Sermon: Cross God’s Heart

When it comes to Christmas, we often picture the shepherds worshipping and celebrating the newborn baby Jesus.  Luke presents a couple other people that were celebrating the birth of the baby, now 8 days old, as well.  Their celebration is a reflection of a faithful, promise keeping God.  His promise continues to hold true today and is our great hope heading into 2017.

“If you are not feeding your soul on the realities of the presence, promises, and provisions of Christ, you will ask the people, situations, and things around you to be the messiah that they can never be.”

-Paul David Tripp

The Rightful Wearer of the Crown

Well, that was embarrassing.  It was the pinnacle of the night.  Everything was coming down to this one moment.  The next Miss Universe was about to be crowned.  Then the unthinkable happened.  The wrong woman was announced as the winner.  Not only that, she was crowned.  The wrong person received the crown and accolades.  For a moment.  A very brief 1136543_1280x720moment.

How could this happen? The rightful wearer of the crown’s name was right there on the index card, but somehow it was missed.  Call it human error, but it was an unbelievable gaff.

Social media was abuzz with the news.  I have to admit, that’s how I found out about it.  For a few days it was the talk on news feeds.  What an embarrassing, uncomfortable moment.  We chuckle at how something so important (in that context), could be so blown.  As though we ourselves would NEVER blow it in such a way.

We would never put a crown on the wrong recipient, would we? The reality is, we all have.  There is only one who is worthy to wear the crown.  Only one true victor.  One who deserves all the attention, all the praise and accolades.  Each of us in our own ways have handed that crown over to things that even for a brief moment we believe is worthy.  Human error? It’s the human condition.
We have more than index cards, we have God’s letter to us.  It’s been the best selling book for years.  It’s accessible in various readable translations.  It’s on our phones and digital devices.  Likely we have more than one copy in our homes.  God has made an entire universe that screams out its existence because of him.  Discoveries of microscopes, telescopes and stethoscopes all point to him.  We are without excuse.  It’s right there.  Are we missing it?

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:19-23)

The incredible story of the gospel is that the King laid aside his crown of glory and took up a crown of thorns.  The rightful one left his glorious throne and humbled himself.  He left glory and faced scorn.  He died for those who reject him.  We, the ones who so easily worship false gods – our jobs, families, finances and abilities.  He paid the price for our rejection that we might receive God’s grace and forgiveness.  He came that we might know God through him.

None of us would have been privy to who the real winner of Miss Universe was had the show just gone on.  But the judges knew and that made all the difference.  It was that standard that made it a necessity to take off the crown from false winners.  God is a righteous judge.  He will not allow false winners to continue to wear the crown.

The time for false victors is brief.  The rightful wearer of the crown will be known.  May it not be a time of shame for us when that moment of recognition occurs.  The God of the universe reigns.  Read the card and crown accordingly.

Real Isn’t Enough

Real. Legit. True. Great things that everyone should strive for, but what happens when instead of striving, “real” becomes an excuse for disobedience? Is it possible that what we would qualify as realness is really just an excuse for faithlessness? That we herald the person who is “real” while celebrating inaction, or more blatantly, sin? For the sake of being “real”, there are those who openly flaunt their failures, as if there is no fault, no conviction. They are the same people who quickly tout, “Don’t judge me.” Impotent faith isn’t something to celebrate. It is something to grieve and should be cause for questioning the validity of one’s salvation.

That’s Just Who I Am
Sin is not new. Hiding sin is not new. It was the first reaction of Adam & Eve when faced with their failure in the garden of Eden. Pretend like nothing happened. Cover the shame. Ditch the apple core and hide in the bushes. The methods of cover up may have gotten more complicated, but people have been doing the same kind of thing ever since.

We want acceptance. We realize that our sins will affect the way that people view us or treat us. “If people knew…” is a statement that haunts us. We want people to believe that we are greater that we are. We hide behind the foliage of fake smiles and “I’m fine’s”. The religious teachers of Jesus’ day influenced others through external impressions. Jesus called them white washed tombs, clean on the outside, but internally full of rottenness (Matthew 23:27).

People have grown tired of hypocrisy. We are tired of the politics and empty promises. People both in the church and in society let us down. We also grow tired of trying to live up to a perception that people have of us. There is something freeing about being open about the reality of things. There is not the pressure of trying to live up to something that you know you will fail in accomplishing. Being “real” retires the masks and puts away the charades. But is that kind of realness enough? Really?

We can err between two unhealthy alternatives. One wears a mask and lives in a world of make believe. The other airs out dirty laundry for all to see believing that disclosure will bring about freedom. It at least frees from the tyranny of false perceptions. But neither hiding nor open exposure will do.

Freedom in the Christian life is not centered on perceptions or realness. Freedom is centered on repentance. The Gospel uncovers the warts behind the mask, but does not rest in their simple exposure. Jesus exposes the shame we try to hide that he might take it from us. Hiding it will not cure the problem. Being open about the problem will not in itself cure the problem. Only Jesus can bring healing in exposing our reality and drawing us into a greater reality – his finished work covers over all our sins. Jesus’ covering is greater than ours because, whereas we mask the problem, Jesus forgives and restores. Jesus became the sin that we try to hide that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). The realness that glorifies God is one that admits the sin, turns from it and rests in the finished work of Jesus.

Just As I Am
The Gospel is not appreciated by those who settle in “just who I am”. Rather, the Gospel is magnified in those who find hope that Jesus comes to us “just as we are” but doesn’t leave us that way. Realness is not the destination. Jesus is. When the focus is Jesus, there is no realness without repentance. There is no realness without celebration. May the reality of our lives continually be shaped by the greater reality the Gospel brings. Don’t just get real. Embrace Jesus.

More Than Kumbaya

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at a high school camp. As I prepared for those messages, it brought back memories of my own high school camp experience 20-some (GULP) years ago. Camp was always the highlight of the summer — “Summer Charge”. Inevitably there were great memories with friends, pranks, people who started romantic relationships and spiritual growth. I’m sure we all can relate to similar campfire experiences (and the people that liked the campfire simply for the “huggy” time).

I am reminded, however, that more than summer programming, camp was an incredible time of God working in the lives of my friends and I. It brought forth an awakening to things much larger than ourselves. Something that would shape us in profound ways.

Over my high school years, I experienced some great speakers at camp. Men that loved Jesus and desired teenage students to know him and love him as well. However, as I reflect over my high school experience along with the many different speakers, there are not many messages, that I remember. Actually the number of messages remembered could be counted on one or two fingers and those date back to my freshman year.

It was that year that we had a speaker by the name of Jerry Rife. He was older than most speakers that we had experienced, yet you had the feeling that he was still no one to trifle with. Tall. Buzz cut. Retired Marine. His voice was gruff, but his heart was pure.

Through a matter of circumstances, Jerry only spoke for half the week, but yet something he said still rings in my ears all of these years later.

“Everybody is somebody’s fool. I’m a fool for Christ. Whose fool are you?”

I’m a fool for Christ. Whose fool are you? He nailed that statement over and over again, each time driving the point deeper and deeper into our souls. The point stuck. All of these years later, the point stuck.

There are things that we all get foolish about. Just watch when someone’s team is approaching the playoffs, tech-nerds when a new device comes out or screaming, crying fans at a boy band concert. Everyone has the desire to follow something greater than themselves. Something that gives meaning. Something that they are willing to sacrifice for. Those sacrifices can take all kinds of forms. Time. Health. Money. Relationships. Pleasure.

Yet, Paul reminds us that there is something that is worth being considered foolish for. Something that is foolish in the eyes of the world and yet is the very thing that gives life and hope.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ~ 1 Corinthians 1:18

The world says, “Spend now. Enjoy now. Live for now.” The cross says that there is something much better than the now. That we need to be saved from the now. Now is broken. Any number of pursuits that this world offers will only result in brokenness. A broken world cannot offer wholeness. It cannot bring the healing that we so desperately need. That is something only the cross can do.

The cross while looking foolish to the world is the very thing that brings healing. That is why Paul could say he was not ashamed of it (Romans 1:16). The ultimate fool is the one who rejects God’s provision. There are fools of the world and there are fools of the cross. Fools of the world end up being the biggest fools of all. Fools of the cross end up being no fools at all.

I’m a fool for Christ. Whose fool are you?

So glad that my heart is tethered to Jesus because of his work and not mine. I know my heart and its tendency to be foolish for things other than Jesus. Distraction. Temptation. Failure. Yet he is faithful. I can be a fool for him because I am his. HIS.

I’m a fool for Christ. Whose fool are you?

The question still rings in my ears years later. It’s a question that I asked 130 high school students two weeks ago. It’s a question that determines the focus and course of your life. May we all, starting with me, grow in our understanding of what it means to be his. May we, like David, be willing to be considered even greater fools in the eyes of the world for the sake of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:22).