Where is this peace on earth I hear so much about?

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Yesterday we talked about the peace that Jesus makes available for all mankind. In our Softer Sunday service we sang this classic Christmas hymn. And as we were singing I was struck by the despair in the third verse.

This song was written during the American Civil War. A time when the nation was being torn apart by many factors. Perhaps the most widely known factor was the American South’s insistence on maintaining their right to own slaves. Black lives were seen as less than white people’s lives.

This song was written 150 years ago.

It breaks my heart that our country is still going through so much turmoil and pain around race relations. It is just sad.

And my white brothers and sisters. We don’t have to understand the pain the black community is feeling right now to still acknowledge that their pain is real. And their pain should be our pain.

I heard someone quote Martin Luther King Jr. And the quote has really struck me.

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”

The news tends to highlight the riots but the truth is people have been quietly and respectfully protesting the events in Ferguson and New York. When these respectful protests go unheard, this pain escalates.

Also frustrating, is that I feel like I can’t do anything to help.

But that’s not true. I can hear the cries of the hurting and broken around me and try to be a peacemaker. That’s what Jesus challenged his disciples to do in Matthew 5:9.

“Blessed are the peacemakers
For they will be called children of God.”

There is incredible pain all around us. My prayer is that the church will be their to mourn with those who mourn, pursue peace and reconciliation between people and God. And all the while keep praying and hoping for the day when Jesus will finally set all things right. When there will be true peace on earth.

Christmas is a time that reminds us that while we have not fully seen peace on earth. There is a day when we will truly see peace. And it’s only ultimately possible through the work of Jesus, as he makes peace between humanity and God available, and his followers get to share that peace with the world.

The Road Ahead

Today we begin a new chapter at Creekside Church. This is my first Sunday after as lead pastor of this amazing church. I know that I have a lot to learn as we move forward. I am trusting that Jesus will continue to do the work that he has already started in me.

There will be challenges.

There will be celebrations.

There will be lives changed by the Gospel.

Creekside as we look to the future together I ask that you pray with me. Pray for me and my family. Pray for the people in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. Pray that we will always say yes to the mission of helping people discover, trust and love Jesus Christ.

As we are launching Creekside Lynnwood, pray for wisdom and favor in the neighborhood. Pray the congregation in Lynnwood that we will build unity around the mission. Pray for the leadership teams in both campuses.

The road ahead of us is exciting and I am looking forward to going on this journey together. Let’s see where Jesus takes us.

Theology of Poverty

I fell into a Facebook debate the other day. I don’t know how it happened, it just did. Anyway, the debate revolved around poverty and being a Christian.

At one point someone said, “Poverty is a horrible testimony.” This statement floored me because it seems to mean that Jesus who didn’t seem to have a ton of cash on hand (Matt 17:24-27), or a house (Matt 8:20), or a family, and didn’t leave any kind of financial inheritance then would have a horrible testimony.

People in favor of “claiming” and “walking in” the blessing of Abraham are nice people. The problem I see however with this idea that Christians shouldn’t be poor is that it would put Jesus as well as most Christians in the developing world  in the camp of having a bad testimony.  It would put most of the early church in a the category of a horrible testimony, as they faced persecution, losing jobs and their lives, for their faith.

This idea that poverty is in some way evidence of not having a good testimony is troubling.  Also, as a side note, for Christians, our testimony is all tied to whether or not we said yes to the grace of Jesus which was extended to us.  Rich or poor that’s the greatest testimony you can have.  But back to the matter at hand.  Someone could follow Jesus with all their heart, lead many people to faith in Christ, and they may never have “finanicial victory.”  Would that person be a bad representation of Jesus to the world?  Of course not. Someone could lose everything through no fault of their own, but still be a committed follower of Jesus and, they may work dilligently to get their finances back on track but to no avail.  Does that person have a bad testimony?  No.

Jesus wants his disciples to be like him.  Which means we must live lives that honor God.  Rich or poor, every Christians should strive to be like Jesus.

So let’s actually look at what Jesus said about poverty and wealth.

What did Jesus say about the poor?

Matt 5:3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

Luke 6:20

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.”

This Matthean passage compared to the Lukan parallel is particularly interesting.  In Luke Jesus gives no qualifier to the poverty.  “Blessed are you who are poor.”  Pretty obvious.  Matthew qualifies being poor with “in spirit.”  Which one does Jesus mean?  Both.  Keener in the IVP Bible Background Commentary says,

“Poverty and piety were often associated in Judaism; the term poor could encompass either physical poverty (Lk 6:20), or the faithful dependence on God that it often produced (“in spirit,” as here).”

The word for poor is the word used for utter destitution.  So in Luke Jesus is saying the very poor will be blessed.  In Matthew the very poor also recognize also their “utter spiritual destitution, the consciousness of which precedes the entrance into the kingdom of God, and which cannot be relieved by one’s own efforts, but only by the free mercy of God.” (Word Studies in the New Testament Logos Bible Software)  Physical poverty can lead people to recognize their physical and spiritual dependence on God the Father.  When we recognize our deep need for God, we can receive his promise, “the kingdom of God.”

This is another example of Jesus blessing the poor Luke 21:1-4:

“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

 This woman, who has no name in scripture trusted God, gave all she had.  Now, is this Jesus saying to everyone, “Give everything and be blessed?  Be poor!”  No, but he is also not saying, “This poor woman has a horrible testimony.”  He calls her blessed, because she didn’t just give what she could.  She was generous in her worship of God through giving.  The Bible doesn’t say then she went out and won the lottery.  But I bet the next week she had another pair of small copper coins.  She was poor, trusted God, and Jesus said she gave more than the rich.
Jesus had more of a concern that his followers would desire to be rich.

What did Jesus say about wealth?

Matthew 6:24

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is clearly telling his followers to focus their heart on God and not on money.  You can’t seek God and seek a so called “promise” that you will be rich.

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Jesus’ story here is about somebody who put his confidence in the riches he had produced through his fields. He then turned his focus on taking it easy, trusting in what he has earned, thinking that everything was set. But his wealth wouldn’t keep him alive forever.  He died rich and a fool.

Luke 18:18-30

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[a]”

21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Here is a rich man who couldn’t follow Jesus’s command to sell everything.  His hope and security was in his riches and his possessions.  His hope and confidence were not in God.  He wanted God’s blessing but didn’t want to actually trust God.  Jesus was calling him to a life of poverty and obedience.  But he couldn’t handle it.  Does Jesus call everyone to poverty?  No.  But he does call everyone to put their hope, trust and confidence in him.

Because the only way we are going to be saved, is through faith in Jesus.

Should poverty be glorified by Christians?  No, that’s ridiculous.  But poverty should not be shunned.  Jesus’ words are pretty clear that focusing on money (rich or poor) instead of the things of God is a path to destruction.

Grace and Fairness

Read the story of Noah this morning. And in the story it says, “Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.”

In the middle of all kinds of human depravity and wickedness, Moses somehow found favor, grace, in God’s sight. When reading stories like Noah’s we tend to put in all the reasons that Noah found favor in God’s sight. Somehow he was offering the right sacrifices, he was praying the right way, he wasn’t killing people. These are all good reasons to find favor in the sight of the LORD.

But the Bible doesn’t give us any reasons for the grace that Noah received.

A few chapters before we can read the story of Cain and Abel. The text says that God had regard for Abel’s offerings from his flocks, but not for Cain’s, which were from grains and plants. The Bible doesn’t tell us why God had regard for Abel’s offering. We put in the story well because Abel was offering the right kind of offering, and his heart was better, and so on. The Bible doesn’t tell us that.

When we read stories like this we want to justify God’s grace, favor, or regard. We want to give God a reason for being gracious, because if God has a reason for those people then somehow I can find that reason. Then I can work my way towards justifying why I deserve grace too.

But grace isn’t fair. It’s God’s gift to give. And when we turn the the New Testament, we see that God chooses to give that gift through Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Now this seems entirely unfair.

We want to be able to build a case why we deserve grace for the things that we do. But we don’t deserve grace at all. That’s why it’s grace. It’s God’s gift to give. It doesn’t seem fair to us, but for God to give grace, forgiving our sins at all, that is an incredibly generous gift. It really isn’t fair to God that he should give us any grace.

Grace isn’t fair. If it was fair it wouldn’t be grace.

Christmas is here

Tonight we got our Campus ready for our Christmas Sunday Services.  We are going to be doing four services on Sunday the 23rd.  CRAZY!

It’s amazing to think about how much God has done over the last three and a half years since we moved into our Mountlake Terrace Campus.  This is our fourth Christmas in Mountlake Terrace.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we added another service for every year?  I don’t even know how we could possible make 20 services happen. But that would be pretty amazing. 

All the work for the Christmas service is done.  Now we are eagerly anticipating the day when all kinds of guests will come through our doors to hear about Jesus and his birth and why any of this really matters.  

I’m hoping to meet many new faces.  I’m praying that the people I invited to our services will come.  I’m looking forward to celebrating Jesus on Sunday with my kids in the service.  I’m really excited to see what God is going to do in us and through us.

And I’m really looking forward to the next chapter at Creekside.  Big things are coming for Creekside Church.  You definitely want to be part of it!

Work In Progress

I’m never done. 

It seems that as soon as I finish one project it leads to another.  Sometimes that’s incredibly frustrating.  Sometimes I just want to look at all of done and say, “It’s finished, it’s complete.” 

That will never happen though.  And I’m ok with that.  I’m ok with it because as a pastor my job is helping people discover, trust and love Jesus.  That’s my work.  All my projects further that goal.  And Jesus finished something.  On the Cross, he said, “It is finished.”  

What does that mean?  Well it means that Jesus’ work on the cross finished the work of atonement, of providing grace for sins.  My work that never get’s finished is to point people to the finished work of Jesus. 

I’m a work in progress, you are a work in progress, and we all need to look to the completed work of Jesus. 

Better Together

There are some things that are great on their own.  Peanut Butter for instance.  It’s amazing.  But then Mister Reese came a long and said, “you know what this could use?  A delicious coat of chocolate.” And with that the first recipient of the Nobel Peace prize was . . . what?  Oh I guess the Nobel committee has made a horrible oversight.  

Anyway.  

I spent much of this week at our Network’s annual conference.  It was great.  The best part about these kinds of gatherings is that it reminds me that I’m not doing ministry alone.  Creekside Church is not doing ministry alone.  We are connected with other people who are committed to the mission of the Gospel.  We want each other to succeed.  Talking with the different leaders that were gathered together it was so great to see that we truly are better together than alone. 

If you are a church leader and you don’t go to your network’s gatherings.  You need to fix that.  If you don’t have a netword that gathers together then start something with other churches in your community.  It is incredibly important that you not try to do this alone.