Pastor Kirk

Notes from Scio Community Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Covenant & Kingdom: Temptation, 28 September 2014

Matthew 4:1-11

Big Idea: Jesus was tempted just like us—and He overcame it as we can by remembering who and Whose we are.

Introduction

In previous weeks we said the Bible is a big book. It’s actually a library of 66 books. We usually study it verse-by-verse, like looking through a microscope. This series will look at it through a telescope, examining the big idea of the Bible.

Covenant and Kingdom are woven throughout the Scriptures like a
double helix is woven in DNA.

Covenant is a sacred treaty in which two parties become one. In ancient times, this always involved the shedding of blood by an animal to imply consequences for failure to fulfill the agreement.

God made a covenant with Abram, promising blessings to him and his offspring in order for them to bless the world.

Covenant is about relationship. Being. Invitation.
Kingdom is about responsibility. Doing. Challenge.

Life is filled with tension between being and doing, relationship and responsibility, being invited into relationship with God while also being challenged to represent Him and bless the world.

As we look at this idea of challenge, of kingdom, of doing God’s work in the world we are going to look at the most important character in the Bible—Jesus.

The story of the temptation of Jesus is familiar to many. After 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, Jesus refuses satan three times. If you’re like me, you may have thought it was easy for Jesus to stand up to temptation because He was God. However, He set aside the God-stuff when He came to earth in order to truly become one of us, to understand our struggles. In fact, Jesus giving in to temptation and seizing superpowers is exactly what satan wanted.

Jesus is able to represent the Father, the King, well because He understood His identity. He knew who He was.

Satan repeats one phrase: “IF you are the Son of God.” Specifically, he attacks Jesus in three areas:

Appetite:
turn stones into bread
Affirmation:
prove God’s protection by jumping from the Temple
Ambition:
worship me and receive the kingdoms of the world

What is your greatest temptation? What is your most common sin? Chances are, you are bombarded by one, two, or all three of these temptations.

Appetite

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:1-3)

Here we see one of my favorite verses in the Bible. Jesus did not eat for 40 days and was hungry. Surprise!

We all have appetites—for food, love, sleep, purpose…Cravings are not necessarily wrong. In fact, without some—like food—we would die. The issue is how we respond to our desires. It often involves control. We question whether God can be trusted.

Jesus knew God could be trusted and did not seize control in the situation. He was obedient to the Father who called Him into the wilderness for an essential season of prayer prior to selecting twelve disciples. He knew God was good. The Father could be trusted.

What do you crave? Food? Alcohol? A perfect body? Sex? Comfort? Security? Facebook?

There are not all bad, but if they control you, they become your idol, your god.

Perhaps you’ve tried unsuccessfully to rid yourself of addiction. The early church fathers used to say that if you say no to one appetite, you can say no to something else. Dallas Willard said it this way: “Do the things you can so you can do the things you can’t.” Use your will to give up something you can control so God’s Spirit will give you the power over the other.

One example of this is Lent, 40 days of saying no to an appetite to concentrate on your identity as a child of God.

To be honest, addictions can be nasty. It’s not as simple as giving up meat for 40 days in order to destroy all cravings. It’s a step, but others may be necessary, including support groups, accountability, and prayer.

Jesus was tempted, and He responded with Scripture.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” (Matthew 4:4)

Jesus had spiritual food upon which He was nourished. He knew the truth and it set Him free.

Affirmation

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” (Matthew 4:5-6)

Now satan gets nasty. He starts misusing the Bible. Don’t miss this! People often flippantly say, “The Bible says…” What is the context? What did it originally mean? What does it mean today? You can’t pick and choose verses any more than you can pick and choose ingredients in a recipe (oops, I forgot the sugar in the cookies!!!).

Our identity must come from somewhere outside of us. We are prone to seek the approval of others. Instead of waiting to hear the Father say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” we want to be affirmed now.

Do people think I’m smart?
Do people think I’m pretty or handsome?
Do people think I’m a good parent?
Do people think I’m a good worker?
Do people like me?
Am I popular?

Approval can be an addiction. The crazy thing is often the people we want to affirm us are only temporarily in our lives. We are tempted to base our value on people that won’t even be in our lives in a few years…or maybe months.

What if we lived for an audience of One?

I struggle with this. I want people to like me. I want you to like me! I want to do things that make you happy…so you will like me! I want this sermon to be great so you’ll think I’m a great preacher and pastor! I’ve been tempted to ignore tough passages of the Bible, speaking only about things that will make you feel good.

But ultimately I have to answer to God. He loves me. He accepts me. I’ve been rejected many times by people—and it always hurts. The voice that really matters is the Father’s voice, and Jesus understood that.

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Matthew 4:7)

Jesus did not need to impress satan or win his approval. He was confident in His identity as the Son of the Most High God.

Ambition

Success. It has been one of the most daunting words for me. Defining success has been a decades-long struggle. I want to be successful. I want to make a difference in this world. I want to do great things for God…and sometimes for my own glory!

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)

What is success? Achieving goals? Knowing and doing what God tells you. Sometimes we are obedient and look like failures. The Bible is filled with such stories, but they continued to believe God is good and faithful.

God calls us to be faithful and obedient which does not always look like success in the eyes of the world that celebrates big, popular, and excellent.

I’m not saying winning or success is necessarily wrong, but it can be if it is the source of our identity. If your success in life is tied to your performance, something’s wrong—and for so many this is the case…especially artists. As an artist, I can say this! If I write a song and you don’t like it, I’m tempted to think you are rejecting me, which is idolatry. Some athletes believe if they don’t win, they are…losers—not in a game, but life. When we seek to win for our glory, we have made ourselves lord rather than God. We’ve worshipped the created rather than the Creator.

I’m a very competitive person. A few years ago on an elder retreat we had some competitive games of doubles ping pong. It was not televised on ESPN, but there were some close games. Unbeknownst to the others, my team was winning every game, and I was quite pleased…until my team lost. I hid it, but I was inappropriately overjoyed during the victories and agonized in the defeat. When we were done, I confessed my hidden sin to the others, exposing my wicked, prideful heart.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of this is the comparison game. Someone recently said all reality TV is designed to either make us feel good about ourselves or bad about ourselves as we compare ourselves to the winners and losers.

I’m probably most insecure about other pastors, especially pastors of large churches that have written books and speak at conferences. A part of me secretly—well, not now!—wants to be a Christian celebrity, be invited to speak in front of large crowds, and “do great things for God.” Do you see the shadow motive? God wants us to be involved in His mission on earth, but He wants us to serve Him rather than the other way around. Our motives are critical, though there is no such thing as completely pure motives!

Would you like a remedy? Try this:
choose to lose.

If an argument is going a certain way―choose not to have the last word. Lose the argument.
Choose relational harmony over winning an argument.
If youʼre playing golf or a board game or basketball―make the point of playing to bless your opponent and donʼt care if you win. Play for fun.
Go above and beyond at work but donʼt let anyone know. Chose to lose the opportunity to get credit for extra work.
Another way you can address this issue is to anonymously give—money, time, expertise. Give without seeking credit or reward. The Father is watching!
The Father was watching Jesus in the wilderness…with approval.

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” (Matthew 4:10)

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:11)

We’re not exactly sure what those final five words mean, but they’re pretty cool! Jesus passed the test. His preparation to begin His public ministry was complete, at least the wilderness part. He knew who He was. He had just heard the Father say at His baptism, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

Luke’s gospel account of the temptation of Christ ends with these words:

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13)

Jesus passed this test, but it was hardly the end of temptation. He experienced every day of His life as we do.

So What?

Where you are being tempted. Is it your appetite? Your ambition? Affirmation? What way do you need to intentionally press into your identity as Godʼs child?
Your Daddy loves you. He’s nuts about you! He is so near you. He believes in you. He’s proud of you. Don’t forget Whose you are. You are a King’s kid!
Is there any desire in you for the accolades of men and women around you?

If so, take the words of the Father spoken over Jesus in the gospels and substitute your name for Jesus and allows those words to sink into your heart. 

The desire of approval is the commitment to remove shame. Shame in the world's eyes is removed by acclaim. We long for things that shout down the voice of shame. What is the alternative to acclaim for shame? Allowing the Word of God to speak and give faith.

"You are my son/daughter and I love you and I'm proud of you.” If He said it over Jesus it is true of us. 

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ (Matthew 6:9-13)

appetite: give us this day our daily bread
affirmation: lead us not into temptation
ambition: Yours is the kingdom, not mine

Credits

Ideas for this series taken from book of the same title by Mike Breen and 3DMovements.com.

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Covenant & Kingdom: Moses, 21 September 2014

Big Idea: God made a covenant with Moses out of which he led the God’s kingdom people of Israel.

Introduction

In previous weeks we said the Bible is a big book. It’s actually a library of 66 books. We usually study it verse-by-verse, like looking through a microscope. This series will look at it through a telescope, examining the big idea of the Bible.

Covenant and Kingdom are woven throughout the Scriptures like a double helix is woven in DNA.

Covenant is a sacred treaty in which two parties become one. In ancient times, this always involved the shedding of blood by an animal to imply consequences for failure to fulfill the agreement.

God made a covenant with Abram, promising blessings to him and his offspring in order for them to bless the world.

Covenant is about relationship. Being. Invitation.
Kingdom is about responsibility. Doing. Challenge.

Life is filled with tension between being and doing, relationship and responsibility, being invited into relationship with God while also being challenged to represent Him and bless the world.

As we look at this idea of challenge, of kingdom, of doing God’s work in the world we are going to look at one of the most important characters in the Bible—Moses.

Who are you?
That is one of the two most important questions you and I must address. The other is, “Who is Jesus?” Earlier this year in our series Who Do You Think You Are? we looked at the book of Ephesians and saw the ramifications of being “in Christ.”

Identity comes from many places. It begins with our name and family of origin. What does your name mean? Do you know why it was chosen for you? What messages did you receive as a child? You may be troubled to even think about the answer or you may recall great memories. We are a product of our past, for better or worse.

One of the great things about the kingdom of God—the church—is regardless of our past, God dictates our present future when we entrust it to Him.

Like Abraham, we are invited into covenant with God, surrendering our individual existence to become “one” with God and His people. We are given a new name—child of God. We enjoy the same rights and freedoms of God’s other children, including Jesus!

Like Joseph, we are a part of God’s kingdom, representing God and taking responsibility and authority, exercising the power of forgiveness.

There are so many fascinating Bible characters and few as important as Moses. You may be familiar with the stories of his life, but I want to encourage you to encounter them in a fresh way as if you had never heard them before.

Our story begins in Exodus 1. Joseph is Pharaoh’s right hand man providing provisions to his family and other Israelites in Egypt. A new king sees this growing Israelite population and makes them slaves, working the ruthlessly. Furthermore, he told the Hebrew midwives to kill all baby boys so the Israelite population could eventually die (1:16). When they refused, he ordered every baby boy thrown into the Nile river.

This isn’t pretty. It’s actually horrifying. The Bible can be quite graphic and disturbing…because humans can do some pretty disturbing things, as we see every day in the news.

A woman has a baby, hides him for three months, and realizes she can no longer hide him. She puts him in a basket in the very river where she is to drown him.

Pharaoh’s daughter sees the basket, opens it, sees the baby, and keeps Moses as her son.

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”

The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”

When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. (2:11-15)

Charles Swindoll says, “Here we see the beginning of a narrative that is all of our lives. We are blessed, broken and then we are used. Used by God.”
Perhaps you’re waiting for God to use you while He waits for you to be broken, not in a harmful way, but in a way that causes you to be desperate for Him.
Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
That’s lordship. That’s what it means for Jesus to be king, to be Lord. Die to yourself and live with and for Him. That’s the message of baptism, we die and then live.
Who do you think Moses thinks he is?
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. (3:1)

If youʼre in the desert, embrace it. Go into it and pass through it. Moses embraces the desert and finds there the symbol and metaphor of the desert that is woven throughout Scripture: Desert leads to dependency on God.
There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight — why the bush does not burn up.” (3:2-3)

Fire is the symbol of God’s presence.

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (3:4-6)

God knows Moses’ name. He knows his identity. He knows his past living in privilege in the palace and later hiding in the desert after committing murder. This is God’s invitation into relationship with Moses. Covenant.

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (3:7-10)

“And I have heard the cry of my people.” Not of “the people” but of “my people.” “I am their God because I have a Covenant with them. And I will stay faithful to them. And out of that Covenant security, Moses, Iʼm sending you to do the work of my Kingship.” This is God’s challenge for Moses to be involved in kingdom work.
God’s promises can be trusted. Where He guides, He provides. He doesn’t promise we’ll be happy and healthy all the time, but He honors obedience and faithfulness.

So Moses is excited, grateful for the opportunity to lead the people of Israel, and joyfully accepts the challenge. Hardly!

But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11)

And Moses says, “Not me! Anybody else but me!”
Why does he resist?
And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (3:12)

I will be with you. That’s a promise. It’s a promise that’s echoed throughout the pages of Scripture.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Ps 139:7)

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:20b)

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation. (3:13-15)

God speaks to him about the Covenant: “I am the God of your Fathers. You are the Son of Abraham, the Son of Isaac, the Son of Jacob, that Identity comes from me and you know it!” And already we have the resonance of Fatherhood. Why are they fathers? Eventually we find that they are fathers because they are in Covenant with THE FATHER. But right now, in the unfolding revelation of Scripture, is a matter of life and blood and bone. But Moses hears from God, that God is in Covenant with him. “Youʼre mine.”
“And I have heard the cry of my people.” Not of “the people” but of “my people.” “I am their God because I have a Covenant with them. And I will stay faithful to them. And out of that Covenant security, Moses, Iʼm sending you to do the work of my Kingship.” And Moses says, “Not me! Anybody else but me!”
God invites Moses into relationship and challenges him to lead the people.

But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” (4:13)

Have you ever said that?

Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. (4:14-16)

What follows is a series of exchanges between Moses and Pharaoh, ten plagues, the last a plague of death in which the first-born child and animal of everyone in Egypt was killed—except for those Israelite homes that had the blood of a lamb on the sids and tops of the door frames. The death angel passed over those homes which leads us to call the celebration Passover. Finally, Pharaoh lets Moses and the people go.

Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. (12:40)

God was their king. Isn’t that great?!

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (13:21)

Moses surely thought the worst was over. The exodus from Egypt was going great…until Pharaoh had a change of heart.

The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. (14:8)

The Israelites are furious.

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (14:12)

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (14:13-14)


Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. (14:15-16)

The rest, as they say, is history.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (14:21-22)

The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. (14:23)

During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.” (14:24-25)

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen — the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. (14:26-28)

But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (14:29)

And they all lived happily ever after! Hardly! For forty years they wandered in the wilderness, complained, disobeyed God, and drove Moses crazy!

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (19:3-6)

What is the “If?” It’s the Ten Commandments, not rules to follow, but instructions to obey.

Who are you?

Israel is to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. That may sound far from a group of Gentiles like us thousands of years later, but actually it applies to us. Through Jesus—whose live, death, and resurrection allowed us to be grafted into God’s story, we are a part of the kingdom. The kingdom is a people. It’s a people of priests. It’s a holy nation.

The Rest Of The Story

Moses leads the grumbling people for 40 years in the wilderness. There are highs and lows, but God remains faithful to Moses and the Israelites.

So what?

Without identity, obedience is just rules. With identity, it is an expression of love, something we desire to do.

You can’t make God love you more by obeying Him. We can never be good enough, but Jesus is and we take on His identity.

Moses understood his covenant identity and knew he had the backing of the King of heaven.

For the Israelites and many of us obedience without Identity becomes the mark of their lives.

pastedGraphic

You know itʼs a great thing to be obedient to the Lord, but he wants it to be out of your identity. And if you can be obedient out of your identity then you can function in power because you have received his authority. You see, identity and authority go together, and obedience and power go together. These are the key concepts of Covenant and Kingdom and they function as the Father, who is our King, reveals himself to us. Our identity is tied up with him. Because our identity is tied up with him, we are the children of God. And because we are the children of God we recognize that whatever he is, we are. Heʼs the King. We have royal blood running through our veins so we have the Kingʼs authority.

Because power is tied up with obedience, and obedience flows out of identity. The way that it works is this: We know we are the children of God and out of that authority of being the children of God we are able to dispense that power that God places into our hands because authority will always lead to power. Because power without authority is always tyranny. And God never wants that. He wants his people to break the bonds of tyranny. He wants his people to feed the hungry. He wants them to lift up the weak and the broken. He wants them to come, in his authority, dispensing power, breaking the chains of the Kingdom of darkness. And we can only do this successfully and sustainably if you know both your Covenant and your Kingdom calling.

Iʼve watched it so many times. The Kingdom becomes the subject. The Kingdom becomes the agenda. And people rush to do the works of the Kingdom and they begin to become detached from their sense of identity and they have no idea about the rhythm that is woven into their lives that is spoken of so clearly in Scripture:
There is a rhythm of advance...and then return. There is a rhythm of working and resting. Of taking the works of the Kingdom and doing something for God and then returning and abiding in Jesus and being with him. And if you donʼt know that rhythm, you wonʼt sustain the work of God. Do you see that?

Itʼs so important that we hear this. Itʼs out of our understanding of our Father that we reflect that our Father is the King.

- Mike Breen

Credits

Ideas for this series taken from book of the same title by Mike Breen and 3DMovements.com.

Kingdom: Joseph, 14 September 2014

Big Idea: God challenges us to represent Him in His Kingdom as we make Him LORD and King.

Introduction

Last week we said the Bible is a big book. It’s actually a library of 66 books. We usually study it verse-by-verse, like looking through a microscope. This series will look at it through a telescope, examining the big idea of the Bible.

Our new series this fall is called Covenant & Kingdom. It is based upon ideas from Mike Breen and 3DMovements, a ministry that has been quite influential in the life of Scio in recent days. The book, Covenant & Kingdom, is available through Amazon or from 3DMovements.com. I encourage you to get a copy and read ahead as we look at the big picture of the Bible.

Covenant and Kingdom are woven throughout the Scriptures like a double helix is woven in DNA.

Covenant is a sacred treaty in which two parties become one. In ancient times, this always involved the shedding of blood by an animal to to imply consequences for failure to fulfill the agreement.

God made a covenant with Abram, promising blessings to him and his offspring in order for them to bless the world.

Covenant is about relationship. Being.

Kingdom is about responsibility. Doing.

Life is filled with tension between being and doing, relationship and responsibility, being invited into relationship with God while also being challenged to represent Him and bless the world.

Invitation and challenge.

As we look at this idea of challenge, of kingdom, of doing God’s work in the world we are going to look at one of the most important characters in the Bible—Joseph.

Pray

Abraham has a son named Isaac who has a son named Jacob who has twelve sons, the eleventh being his favorite son, Joseph.

The story of Joseph begins in
Genesis 37

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. (Genesis 37:2b)

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. (Genesis 37:3-4)

Do you have siblings? Do you have sibling rivalry? Imagine your younger sibling was given three desserts at dinner, triple allowance, and the new iPhone the day it is released? To your parents you would probable say, “It’s not…fair!” You would likely become envious of your sib and despise them.

Joseph had eleven brothers who were sick of him. He was a gifted, handsome, arrogant teenager who believed he was the center of the universe. That alone is recipe for disaster! Then his dad gives him a special coat with long sleeves, a sign of the supervisor’s role!

Next Joseph has two dreams (37:5-10), one in which the grain of his brothers bowed to his, the other in which the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed to him. Joseph is not only the center of his universe, his dreams confirm it!

Jacob sends Joseph to his brothers who are grazing the flocks. They plot to kill him, but Reuben insists they throw him into a cistern instead. The brothers strip him of his robe, throw him into the empty well, and sold him to Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt where he was sold to “Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard” (37:36).

The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. (39:2)

His life had gone from wonderful to dreadful and now things are looking up. It says two things: the LORD was with Joseph and he prospered. What changed? Perhaps Joseph was broken by his rejection by his brothers. He almost certainly cried out to God for help. I’m sure he was a bit confused by his fortunes when he goes from elaborate dreams to being thrown into an empty well. Instead of his brothers bowing down to him, they almost kill him!

Joseph is no longer the center of the universe. God moves to Joseph’s center.

My favorite passage in the Bible says

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I believe during those difficult moments of rejection by his brothers Joseph began to trust God. He had nowhere else to turn.

Sometimes that’s God’s plan—to get our attention in order to become LORD.

Rarely does someone on top of the world—or the center of their own universe—turn to God. What’s the point?! They have everything they need and want. It’s usually during a crisis that we surrender to God.

Perhaps you were told Jesus died for you so you could pray a prayer, be forgiven, and go to heaven when you die. That’s not the gospel. That’s a plan of salvation, but it’s not the gospel, the good news. It’s merely a part of it.

The gospel is Jesus is LORD. That’s good news because it is more than personal and individualistic. Jesus is LORD of all.

The late Dallas Willard used to talk about how the “Gospels of Sin Management” presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind. This fosters “vampire Christians,” who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven.

Jesus wants to be your Savior, but He also wants to be your LORD. It’s not about ego, but wisdom. He knows best. The sooner we can make Him the center of our universe, the sooner He will make our paths straight. He doesn’t promise it will be an easy path, but it will be filled with peace, joy, contentment, and hope because He knows best.

Back to Joseph!

Potiphar loves Joseph and puts him in charge of his household (39:4). Everything is great…until Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph. When he chooses to honor God rather than give in to her temptation, she accuses Joseph of sexual harassment.

When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. (Genesis 39:19-21)

Remember, Joseph is in prison because he followed the LORD. Is it any surprise that the LORD was with him? It’s terrific to read how Joseph received kindness and favor from the prison warden…but he’s still in prison! An innocent man has been punished! How can Joseph be used by God? He’s stuck in prison!

Have you ever felt that way? How can God use you since you’re stuck…in this job, this marriage, with this family, with these weaknesses, with these limitations?

I heard a great story last week about an actress who moved to Los Angeles. She was certain God led her there to be salt and light in a dark industry. After multiple auditions without a job, she questioned her pastor about what God was doing. She obeyed God and moved to L.A. but was finding no success. Her pastor said perhaps she was sent to California to minister to the struggling actors and actresses that are not finding success. Her own failures would be more connective to starving artists than her own successes.

I can only imagine the conversations Joseph had with God in prison, asking why, questioning his own calling, and feeling even further from the fulfillment of his dreams. Joseph may not have even realized it but he was moving God closer and closer to the center of his universe. Mike Breen says, “Godʼs Kingdom needs the “door” of a humble heart. God wants to work in Josephʼs submitted heart—and ours.

Dreams, Genesis 40

In the next chapter we see the butler, the baker,…but not the candlestick maker! The butler and baker had offended the king of Egypt, their master, and joined Joseph in prison. They have dreams, Joseph interprets them, the dreams come true, the baker is hung, and the cupbearer (or butler) is set free.

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. (Genesis 40:23)

I wonder if Joseph was fully surrounded to God or just grateful to be given gifts to interpret dreams. Genesis 41 begins by telling us Joseph was in prison for two more years after the butler is released.

Pharaoh has two dreams, no one could interpret them, and the cupbearer remembers Joseph.

So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Genesis 41:14-16)

“I cannot do it.” Joseph has finally moved from the center of his universe to the edge, and God has taken residence on the throne of Josephʼs heart. Joseph is fully surrendered, allowing God to express His Kingdom rule in his life and to fulfill his earliest calling, to rule and to govern.

The rest of the story is quite remarkable as Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man and eventually Joseph’s brothers literally bow down to him as they are desperate for food years later. The dreams God gave Joseph are eventually fulfilled.

So What?

Because of God’s covenant, we have a relationship with Him. Our identity is children of the King.

As children of the King, we have a responsibility to represent the King to our world. We are HIs ambassadors, His agents on planet earth.

God’s doesn’t just pick everyone to do His bidding, to be a Kingdom operative. God is looking for humble hearts that seek Him, that put Him at the center of their lives. The Bible says, “Youʼre the child of God and He wants to fashion your heart, so that you
can be His representative. But that means a journey into humility and submission to Me.” Like Joseph, we must move from being the center of our world to inviting Jesus to be the center.

Jesus’ first words to His disciples were, “Follow Me.” His final words were, “Go and make disciples.” Invitation and challenge. Covenant and Kingdom. Relationship and responsibility.

It all begins with making our Savior our LORD.

Credits

Ideas for this series taken from book of the same title by Mike Breen and 3DMovements.com.

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Covenant: Abram, 7 September 2014

Big Idea: God invites us into a covenantal relationship with Him for eternity.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

The original Hebrew word for image usually refers to an object of worship or idol. God created us for relationship. Sure, He had angels, but angels were not created in God’s image. Sure, He had created lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), but they were not created in God’s image. What sets apart from the rest of the creatures on the earth is we were made to know and reflect God.

In
The Lion King, there’s a great scene where Simba gazes into a pool of water and sees a reflection of His Father. I think that’s what God planned when He created us.

“Remember who you are. You are my son.”

…the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

What beautiful, poetic imagery! God breathed life into Adam. Eve was then formed from Adam and they lived happily ever after. They were one with God. All was well…until The Fall. Adam and Eve broke the one, simple command God gave them by eating from the forbidden tree.

It could’ve ended there. They failed.

God knew, though. Like any dad, He knew His children were weak and susceptible to temptation. He knew they would fail. The knew forgiveness would be necessary…and even had a plan to bring a Second Adam to earth.

Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. (Romans 5:14)

People often characterize God in the Old Testament as mean and violent. While He takes sin very seriously, He also takes forgiveness seriously. He is a God of second chances…and third…and fourth…and…!

The Series

Look around. What do you see? All around you are things to see: people, objects, creation, etc. The view from space of our home is quite different, however.

The Bible is a big book. It’s actually a library of 66 books. We usually study it verse-by-verse, like looking through a microscope. This series will look at it through a telescope, examining the big idea of the Bible.

Our new series this fall is called Covenant & Kingdom. It is based upon ideas from Mike Breen and 3DMovements, a ministry that has been quite influential in the life of Scio in recent days. The book, Covenant & Kingdom, is available through Amazon or from 3DMovements.com. I encourage you to get a copy and read ahead as we look at the big picture of the Bible.

Covenant and Kingdom are woven throughout the Scriptures like a double helix is woven in DNA. Everyone get out your telescopes as we prepare to look at the incredible Bible.


Covenant

What is a covenant? Some confuse it with a contract between two people, an agreement where if you scratch my back, I scratch yours. It is much more. It literally means “to become one.”

covenant, treaty, compact, agreement, an association between two parties with various responsibilities, benefits, and penalties; “to cut a covenant” is “make a covenant,” a figure of the act of ceremonially cutting an animal into two parts, with an implication of serious consequences for not fulfilling the covenant (NIV Hebrew Dictionary)

The essence of God’s covenant is captured in the summary promise, ‘I will be your God, and you shall be my people’ (e.g. Gn. 17:7; Ex. 6:7; 2 Cor. 6:16–18; Rev. 21:2–3). While the covenant is unilateral in establishment, it is mutual or two-sided in accomplishment.
(New Dictionary of Theology)

Covenant is about relationship. Being.
Kingdom is about responsibility. Doing.

God exists in community—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are one (John 17). In fact, we saw earlier God said, “

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness… (Genesis 1:26a)

“Us” refers to the Trinity, one God in three Persons. They are one. They exist in covenant. God wanted to be one with Adam and Eve but their relationship was severed by sin.

Sin was the cause of the great flood in Genesis 9. God told Noah

But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark — you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. (Genesis 6:18)

After the flood, God said to Noah

I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (Genesis 9:11-13)

I wish I could say God’s children wised up and followed Him but two chapters later we see the arrogant trying to build a tower to reach the heavens and “make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4). God could’ve destroyed them but, instead, God said

“Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. (Genesis 11:7-8)

Notice again the plural reference: “let
us go down.”

This brings us to Genesis 12 and one of the most important humans to ever walk the planet.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

God makes a covenant with Abram and his wife, Sarai.

From a biblical point of view, faith to believe God comes from listening to God speak to us. Because of his faith, God gave Abram the gift of a relationship with him. Literally, God gave Abram “righteousness”—or a “right relationship” where no “wrong” could spoil it. This had to be given by God as a gift—Abram could not have it by any right or effort of his own. God had extended an invitation to Abram: an invitation to a journey that would lead all the way back to the Garden of Eden. (Mike Breen, Covenant & Kingdom)

Covenants involved two parties, both of whom had to participate. They both had to give up their old identities and begin new lives. Does that sound familiar? Marriage is a God-ordained covenant. He envisioned a man and woman choosing to give up their old identities as single people from distinct families and begin a new life together, forming a new family.

When my wife and I got married more than twenty-four years ago we began to share a bank account, a last name, a home, and even a bed. In a marriage covenant, the two become one, both literally and figuratively which is why marital intimacy is not merely about physical pleasure but an image of God’s design for unity and covenant.

In ancient times, animals were sacrificed to signify the importance of a covenant. Today we often have attorneys. They used animals!

God’s covenant always involve the shedding of blood. Perhaps you and a friend became “blood brothers” or “blood sisters.” When Adam and Eve sinned, God shed the blood of an animal to make clothes for them, to cover their nakedness. Later God rejected Cain’s sacrifice but accepted Abel’s…because it involved an animal sacrifice.

Although it seems odd in our day, …

When someone passed between the pieces of a butchered animal, the blood symbolized the surrender of the person’s old life. It was a visualization of death. The bloody passageway could also be argued to represent the birth canal and the beginning of a new life. (Breen, C&K)

God initiated and invited Abram into this covenant, to become one with Him. The word “atonement’ means “at-one-ment.” God invited Abram and Sarai to be partners with Him, to be in relationship with Him, to help shape human history with Him in blessing future generations.

He took letters from his own name—”Yahweh”—and gave one to each. In Hebrew, only the consonants are recorded, so Yahweh is written YHWH. (The vowels are added in speech as the text is read aloud.) God took his two “H’s” and gave one each to Abram and Sarai so that their names became Abraham and Sarah. Abraham became the “father of many nations” and Sarah remained a “princess,” but now her children would carry the mark of heaven’s King. Covenant is about “two becoming one,” and the identities of the partners are shared. God shows his amazing commitment to his Covenant partners in the gift of the letters of his name. (Breen, C&K)

He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” (Genesis 15:8)

So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” (Genesis 15:9)

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. (Genesis 15:10-11)

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Genesis 15:12-16)

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates — the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:17-21)

God makes a covenant with Abram. He will be one with Abram forever.

Covenants were common in the day and it was largely understood that a greater would confer upon a lesser. The strong one always initiated and conferred grace. Family language is used. God gives Abram an astonishing gift to be one.

God didn’t have to do it. He could’ve remained afar, ordering us to obey like robots or destroying us for disobedience. How could the Creator of the universe sacrifice for sinful, weak creatures like us? It’s truly amazing!

Notice God reveals Himself through fire, a burning motif that shows God’s zeal, judgment and holiness. He would later appear to Moses in a burning bush.

By faith Abraham, even though he was past age — and Sarah herself was barren — was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (Hebrews 11:11-12)

So What?

God created us for relationship. Despite the failures of Adam, Eve, the people in Noah’s day, the people at the Tower of Babel, and even Abraham and Sarah, God continues to pursue us. He extends mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Although most of us are not Jewish descendants of Abraham, because of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross we have been grafted in as Gentiles. We have been adopted as sons and daughters. As we studied earlier this year our identity is “in Christ.” Everything that can be said about Jesus and His identity can be said of us. Everything God has is ours. Everything God can access we can access.

The sign of the covenant for Abraham was circumcision. Ouch! It was nothing compared to the pain Jesus would endure.

Circumcision was not a public sign but, rather, a personal reminder of the Covenant that God had made with his people. Abraham and all his male descendants would bear a mark on their bodies to confirm that their old lives were gone (literally “rolled away”) and new lives had begun. Many Covenant-making cultures throughout history and around the world have used scars as a way to ratify agreements. We have some knowledge of the “blood brother” rituals of the Native American peoples and the Roman legionnaires. The physical reminder of a scar had an important role in underlining the significance of the relationship. In this case, the scar of circumcision makes a clear statement that the spiritual and physical are interlinked, not separate. Interestingly, scars continue as important signs of the New Covenant in Jesus. Remember, Covenant is a relationship of “oneness” and reciprocation. God asked Abraham to bear a scar in order to confirm their Covenant—but in the New Covenant, God himself chose to carry scars. The resurrected body of Jesus bears scars to this day. (Breen, C&K)

[Luke 24:40; John 20:27]

It may sound cliche, but God loves you.

Nothing you can do can make Him love you more.
Nothing you can do can make Him love you less.

He invites us into relationship with Him both now and forever. He wants us to be real with Him. As we sang earlier, He invites us to walk with Him and talk with Him in the garden…or home or office or school. We are one. That’s covenant.

Abram and Sarai could not have imagined that their covenant sealed with the blood of animals would foreshadow a greater sacrifice, the Lamb of God. Jesus said to His followers, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)

Credits:

Ideas for this series taken from book Covenant & Kingdom by Mike Breen and 3DMovements.com.

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

2 John, 24 August 2014

Big Idea: Truth and love must consume the lives of every Christ-follower.

This series is designed to encourage reading the less-read books of the Bible (according to BibleGateway.com).

Overview: John briefly encourages a “chosen lady” to walk in truth, love, and obedience. He warns her about deceivers, and promises to come explain things in person.

Background

With the possible exception of a letter of introduction, letters have a context. They have a purpose. The writer wants to communicate a message, often responding to a previous letter or situation. Such is the case with the epistles—or letters—of John. As one of Jesus’ three closest friends and—allegedly—the only one of the eleven disciples that was not martyred, John was a prominent figure in the early movement of Christianity. Notice I did not say the religion of Christianity. It had no million-dollar buildings, global television audiences, or political power. It was a grass-roots movement of faith, hope and love that steadily spread from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the earth.

Like the telephone game, the message was vulnerable to distortion over time and multiple generations of communication. They did not have the luxury of downloading the YouVersion Bible app and all reading the same verses at the same time. Early Christians were dependent upon Old Testament scrolls and letters, none of which were in the possession of every believer. This allowed self-serving teachers to promote false teachings to serve their agendas.

Throughout Church history there have been several prominent heresies. Some believed Jesus was God but not human. Others taught Jesus’ humanity while denying His deity. One popular group of false teachers were Docetic, denying the full incarnation of Christ and the necessity of His death on the cross.

Truth

Truth is an essential component of understanding. The Greek word used by John,
aletheia, means “truth, truthfulness, corresponding to reality.”

It should come as no surprise that in this environment John uses the word “truth” twenty times in his three short letters.

In today’s postmodern culture, one common belief is truth is relative. There is no such thing as absolute truth. There are several problems with such a statement, most notably how it declares an absolute truth in its very message—there is no such thing as absolute truth!

While it is true—pun intended—that some things are gray rather than black and white and messages are often subject to interpretation by the recipient, it does not negate the possibility of universal standards. Ironically many who deny absolute truth cling to science, a methodology that seeks consistent, repeatable results. We can debate whether or not it is true that the Detroit Tigers are a good baseball team or whether or not Lady Gaga is a good singer but I’m rather confident 1+1=2 and if I pour ice-water on my head it will be cold!

One of the greatest questions in the entire Bible came from the lips of Pilate as Jesus stood before him awaiting execution.

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. (John 18:38a)

John answered the question a few chapters earlier when he recorded Jesus’ words:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Truth is more than words or ideas. Truth is a Person. Jesus is the truth. When we know Jesus, we know the truth. Even earlier in his biography of Jesus, John wrote

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Today our culture is often blind to the truth. As Jack Nicholason famously said, “Truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

We say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” “I want to believe whatever I want to believe.” “It doesn’t matter what they have discovered, ignorance is bliss.”

People in Ferguson, Missouri continue to react to things they have heard in the media, some of which has been deemed incorrect or untruthful.

Spirituality asks many questions about truth, including some good ones. What religion is true? What holy book is truth? What is the most truthful understanding of a difficult passage?

My friend, Alex McManus, says if the Bible isn’t true, it should be because it tells the most incredible story in history.

We don’t have time today to unpack all of the reasons I believe the Bible is true and billions throughout history have embraced it but suffice it to say truth is important. Without it we are lost, which is why many postmodern philosophers seem so detached from reality.

John obviously cared about truth. He wanted the Person and message of Jesus to spread to every man, woman and child—much as I do today. It was his task as a leader in the early Church to ensure the accuracy of the message.

Love

Love is the second prominent word in John’s letters. God is love. This does not mean God is nice or God wants us happy, but God is love which means…

Love means so many things in our English language. We love ice cream, we love our children, and we love God.

The famous Greek word used by John is agape. It is the active love of God for His Son and His people. It is the love we are to have for God, one another, and even our enemies. It is a love that looks out not for our interests but the interests of others. It is a giving, selfless love.

2 John

As we read this letter, truth and love will be repeated. It is not an accident!

The elder,

John. He is a church leader and an aged man (likely in his nineties).

To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth — and not I only, but also all who know the truth — because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: (1-2)

This may be written to a woman and her children or to a church and its members. The Church is the Bride of Christ.

Truth is prominent. The truth is both the Word of God—the Bible—and Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is also writing to early believers.

We are not to love the world. We are not to love sin.

Unfortunately, it is easy to confuse the world with the truth. Our culture shapes us into conformity. It’s incredible how many so-called Christians have beliefs and practices that oppose the politically incorrect teachings of God. We can rationalize anything—especially if “everybody is doing it”—and we do!

We can’t have it both ways, friends. We can follow Jesus—the truth—or the world.

Remember, following the world isn’t accidental. We have a very real enemy that wants to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) and lies are one of his greatest tools. That’s why we must know the truth. We must read the truth. We must discuss the truth. We must spend time with Jesus, the truth.

The light and the truth is the Word of God. Love and truth are inseparable. God is love. Jesus is Truth. We need to stand for the truth of God. We might be the only ones, but God will honor us for our faithfulness—and others around us might just discover the truth for the first time.

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. (3)

Grace. mercy. peace. truth. love. What a great list!

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Mercy is that in God which provided for the need of sinful man.

John 3:16

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

God has to be righteous and just. How did He become righteous and just? His mercy provided a Savior. Why? Because He loves us.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (4-6)

Walking/Walk/Walk. Truth is essential. Walk is essential.

When I lived in Chicagoland I was in a band called Walk the Walk. We all know how easy it is to talk the talk, but walking the walk is something else entirely. Oh that we would all walk in the truth and not just talk about it.

God’s love language is obedience. Love is obedience. Obedience is love. We are to walk in that love. We are to live in that love. We are to share that love in word and deed.

John says this is old news. We are to love another. This is not mushy love or erotic love but agape love, unconditional love that looks out for the best interest of the other person.

What message would we send to Scio Township and the entire community if we loved one another well? It thrills me to hear about people loving one another, serving one another, helping one another, giving time and money to one another, encouraging one another, praying together, enjoying one another. That’s God’s design for the Church and for all of His children—that we love one another. We can’t run and hide and love God in a closet. We were created for community—messy community! I need you and you need me. We need to walk in love—together.

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (7-11)

This is a huge warning. Last week we saw John emphasize the importance of hospitality—welcoming the stranger, especially traveling teachers. Here he says not all traveling teachers are worthy of hospitality. There were—and are—those who do not speak the truth. They do not know the truth. The speak heresy and falsehoods. They make people feel good but don’t communicate the deeper, more challenging things of God…like that hip and trendy message to DIE!

Aren’t we supposed to love our enemies? Yes. We must be careful with those who will lead us and others astray, though. You might love your uncle or aunt but not want them to spend extended time with your kids if they are a bad influence. John is warning these early Christians that not everyone is on the same team. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are those who may claim to follow Jesus that teach and live a different gospel, a different “good news,” a different message.

Specifically, these false teachers denied Jesus as “coming in the flesh.” Today there are many non-Christians that believe in Jesus, but what do they believe? Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but deny He ever actually died on the cross. If He didn’t die, the rest of the story is a waste! The Quran says Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God or claimed divinity. Don’t miss this—our faith has much in common with Islam, but many tremendous differences. I mention this because we can engage in dialog with people of other faiths and find common ground. We must discern, however, where the differences lie, respectfully disagree, and cast a compelling vision for a faith that features the Son of God who set aside His divinity to become one of us—fully human—who died and rose from the dead.

At the risk of over-complicating the nuances of our faith, let’s turn to the Apostle’s Creed, a series of statements from the 4th century that have served as something of a summary of our faith for hundreds of years:

1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
10. The forgiveness of sins:
11. The resurrection of the body:
12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

John concludes…

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (12)

The children of your chosen sister send their greetings. (13)

These are personal greetings. This was a short letter, perhaps because he had limited paper and ink. He made his points…truth and love.

So What?

Hopefully the application to all of this is obvious—we must know the truth and live lives of love. Truth and love go together. Truth is expressed in love. Love is always concerned about the truth. Obedience to God necessitates both. We must be aware of counterfeit Christians and false teachings while declaring the truth with our words and deeds to bring honor to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Credits: some ideas from J. Vernon McGee

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