Sermon


William Wilberforce (1759-1833)
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We continue to steadily go through the Bible at Seward Church looking for themes of grace and Jesus. This week David shared from the story of 1 Kings.   He began with a story about William Wilberforce and his amazing perseverance trying to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom. You may recall the excellent movie about him, Amazing Grace. David said of Wilberforce that he showed “exemplerly perseverance.”

The book of 1 Kings is about Solomon and the transfer of power from David to his son.  With the passing of the torch came many responsibilities and directives.  One important one was treasuring God.  Something we try to do is be a loving church that perseveres in loving our community.

In 1 Kings 2:1-5 Solomon was told to persevere in the faith so that David’s lineage would continue to reign over Israel.  As if this wasn’t burden enough, in the same breath David asked Solomon to take care of some unfinished business – killing people David had promised not too!  Yikes, David may have had some problems!  We all think to ourselves that we want to be heros like Solomon and David, but we really just need to live a life following Christ and loving Him.

One of Solomon’s first actions was also one of his smartest – asking for guidance and help from God (3:3-9). Unfortunately, the passage also indicates that Solomon was struggling to keep the faith by offering “sacrifices and offerings at the high places”.  High places were where pagans went to worship their gods.  Sometimes we fall under the great burdens placed on us, whether by ourselves or by someone else.  The great thing is that no matter what God accepts us radically for who we are even when we fail.

Another inspiring action by Solomon was when after a dream he “stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings” (3:15).  This is important because standing before the ark was similar to standing in the presence of God.  The Ark also contained a copy of the 10 Commandments, a pot of Manna, and Aaron’s rod.  Respectively, these stand for God’s justice, grace, and intercession all things that Solomon and we need to remember on a regular basis.

Yet today we don’t need to offer sacrifices or offerings to God, we have free grace through Jesus.  We can’t earn it through religiously based acts of worship but through a change of heart.  This grace is the same grace that allows us to accept our broken neighbors – even those who seek to harm us.

Sadly, Solomon didn’t persevere in the faith – look at the differences of language in Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes.  Small compromises such as those we saw in 3:3 begin to pile up and really impact our lives, resulting in something like 11:1-2 where Solomon began putting his wives before devotion to God.  David gave a great analogy, using adrenaline versus the steady pounding of the heart.  The adrenaline rush is like a mountain top experience or quick burst of energy about an idea or topic while the steady pounding is a life-long devotion to change someone or something.  Think back to Wilberforce – many in his day thought slavery was bad and got excited for a short period of time (adrenaline) while few like Wilberforce were willing to commit their entire life to the cause (steady pounding heart).

Jesus gives us lots of hope, even when we fail miserably.  Romans 5:1-5 has this to say:

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Jesus gives us hope.

We ended the evening singing the song Amazing Grace, but I couldn’t help but think of another song, My Hope is Built.  The first verse is below:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

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Much was written in the Gospels about the connection between Jesus and David.  He was called the Son of David several times and the geneology says he was the son of Abraham and the son of David.  Thus David must be an important character in the Old Testament.  So it is no surprise that a lot was written about him, specifically in 2nd SamuelTim chose a section from the book that I’m sure we are all  familiar with – Chapters 11 & 12.  If you can’t recall the topic, one word will suffice to remind you – Bathsheba.

You might recall that David was enjoying the view from his rooftop when he spotted a beautiful woman bathing across the way.  He quickly sent his staff to inquire about her.  I had never realized the importance of the characters in the story:

* Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) was one of the top 37 soldiers (mercenaries) out of millions of soliders

* Eliam (Bathsheba’s dad) was another of the top 37.

* Bathsheba’s grandpa was actually a top advisor to David

I think the point here is that David knew the family surrounding this  “beautiful woman.”  This should have been a second opportunity for him to realize the folly of his desires.  In this chapter alone David broke at least 7 of the 10 commandments.  To finish the story recap David slept with Bathsheba, got her pregnant, brought Uriah home to try to pretend like it was his doing, and killed Uriah – who had too much honor and integrity to indulge himself while his comrades were suffering in a war.

It is a little ironic that while David, God’s chosen, was full of deciet and lies that this Hittite or foreigner, would have such high honor and integrity.

In 12:1-7 we see that David has the moral capacity has Nathan tells him a story and David is very angred.  This is a demonstration that we have the moral capacity but that we don’t neccessarily act morally. We like David often pronouce strong judgments on our immoral actions (Romans 2:1 and Genesis 3:4-5).  But it is our actions that slowly erode our moral compass.  Like Romans 1:18 says we “suppress the truth by our wickedness.”

We watch ourselves sin, know it is wrong, and then judge ourselves.  Sadly, a new moral compass won’t help.  Many today just thing we need to fix the compass or try some new programs to reteach morality – it won’t work.  It is actually also part of the problem.  We love to sin but don’t like to face the consequence – death. Fortunately we have a Savior who died so that we wouldn’t have to.

Who is most like Jesus? In this story who is most like Jesus?  Is it David? Uriah? Bathsheba? or Nathan (he confronted David about his sin)?

It is actually Uriah, he shows us the suffering side of Jesus.

  • Uriah refused to take the easy path, enjoying life while others suffered.
  • Uriah refused to have his feet washed, instead staying with the servants/body guards – Jesus washed feet as a servant
  • Jesus kissed Judas as He was being betrayed – Uriah honored David by staying with the servants/body guards.
  • Jesus was betrayed by one close to Him Uriah was betrayed by the whom he served
  • Uriah made the right decisions
  • David used someone else, war to kill Uriah.  The Jews used Roman law to have Jesus killed.

Are we willing to admit that we are morally bankrupt and in need of a Savior? It is hard to say that we are screwed up and don’t know right from wrong in the depths of our heart.  We need Jesus’ help to make sure we avoid temptations.

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Ruth is a pretty short book, but it has some great power and lots of good little sub-plots.   Tim covered some of them in his introduction of the message this week at Seward Church.  Let me highlight some of those and then get into the story a little deeper.

– The story begins with a story of immigration Naomi and her family moved to Moab from Israel due to a famine.  Many stories in the Bible have something to do with immigration and most of our families have an immigration story as well.  Some more recent and some more heart-breaking than others.

– Moab (and thus the Moabites) was the child of Lot and his daughter.  This act of incest was only the beginning of the sexual sins found in Moab.  The Israelites looked down on the Moabites as prostitutes.

– The earthly geneology of Jesus can be traced through Ruth to the Moabites and through Boaz to Rahab, who was also a prostitute (read the fully story in Joshua 2).

1) Absolute transforming power of grace lived out in relationships. It was the power of relationships that transformed 3 lives in this story.   First it was Naomi’s sacrificial love towards Ruth and Orpah.  By her insistence that her daughters-in-law could go back to her families she was making a sacrifice that is hard for us to comprehend.  She was sacrificing her future well-being.

It was this transformation that led Ruth to declare that she would reject her gods and follow God.  Tim Keller says (paraphrase) “When Naomi truly loves someone who doesn’t believe (in God), Ruth believes in her God.  He is trying to say that it was Naomi’s love, through relationship that cause Ruth’s conversion.

Ruth sacrificed her future when she moved back to Israel, again some of the cultural differences are hard to translate but if you were a prostitute it would be hard to move to an uppity neighborhood.  She knew she would be ridiculed, berated and looked down upon for being a Moabite.

Boaz also sacrificed his future, his wealth, and his legacy by redeeming (marrying) Ruth.

2) God puts signs of hope in every life.

Naomi was desperate, she had been widowed, she was getting older and more feeble, she was poor and desolate.  So desperate that she changed her name to Mara or bitter.  But in her darkest hours it was also Ruth’s greatest moment of hope. This story is an example of the fact that even though you can’t always “see” God’s hand working in your life you can know that He is there working.

There is somebody who immigrates into a place of deep suffering at the cost of His life to bring us Hope even in His most desperate moments.  Christ purchased our lives, similar to Boaz (redeeming Ruth) so that we can have hope and peace.  Finally, Christ’s pain was worse than anything we can experience.

I think it is amazing to see the corollaries between the Gospel message found in the New Testament and this 4 chapter story.

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Joshua commands the sun to stand still in the sky
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Besides their similar sounding name Jesus and Joshua have a little in common.  Keep reading to see how Tim pulls the Gospel story out of the Book of Joshua for us.

Most of the message came from Joshua 9.   This chapter is a foreshadowing of the covenant we have with Christ.  The Gibeonites should have been destroyed… just like us.

1) Grace Joshua 9:1-15 tells the story about the Gibeonites deceptive attempt to secure a peace deal and covenant with the Israelite people.  The Gibeonites were smart folks with some inside information.  They new about God’s command to the Israelites to destroy everyone around them from Deuteronomy 20:10-18.  They were given a peace treaty by Joshua because, he didn’t seek God’s opinion on the matter.

2)Grace that points towards all the nations and all the people. Joshua 16-27 shows how God extended His grace and blessing to the Gibeonite people, despite their lies and deceptions.  The Gibeonites were cursed to become Israel’s servants due to their deception, but they were an integral part of the history of God’s people.

– The tabernacle was built in Gibeon so that they would have an integral part.

– The temple was also built in Gibeon, by the Gibeonites.

– The Gibeonite people are actually transformed by the covenant of God and the grace that comes with it.

The end of Joshua 9 points towards the fact that the Grace of God is available to all nations and all people.

Now is when it gets a little tricky!

3) Grace is what it is because God’s judgment and wrath are real. Look at that again: Grace is what it is because God’s judgment and wrath are real.  What do you think about that? Tim Keller is a good resource to help with this issue.  Tim passed out an article from Keller called The Importance of Hell. Another resource is Keller’s book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

Judgment and wrath was actually the first step towards grace for the Gibeonites.  They were afraid of getting killed so they (through deception) sought peace.  God’s plan of judgment is pretty clear in the following verses:

Genesis 15:13-15 Leviticus 18:24-25 Deuteronomy 9:4-5

It is interesting to note that in Joshua 9:18 the Israelites were upset that the Gibeonites were going to be allowed to live.  Why should they be shown Grace?  The Israelites liked to see people die! Interestingly, today we are the exact opposite, we expect to see God’s mercy and are upset by the fact that God destroyed all the other people mentioned in the earlier passages. We like the power to decide what is right or wrong and don’t like when it is passed down to us, especially from God. We long for personal expression which includes setting our own rules and boundaries. We then take these ideas and project them onto God, instead of listening and seeing what God’s has already told us about Himself.  If we read the Bible it confronts our idea of individuality and our concept of our self.

But if each of us individually had our own rules and laws we would end up with billions of different systems and rules.  As individuals what makes up our determination of right and wrong or when grace or wrath should be expressed?  In Joshua 10:1-13 we see that God actually goes to war to keep His covenant of Grace.  He commands Joshua to go help defend the Gibeonites from Adoni-Zedek.  This should be encouraging to us, if we are the Gibeonites and Satan is Adoni-Zedek – then it is safe to say that God will wage war to defend and protect us.  Joshua’s army also had to march all night, 20 miles uphill to go protect them (vs 9). Similarly Christ wrestled all-night and carried the cross up the hill to Calvary, where He died for our sins.

In verses 12-14 we see that God helped Joshua by holding the sun in the sky all day.  The opposite happened during the crucifixion – Christ was being cast into our darkness, taking our sins and offering us grace. Christ took God’s judgment and wrath on Himself so that we might have eternal life.

You can follow the sermon’s live on Twitter if you are so interested.

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Who would have that Deuteronomy would have so much great stuff in it? I mean obviously, it is part of the Bible so it is good.  So thanks to David for teaching out of Deuteronomy and making it relevant to our life in Christ.

The journey begins in John 5, at the pool in Bethesda. Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees give Him a hard time about it. He challenges them and ultimately says this in 5:45-47:

“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

Jesus is saying that Moses wrote about Jesus and accused the Pharisees way back in Deuteronomy 29-30. Many scholars think that Deuteronomy is the foundation for understanding the entire Old and New Testaments.  David says that it is a simple story of being enslaved and finding freedom in Jesus but it is still very complex and fraught with lots of theology. Much of the book contains rules, laws, and covenants the most important of which comes at the end.

What is a covenant? A covenant is a solemn promise or one way agreement.  The marriage covenant is maybe the most practical to understand. It is both a personal and intimate agreement between two parties to love each other unconditionally and a legal agreement or oath (29:12). David shared this thoughtful phrase:

I will be what I should be even if you aren’t and I will lay down my life for you, no matter what. Even when you make me mad, I won’t do something bad just to get even.  I love you so much that I’ll continue offering my best, even at your worst.  That is part of God’s covenant with us, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.  This is also an ideal for what a church community should look like. A “covenant community” is based on unconditional love and acceptance of each other for the mutual benefit of all involved.  This was what my college campus was based on, sadly we are all sinful humans and often fall short of the ideal.

Mystery of a Covenant

This is where it gets tricky! God had given the Israelites certain rules and regulations regarding a variety of different sacrifices, procedures for celebrating Him, and much more.  He was quite emphatic as we learned last week in Numbers. He even says in 29:20 that He would never forgive and blot a person from the earth. Where’s the love in that? But then a few verses later (30:3) God says we can be restored and given life.

So which is it? Punishment and consequences or love and grace? Can we really have both? Is God’s blessing conditional or unconditional? YES and NO.  Let’s go back to Genesis 15 where God made the Covenant with Abraham. Do you remember the story, Abraham cut in half all these different types of animal carcasses and laid them out? During that time period it was somewhat common that a servant would do this and then walk through the middle indicating that if he broke the promise just made, he should be torn into half.  It should have been Abraham that walked through the sacrifice, but instead God did, saying symbolically that if we screw up He will be torn to pieces or ripped apart for our sins.  We can see this as a foreshadowing of Jesus death on the Cross.  When God walked through the sacrificial ceremony He set in motion a way for us to be redeemed.

Hero of Our Covenant

Everyone and every good story needs a hero.  By now you should be able to guess who the hero of this story is… JESUS! Galatians 3:6-14 lays it out pretty clearly (13-14):

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Isn’t that awesome? Jesus was torn into pieces so that we wouldn’t face the wrath of God as described in Deuteronomy!

Jesus was glad to die for us, can we humble ourselves and submit to His Grace?

We ended the service with this great promise from Deuteronomy 31:8:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

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Replica of the Tabernacle

Replica of the Tabernacle

The story of Numbers is any interesting look at two main aspects of sin, according to Tim at Seward Church.  As we continue our journey looking for the Gospel message in the 66 books of the Bible, Numbers is our 4th stop.

A few quick thoughts on the book – it is called Numbers because it opens and closes with a census being taken. There are about 2 million Israelites or the size of the Twin Cities Metro area living on a vast plain.  The book though, shares the story of the wandering Israelites and their quest to enter the promised land.  Yes, Number is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, Hebrews 3:15-17 and I Corinthians 10:1-13.

So what are the two aspects of sin?  1) A longing to be an insider and 2) a longing to be satisfied.

We all have a desire to be a part of the “in-crowd” or on the inside of a group, or what C.S Lewis calls the inner-ring.  We may not aspire for a place of power, but we usually want to be within the group of people where power comes from though.  God created this desire within us. Wait. Isn’t that a contradiction, are you saying God created a sinful desire within us?  Nope, only that God created within us the desire to be in His inner circle, what in the Old Testament is referred to as the “Holy of Holies” or the inner-circle in the temple, tabernacle, or the tent. This is the place that only the High Priest can enter and only once a year.

Many passages throughout Numbers make it clear that only those whom God allows are to take part in the priesthood, tabernacle, and other holy things.  Take for instance Numbers 1:51 “When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” Yikes! God is pretty strict about His holiness.

God has a high standard for who He lets in to the holiest parts, if you try to take part and shouldn’t be the consequence is… death. Our sin is that we try to lower God’s standards and create our own inside groups, cliques, and our own standards to get in.  Or maybe more importantly, we create standards to keep people out (ie racism).  Like in Numbers 12:1-2 or 16:1-11 we make-up some reason to block people out of our circles.  We will continue to be miserable, always seeking approval until we stop and seek approval only from God. The Gospel of Jesus slams all of the circles and bubbles of our life together not letting us keep people in or out.

Oh and in case you are wondering… all who come to Christ are accepted by God.

The second major aspect of sin is that we all have a longing to be satisfied.  You know the saying, the grass is always greener on the other side.  Well that was here in Numbers as well. The group of people actually started grumbling the minute God set out to free them… and continued even though He contiuned to provide for their every need.  Sound familiar?  I wonder how often we sit around and grumble, even though God has proven Himself faithful?

You might recall that God provided for the nutritional needs each day through manna.  One day God provided them with a supplement of quail to eat.  They literally had quail coming out the nostrils!  Then God returned to providing them regular old manna.  At that point according to Numbers 11:4-6 they decided that slavery under Egypt was better than freedom – because they ate better as slaves.  That seems stupid doesn’t it?

It is amazing that God continues to love and accept us, despite our foolishness and our desire to enslave ourselves to the ways of this world. Through our hero – Jesus – we are saved from our folly and receive an amazing and abundant grace.  Christ died so that we can be satisfied.  His death opens up the holiest of places for us to enter. He is the perfect high priest, the final blood sacrifice.

Through Jesus God is able to accept us completely and allows us to enter the holiest places.  Satan wants us to question this, which is why he creates unhealthy cravings and longings within us.  God won’t necessarily take away or fill our desires, but will direct us to a better place. He is willing to meet us where we are and offer us grace.  Ultimately, we have an offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ (John 3:14).

Let us be free today from the longings and desires that keep us from chasing after God.

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We traveled back to Minneapolis yesterday and missed attending any church during the weekend. This is a recap of last week’s sermon at The Bridge, our home church while living in Anderson, IN. We thought we were going to be hearing one of our close friends speak, but instead heard Melissa Jansen, author and sister of the head pastor speak.

I was disappointed to not get to hear our friend speak or the dynamic head pastor.  Don’t get me wrong Missy is an excellent speaker, but I think you know what I mean. The sermon series was “Unwrapped” while the title was Hangovers, Leftovers, & Do Overs.

She talked about how it is hard to be a good receiver of gifts, especially when you don’t like what someone gave you.  You know the hideous Christmas sweater from great-aunt Bertha. She connected this to the story of her oldest son’s birth and the crazy circumstances surrounding it. I don’t think she was actually comparing herself to Mary’s situation but connected the two stories.

She shared several verses, but never gave actual references and I haven’t had time to leaf through the books to find the references so I won’t integrate them.  Her main point was this:

Jesus is an amazing gift to Mary and to all of us, so what are we going to do with it? What will you do today, tomorrow, and throughout 2009 knowing that jesus was the most important present ever given?

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