DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Follow Me (Luke 5:1-11)

One of the problems with life is that it is so complex it's easy to miss the point.

Our lives are filled with so much complexity that it's almost impossible to keep track of everything. We're busy and there is so much going on that we easily lose sight of what's important. We occasionally wish that life could be simpler, that we could get a grasp on what is really important.

Einstein said, "We should make everything as simple as possible, but not more so." There is considerable wisdom in getting to the essence of a matter and really understanding it, really living it. Occasionally we need to sweep away all the complexity and clutter and get to the point. We say, "Get me to the core. Tell me the one thing that I need to know."

Today I want to do that with the gospel. What do we need to know to understand and live the gospel?

Abducted by an Alien Gospel

One preacher (Dieter Zander) says this: "All of my Christian life I had been abducted by an alien gospel." The Gospel he understood before was about an individual receiving forgiveness and having the issue of eternal destiny settled. It's usually seen as what you have to do to get to heaven. According to this preacher, the Gospel that gets preached in a lot of churches is this:

  • give a little
  • do a little
  • pay membership dues
  • get a "going to heaven" ticket (through accepting the gospel)

This preacher says:

In this scenario, the gospel is informing how we die. Instead, the gospel ought to be about how we live!...[Some people's] belief is that they try to believe in Jesus so that when they die they get to go to heaven. [They think] populating heaven is the main part of the gospel. Instead, the gospel is about being increasingly alive to God in the world. It is concerned with bringing heaven to earth.

This is radical, because if he's right, we've oversimplified the gospel to a personal decision that affects your eternal state rather than a way of life that we can enter into here and now.

The Gospel According to Luke

I don't want to be abducted by an alien gospel. A question that's been on my mind a lot lately is, "What is the gospel we are believing and we are living?" Every church proclaims a gospel. What really matters is that the gospel we live and proclaim is the true gospel and not some alien one.

To really get at the heart of the gospel, we need to go right back to the source of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ himself. In Luke 4, after teaching and acting out the gospel, Jesus said, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent." The whole reason that Jesus came, and his whole message, is the good news (gospel) of the kingdom of God.

Today, before we move on to Christmas, I want to pause and revisit a passage we already looked at a number of weeks ago. The reason I want to do this is because it's a passage that's gotten under my skin. It's one that won't let me go.

It's also a passage that is at the heart of the issues we need to be wrestling with as a church. If we're not careful, the church can become a vendor of religious goods and services. That's not what it's meant to be. We need to go back to asking what the gospel is, and how best we can live out the gospel in our context. Tim Stafford has said:

The gospel does not present the church as a savior. Rather the church is the place where the Savior lives. The message can be heard rising out of the church: "Jesus is changing the world. Come and join us as we follow Jesus."

So the question for us is, what does it mean to follow Jesus? What does that look like at Richview in 2005?

I also want to ask this question because it calls for a response. We're taking a bit of a risk this morning, and we may be wasting a lot of water, but we're going to be holding a baptism this morning for those of you who want to respond to the invitation to follow Jesus. It's different and far richer than you might have ever heard before. But it calls for a response, and I want to give you an opportunity to respond today.

The question I want to ask is this: what does it look like for a person to follow Jesus Christ? I don't mean in the abstract. I mean, what does it look like for a person today, here in Toronto in 2005? What does it look like for a group of us, that want to say to others, "Come and join us as we follow Jesus?"

To answer that question, I want to revisit a story that's found in Luke 5. We looked at it before. It's the story of Jesus preaching from Simon Peter's boat. Peter's been out fishing all night, but he hasn't caught anything. Jesus turns to Simon and says, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." Simon does, reluctantly I think, and they catch more fish than they could handle. Once they're overwhelmed with Jesus' presence, Jesus turns to Simon and says, "Follow me." Simon immediately got up, left his fish, boats, and nets, and followed Jesus.

We usually see this story at a few different levels. Mainly we see it as the call of Jesus to every believer to follow him, no matter what it costs. We sometimes emphasize how hard it would have been for Simon to leave behind his career and follow Jesus. It's a scary story, and we admire Simon for responding to Jesus.

But I'd like to go one level deeper and try to understand this story. Because we're not from that culture, there's a whole different level that's easy to miss. We may even ask, "What would possess Peter to leave his boats and his career? I could never do that." There are two things I want to explain, and then I want to invite you to hear what Jesus is saying to all of us through this story.

There are two things we need to understand. One is about Peter, and one is about Jesus.

Peter the Dropout

There's something that we need to know about Peter. In Peter's day, Galilee contained the most religious Jews of Jesus' time. The Jewish people where he lived believed that God had spoken, and that his words had been recorded through Moses in five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. They called these five books the Torah. Torah means teachings or instructions or way. They believed that the best way to live was by living as the Torah instructed. The passion of the people was to learn and teach and live the Torah.

The Torah was so important that they made it a priority to teach their children about the Torah. They realized that they were always one generation away from losing observance of the Torah at all times. One rabbi said, "Under the age of six, we do not receive a child as a pupil; from six upwards accept him and stuff him [with Torah] like an ox."

Here's how some people think the education would have happened.

Around the age of six, many Jewish boys would go to school for the first time. This was the first level of education, called "House of the Book", and it would last until the student was about ten years old. The students would begin memorizing the Torah and would gradually come to know the whole thing by heart. Imagine: not just a few verses, or even chapters, but five whole books of the Bible. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

That's why when Jesus taught, he would often quote a verse or a phrase from the Torah. It would be enough to trigger the meaning of the whole text. Instantly, everybody there would fill in the rest of the details, because they knew it off by heart. You didn't have your own copy of the text, so it was important to learn it as well as you could.

The smartest and most respected people of the community were rabbis. They were the best students who knew the text inside and out, and taught others. Not everyone could be a rabbi.

By the age of ten, some of the students would show some aptitude for further studies. They would go to the next level of learning, called "House of Learning", which would go until they were around 14 years of age.

Those who didn't make the cut would learn the family trade. If the parents were winemakers or farmers or carpenters or fishermen, you would learn it to so that you could carry on the business and one day pass it down to your own children.

The best students would continue their education, and memorize the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. By the time they were 13 or 14, they would know the entire Bible off by heart: Genesis through Malachi, all 39 books memorized.

They would also learn all the oral traditions, the interpretations of the text. People had wrestled with it over the years, trying to get to the heart of its meaning. The rabbi didn't want you to just spit back the information. He wanted you to wrestle with it, to absorb its meaning.

Around the age of 14, only the best of the best were still studying. Most students by now were back in the family business, perhaps even having families of their own.

The remaining few would apply to a well known rabbit to become one of the rabbi's disciples. This level of education was called "House of Study." You would present yourself to a well known rabbi and say, "Rabbi, I want to become one of your disciples." The rabbi would want to find out more about the student. Can the student learn what the rabbi does? Could he learn the rabbi's yoke? (The yoke was that rabbi's interpretation of Scripture.) Does the kid have what it takes?

He would question the student, what he knew and how he interpreted. This was important because the rabbi didn't have time to train a kid who wouldn't be able to become like the rabbi.

Sometimes the rabbi would say something like this: "You love God and know the Torah, but you do not have what it takes to be one of my disciples. Go home and continue to learn the family business."

But to some, they would say, after questioning, "Come, follow me." It would be like being accepted by Harvard. The student would probably leave home, leave father and mother, the synagogue, and all the friends. From that point on, he would devote his whole life learning to do what his rabbi did.

The rabbi would travel, and right behind him would be a group of students, trying to do their best to keep up. The goal would be for the disciples to become just like the rabbi.

So this is what we know about Peter. He was a fisherman. At some point, he had progressed through his education and hadn't made the cut as a disciple of a rabbi. Someone, sometime, had looked at Peter and said, "Peter, it's probably best that you return to your family and continue to learn the fishing business. You love God but you're not cut out to be a disciple."

Peter was a dropout of sorts. He didn't make the cut to be a disciple.

Jesus the Rabbi

I've always wondered why Peter dropped his nets and left his family business so willingly when Jesus came along. Now I understand.

At the age of 30, when rabbis generally began their public teaching and training of disciples, Jesus came along to some fisherman on the Sea of Galilee and said, "Follow me."

Rob Bell says:

Why are they fisherman?

Because they aren't disciples. They weren't good enough; they didn't make the cut.

Jesus calls the not-good-enoughs...

Jesus took some boys who didn't make the cut and changed the course of history...

One scholar says, "This indicated the rabbi believed the potential talmid had the ability and commitment to become like him. It would be a remarkable affirmation of the confidence the teacher had in the student."

So these are the two things you need to know about the story. One is about Peter, the dropout. The other is about Jesus, the rabbi, who thinks we make the cut to be his disciples.

It's about the one who says to us, "Follow me."

Follow Me

Near the end of his time on earth, Jesus said:

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

Did you catch that? "Make disciples." The call that Peter received is the call that we receive today. It's a call to regular people who didn't make the cut, to enter into life as a disciple (talmid) and become just like him.

What does this mean for us today?

It means that Jesus calls you because he believes this is possible with you. It takes outside help, of course. He gives us the Holy Spirit. It means, though, that he thinks it is possible for you to become like him. You can change.

It means that following Jesus is much more than a decision. It's about far more than what happens after you die. It's a way of life, an entry point into a life of submission to the rabbi. To repeat the quote from Tim Stafford, "The message can be heard rising out of the church: ‘Jesus is changing the world. Come and join us as we follow Jesus.'"

What is the entry point to discipleship? How do you respond to Jesus' call to follow him? Baptism. It's the response that Jesus has given us to seal our response to follow, and to enter into life as a disciple. Jesus said, "Make disciples...baptizing them."

Today, we're giving opportunity for you to hear Jesus' call and to respond. As with Peter, it may not have been in your plans for today. That's okay. You're hearing the call, and it's time to respond. This is the response that God has given us to those who would like to enter into life as a disciple. We have everything ready for you - clothes and towels and water. All you need to do is come, respond, and through baptism say, "I will follow."

(Thanks to Follow the Rabbi and Rob Bell's book Velvet Elvis for some of the background information in this sermon)

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (Romans 8:14-39)

We're joining churches all around the world this week who are praying for the 200 million Christians who are being persecuted around the world. The real heart of this service comes in a few minutes when we will actually join together and pray for these persecuted followers of Christ.

Some of the stories we hear about are tragic. Late last month, three Indonesian girls were beheaded for no other reason than their faith in Christ. Just last week, two more girls were shot in the head, and one of them has since died. Three Chinese Christians are in prison right now for the crime of publishing Bibles for the Chinese people to read. These stories are just a few of the 200 million stories out there of believers who are suffering for their devotion to Christ.

As we hear these stories, we are humbled that we have the opportunity to remember them and to pray for them. Today we stand in solidarity with them and remember what Hebrews says: "Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" (Hebrews 13:3).

But I also have to admit that I have questions. What in the world would make somebody willing to give up everything, including life, for Jesus?

When I was a kid, I had a book called Foxe's Book of Martyrs. I remember wondering what would cause these people to die, if that is what it took?

I mean, some of these people have a choice. We just watched a DVD and saw that some of the people who have been jailed and threatened could easily have gotten out of trouble. All they had to do was to keep a low profile or say a few words and they could have been out of trouble. But you could see in the video that for a lot of these people, they saw suffering as a privilege, something they were glad to do. You could see that, to their way of thinking, it actually make sense to suffer for Jesus Christ.

I'll put it differently. Here in North America, we often find ourselves following Christ for how it will benefit us. We tell people that if they follow Jesus, they will be better people, hopefully have better marriages and jobs, and they will live the abundant life. We follow Jesus, but in the back of our minds is the question, "What will it do for my life?"

In some of these countries, it's quite the opposite. Sign up to follow Christ in Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, China, or VietNam, and you're signing up for trouble. You're not signing up for a better life. You're possibly signing up to lose your life, to go to jail, to lose your job. And yet people willingly make that choice. What is that about?

It's like the choice between the red pill and the blue pill in the Matrix.

You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe.

You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

We can take the blue pill and go back to Christianity as we know it that really costs us nothing, or we can take the red pill and discover an alternate reality, the reality that exists, in which it actually makes sense to die for Christ if necessary.

I don't want the blue pill. I want the red pill. I don't want to suffer, but you don't have to suffer by taking the red pill. You just have to be willing to suffer.

When Texas pastor Jim Denison was in college, he served as a summer missionary in East Malaysia. While there he attended a small church. At one of the church's worship services, a teenage girl came forward to announce her decision to follow Christ and be baptized.

During the service, Denison noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the wall of the church building. He asked the pastor about it. The pastor pointed to the girl who had just been baptized and told Denison, "Her father said that if she was baptized as a Christian she could never go home again. So she brought her luggage."

This teen took the red pill. She lived in the reality of choosing to suffer even though it cost her the approval of her family. I want what she has - not the suffering. I want that type of faith.

So how can we live in the reality of the red pill, the reality in which it makes sense to suffer for Jesus?

To answer this question, I want to look at a passage that was written in the context of persecution. It's written by somebody who knew what it meant to be persecuted. He spent a quarter of his missionary career in prison and eventually died for his faith. He wrote this passage to Christians who are living in what will become the epicenter of persecution in the first century.

Paul mentions three truths that will shape a reality in which it makes sense for us to suffer rather than to live an easy life that costs us nothing. We may not be called to suffer the same way as these 200 million Christians, but we can't afford not to be shaped by these three truths. Let's look at them together. They're found in Romans 8.

What truths should shape our reality so that it makes sense to suffer for Christ if that's what it takes? You can put up with suffering if three things are true:

If we get our identity from God
If we get our hope from the future
If we get our confidence from God's plan

1. If we get our identity from God

The first reality has to do with our identity. I have coffee occasionally with people who are going through a bit of an identity crisis. That's not a bad thing. It happens eventually to all of us. We graduate from school, get a job, get married, get divorced, get a job, lose a job, have our kids grow up, retire - all of these massive life transitions involve a change of identity.

The problem is that pretty much everything that gives us our identity is subject to change. If you get your identity from being married or from your job or wealth or accomplishments, all of that is subject to change. The more we depend on these things for our identity, the more trouble we're in when they change.

Paul writes about our identity, except he stakes our identity on something that is dependable and that cannot change. Romans 8:16-17 says:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

If we get our identity from anything else than God, we're in trouble the source of our identity is taken away. If you get your identity from your job, it's a pretty serious thing to lose your job because of your devotion to Christ. If you get your identity from your relationships, it's hard to follow Christ when your boyfriend isn't too happy about it. The only safe place to get your identity, according to Paul, is from God. We are God's children, he says, and co-heirs with Christ. That identity will not change, and it anchors us no matter what else in this world might change.

Paul goes even further. He says that part of our identify is that we are sufferers along with Christ. Verse 17 says, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." The verse assumes that part of our identity in Christ is that we will suffer along with Christ. When we understand our identity in Christ, we don't get too worked up about persecution because that's part of the deal. It's part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Why is suffering part of what it means to follow Christ? Because Jesus completely subverts the system of the world. It is an alternate kingdom that turns everything completely upside down. It's swimming upstream and living by a completely different set of values. Following Jesus means you get your identity from God, and that you're okay with the fact that this might threaten every other identity you have. Suffering is part of that identity.

Suffering won't make sense if we get our identity from anything other than Christ. Our suffering is actually a sharing in the sufferings of Jesus. "The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his" (George MacDonald).

Suffering makes sense if we get our identity from God.

2. If we get our hope from the future

I've noticed something. If I serve something gross for dinner - eggplant or zucchini or some other vegetable that kids hate - my kids won't eat it. There is an exception. I can sometimes bribe them to eat whatever - even mushrooms! - if dessert is good enough. The better the dessert, the more they can put up with whatever comes before.

If my kids get their entire enjoyment from the vegetables, then we are all in trouble. They won't call it a good meal. But if you ask them what the meal was like after they finish off that double chocolate cake with ice cream, they will say it was a good meal. The dessert made the whole thing worthwhile.

Paul writes in verse 18: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."

In verses 19 to 27, he goes on to describe the condition of the world today. His point is that things really are in bad shape today. In fact, all of creation, he says, is "subjected to frustration" and longing for the day that it will be liberated. That's what I love about Paul. He doesn't deny that things are bad today. If anything, he says they are worse than we think. If we get our hope from this world, then we're in big trouble. Paul says, instead, to get hope from the future rather than the present.

This hits me, because I tend to be centered on what's right before me much more than what lies ahead. We all tend to see the next year or two of our lives and worry about them. Paul says that whatever we go through right no, no matter how bad - and it can get bad - none of it will compare to the glory that's in store for us.

Jesus said something similar:

"Truly I tell you," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life. (Luke 18:29-30)

It's tempting to put our hope in what's right in front of us. The problem is, it's not that good in the first place. The world is not a kind place, and we often find that we've misplaced our hopes and become disillusioned with the brokenness we encounter all around us.

Paul says, yes, it is bad now, and it's even worse when we're suffering - but it will be worth it in the end because this isn't where we place our hope. Our hope is ultimately in God, not in what happens now.

Not only that, but God will help us deal with all of this while we wait for the future. Look at verse 26: "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." The Spirit knows it's hard, and he even prays for us as we suffer. His prayers can't even be put into words. They're "wordless groans" or "inexpressible groanings".

That is why someone can say, like we saw in the DVD, "Kill me? Sure, whatever. Either way I win." These people aren't putting their hope in this life. They have put their hope in the future glory that will be revealed in us, that makes everything that we go through here worthwhile. They also know that the Spirit is praying for them while they suffer.

To recap: there are some people who live so radically that it makes more sense to suffer for Christ than to sell out and life comfortably. How do they manage to put up with suffering? They get their identity from God and their hope from the future. One more. We can put up with suffering...

3. If we get our confidence from God's plan

When you're in the middle of suffering and persecution, you don't always know what's going to happen. You'd think this creates a lot of uncertainty. The reality is that things don't always get better. Many people have died throughout history. The stories often don't have happy endings.

So we know we're not always in control, and the endings aren't always happy ones. The whole situation can seem like it's out of control.

It's here that Paul steps in and reminds us that we don't get our confidence from how things turn out, because really there is no such thing as a bad ending. It's like we saw in the DVD. One woman said, "Kill me, that's fine. Let me live, that's fine too. Whatever happens, I win."

Paul puts it this way in a familiar verse: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). We usually use this verse to say that God always brings a happy ending. Not really. There are lots of bad endings. What this verse says is that even the bad endings accomplish God's purposes.

Suffering, according to Paul, doesn't remove us from Christ. If anything it carries us to our ultimate goal. If you kill us, well, fine. We'll be glorified sooner than if we had lived. If we live, well, fine. God will still complete his work in us. It's like what Paul said: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

According to Paul, God's plan for us can't be thwarted. No human opposition can touch what God wants to do with our lives. He says that God being for us outweighs everything else. Paul asks, "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?" (Romans 8:33) No charge can ever be brought against a Christian because God has already given a verdict of not guilty. And nothing can separate us from God's love.

Why follow Christ, even if it leads to suffering? Because suffering makes sense when you get your identity from God, your hope from your future, and your confidence from God's plan.

Listen to what a church leader said. He was reflecting on his time in Romania under Communism when Christianity was illegal.

During communism, many of us preached…and people came at the end of a service, and they said, "I have decided to become a Christian."

We told them, "It is good that you want to become a Christian, but we would like to tell you that there is a price to be paid. Why don't you reconsider what you want to do, because many things can happen to you. You can lose, and you can lose big."

A high percentage of these people chose to take part in a three-month catechism class. At the end of this period, many participants declared their desire to be baptized. Typically, I would respond, "It is really nice that you want to become a Christian, but when you give your testimony…there will be informers here who will jot down your name. Tomorrow the problems will start. Count the cost. Christianity is not easy. It's not cheap. You can be demoted. You can lose your job. You can lose your friends. You can lose your neighbors. You can lose your kids who are climbing the social ladder. You can lose even your life."

Let me tell you my joy—when we looked into their eyes, and their eyes were in tears, and they told us, "If I lose everything but my personal relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ, it is still worth it."

We can take the blue pill and keep on living the way we're living. Or we can take the red pill and discover what it means to say, "If I lose everything but my personal relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ, it is still worth it."

We're going to pray for the persecuted church and for those who persecute Christians. But let's also pray that we will have the same faith that they do.

Kingdom Love (Luke 6:27-36)

I want to begin today by laying a few assumptions on the table. My guess is that my assumptions are accurate, but I want to check first to find out.

My first assumption is that somebody has offended your or mistreated you. Am I right? A week ago, I would have said no, nobody's offended me recently, but then somebody came along and fixed that and I felt offended. It's probably true of you as well. Somebody hasn't been fair to you recently.

I'm talking about a boss who can't stand you, a teacher who has it out for you, the neighbor who shovels snow onto your property. It's the person who lies behind your back and tells people things that aren't even true. All of us have people who have mistreated us, and we're not too crazy about these people.

My second assumption is that you have some things to say to these people. Ever fantasized about what you would like to do or say to this person? Ever had an imaginary conversation in which you gave that person a piece of your mind? Felt good, didn't it? You gave them a piece of your mind that you couldn't afford to lose. Or maybe you've heard a story of revenge and enjoyed the story a little too much. Let me give you an example.

A woman listened to her husband, a shock-jock, on the radio one night. While working his usual 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift, he told the pin-up girl he was interviewing—on air—that he was willing to leave his wife and two kids for her.

The wife created an eBay auction for her husband's car, a Lotus Esprit Turbo. The auction page was almost completely blank except for a picture of the car and the following words:

I need to get rid of this car immediately—ideally in the next 2-3 hours before my cheating [jerk] husband gets home to find it gone and all his belongings in the street. I am the registered owner and I have the [registration]. Please only buy if you can pick up tonight.

The car—valued at approximately $45,000—was listed with a "Buy-it-Now" price of 50 pence ($.90), and the auction lasted exactly 5 minutes and 3 seconds before an anonymous buyer paid for it and drove away.

Four days after the car was sold, the anonymous buyer left the following feedback on her eBay account: "Thank you, the car is excellent. Thank your hubby for me."

Many of us have had imaginary conversations in our head and plotted our revenge. We have enemies and we kind of like holding grudges against them.

My third assumption is that Jesus wants to speak into these situations. Actually, this isn't much of an assumption. I know it's true, because Jesus has said as much. We know right away that we are in trouble because, well, it's so gratifying to hold these grudges and we're not so sure that we want Jesus messing with them.

But, of course, Jesus does.

My final assumption is that it is best to listen to what Jesus has to say about our grudges. It's a matter of obedience, but it's much more than that. My assumption is that what Jesus says on this topic is not only what is right, but it is also what is best. We need to obey, primarily because obedience is always the appropriate response to God. But we also should respond because what Jesus says is best.

So today I'd like to ask you to take the person or persons who have it coming to them, who have treated you unfairly. Think about them. And then I want to come to Jesus and ask what he says about our response to these people.Got somebody in mind?

The passage we're going to look at today is found in one of Jesus' most important sermons. Jesus is inaugurating a his Kingdom, and in this sermon he announces what that Kingdom is like.

We looked last week at the fact that the Kingdom is available to anyone, and that true blessing is available to people that nobody would ever call blessed. In today's passage, Jesus turns his attention to human relationships. I think he does this for two reasons. For one thing, it comes up because he's just said that following him is going to cause tension in our relationships. Jesus has just finished saying:

Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
(Luke 6:22)

Jesus knows that his followers are going to face the challenge of how to respond to those who mistreat them.

The other reason I think this comes up is because it is such a key issue. There are few things more important to Jesus than our relationships. As we've been reading in the Jesus Creed, our love for God and others is the issue to Jesus.

We're going to see in this passage that Jesus gives us a radical new standard of how we should respond to our enemies. Not only does he give us a standard, he also shows us what it looks like, and gives us reasons why we should hold to this standard. If you have your Bibles with you, please open them to Luke 6. We're going to be looking at verses 38 to 48.

The New Standard

In verses 27 and 28, Jesus gives us a radical new standard for how to respond to those who mistreat us. Jesus says, "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

To understand what Jesus was saying, we need to understand what was normal back then. You've all heard the saying eye for eye, tooth for tooth. To us, that sounds vindictive. It actually comes from the Hebrew Scriptures and was not meant to encourage violence, but to put limits on it. You know how these things work. Somebody bumps you. You don't just bump them back; you give them a shove. They don't shove you back, they land a punch. Pretty soon you're not just punching, you're in a full-blown fight. God gave limits so that things didn't escalate out of control. He said, "Don't let things escalate and get out of control." We relate to this, because we may feel comfortable asking, "How far can I retaliate before I have crossed a line?"

Here Jesus comes along and says, "I'm going to give you an even higher standard." He calls us to respond to hostility in a completely unprecedented manner. This isn't supposed to be the superhuman standard we aspire to reach. This is the normative standard for all followers of Christ. The standard is this: "love your enemies."

As somebody has said, "Love doesn't sound so dangerous until you've tried it" (Paul Wadell). Here, the standard is not so much a feeling of love. It's actually an even higher standard: to act out that love. It's to take specific actions toward those who have offended us that are the opposite of how we would normally react: to do good to them, to bless them, to pray for them.

A long time ago, somebody gave me a book called Well-Intentioned Dragons. It's a very good book. It's written for pastors but it really applies to everybody. It talks about the people who treat us badly and it calls them dragons. The whole book can really be summarized in one sentence: in responding to dragons, don't become a dragon yourself. Easier said than done. I find that when I'm dealing with somebody who is a dragon I want to breathe fire back. Jesus says, instead of treating them as badly as they treat you, bless them. You won't feel like it, but pray for them. Do good to them. Amazingly, I've found that after I start to act this way, my heart eventually changes toward them.

So go ahead and think about the person or persons who have offended you. If you're like me, you usually think about what you'd like to tell them if only you had the chance. Jesus calls us to flip that around. Instead of thinking of what you would like to do to harm them, think instead of the best thing that you can do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead.

I can guarantee you two things. First, you won't feel like doing it. Nobody feels like loving your enemy. But I can also guarantee you that how you act will eventually change the way that you feel.

A woman came to a lawyer and said, "I want to get a divorce. I really hate my husband, and I want to hurt him. Give me some advice." In addition to wanting to get the gold and give him the shaft, she was wondering about some other way that she might do him in.

The attorney said, "Look, you're going to divorce the guy anyway, so for three months don't criticize him. Speak only well of him. Build him up. Every time he does something nice, commend him for it. Tell him what a great guy he is, and do that for three months. After he thinks that he has your confidence and love, hit him with the news and it will hurt more."

The woman thought, "I can't go wrong on this. I'm divorcing the guy anyway. Why should I speak badly about him anymore? I'm going to speak only well of him."

So, she complimented her husband for everything he did. For three months she told him what a great man he was. You know what happened to that relationship? After three months, they forgot about the divorce and went on a second honeymoon.

Loving your enemy may not change them, but it's the radical new standard that God calls you to live. And although it may not change them, it just may change you.

What This Looks Like

The thing that I love about Jesus is that he doesn't just give us an abstract principle. He gives us a number of examples of how this might work. It might be like if I said, "Now if somebody cuts you off, this is how you should react. If your friend at school gossips about you, then this is what you should say." Jesus gets very concrete in describing how this love will show itself in different circumstances.

Jesus gives us a number of examples of how the disciples should react when they are mistreated in verses 29-31:

If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

A lot of people read this and think that Jesus is getting carried away here. He certainly does call for a high standard. Let's look at each of these examples and think about what it might look like today.

The slap - A slap on the face is demeaning and insulting. This probably refers to a slap with the back of a hand. Some think that Jesus is talking about what would happen when his followers were kicked out of the synagogue for following Jesus. They might be slapped. It's natural in that situation to want to defend yourself, to want to slap back.

Ever been in that situation? Your first reaction may be to strike back. The other reaction you might have is to defend yourself. You want to either go on the offensive or hide and protect yourself. Jesus says, don't do either. Go back and take a risk, even if it might lead to you getting hurt again.

Of course, there are times where enough is enough, and you shouldn't go back for more abuse. But some of us have never taken that risk of going back to someone who has hurt us and risk reaching out to them again.

Charlene said something the other week that really hit me, no pun intended. She said that when you love somebody you can't protect yourself. Love risks yourself. Jesus says to risk being hurt again by people who might let us down.

The shirt - The next example has to do with your rights. Exodus 22:26-27 says:

If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can your neighbor sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

You could give your cloak as a pledge for a loan, as collateral, but only temporarily. The cloak had to be returned by the evening so you wouldn't be cold. You had rights!

Jesus turns this on its head. He says, in effect, forget about your rights. Instead of demanding that they give you back your cloak, your outer garment, give them your shirt as well. Be willing to lose your shirt if necessary. Be willing to let people take advantage of you if necessary. When they do, don't respond as you'd be tempted to. Respond with exceptional love. Leave the judgment in God's hands.

This sounds so good but it's tough. It's radical. If you have ever been mistreated and have legal options, rights that you can enforce, it's tough to sit back and say, "I won't insist on my rights. I will allow myself to be mistreated." Jesus says that it's better to be defrauded than to bring reproach on his name.

Give - Jesus says, "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back." It's normal to give to people when we can get something back. I would give to any of you if the interest rate was right. It's another thing altogether to give when it doesn't benefit us. Jesus says to give, even when there's nothing in it for you.

It was against Scripture to lend with interest. You could lend, however, to build "credit" with someone else, so they owed you. You could call in a favor later. Jesus says, don't do that. Don't just give when it serves your purpose. Give even when there's nothing in it for you.

Every seventh year, it was time to cancel debts. It would be pretty hard to want to lend somebody some money on the sixth year, knowing that in just one more year that debt would be cancelled. Jesus says, give even when you know they won't repay you. Don't be motivated by what's in it for you.

Jesus gives instead what we now call the Golden Rule: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31). It's not a rule book. It's an attitude of taking people who are not deserving of your love, and loving them anyway. It's treating them as you would wish to be treated, not as they deserve to be treated.

There are two things that I can say about what we've covered this morning. The first is that what Jesus has said is clear, concise, direct, and memorable. There is no misunderstanding his intent. The second thing you can say about it is that it is rare. G.K. Chesterton said, the trouble with this type of Christianity is that it has never been tried. This will cost you.

You and I will not want to do this. It's like Corrie Ten Boom, a Holocaust surviver and Christian, who met a Nazi SS guard who used to stand in the shower room at the concentration camp. After the war, she say him in a church service. She couldn't bring herself to shake his hand until she prayed this prayer silently: "Jesus...I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness." This type of love is impossible without God's help.

Why Should I?

I want to end this as we come to the Communion table by asking why we should live this way. Why, when it is so costly, should we lavish love on those who don't deserve it? Three reasons:

First, this marks us as different. Jesus says:

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. (Luke 6:32-34)

Jesus says, what do you have to brag about if you don't live any differently than anybody else? It doesn't take any effort to retaliate. That's the norm. Jesus calls us to a higher standard.

Second, God will reward us. Living this way is based on the belief that God will make it right, that God will look after us. Jesus said, "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High" (Luke 6:35). God will look after us. This doesn't earn us a relationship with God, but it marks us as his children with all the privileges that come to us as his children.

Third, because this is how God treats us. This is the ultimate reason. Why should we show kindness to those who don't deserve it? Because this is what God has done for us. "He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:35-36). We love because we are the loved.

We are to be like this because it's what God is like. He is not a penny pinching God. He lavished love and grace to us when we didn't deserve it. We should lavish love and grace to others in return.

Let's pray as we come to the Communion table.

Why Do Men Hate Going to Church? (John 2)

The latest issue of Preaching magazine arrived in my mailbox not long ago. The cover features a man yawning in the front of a church, and the headline reads: "Why do men hate going to church?" The inside contains an interview with the author of a book on this topic. Listen to what he says:

The church has a reputation as a place for women, weirdoes and wimps. No real man would be caught dead in the church. I think churches work very hard to create an environment where women and sensitive men feel comfortable meeting Jesus, and I think that is because over the years many of our ministries have become women-oriented. We need women to work in the nursery, to staff the Sunday School, to prepare meals for potluck dinners, to prepare for ceremonial gatherings such as weddings, funerals, baby showers, etc. So because women are so desperately needed for the ministry machine we subtly tailor our messages, our ceremonies.

Let me ask you: do you agree that "church has a reputation as a place for women." If so, why?

[DISCUSS]

Let me give you one suggestion. See if you agree with what the author, David Murrow, says:

I think it starts with the way we portray Jesus. Two or three hundred years ago He was — you know Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" — He was an almost scary character.

Today He's a much more soft, caring, comforting fellow who is focused more on helping you in your personal life than on establishing some great kingdom of God here on earth. The emphasis is much more on therapeutic personal relationship with Jesus rather that a great, transcendent cause, which is what would interest men.

When you ask Christians what the ideal values of a follower of Jesus are you get words like tenderness, nurturing, relationships, family. You don't tend to hear words like challenge, adventure, and risk. Yet if you examine the scripture that's what Jesus is all about. He was about both those things. Not only those feminine characteristics but also the masculine ones — but we tend to lop off the masculine ones because they create discomfort in the church.

He says later, "We've made Jesus this ‘Mr. Rogers with a beard' and then we wonder why boys get to their teenage years and don't want to follow Him. Well, it's obvious. He's a wimp and boys don't follow wimps."

Earlier this week, I heard someone say something similar. He suggested that we have made the stories about Jesus kid's bedtime stories, when they are anything but that. He suggested that the church needs to rediscover the stories of Jesus.

It's a pretty big tragedy for me that men can't relate to church. I heard a preacher this summer talk about how he's banned flowers from his church because he can't stand sissy churches that cater to women. The funny thing is that they had flowers where he was speaking. The minute he was done, staff ran up and had them cleared before the next break. It's probably worth thinking about, whether we've made church more feminine than it ought to be.

What concerns me more, though, is if we have Jesus wrong. I can live with fewer men in church if that is the right thing. But I'm not sure it is. And if the reason is that we've created this false picture of Jesus, then it's a tragedy. There are few things worse than creating a caricature of Jesus that doesn't look like Jesus at all.

This morning what I want to do for a few minutes is to think about some of the events that took place in Jesus' life that bring this side of Jesus to our attention. Anyone have an example?

[DISCUSSION]

We could look at lots of these. Today I want to take just a few minutes and look at one chapter of Jesus' life that records two events in Jesus' life. The chapter we're going to look at is perfect because it contains two stories that don't fit our normal perception of Jesus. What I want to do is to describe what happened in each of these stories and ask you to help me make sense of where we have Jesus all wrong. So let me tell you the stories and then you can help me out by telling me what the stories say about Jesus. I'll tell you where the stories are found after.

Story One

When the first story takes place, Jesus is still a nobody. He hasn't gone public yet. Nobody knows much about him. He's in the middle of nowhere, and he's at a wedding. Not the type of wedding you're thinking - little speeches and bouquets being thrown. This is a wild wedding - food being eaten, dancing, celebrating. There's food flying out of people's mouths, people are getting drunk, there is a good time happening. It is loud. And Jesus is there.

The thing that you need to know is that every Jewish father did something for his daughter from the year that she was born. Every year he would prepare some wine and put it aside. First birthday, second birthday, third birthday, right until she was 16. When her wedding day came, he would pull all of this wine out and serve it up. He'd start with the good stuff - 16 years old. Good stuff. Then 15 year old wine - almost as good. The party went on, and by the time they got to the stuff that had just been made two months ago, that still tasted a little like vinegar, well, that wouldn't matter so much. If you've had ten glasses of really good wine, you don't notice so much if the eleventh isn't as good - or so I'm told. How would I know? That's why you always served the best wine first and you saved the newest wine for the end.

In this case, something goes seriously wrong. The father runs out of wine. This would be one of those moments that would be a party stopper. Everybody that knew would have gasped. This would be dishonoring to the father and to the bride. It would have been an insult.

It's here that Jesus' mother turns to Jesus and says, "Do something!" Now think about this. Jesus has been around for 30 years and he's never gone public with what he's about. He's never done a miracle. And this is when he's supposed to go public? This is going to be his first miracle? Jesus even says so. "My hour has not yet come." It's not time for me to go public. And perform a miracle so that people have enough to drink at a party? Who do you think that I am?

But Jesus goes ahead. He points at six ceremonial jars. The jars are for what? For ceremonial washing. They would be what you would use when you became ceremonially unclean. They were probably the only religious things that they had at that party. And what does Jesus do? He points at those and says, "Those will do. Fill those up with water."

He does, and people taste it, and they say, "Why did you save this stuff for now? This is good. You've had this wine for a while."

What Jesus has done here is something. First, Jesus performs his first miracle for what? So the party can go on. What does it say about Jesus? Is this the Jesus that we know?

The more shocking thing than this, though, is what he chose to use. The ceremonial washing pots were the only religious things they had there. Jesus takes the symbol of what is religious and what is clean and what is sacred and says, "We won't be needing that anymore." He completely obliterates and offends the people who were into religion who were there. He's sending a message, but it's also so that the party can go on.

Story Two

The second story is in the same chapter. It seems like it was just a few days later. It was Passover, time to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the religious festival with others. Jesus went, and found that they were selling all kinds of animals in the temple courts, and changing money. At one level, this was okay: it saved people from having to bring animals with them from far away. At another level, it had crossed the line into something bad. There are all kinds of theories about what the problem was. Some say it was because commerce had taken over the place where Gentiles came to worship. Some say it's because they had gone from providing a service for people to exploiting them for profit.

Whatever the reason, Jesus took deliberate action. He made himself a whip. He went charging into the Temple, started overturning the tables, and drove the animals and the money changers out of the Temple. Imagine the sound of the whip cracking, the animals scattering all over the place, the people running away. He told the people who were selling doves, "Get out of here!"

Questions

So let me ask you something about these two stories. Do they match your picture of Jesus? They don't match mine. What do you think these stories tell us about Jesus?

[Discussion]

The thing I love about these stories is that they don't fit my stereotypes of Jesus. Here's the thing: Jesus is not Mr. Rogers with a beard. He can't be contained in our boxes. Jesus is dangerous. He doesn't fit within our preconceptions.

I've really appreciated getting back to the Gospels to rediscover that Jesus doesn't fit into the nice safe box that we've created for him.

The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe is coming to theaters soon. Remember the quote from the book about Aslan?

"Then he isn't safe?" asks Lucy.

"Safe?" replies Mr. Beaver. "Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

In another one of the Narnia books: "It's not as if he were a tame lion."

Jesus isn't safe. He also doesn't call us to something safe. He turns to us and says things like this:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:12-13)

You read the Gospels and you see that Jesus is not calling us to something safe or predictable. It's not something that can be boxed in. He calls us to something that's worth risking your life for.

It's like Braveheart. William Wallace said:

Nobles. Now tell me, what does that mean to be noble? Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don't follow titles, they follow courage. Now our people know you. Noble, and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they'd follow you. And so would I.

Talk about following courage. Courage is personified in Jesus.

My theology professor used to ask us trick questions like, is there a man's body in heaven? It used to throw us because we thought we knew the answer but we were scared of getting it wrong. The answer is, yes. The prof would always remind us of the verse, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human..." (1 Timothy 2:5). He is still a man, and what a man he is.

Jesus was about some of the things that we usually talk about - tenderness, compassion, and family. But he was also about challenge, adventure, and risk. Let's never settle for a Christianity that stops with a safe Jesus. If nothing else, I would challenge you to read the Gospels again to find out who Jesus is, and what kind of men he calls us to be.

Let's spend a few minutes reacting to these two stories in prayer, and let's ask for God to save us from safe religion. Let's ask him instead to show us the unsafe and risky adventure of following Jesus.