cooking stew and his brother came in from open country and demanded some of the stew because he said he was starving. Jacob offered a deal. I’ll trade you some stew for your birthright as the eldest son. The birthright meant that Esau was next in line to carry on his father’s property and livelihood. A birthright was the father’s blessing.

Esau is so famished that he says he was about to die and makes the deal to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup. Esau gave up the longterm benefits of the birthright for the short-benefits of a bowl of soup.

I think this is a good picture of Christians who have aligned themselves with political parties in search of political power. We have traded in the birthright (our witness and kingdom effectiveness) for a bowl of soup (political power and influence). The soup may taste good while we’re eating it. But the bowl of soup will go away and the witness of Christians will be diminished because they’ve chosen political power and influence as a means to achieve kingdom goals (I’m trying to think best case scenario here.)

The Bible does not direct us to pursue political power as a way to bring about God’s Kingdom. In fact, it is God who builds the Kingdom. We are invited to participate in what God is building. We should be wary of aligning ourselves with any political party or politician because when we choose a side, we do so at the expense of those on the other side. We trade our birthright for a bowl of soup.

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The Separation of Church and Hate | Neighborly Engagement

We all know the type. The know-it-all, the “I know-more-than-you-do,” the “I Stayed-at-a-Holiday-Inn-Express Last night” Expert. Whether the topic is politics, COVID, or even theology, they think they know more than anyone else. They may have some knowledge but they are always pushing things to make a point. In my experience, these “experts” never know when to stop, always trying to show they have the upper hand.

We meet an “expert of the law” in Luke 10 who asks Jesus about the key to eternal life. Jesus, in turn, asks the expert what he thinks. The expert, more than happy to oblige, says,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus gives the expert credit, saying that he has answered correctly. At that point, the conversation should have been over. The expert was trying to test Jesus so he said, “Who is my neighbor?”

In response to the expert, Jesus tells a parable. A parable is a story that is told to teach a point. This is sort of like an object lesson. The trouble with this particular parable is that it is one that we are very familiar with and that can cause it to lose power when we read it because it is so familiar. Try to think about this parable as if you were hearing it for the first time.

There as a man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a treacherous journey on the road between the two cities. There is a 4,000 ft. elevation change in just over 15 miles and there are plenty of hiding places for robbers and bandits in the nooks and crannies of the terrain. Unsurprisingly, the man is attacked, beaten, robbed, stripped, and left for dead. One can imagine this man in excrutiating pain, crying out to God, eyes filled with tears, gasping for air saying, “I can’t breathe.”

As if an answer to prayer, a priest comes by and surveying the man in the ditch passes to the other side. Another religious leader happens by, a Levite, sees the man in the ditch and maybe even hears him say, “I can’t breathe.” He passes on the other side of the road.

Two religious leaders have the opportunity to be the answer to this man’s prayers, but they passed on the other side of the road. There was risk in helping the man. First, the robbers could be nearby waiting to accost anyone who would help the wounded man. Secondly, the man appeared to be dead and to touch a dead man was to become ceremonially unclean. They would have been unable to perform their priestly duties. Finally, getting involved in the tragedies that other people experience would require the priest and the Levite to get personally involved. Their clothes might get ruin. Their time would be spent. They might have to use their own money. Getting involved in the lives of other people is messy business.

Finally, a man Jesus describes as a Samaritan comes along. Jewish listeners would not be able to imagine that a Samaritan could be the hero of the story. Samaritans were half-breeds and less than human. But Jesus says that the Samaritan saw the man and “took pity on him.’ The Greek word for pity is the same word as compassion. This Greek word means to be moved in our deepest parts. The Samaritan is sick to his stomach at the man’s condition and is moved to act. He treats the man’s wounds and loads him onto his donkey. He takes the man to an Inn and pays for his stay there, promising to pay for other expenses that may be incurred. The Samaritan got involved in the messy life of the wounded man.

When the religious leaders saw the man condition and counted the cost of getting involved, they passed to the other side. The Samaritan saw the man’s condition and was moved to action.

The religious leaders saw the man and felt fear, disgust, contempt, and even apathy.

The hated Samaritan saw the man and is so deeply moved that he has to ACT.

Jesus asks the expert: “Which of the three was a neighbor?

The expert replies: “The one who showed mercy.” (He can’t even bring himself to say the word Samaritan)

Jesus instructs him: “Go and Do likewise.”

When I was younger, I would think about things like- how much trouble can I get away with without getting in trouble or how little homework can I do and still get the grade I want? We do the same thing with sin- we’ll think (or we act this way without realizing it) How worldly can I live and still profess to follow Jesus. The so-called expert of the law was asking Jesus: Who do I really have to love? Much like the expert, there are times when we can live with minimal engagement in the lives of those around us. In hearing a parable like this, we should identify with the Priest and the Levite who fail to connect their faith and their actions in a congruent manner. We can identify with seeing a need and choosing to not get involved.

Over the last six weeks, we have been exploring the ways that Christians can be peculiar people by being a healing presence in a polarized world. To do this we must be a people where our beliefs and our words and our actions line up with one another. As apprentices of Jesus should lead us to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor?

The Biblical answer of the question is this: Our neighbor is anyone who has a need. Our neighbor is anyone that we have the opportunity to assist. In an age when our world is shrinking because of the internet, our neighbor could be halfway around the world just as easily as living next door. Just as the Samaritan looked on the man lying in a ditch with compassion and acted; just as Jesus looked over the crowds with compassion and acted- a disciple of Jesus will look with compassion and act of behalf of those in need. It will be neighborly engagement of the church that will be a healing balm in our world.

In the 1990’s, Nepal lifted restrictions on climbing the legendary mountain in order to bring in more tourism dollars. As of 2006, there had been more than 2,700 people who have reached the summit of the mountain, many paying more than $60,000 for the experience.

One of the results of this commercial influx is the decay of the moral code on the mountain. In a rush to the top, those who have paid a fortune to do so often do it at the expense of others.

David Sharp became a casualty to the mentality in March of 2006. The 34 year old enginer from Cleveland managed the reach the summit on his own. However, he ran out of oxygen on the way down, 984 feet from the top. As he lay dying, 40 climbers passed him by, too eager to achieve their own goals than to use up oxygen on someone else. As a result, David Sharp froze to death.

This doesn’t just happen exotic hiking trips. In 2007, LaShanda Calloway had stopped to shop at a convenience store in Wichita, Kansas when she was stabbed during an altercation. As she lay dying, a survellience camera recorded no less than five people stepping over her to continue down the store’s aisles. One stopped briefly- to take a picture of Calloway with her cell phone. The last thing that Calloway saw before she died was people literally stepping over her.

A few months ago, after the shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I heard the recording of Floyd’s last few seconds. It was painful to listen to. I had tears in my eyes as Floyd cried out in pain saying, “I can’t breathe” and even calling for his mother.” As I listened, I wondered what I would have done or how I would have responded as a passerby. As a Christian, I’ve wrestled with my response to the injustices that exist in our community and our world. Will I stand with my Black and Latino brothers and sisters in the injustice they face? Am I willing to be an engaged neighbor? Am I willing to get involved? Will compassion move me to act? Has my faith taught me to respond as a good neighbor? A godly neighbor?

N.T. Wright says, “No church, no Christian can remain content with living life in a way that allows us to watch most of the world lying half dead in the road and pass by.”

There is much of the world that is lying half dead; famine, war, abuse, drug addiction, sex trafficking, depression, racism, and poverty are just some of the ways that people are dying. I know I can turn a blind eye to it and wrap myself up in my own little world. Like the people in the convenience store, I can step over LaShonda Calloway on my way to another family night. I can walk past a freezing David Sharp in order to go out to eat. I’m too busy to be bothered. I don’t want to risk getting involved.

If we want to engage the world as good neighbors, godly neighbors, then we must take responsibility in this world and carry the burdens and wounds of others. We must look around us and be moved with compassion deep within us that moves us to action on their behalf. As apprentices of Christ- we cannot remain detached or uninvolved.

If we want to see a change in the world, it will not come from politicians and political parties. It will come from the Body of Christ living as the hands and feet of Christ. It will come from Christians looking on their neighbors with compassion and acting on their behalf. It will be when Christians get involved in the messy lives of those around because Jesus came for us when we were a mess. It will come when Christians make the decision to live more like Jesus. It will happen, not as a result of an emotional experience, but daily making the conscious decision to the a doer of the word.

In a polarized and divided world, we have a choice to make- will we contribute to and live into the division? Or will we make the decision to live in such a way that Christ brings healing through the way we live and talk? Who was the neighbor in the story? The one who showed mercy. Go and Do likewise.

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The Separation of Church and Hate | Winsome Love

One of the most remarkable persons during the last century was Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was an Indian Lawyer, Anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist who utilized non-violent forms of protest to campaign for India’s independence from Britain. Gandhi was a practicing Hindu who also widely read and open minded about seeking truth. Among others, he had a deep friendship with the Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones. It is said that Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount of “turning the other cheek” influenced Gandhi- and in turn- influenced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement.

There is a story told by Rev. Pattison that Mahatma Gandhi decided to visit one of the Christian churches in Calcutta. As Gandhi approached the sanctuary doors, he was stopped by the ushers of the church. He was told he was not welcome and that he would not be permitted to attend this particular church as it was for High-caste Indians and whites only. The caste system would be similar to segregation in America. Because of this rejection, Gandhi turned his back on Christianity. Gandhi found Jesus to be one of the greatest teachers of mankind. Dr. J.H. Holmes, a Swarthmore professor who conversed with Gandhi on several occaisons, quotes Gandhi: “I believe in the teachings of Christ, but you on the other side of the world do not, I read your Bible faithfully and see little in Christendom that those who profess faith pretend to see.” Dr. Holmes went on to quote Gandhi saying Gandhi saw Christians seeking wealth at the expense of others and that they are the most warlike people rather than the image of Christ Gandhi read of in the Gospels and especially the Sermon on the Mount.[1]

In short: Gandhi liked Christ, it was the Christians he had a problem with.

This is one of the great struggles of the church and for Christians. We are, by nature, hypocrites. We profess belief in Jesus who boiled down faith to “Loving God and Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself.” Even as we proclaim an ethic of love, it is the unloving words of Christians that undermine our witness. We become disgusted with certain people or groups- believing them to be “less than” ourselves. We cannot hate someone and hope to reach that person.

We live in a world where outrage is the all the rage. Our social media feeds are filled with outrage towards people different than us. We can feel disgust towards people who think or belief differently than we do. Christians are complicit in the outrage culture when we behave badly rather than lovingly communicating the Good News of the Gospel Message.[2] There is a disconnect when we are unable to discern how our hypocrisy can destroy our witness. We can claim to know the love of Christ, but we fail to show that love. When we do this, we show that we have not been truly gripped by grace and our constant need for it.[3] Our words and actions push people away from faith in Jesus.

The opportunity for the Church is to live out what Dr. Ed Stetzer calls “winsome love.” Winsome love is a kind of love that draws people into the Gospel story in order to experience the love of God. Winsome love seeks win some rather than repulsing people away from Christ.

The second chapter of Acts is the Pentecost story where the Holy Spirit, the presence of God that we experience, gave birth to the church. When the Spirit descended upon the Disciples, they preached and performed miracles though the Holy Spirit. On that first Pentecost three thousand new believers put their faith in Jesus. Luke, the author of Acts, provides a summary statement of the early church at the end of chapter two. Luke tells us that the early church was known for several things.

  • They were learning the Jesus way by their devotion to the Disciple’s teaching
  • They shared meals together- study and eating led to fellowship
  • Sold possessions to care for anyone with a need
  • Met daily for worship
  • They were known for having glad and sincere hearts.

Then Luke adds:

“…enjoying the favor of all the people.”

The early church wasn’t argumentative. They weren’t wearing the garb of their favorite politician. They weren’t engaged in a culture war. They weren’t walking around with frowns on their faces. They were known for the love they had for God, for one another, and for others. This is an image of winsome love- a love that draws people in. Here is the proof, as Luke adds:

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. [4]

Winsome love, the humble and sacrificial love of Jesus, draws people in rather than pushing them away.

Years ago, The Beatles had a song called, All You Need is Love. I hear that today- that all we need to do in the church is love- which is true- yet we also need to know what love means. IN the English language, we have one word for love. I can love my wife and I can love ice cream. In the Greek, there are at least four words for love that give us specific picture of what love looks like. When Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors and enemies- it is AGAPE- sacrificial love where one lays down their life for someone else.

Now, let’s be clear. Loving our neighbor does not mean we have to compromise convictions and it doesn’t mean we are wish-washy on our beliefs. Sometimes, loving someone means practicing tough love where we have to call out a choice or a behavior out of love with the intention on reconciliation or restoration (as Dan said last week.) Winsome love does not mean we become pushovers, either. Winsome love doesn’t speak to whether we disagree; rather it shapes the ways in which we disagree.”[5] Rather than trying to win arguments, proving our points, or practicing shutdown tactics, winsome love seeks to maintain the relationship. As Christians, and in life, wining an argument often means we lose the relationship. It has been said that no one has put their faith in Jesus because they lost an argument.

In order to practice this kind of winsome love, the love that Jesus offered, we must approach all our relationships with humility. Humility is in short supply. In Ancient Roman culture, humility was not seen as a virtue among men. Even today, I see humility taught in some places, yet the loudest and most braggadocious person is the one who gets the attention. Christians should live like Jesus- whose love led him to humble himself. Paul writes

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Paul says we should have the same mindset as Jesus- that we humble ourselves around others. We serve others to the point of laying our lives down for them. That is winsome love! That is when our life reflects the love of Christ for the world. We can disagree with someone and still lay our lives down for them.

Humility is not losing! It is not weak. It is not cowardice. Our culture teaches us that those who are humble are doormats, always getting stepped on. Biblically, we see that when we humble ourselves to listening and understanding the culture, worldview, and background of those we engage with it opens doors to share the gospel of love. Winsome love done in humility shows we are more interested in a winning relationship than we are in winning the argument.

Friends, we must not allow ourselves to become complicit in this age of outrage. We must learn to live in winsome love in our speech and our actions. When we do that, Christ will draw people to himself through our lives and examples of love.

With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg earlier this year, the naming of a new Supreme Court Justice has been the source of outrage. Perhaps this same Supreme Court can show us an example of how Christians can live out winsome love for our neighbors.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, stories of her career began circulating and one that caught my eye was the stories of Ginsburg and the late Antonin Scalia. Ginsburg and Scalia were on opposite ends of idealogical spectrum when it came to Constitutional Law. These two legal giants were often on the opposite end of some major court cases.

They were best friends outside of the courtroom.

They both loved the opera and would attend together. Their families spent New Year’s Eve together for years. When news of Ginsburg’s husband’s death was announced in court, Scalia openly wept. Scalia and Ginsburg once rode an elephant together in India. Ginsburg called Scalia “her best buddy” in an interview. Scalia was once asked if his friendship with Ginsburg ever help him in the courtroom. Scalia said that “some things are more important than winning the argument.”

Here are two people who were able to put aside their differences on what they believed in order to be friends- sometimes confounding others with their friendship. In an age of outrage, they stand as an example of how we can exhibit winsome love to our neighbors.

Friends, we have a choice to make and it is becoming more and more imperative that we make it today. We can either choose to go to the way of the world and silo ourselves off in echo chambers of people just like ourselves that creates greater division between us and those different than us. Or we can choose the way of Jesus: who eats with sinners, whose disciples included a Jewish traitor and an Anti-Roman terrorist. We can choose the way of Jesus who showed people grace and called them to sin no more. We can choose the way of Jesus where we lay down our lives for others because Jesus has already laid down his life for us- while we were still sinners. We can choose the way of Jesus- who loved the world even as the world crucified him.

We have a choice to make today. Will people see what they see everywhere else by our words and actions- or will we choose the way of Jesus as we humbly love our neighbors and our enemies?


[2] Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage, 198.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ac 2:42–47.

[5] Stetzer, 211

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The Separation of Church and Hate | Patterns

[This is the sermon text from my 10/25/2020 message from Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon here or watch the worship service here.]

My childhood best friend had a wood shop on his property. It had every kind of wood working power tool that you could imagine in the shop. The shop was immaculate, too. We would sleep in the wood shop when I would spend the night in the winter time. His dad had someone that worked for them, doing carpentry projects around the house. You would look around the shop and find pieces of wood that had the word PAT on them. There was no one named Pat at the house, so I asked what it meant. PAT meant that the piece of wood was the pattern that was being used to make other pieces so they would be the same. The pattern ensured uniformity.

The challenge for us, as Christians, is what pattern are we following?

The late British Pastor, John Stott tells the story of visiting India where he heard of a young Hindu girl raise in a strict Hindu family who had come across some Christians. Someone asked her what she thought a Christian was. She thought for a few moments and replied, “A Christian is someone who lives differently than the rest.”

A Christian is someone who lives differently than the rest.

We are in the second week of our series, The Separation of Church and Hate. We are naming the polarization that is in our society and even in our church and looking at how we are called to live differently as followers of Christ. Nowhere is that more evident, in this moment, than in politics with the election just over a week away. Even as followers of Jesus, we have been content to replicate the pattern of the world when it comes to our politics. Some of us cannot speak to other family member or friends because of the polarization this election has caused. We cancel anyone who thinks differently than us. We’ve traded our Kingdom-based identity for a world-based identity in order to achieve world-based ends.

The Church, over the years has failed here because our political parties have done a better job of discipling us than the church has done. We’ve made our political identity greater than our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Sure, we’ll say our Kingdom Identity, our identity as Christians, is primary but our lives tell another story. If we find that we spend more time in the echo chambers of MSNBC or FOXNews than we do in studying the scriptures, in prayer, in times of worship, and in serving our neighbors, then it is likely that our politics are more important than our citizenship in the Kingdom. If our belief system and worldview reflect the Republican or Democratic platform rather than reflecting the Kingdom of God, we’ve traded our Kingdom identity for an identity grounded in the world.

A Christian is someone who lives differently than the rest of the world. Trading in our Kingdom-identity for a world-based identity is the essence of conforming to the patterns of the world.

In Romans, Paul has addressed the mind several times and how apart from the work of the Spirit our mind is sinful. Apart from God we have a pattern of putting our own interest first at the expense of others. In Chapter 12, Paul encourages followers of Jesus to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and proper worship.” Notice that true and proper worship is not attending worship once a week- true and proper worship is when we make the decision to give our bodies- our lives- to God. True worship is how we live out our everyday routine, mundane, and normal lives. Our lives are patterned after the decisions and the choices we make every moment of every day. We are the sum total of the choices we make.

There is a worldly pattern that is self-centered, that sets us above those we deem to be less than us, and invites us to see other people as enemies. The wordly pattern tells us to step on and over people on our way to the top. The worldly pattern is that I am the most important person in the universe. Paul writes

“Do not conform to the patterns of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The way that we avoid conforming to the pattern of the world is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is why it is so important to consider the voices we allow in our lives. If the media we consume is encouraging a world-based kingdom, we will begin to pattern our lives in pursuit of that kingdom.

While it sounds so very trite in Church, this is why we must have a growing understanding of the Bible, of time in prayer, in worship, and in our service in the world. We need to create space for the Holy Spirit to shape us and to direct our lives- that space needs to be greater than the space that we give the talking heads on TV or the internet. The Holy Spirit renews our minds making a way for us to test and approve of God’s will.

A Renewed Mind Leads to a New Way of Living

As we think about the patterns of the world and allowing the Spirit to renew our minds, a renewed mind will lead to a new way of living. A renewed mind will enable us to ‘live differently than the rest of the world.’ Paul covers three ways (at least) that a renewed mind enables us to live differently

A Renewed Minds Leads to Renewed Thinking

Paul writes that we are to be “renewed by the transforming of our minds.” Renewing our minds will naturally lead to renewed thinking. When we eliminate the garbage that we place in our minds and replace it with the things of God, we give room for the Spirit to renew and reshape our mind. This will lead to, as we see in verse 3, thinking of ourselves with sober judgement. Rather than thinking of ourselves, our tribe, our beliefs, or our actions are better than others, we will have a renewed sense of humility that enables us to respect and live empathetically towards others.

A Renewed Mind Leads to Renewed Relationships

When we are able to live out humility in our lives we are able to have a renewed relationships. In Chapter 12, Paul reminds us that we are part of the Body of Christ and that every person in every role is important. We belong to each other. Too often, in the American Church, we downplay the role of community and our responsibility to the Body in exchange for personal salvation and personal faith. In the New Testament, faith in Jesus is always experienced and expressed in community. We are better together.

Think about Jesus’ disciples with me. There was a group of them, Peter, James, and John to start with, who were fishermen. They probably had a lot in common. But then, there was Levi the taxcollector. He was a Jew working for the occupying oppressor and living off of scamming his fellow Jews. Then, there was Simon the Zealot. While you can be zealous in a lot of things, by the time of Jesus- a Zealot was a group of anti-Roman revolutionary faction who believed God was calling them to extract divine judgment on Rome. They were out for a holy war. In today’s world- Simon the Zealot was a Religious Extremist- a terrorist. Then there is Judas Iscariot who stole from the group treasury and betrayed Jesus. Common fisherman, a hated taxcollector, a terrorist, and a crook. Ultimately, that is a picture of the church. It’s not homogenous. It is diverse and messy.

When it comes to a difference of opinions, we cannot cancel someone out because we disagree with them. Each person and each gift is necessary for the body. Christians should be the last group to practice the cancel culture because God has yet to cancel us when we fall short. Because we have received grace from God, we are to give grace abundantly to those in our midst. This changes and renews our relationships.

A Renewed Mind Leads to Renewed Love

Lastly, a renewed mind leads to renewed love. Last week, we talked about loving our enemies and Paul continues to give us encouragement on how to love our brothers and sisters in the church and those who would be our enemies. In verses 9-21, Paul comes at us with rapid fire exhortations about how we are to put love in action.

  • Devoted to one another in love
  • Joyful in hope; patient in affliction, faithful in prayer
  • Practice hospitality- important- caring for strangers
  • Bless those who persecute you
  • Rejoice and mourn- we are to be empathetic towards others
  • Live in harmony
  • Don’t let your pride prevent you from associating with people in low positions (Humility was not a normal attitude in Greco-Roman world)
  • Do not repay evil with evil
  • Do everything you can to live in peace with one another (this would include social media post)
  • If you enemy is hungry, feed them. Thirsty? Give them something to drink.
  • Overcome evil with good.

Don’t we need more of this in our church and the world? Devoted to one another? Joyful? Patient? Humble? Seeking to live in peace? Loving our enemy? Refusing to meet evil with evil? If we are living like this, we are living with our Kingdom Identity. When we live with a renewed mind, we will be building bridges in a world that has become more separated and polarized.

In the ways in which we live with in the world, we must be careful to live out the patterns that we see in Jesus and in Scripture. Regular patterns of loving our neighbor and our enemies; extending grace to those around us; forgiving those who wrong us; caring for the poor; seeking justice for those who have been treated unjustly; proclaiming the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. These patterns not only renew our lives, but they transform our communities as well. The life of a Christian should look different than the rest of the world. Who or what is your life patterned after?

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The Separation of Church and Hate | The Danger of Tribalism

[This is the text from the 10/18/20 sermon preached at Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the audio here or watch video here.

Last week, we talked about the effects of advertising to impact our lives by selling us the promise of a lifestyle rather than the product. Author James K.A. Smith writes about the change in what is expected in the typical ad executive at a major corporation. Where they once were responsible for design, packaging, and promotion, the brand manager is now asked “to create…a meaning system for people through which they get identity and understanding of the world.”

One Ad Executive, Douglas Adkin, asked himself, “What makes people exhibit cult-like devotion?” He began to study cults in order to figure out how brands could induce “loyalty beyond reason.” When he listened to people talked about paper plates or sneakers he realized that people attach to brands for the same reasons they join cults and religions: To belong and find meaning. They cease being merely customers and now identified themselves as disciples, or “members of the tribe” whether that tribe be VW owners, Starbucks drinkers, or Mac users.[1]

I had a roommate in college who was a Mac user before it was cool to be a Mac user. It was still Indie then, in a sense. I had a PC desktop at my desk and he would give me a look of disdain every time I had an update, or received the blue screen of death, or had a freeze up. I was outside of his team, outside of his tribe.

For my birthday in 2010, Andrea got me tickets to go see the Steelers and the Ravens play on a Sunday Night in December. I went with a friend and we are both Steelers’ fans, having grown up in Western PA. The temperature at kick-off was 26 degrees and it went down from there. While we could have worn coats on over our jerseys, we went walking into Baltimore with our Steelers gear in full display. We were part of a tribe encroaching on the land of an enemy tribe. During the course of the game, I had a member of the rival tribe spitting on my jersey while my friend had a beer poured on him as we left the stadium- that doesn’t include everything that was shouted at us. It could have had something to do with the Steelers winning the important game.

Our sports team gave us an identity. For me, sports continue to be an important way to relate to my dad. We’ve watched, listened to, and talked about sports since I was little. Our sports teams often connected us to our neighbors who were part of the same tribe. If your sports tribe was in another region, then you may be in danger of being singled out by the dominant tribe of the area.

The human race has been tribal from the beginning. In many ways, tribes can be healthy and helpful as they provide meaning and purpose. Tribes provided protection from wild animals and other tribes. But there is a danger to being part of a tribe or team. Tribes can cultivate devotion to their group and purpose at the expense of other tribes.

Our nation is becoming more and more polarized, more tribal. We are being pushed into more insulated silos where we cultivate devotion to “our” tribe while being opposed to those outside of our tribe. Think of the divide between Republicans and Democrats. While their purpose is the same (caring for our nation) they oppose each other. Our churches are tribal as well. We are Mainline, Evangelical, or Pentecostal. We are United Methodist, Presbyterian, Independent, and Non-Denominational. We are conservative or progressive in our theology. Even within the church, we are tempted to express our devotion to our side and protect our tribe from the influence of outsiders. We are tempted to love those who think like us and to see those who are different than us as our enemies.

Jesus has something to say about that.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy…’”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes commands from the Old Testament and reinterprets them with a Kingdom mindset. You will not find a direct command in the Old Testament to ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ What Jesus is doing here is summarizing the ways in which religious leaders understand the narrative of the Old Testament. We don’t have time to get into it, but in Joshua Israel is to destroy enemy cities. In the Psalms, we can read prayers of David seeking vengeance against the enemies of God. Tribalism created an identity around the worship of Yahweh, but anyone not in the tribe could be seen as an enemy. On one hand, the tribalism protects the group from foreign gods and false teachings. On the other, tribalism can cause those inside the tribe to see those outside the tribe as “less than” God created them to be.

Jesus invites us to live differently:

Matthew records, “but I tell you to love your enemies…”

This is revolutionary as Jesus teaches that we are to love our enemies. This would come as quite a shock for those who would have been listening to his teachings- especially as Israel was occupied by Roman forces and had a long history of exile and enslavement. It would be easy to look at Romans, Babylonians, Persians, and Egyptians as enemies. A good Israelite would have seen Samaritans as enemies and half-breeds even though the worshiped the same God. Israel had an “it’s us against the world” mentality and were waiting for God to restore them to their rightful place on top of the political and social heap.

Jesus calls them to love their enemies. To love the Samaritan. To love the Gentile. To love the Roman soldier who mocked them and crucified their countryman. To love the corrupt tax collector. To love the unclean. To love the sadistic and tyrannical Roman Caesar. Jesus calls them to love their enemies.

Have you read the story of Jonah lately? Especially beyond the story of Jonah and the whale? Jonah was called by God to go to Ninevah and to call them to repentance or else they would be destroyed by God. Ninevah was the one of Israel’s enemies. They hated each other. Jonah doesn’t even want to go there. When he does, and calls them to repent expecting them to be destroyed by God, something remarkable happens. These enemies of Israel repent. The King of Ninevah even declares that the animals were to participate in the fast of repentance. When God saw Ninevah’s response, God forgave them.

This made Jonah mad. He couldn’t believe it. Jonah is angry at God for forgiving Ninevah, the enemies of Israel. Jonah wanted fire and brimstone. Jonah wanted to see his enemies suffer and face the consequences of their sin. Jonah is so angry with God that Jonah says he’d rather be dead than to see Ninevah be forgiven.

For Jonah, his nationalism has become an idol as it prevents him from valuing those who are different from himself. In the same way, when we allow our tribal identity to distort our view of those around us, we sin. When we see a Democrat or a Republican as anything less than created in the image of God- we have sinned. When we see a Muslim, or someone of a different ethnicity as less than someone created in the image of God, we sin. When we see a member of the LGBT community as anything less than someone created in the image of God, we sin. When we allow our tribal identity to be greater than our identity in God- and the “others” identity in God- we sin.

Pastor and author Tim Keller writes:

“When Christian believers care more for their own interests and security than for the good and salvation of other races and ethnicities (we can put political beliefs here), they are sinning like Jonah. If they value the economic and military flourishing of their country over the good of the human race and the furtherance of God’s work in the world, they are sinning like Jonah. Their identity is more rooted in their race and nationality (political party) than in being saved sinners and children of God.”

Our primary identity and tribe is that of the tribe of God and we are called to love those outside of our tribe. The question is how are we to do this? Jesus tells us:

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

The best way, and sometimes the only way that we can love an enemy or someone different than us is to pray for them. Jesus directs his disciples to pray for those who persecute them- this likely meant to pray for the occupying Romans who would persecute them. Can you imagine the church living this out during the time of Nero and other times of persecution? They prayed for their enemies.

Our prayers should not be that our enemies will be proved wrong, or that they will face eternal punishment- but our prayer is for our enemy that we can love them as Jesus taught us to. We are to pray, and then pray some more for our enemies until we are able to feel the love God has for them for ourselves. “We are not asked to love the enemies character or deeds or teachings or anything else about them; We are not called to agree with them;  we are asked only to love the enemies themselves.”[2] If  would take a miracle for me to be able to love someone who I see as an enemy- do we not worship God who has a thing for miracles?

When our devotion to a tribe is greater than our devotion to Jesus we will begin to see other people as opponents to beat rather than people made in the image of God. When our devotion to our tribe is greater than our devotion to Jesus- then we are practicing idolatry and our tribe has become our god. Our identification as Christians should be primary. It should lead us to love and pray for those around us- especially our enemies. This is the only way we will begin to see the polarization in our country begin to heal.

As followers of Jesus, how are we doing at loving Donald Trump? How about Joe Biden? How are we at loving Muslims? People of Color? LGBT community? An Evangelical? A Mainliner? Loving someone who looks like me, speaks like me, and believes like me is nothing commendable. That’s tribalism. We are called to love our enemies and the starting place is to pray for them so that we feel God’s love for them.

As we consider living as Jesus taught us, we must consider what it means to pray for our enemies. I believe that Jesus taught this because Jesus really meant for us to do this. We are not to hate or cancel those who are different than us. We are to pray for them until we are able to love them the way that God loves them. That is truly revolutionary.


[2] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of Matthew

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Slow Faith | Sabbath

This is from the sermon preached on Sunday, October 3, 2020 at Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon here.

I remember when Sundays were the slowest day of the week. My family attended the 8:30 am worship service at North Salem United Methodist Church. Worship was followed by Sunday School taught by Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Cashdollar. As a family, we were home by 10:30 or 10:45 am every Sunday morning. That left an hour for my sister and I to play before a Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup or Homemade Pizza lunch was ready. Many Sundays, we would drive 45 minutes to see my Grandmother, which meant seeing my other cousins who would be there to visit with their families as well. If it was football season, many Sundays was spent watching to Steelers. When I became a teenager, youth group worked its way into the Sunday routine.

It was a slow day. Mom and Dad taught us that this was the Sabbath day. A day to worship and a day to rest. There were times when we’d try to do other things, but they would be short lived as our focus was on worship, rest, and being together as a family. This was our family rhythm. We went to school and worked for six days and then we rested as a family on Sunday.

This morning in our series, SLOW FAITH, we are looking at the discipline or habit of the practice of Sabbath. In our first message in this series, we talked about how we are slaves to the pace of our culture. We run and run until we are ragged and weary. One practice we have to seek the rest that God promises us and to develop a deep faith is the practice of Sabbath.

The first thing we need to ask is this question: What is the Sabbath?

Sabbath means “to stop” or “to cease.” In Judaism, the Sabbath was the time between sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday where the people would stop working in order to rest from their toil. It was a day to worship together as a family and as a community. Sabbath is more than a “day off.” It is a “spirit of restfulness that comes from abiding, from living in the Father’s loving presence all week long.”[1]

We can see the importance of Sabbath throughout the Scriptures.

Sabbath is the Rhythm of Creation

In Genesis 2, the writer tells the story of Creation where God created the universe in six days.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. [2]

After everything had been created, God rested. God, the All-powerful, all-knowing one rested. I think we wear our weariness and our schedules like a badge of honor. We don’t rest. We don’t stop. Even God rested. God didn’t need to rest, but was teaching us a divine rhythm of rest. When we go against the Sabbath rhythm we are fighting God.

Sabbath is an act of Resistance

When we get to the book of Deuteronomy, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. One of the commandments is “Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.” In the book of Exodus, the command to practice Sabbath is rooted in the creation account. We rest because God rested. In Deuteronomy, we see a subtle change. The command to practice Sabbath is rooted in Israel’s slavery in Egypt.

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” [3]

Here, practicing Sabbath is an act of resistance to the economy of Pharaoh that was built on the back of slaves. Pharaoh’s desire for more wealth and power created a restlessness that would not permit Sabbath rest. Slaves do not practice Sabbath. Slaves do not get a day off.

God, through Moses, reminds Israel that they are no longer slaves. They are no longer the means to wealth. They are the people of God. Sons and daughters get days off. Sons and daughters get to practice Sabbath.

We live in a culture that is increasingly asking us to work 24/7. Even as this pandemic is prolonged- more and more people are working from home. That is a blessing and a curse. If our office is at home, we face the constant temptation to answer one more email or return one more phone call. Our work is building the wallets of someone else. When we practice Sabbath, we are offering an act of resistance to the economic systems that trap and enslave people today.

Sabbath as resistance says that we do not have to work constantly to have value. Sabbath as resistance teaches us to put our faith in God to provide rather than the economic policies of the world. Sabbath as resistance teach us that there is a different way to live.

Sabbath is a Gift

In the Gospels, Mark tells the story of Jesus and the disciples walking through the grain fields and picking some heads of grain and popping them in their mouths. The Pharisees saw this and claimed that Jesus and the disciples were breaking the Sabbath. In the mind of the Pharisees, you could only walk so far on the Sabbath before it became work; you could not glean or harvest a field (which Jesus and the disciples were evidently guilty of doing); and you could not even save your animal if it fell into a well. Upon confronting Jesus, Jesus replies to the Pharisees:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Pastor and author John Mark Comer writes that in Jesus’ day that they people needed to hear the second part of this verse- that man was not made for Sabbath. Pharisees tried to put burdensome laws in place to protect and honor the Sabbath. Humanity wasn’t made to serve the Sabbath.

Today, we need to hear the first part of the verse: The Sabbath was made for humanity. We mimic the pace and hurry of the culture. We can take a day off but it is not the same as Sabbath. We might go to worship, but we have forgotten the gift of a Sabbath Day. We fill our days with activities and work rather than stopping, ceasing, and resting in God’s presence and we wonder why we are so tired. Sabbath is a gift.

Admittedly, Sabbath is a countercultural practice which makes it somewhat difficult to implement. As a pastor, I am asked every year by our District Superintendent about how I practice Sabbath. In my previous appointment, I took my Sabbath on Fridays where I could rest, read, and chew on God’s word. Since coming to Avenue, Sabbath has been much more difficult because there is always another meeting, article, or person to care for. This isn’t to complain, but to say I understand the challenge of Sabbath. It takes a lot of work to be able to stop working.

On top of two full-time jobs and four active kids, Sabbath days are sometimes in short supply. When we do get a Saturday where we stay home and take it slow, we often say to one another- “Why don’t we do this more?” Sabbath rest is a gift from God. When we fail to practice Sabbath, we are passing up a gift that can breathe life into our bodies, our families, and our churches.

Dream with me a little bit here: What would your life look like if you took an entire day and didn’t work? Not just stopping from your job, but no laundry and no yard work in order to do something that you really enjoy? What would it look like to have a day to worship, read a book, to go on a walk, and play a board game with your kids or grandkids? How might the gift of Sabbath impact your life? Your faith? What are some Sabbath routines that you can develop that will help you to listen to the voice of God and be led by the Holy Spirit.

Sabbath requires great intentionality. Andrea, as a teacher, hates taking a day off from work because working can be easier than making sub plans so she can be off. Likewise, the practice of Sabbath requires planning in order to stop working for the day. We have to get everything done the day before- or trust God that it will still be there when Sabbath ends. Theologian Walter Brueggeman writes, “People who keep Sabbath live all seven days differently.”

In order to grow a deep and abiding faith, we must slow down and linger with Jesus. One way we can do that is to develop our practice of Sabbath. It is built into the DNA of creation. It is an act of resistance that declares, we are no longer slaves but children of God. It is a gift that God offers to weary humanity.

[1] John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

[2] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ge 2:2–3.

[3] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Dt 5:15.

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Slow Faith | Silence and Solitude

From my sermon preached September 27, 2020 at Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon here

If you came to the church this week, you likely know that I had an extra assistant with me. Caleb’s pre-school was closed as they continue to rebuild from the tornado that went through Dover in August. If you don’t know Caleb, he is a talker. He had me worn out before even getting to Milford! Having Caleb around while trying to get work done helped me appreciate Andrea and other moms who have spent years having kids around their ankles and on their laps. Even when moms try to retreat into the bathroom to take care of business, or just to hide out for a few minutes, there is often a young kid who wants to go in with them. For Mom’s there is little time for silence and solitude when young kids are around.

We are in the third week of our series, SLOW FAITH, where we have been looking at how to develop and an intentional, deep, and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. We live in a culture and time of instant gratification where we get bored if we don’t have quick results. Our faith is more of a slow cooker that takes time. If you missed either of the last two weeks, they are available on our website, iTunes, or Spotify.

This morning we are beginning to look at practices and habits that enable our lives to be formed to Jesus. We often call these “Spiritual Disciplines.” These are habits practiced in the church for thousands of years and are evident in the scriptures. There are no silver bullets. There are no shortcuts for spiritual growth. Practiced over a lifetime, we do not master the disciplines, God masters us through them.

The first practice we want to look at to develop a SLOW FAITH is the habits of Silence and Solitude.

Silence and solitude are not something that Jesus commands in the Gospels. It is something that he lived out in practice. Jesus’ apprentices, the disciples, would have seen this regular practice even more obviously than we read about it. Since our lives are modeled after the example of Jesus’ life, then we must look at this practice.

Since our Gospel reading is from Mark, we will just look there. In Mark, Jesus specifically prays three different times. There are five times when Jesus retreats to “lonely places” or “deserts” to get away from the noise and the hustle and bustle. If you were to go through the other Gospels and make a list, it would be longer. The practice of Silence and Solitude was a regular habit that Jesus practiced.

Lonely places or desert places were thin places where the human and the supernatural came together. We can think of times when people were in the wilderness and it was a place where they were spiritually attacked by Satan. Likewise, there were times in the wilderness where people came to experience the presence of God. Jesus, during these forty days in the wilderness encountered both the temptation of Satan and the ministry of angels who attended him. Jesus regularly retreated to these places to be renewed and to hear from God.

These habits are challenging because we live in a culture where we do not like silence or being alone. Many of us have constant noise going on in our homes, cars, and offices. We find the noise comforting and maybe even a bit of a defense mechanism from having to deal with the thoughts in our heads.

When we talk about solitude, Richard Foster says it is more of a state of mind and heart than it is a place. It is not a practice of getting away from people. Solitude, for Foster, is the freedom to be alone in order to hear the divine whisper of God. Silence is coupled with solitude. Silence often involves the absence of speech- but it ALWAYS involves the act of listening. Foster, again writes, that silence is related to trust. “When we are silent, we trust God to control the conversation. We will never do this until we trust him.” Some of us are so quick to talk, so quick to fill the silence with words- and this is a lack of trust in God that God will guide the conversation.

Silence and solitude are how we open ourselves up to God. It is how we hear God’s voice. Pastor and author John Mark Comer writes that “The noise of the modern world makes us deaf to the voice of God, drowning out the one input we need most.” Think about all the noise in our lives. How can we hear the voice of God if we are not in the regular habit of seeking silence and solitude. We cannot do this with our airpods constantly hanging in our ears. Henri Nouwen writes that

“We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be alone with God and to listen to him.”

If we want to grow in our faith and grow in our understanding of God and God’s work in the world, then we must make time for silence and solitude in our lives.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus has finished a long day of powerful ministry. He drove out a demonic spirit. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Mark writes that after sunset that the whole town gathered at the door and Jesus healed many who had various diseases and drove out many demons. I’m guessing Jesus went to bed quite late that night.

In verse 35, Jesus gets up early while it is still dark and went off to a solitary place in order to pray. After the long night of ministry, I might have been tempted to sleep in and take a slow morning with a great breakfast spread. Jesus gets up early, before his disciples, to spend time in silence and solitude.

Peter and the other disciples come and find Jesus to tell him that “everyone is looking for you.” Now, the disciples may have been pretty excited about this. They saw the miraculous the night before. They saw “successful ministry” taking place and were part of it. When the crowds showed up the next morning, they excitedly went to get Jesus.

Jesus does something remarkable here. He replies:

“Let us go somewhere else- to the nearby villages- so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

The silence and solitude that Jesus practiced helped him to hear the divine whisper of his Heavenly Father and to be very clear about his identity and calling. In the success of the night before, it would be easy to linger and stay with the gathering crowd, but Jesus had a clear purpose that was reaffirmed in his time of silence and solitude that morning. Jesus was called to preach the Good News throughout the countryside, not to become anchored to one location.

When the disciples come to get Jesus to tend to the growing crowd, Jesus says “No.” To ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives, we must remember that “No” is a complete sentence. In this life there will always be the opportunities for busyness, for hustle, for distraction. Every time we say “yes” to a lesser purpose, a lesser calling we are saying “No” to a greater calling. Every time we say “yes” to the noise and hurry of our culture we are saying “NO” to the divine Whisper that guides and directs our lives. When we say “yes” to listening to God, our time in silence and solitude reaffirms our identity and calling is in Jesus and empowers us to say “no” to the things that pull us away from God.

Your identity- my identity- is not found in what we do. It is not found in the people we associate ourselves with. Our identity is not found in the amount of people following us on social media. Our identity is not in the success or failure of our business or finances. Our identity, as Christians, is found in Jesus. Our identity and our purpose are affirmed and made clear when we seek silence and solitude in order to hear God’s voice: You are loved. You are valued. You have purpose. You are forgiven. There is grace for you.  You are a son and daughter of the king.

Let’s be real here- Silence and solitude are not just going to happen in our lives. If you’re a parent, your kids are going to have needs. There will always be noise. But we can find ways to make time for silence, solitude and prayer. If you read through the Gospels, you get the sense that the reason Jesus was up early was because it was the only quiet time he could find. I want to suggest some ways you can begin to practice silence and solitude in your life:

  • Find Small Quiet Places
    • Take a few minutes after waking up to lay or kneel in silence
    • On your Commute, rather than listening to the latest podcast, drive in silence
    • Step outside before bed and take in the beauty of the night
  • Develop Quiet Spaces
    • Create a space in your home to spend time in silence. A comfortable chair. No phones or TVs.
  • Go Deeper
    • Find a place to regularly retreat to where you can meditate on the scriptures and listen for God’s voice. It may be a regular morning walk, a hike around Killen’s Pond, or sitting on the bench at the boardwalk. No cell phone, no airpods. Just you and God.
    • Schedule times in your week where the phone, computer, tablet, and TV are all turned off.
    • Camp Pecometh offers silent retreats that are partially directed by a leader and self-directed. It is an opportunity to listen for the divine whisper.

If we take our spiritual life seriously, if we want to have our inner life shaped to the inner life of Christ, and if we want to be clear on who we are in Jesus- then we must commit to practicing Silence and Solitude.

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Slow Faith | An Easy Yoke

[This is a sermon I preach on September 20, 2020 at Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon by clicking here. You can watch the entire worship service by clicking here.]

A photographer was snapping pictures of first graders at an elementary school, making small talk to put his subjects at ease.

“What are you going to be when you grow up?” he asked one little girl.

“Tired,” she said.[1]

How prophetic those words are for the time we live in today. People of all ages live in a constant stupor of exhaustion that comes from stress, busy schedules, and the hustle we run to make ends meet. Added to that are kids or caring for a loved one. Add that on top of financial concerns, psychological issues and the drive to have it all together. We are tired and rundown. It affects our family relationships, our work, and it affects our relationship with God.

We are in the second week of our series, SLOW FAITH, where we are looking at how to develop a deep and abiding faith that is securely anchored to Jesus. We want the kind of faith that gives us life and enables us to share that life with those around us. Last week, we looked at the problem of hurry and the need to, as Dallas Willard writes, to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives” if we are to be the persons God has designed us to be.

Hurry is the enemy of becoming like Jesus because it cuts us off from God. Hurry says that our lives are centered on ourselves and our ability to get things done rather than trusting on God’s timing. Think about the Jesus way in the Gospels where we see the disciples learning from Jesus by walking, sitting, eating and taking their time around the countryside. When we abide and remain with Jesus, the Holy Spirit produces fruit in us and enables us to grow spiritually mature.

Jesus recognizes the pull of the world. He recognizes the temptation for us to chase after success and happiness and the tiredness that it can cause. In Matthew 11, Jesus calls out to those who are bone-weary and exhausted saying:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

There are two things that Jesus offers his listeners:

First, Jesus offers rest. In the two trips to China that Andrea and I have taken, the first day there is spent sightseeing even though you have barely slept in 24+ hours. We would fight to stay awake in order to help us flip our time zones quickly. Our mantra that first day was, “just make it through,” which sounds a lot like our daily living. When we fell into bed, the sleep felt so restful.

In the passage, Jesus offers and invites anyone and everyone who is weary, tired, and just trying to make it through to find rest in him. This is important biblically because true rest was found in God. Deep divine rest that Jesus is talking about would only be found in Yahweh. Jesus is identifying himself as God here in the passage by offering rest and invites anyone and everyone who is tired to find rest in him.

Secondly, Jesus offers equipment.[2] The equipment that Jesus offers is a yoke. A yoke is an instrument of work which is not exactly what you might think a weary person needs. One image we have of a yoke is a wooden bar that connects two animals so that they can plow a field. Sometimes, slaves would be yoked together to pull a cart or a wagon. Our image of a yoke is not exactly an image of rest.

In Judaism, a yoke can also be a set of teachings. Israel was to take on the ‘yoke of the Torah’ – which includes the Pentateuch through Chronicles. A Rabbi or teacher, also had a yoke. A disciple would yoke themselves to a rabbi and their teachings. The disciple of a rabbi would seek to practice (obey) their rabbi’s teaching. An unconcerned rabbi could offer hard teachings that place heavy burdens on their disciples and others who listened. Jesus warns Pharisees in Matthew 23 about placing heavy burdens on the people.

Jesus’ yoke is also his teachings- most notably the Sermon on the Mount. His teachings, are not heavy like the Pharisees. They are light. They are not light because he demands less, but because Jesus bears much of the burden with us. Rabbis and Pharisees emphasized strictness to the law. Jesus, on the other hand, is patient with all of his disciples. Jesus doesn’t run with the standouts, he walks with the slow ones who wrestle with what it means to live the Jesus way. Jesus spends time with the tired, the weary, the sinners, prostitutes, and the tax collectors.

Taking on a yoke signifies submission to another’s rule and authority. We see this in the farm when an Ox is broken to a yoke or a horse is broken to pull a wagon. They submit to the yoke they are attached to. Likewise, if the yoke that Jesus talks about here is his teachings, then “taking Jesus’ yoke” means that we submit to the rule and authority in our lives. This submission means we are under its authority as we seek to obey Jesus’ teaching. Submission requires change. We are no longer in charge of our own lives. We have given Jesus authority. We seek to center our lives around Jesus when we are yoked to Jesus.

By offering us his yoke, Jesus is offering us balance and a new way of living that we give us rest. Where my priority can get out of balance, the Jesus Way invites apprentices to live life in the mold of Jesus. The most restful thing that Jesus can give us is a new way of living.

How do we live into this new life? Notice that a yoke is not a sitting instrument- it is used for walking. Jesus yoke, his new way of living, is learned as we go with Jesus along the way. Jesus says “Learn from Me.” Jesus doesn’t invite us to learn cold creeds, memorize verses, or to learn about him. Jesus invites us to learn from him. Jesus invites us into a dynamic relationship that grows richer the longer we are immersed in it.

Too often, the church can be guilty of inviting people to learn about Jesus rather than learning from Jesus. We can sit in the pews, attend Bible studies, and have a great grasp of the theological underpinnings of who Jesus is- but if we’ve never learned from Jesus, if we’ve never submitted to his yoke- we’ll never experience the rest and the life that God promises. We mature and grow in our faith by learning from Jesus along the journeys we make in our lives.

You may remember the beginning of the movie, The Princess Bride. Princess Buttercup liked to torment the farm boy, Wesley, by ordering him around. Wesley always answered, “As You Wish.” It was the only thing he ever said to her. After time, Buttercup realized that every time that Wesley said, “As you wish,” what he was really saying was “I love you.”

In a similar fashion the more that we love Jesus, the more that we know Jesus, the more time we spend with Jesus along the way the more we will want to do what Jesus teaches us. Our hearts and our spirits will be made more like Jesus. Our love for Jesus will move us to live like Jesus. The Yoke of Jesus’ teachings will be easy because of our love for Jesus.

Andrea and I are going to celebrate our 20th anniversary this December. When we met, into dating and marriage, our relationship (and any relationship) only grows through spending time together. Love grows through time. After 20 years of marriage the yoke of marriage is light, not because we are not committed to one another, but because we love each other and will do what we need to do for one another. I’m guessing for many of you who are married- it is the same way. We often submit to one another, we lay down our preferences in order to live in love each day. Our love for one another grows along the way. It is not a microwave relationship, but a slow cooker that gets better the longer we are married.

This is one image of our relationship with Jesus. Love grows by spending time together along the way. The more we love and trust Jesus, the more we are willing to submit to Jesus’ yoke- his teachings. The more the submit to his teachings, the more we will find rest and fulfilment through Jesus presence.

The idea of submitted or surrendering to someone else’s authority goes against the grain of our American DNA. Yet this is what the Bible teaches discipleship looks like. When our love for Jesus grows, so grows our willingness to surrender our authority for a life that looks like Jesus. This is when we begin to experience peace in the midst of storms, help in the midst of trouble, healing in the midst of brokenness, and grace that transforms our lives. This is where we find rest. This is where we live a life that is truly life. Life to the fullest!

Rest, true rest for our bone-weary souls, comes from yoking ourselves to Jesus. It comes as we walk along Jesus and realized that we are yoked together and that Jesus is pulling the greater weight. It comes from realigning our life around the life that God desires to give us. A life that is truly life.


[2]John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

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Slow Faith | Hurry is the Devil

[Slow Faith is a series on Spiritual Formation. I preached this sermon on 9/13/20. You can listen to the sermon here or watch the worship service here.]

As a society, and in the church, we have a problem with speed. More accurately, we have a problem with hurry. Perhaps a little background with speed will help.

In 1370, the first town clock was constructed in Cologne, Germany. The clock provided a reference point for the entire time to be of one mind on what time it was. The clock, and the sun-dial of earlier times, changed our sense of time. Our understanding of time used to come from the rising and setting of the sun and the moon, but the rhythms of our body. The clock began to dictate to us when we needed to rise and when we needed to go to sleep. The clock created the idea of working 9-5 which most of the industrialized world has been enslaved to for centuries.

In 1879, Thomas Edison manufactured an electric lightbulb. It was a safer, cleaner, and brighter option to burning candles or lanterns in homes. But the lightbulb has also changed our lives in ways that are not always better. We no longer had to go to bed when the sun went down. Prior to the lightbulb, people averaged 11 hours of sleep a day! Eleven hours! Today, 59% of American average a minimum of 7 hours of sleep. Four hours less! 40% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep. We’ve all seen the literature about how a lack of sleep disrupts our mental capabilities, can lead to weight gain, and other psychological issues. 

Any sort of cursory reading of the saints of the past will find that many of them were up at 4:00 a.m. each day for prayer and study. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement would get up at 4:00 a.m., pray, translate scripture from Greek to English, and preach all before 7:00 a.m.! I remember reading about Wesley and others and thinking to myself, “they must love Jesus way more than I do!” As I learned more about sleep habits, Wesley and others would go to sleep when the sun went down. If you went to bed at 7 p.m., by 4:00 a.m. you already had slept for 9 hours! They were well-rested!

Technology is meant to save time and to increase efficiency with the hope of increasing leisure. With every technological advance, there are reprocussions. We officially entered the digital age in 2007. The marker for that is the release of the first iPhone by Steve Jobs and Apple. The first Kindle also was released in 2007. The iPhone, and by extension all smartphones, are a symbol of our technological advance and efforts towards increase productivity, but they are also symbols of our struggle with pace, speed, and hurry.

Studies show that the average iPhone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day. Certainly that doesn’t mean they are using it that often, but that they reach for it, check their pocket to ensure it is there, and so on. Even now, some of you are feeling the urge to check that your phone is ok. We feel the need to check our phone and our social media feed because of FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. Our brains have been reprogrammed to the point that we do not want to miss out on the latest news. Like Pavlov’s dog, we are conditioned to answer each notification.

Since 2007, we can now have video, streaming TV, and live sports wherever we have our phone. In 2015, the Neilson Agency did a study that showed that the average American watched 6 hours of video a day- whether it was TV, youtube, or some other form of digital media.

Clocks, lightbulbs, and smartphones disrupt the natural rhythms of the universe and of our lives. What was meant to make life easier and even more enjoyable has made us slaves to busyness, slaves to notifications, and slaves to hurry. We are constantly working or stressed out from working. We wake up tired, drink a ton of socially approved drugs (i.e. caffeine), and we fall back into bed at the end of the day so overwhelmed that we cannot fall back asleep. When we have downtime, we flip through our social media feeds in a daze when we know there are better and healthier options to do.

In the midst of the pace we run and our chronic tiredness, we can often find ourselves unaware of any presence of God in our lives. As people who call ourselves Christians, many of us have little interaction or sense of God’s presence in our day-to-day life because we are so distracted. We wonder where is the transformation in our lives, where is the growth in our faith, where is the healing that the Bible speaks about as we rush around to the places our schedules demand we go. As we consider the pace of our lives- could it be that we are the ones who are absent rather than God?

Pastor and author John Mark Comer relates a story between Pastor John Ortberg and Dallas Willard. Willard was a Philosophy professor at USC and a Christian who wrote many books on Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. Ortberg asks Willard, “What do I need to do to become the me I want to be?

Willard responded, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Willard knew the danger of busyness. He knew the danger of running after the things of the world and the danger that possesses for the Christian. Hurry is the enemy. Hurry is the devil. Willard wrote extensively on Spiritual Formation- this is a “Spirit-driven process of forming the inner life of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”[1] Simply put- spiritual formation is when we become more like Jesus.

In John 15, Jesus tells us that we are to “Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”[2]

Spiritual formation, becoming like Jesus, happens when we remain or abide in Jesus. Spiritual formation doesn’t happen when we swoop into church once a week, writing our grocery list, and thinking of all the things we need to get done. Spiritual formation happens when we slow down, when we abide, and when we walk with Jesus. Spiritual formation takes place when we read, think, and pray through Scriptures and applying them to our lives. Walter Adams, the spiritual director for C.S. Lewis writes,

“To walk with Jesus is to walk with a slow, unhurried pace. Hurry is the death of prayer and only impedes and spoils our work. It never advances it.”[3]

We see this so clearly when we think about the disciples walking with Jesus throughout the countryside for three years. They took it slow. They sat around a lot. Much of Jesus’ ministry is eating meals with his disciples and others. Speed was not part of the internship. Hurry was not on the agenda. Even when Lazarus was sick and dying, Jesus waited to go rather than hurrying there. We can get a lot done when we hurry. We can be transformed when we slowly walk with Jesus.

In the American church, the models that we utilize and the kinds of discipleship we teach shows that our hearts may not be in the right place. Too many sermons and studies are click-bait titles like “5 Steps to…” or “Explosive growth in 12 steps.” John Ortberg writes, “Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.” Our need to hurry, to rush, to go fast, to be productive, to get stuff done shows a heart that believes that our life and the lives of those around us are dependent on us doing things. Discipleship teaches us that to truly live means to slow down and to turn our attention to Jesus.

What you give your attention to is the person we become.

One of the great problems facing us in the church is hurry. Sin and hurry both cut us off from God. Over the next five weeks, we are going to look at what it looks like to develop a slow faith. We want to begin to build in practices in our lives that will help us to slow down and invite the Holy Spirit to form our inner life to reflect the inner life of Jesus.

As we prepare to come to the Table this morning: Are you tired? Feeling ‘weary?’ Burdened? Bone-deep weary in your soul? Are you rushing around chasing after things that will not truly last? Feeling depressed because you perceive that you can no longer keep up the pace you’ve been running?

Jesus says:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I want to invite you over the next five weeks to be present in-person or online as we talk about developing a Slow Faith that eliminates hurry from our lives so that we can find rest in God’s presence. This morning, as we come to the Table, let us rest in the presence of Jesus Christ.

[1] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart. 22

[2] John 15:3-2, NIV.

[3] John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

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Origins: A Preview

*I wrote this devotional for the Avenue UMC community and wanted to share it with you here. My devotions will be emailed each morning. If you’d like to subscribe, email churchoffice (at) avenueumc (dot) com and ask to be put on the Devotional Mailing list.

In the beginning, God . . .
Genesis 1:1

A genre of movies that have become popular over the last few years has been origin stories. Two of my favorite origin movies are Batman Begins and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Origin stories provide us with background information on a beloved character. They also help us to see what is unique about the character. Finally, origin stories give us hope.+

The book of Genesis begins with familiar words,

In the beginning, God . . .

The book of Genesis is filled with accounts of creation (two different accounts, in fact), the first humans, a talking serpent, the first murder, a catastrophic flood, and an attempt at the first skyscraper. That is just the first eleven chapters!

Most notably, many prefer to read Genesis as a textbook about how the world was created in six twenty-four-hour days, and another day for God to rest on. But what if it is more than that?

I want to suggest that Genesis is an origin story. Not so much as the origin of humanity (it is) or sin (unfortunately, it is that, too). Genesis is the origin story of God revealing Godself to humanity. The Creation accounts, the fall of Adam and Eve, and the Flood tell us more about God than we do about ourselves. The author of Genesis is concerned about helping its readers to encounter the one-and-only Creator God.

This Sunday, we will begin a new series at Avenue called Origins. We’ll be looking at the first eleven chapters of Genesis, not to relearn the stories as we heard them in Sunday School, but to encounter the Living God through them. Lord willing, these morning devotionals will help fill in the cracks from each week’s sermons. In our journey through the beginning of Genesis, we will encounter God, learn more about who God is, and ultimately we will have a greater hope because we will learn of God who loves us and is making way for us: from the beginning.

For the help of why origin stories are so popular. (Accessed 6/29/20).

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