Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jesus the Great Equalizer

Several years ago, I read a news story about a youth soccer league that had stopped keeping score at their games. Their goal was to protect the fragile self-esteem of their young players, while still teaching them soccer skills. But their plans were derailed when it was found that, scoreboard or no, the kids themselves were keeping score! Those darn kids...

We all keep score. We want there to be winners and losers. We want to be able to measure ourselves against others. That's one reason the doctrine of grace is so hard for us to accept. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus turns our conventional wisdom on its head. He tends to do that a lot. What does this story have to say to us today? And how can we start to see the world through eyes of our gracious God? Come and study the Word with us this Sunday.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

God's Fuzzy Math

As most of you know, I am a sports fan. However, at the risk of offending some (ie, many) of you, I don't enjoy all sports. As I get older, I find it harder and harder to enjoy sports that don't seem to have a clear winner and loser. Gymnastics, figure skating, diving and other sports that are "judged" by humans just seem way too subjective. I find myself angry that the nice little Canadian girl got shafted by the Russian judge. Even College Football, my favorite sport by far, is starting to lose its allure for me, since they can't seem to figure out a way to crown a single, undisputed National Champion, and a small cadre of large schools with mammoth athletic budgets seem to wield all the power.

There is something in us that demands fairness. Ironically, that is often the same part of us that resists the biblical idea of grace. Philip Yancey wrote a column for Christianity Today many years ago entitled "The Atrocious Mathematics of the Gospel." He talked about how so many of Jesus' parables ended in ways that didn't add least, according to our human reckoning. A perfect example is the parable we'll study next week, in Matthew 20:1-16. Yancey was thereafter assaulted with a barrage of angry letters to the editor. One called him blasphemous; another said his column was Satanic. Yancey's point--which obviously sailed far over the heads of many of his readers--was that grace seems unfair to us, except when we're the recipients.

This Sunday, we'll take a look at the requirements of grace as we examine the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:23-35. What signs mark those who truly have received the saving grace of God? And how can we learn to do the mathematics of life according to God's standards?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The God Who Runs

One day years ago, a group of Bible scholars and theologians were debating the question, "What makes Christianity different from all other world religions?" Someone suggested the incarnation, but others in the group could name stories of gods taking on human form in other religions. Someone else said resurrection, but again, there were stories in other religions about people cheating death. As they hashed out the question, CS Lewis came strolling into the room. "What's all this about?" he asked. "We're trying to decide what makes Christianity different from all the other world religions?" He shrugged, "That's easy. Grace." (From What's So Amazing About Grace, by Philip Yancey)

Jesus rarely used the word "grace" but He spoke about the concept often, especially in His parables. In the first month of this year, we're looking at some of these stories of grace. This Sunday, we'll take our third and final look at the story of the two lost sons, better known as The Parable of the Prodigal Son. This time, we'll focus on the most important character in the story, the Father. What does He teach us about who our God really is? Coming to know God in a fuller, truer way can change your life in amazing ways. I pray that will happen for each of us this Sunday.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Big Brother Syndrome

This year, I plan to preach through the parables of Jesus. I'm excited about this...these are, after all, the greatest stories ever told--in terms of their impact on the world. I started last Sunday with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. As I said then, it should be called, "The Story of the Two Lost Sons." We looked at the part of the story we're all familiar with: The rebellious younger son's odyssey from runaway to reconciliation. But this week, we'll look at the older son; this is the part of the story that most of us (preachers and, er, "normal" people) never pay attention to. But considering the audience Jesus was speaking to (see Luke 15:1-2), the older brother is really the main character of the story.

As I said last Sunday, we all tend to be either rebels or rule-keepers. And we religious folks mainly fall into the latter category. We may have had our wild-haired days, but most of us have settle down into respectability. So we have much more in common with that older son. As we'll find out this Sunday, that's not such a good thing. Here's a great quote from Tim Keller's book, The Prodigal God:

Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of His day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.

Are you an "older brother?" And if so, what can we do about it? That's what we'll talk about this Sunday.