Monday, September 19, 2016

Church of The Open Door (Revelation 3)--Sermon on 9.18

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There are some things in life that you know are important. Things like food and shelter. Blessings like friends and family.

Then there are those things that you have and use every day that you take for granted that are also important. One of those things that are important that we often dismiss is a door.

Thresholds are important. By a threshold I mean a gate or a doorway or something like that. A threshold is a portal that takes you from one place to another. Have you ever walked through a door and everything changed? Maybe you were looking for a home, and you walked into a room, and you said, “Yes, this is it!”

Maybe you walked into a room for a date with that special someone, and the moment you or they walked in the room you know everything was different, or everything changed.

Or maybe you considered coming to church, and you sat in the parking lot, and you walked up the stairs to enter the building, looked up at those big doors, and it took all you had to walk through the doors, because you knew something was different once you went through them.

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In ancient thought, thresholds like doors and gates had great spiritual significance. When you look at the design of the temple and the tabernacle in ancient Israel, it is designed with a series of thresholds as you go further into the structure. Each one only allowed certain people in it at certain times. By the time you get to the holy of holies, one priest was able to enter the room once a year.

When you walked through a door or a gate, you in many ways walked from one reality to another. There was a reason that the Lord commanded ancient Jews to post Scriptures on their doorposts as they went in and went out of their homes. They wanted them to take the Word of God and the presence of God with them as they moved through every passageway—into each new world and each new place that they entered.

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Think about it. When a couple leaves their parent’s homes or their individual homes and moves into their own homes, the husband often traditionally carries his spouse across the threshold. That is because the life they had before has changed forever once they walk through that door together.

You stand in a doorway from the outside, and you really never know what is going on from the other side of the door. A door, a gate, a passageway is a boundary that can keep secrets, hold power, provide safety, and insight fear in people.

Sometimes we talk about things we should do “behind closed doors” because what we talk about in those moments is not for everyone to hear. We talk about encountering a closed door that we cannot get through. We talk about opportunities that we missed or are unavailable to us as closed doors.

Jesus talked a lot about doors, gates, and thresholds. He commands his followers to ask, seek and KNOCK, as in knocking on a door. He tells stories of widows knocking at the door of a judge until the judge give the woman the justice that she deserves. Jesus encourages us to pursue what we want in prayer with the same kind of urgency.

At one point Jesus refers to Himself as a gate. He says that if people want to find salvation and get to the Heavenly Father, they need to go through him.

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Similarly, when we get to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus says that he is the one that has the keys to the kingdom. What he locks, nobody can open. What he opens, nobody can shut. Then he says something rather amazing to the people at that church. He says that he has set before the church in Philadelphia an open door. And that open door nobody could shut.

Whereas the church we discussed last week had no good thing, no encouraging word said to it, the church in Philadelphia had no word of condemnation delivered to it.

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The church in Philadelphia has been faithful. They have endured. They have kept God’s Word. They have not denied his name. Even in the face of persecution. Even when they have been beaten down to the point where they only have a little strength left, they have remained true to their faith. Jesus promises to remain true to this church.

Philadelphia is a small town compared to the others. It is most likely a small church. A struggling church. Yet, at this time and in this moment, Jesus promises an open door that nobody can shut is set before them.

What does it mean to have an open door set before you? How does that speak to you to have an open door in front of you?

Have you ever known someone who had an open door policy, or whose home was always an open door? When we hear about someone having an open door we think about someone who is friendly, honest, and transparent. We think about someone who is honest and true. With someone who is hospitable. Who is willing to talk and willing to listen. Certainly this is true of Jesus. The beginning of the letter talks about Jesus being true, doesn’t it? So when we hear Jesus offering us an open door, we should think about the accessibility we have to him. But when he says, “I set before you an open door” Jesus is saying much, much more than that.

Three times in his epistles the apostle Paul uses the phrase of a “door being opened”. Each time it speaks of an opportunity that Paul has that Paul either wants to take advantage of or is in the process of taking advantage of. We know this about open doors, don’t we?

Have you ever been in a situation where you are seeking God’s will, and you ask God to open doors of opportunity to show you what to do or where to go next? I have. When I seek to discern whether God calls me to go somewhere I ask God to open doors that I know that I must walk through.

Have you ever had a moment that you had an opportunity that you did not expect, and you knew that the opportunity was a God thing, a divine appointment? Maybe it was a moment when you received a special blessing. Maybe it was when you accepted Christ. Or perhaps it was when you walked through the doors of this church. And you knew…you just knew…God had put a chance in front of you that you could not resist. An open door.

Specifically, when the apostle Paul talks about having an open door before him he is talking about having an opportunity to do some sort of ministry, especially the kind of ministry that reaches people for Christ. I don’t know about you, but when I pray for the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life for Christ and in his kingdom I pray for open doors in their heart. I pray for opportunities to reach them and share with them.

Jesus says that the church in Philadelphia has an open door that it set before them. A big part of what he is saying is that this church has an opportunity or opportunities were set before them as a church. The church in Philadelphia may have been a small church that was struggling to keep going in their small community, but they still had an open door before them. They still had opportunities for ministry. They had opportunities to reach their community where the church was planted. They may not feel like they have a lot of strength left, but they stood on the verge of something new. Jesus was giving them an opportunity to walk through another door.  And once they claimed that opportunity, their reality would be different and unexpected blessings would follow.

Many of you have an open door set before you in your life. You have not chosen to accept Christ. You have heard about Him, but you have ignored him and pushed him away. Today you have an open door before you. Will you walk through it?

Others of you have an open door before you to be baptized and join our church. You have thought…maybe tomorrow. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. Today you have an open door set before you.

As a church we have opportunities set before us as well. We have an open door to be THE open door that points others to Jesus. There are folks that are scared to ever set foot in a church like ours, scared that it might fall in on itself if they set foot inside our building.

When Jesus says he sets an open door before us he is inviting us into his home and his presence. When we get to the end of the book of Revelation we see that there is a gate to God’s heavenly kingdom that nobody can shut. He sets an open door before us. He invites us into his land and into his home. Into his eternal kingdom. Even more though, we are invited into his eternal presence.

When Jesus invites us to walk through the open door, he is inviting us to come home. To come home to God. To come in and sit on his couch, be in his presence. To share our lives with him. Our hopes and our fears. Our worries and concerns. To walk through that open door and know that whatever may happen, that we can always come through that open door. He will keep us safe. He will bind up our wounds. He give us nourishment, joy and laughter. And whatever we have done, we can come home to him and know we are treasured and loved. He sets an open door before us.

Jesus sets an open door before us. An open door of access to Him. An open door of opportunity for blessing. An open door of opportunity for mission and growth. An open door to offer the world around us. But most of all, we have an open door to walk through that is the open door to our rightful home with our friend and savior Jesus, and our Heavenly Father. Will we walk through that open door set before us. I hope we will. I hope you will. I hope I will. God bless us in our steps across the threshold of grace and love. Amen.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Starting Over

One of my favorite passages in the Bible comes, believe it or not, from the book of Leviticus. Leviticus is a book of laws in the Old Testament. When people try and start reading through the Bible, they usually quit somewhere in Leviticus. 

Leviticus 25 speaks to a holiday that God wanted instituted among his people. It was called the Year of Jubilee. Every fifty years, according to this law, there was a reset. All debt was forgiven. Family land that had to be sold went back to the original owners. Slaves were set free from the bondage they had sold themselves into. Everyone got a new start.

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I don’t know about you, but I find myself needing a new start over and over and over again. I try to be more disciplined in my diet and exercise. Then I get busy with other things, and I have to start over again. I try to be a good friend, but then I disappoint them. I want to be a good husband and father, but I let my wife and kids down. I try to preach good sermons, but some of them fall flat. Over and over again, I need a second chance.

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Ultimately, this opportunity for second, third and fourth chances is what Christianity is all about. The unexpected, undeserved gift of a second chance is what the Bible calls GRACE.

When people put their faith in Christ, and receive the gift of salvation that Jesus offers, they receive grace, a second chance, a new start. Jesus gives believers “new life” through his grace.

Not only do we experience salvation by grace and inherit eternal life, each day is a gift, and each moment is a new start. Our growth in Christlikeness is a gift. Our ability to love and be compassionate is a gift. Each new day, I am a beginner in the journey of faith, and it is only by Christ’s good gift that I can live with hope, and live like Jesus asks me to. I need Jesus to save me, and I need Jesus to help me live day to day.

So, then, as a person who is given second chances, I am asked to offer second chances to others on Jesus’ behalf as well. I am called to choose forgiveness over taking offense. I am asked to serve others and help them out when they are down, even if they don’t appear to be that deserving of the love and support.
Accept grace. Live grace. Share grace. Take a do-over. Offer a second chance to others.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


“Joy is the serious business of heaven”— C.S. Lewis

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.”— G. K. Chesterton

“Rejoice in the Lord always”—Philippians 4:4

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I am by nature melancholy and analytical in temperament. I would not make a good salesman. I like to say I am neither an optimist or a pessimist. I am a realist. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought is, “Is it morning, already?” Yesterday someone asked me how my day was going before I was leading soccer practice. I said, “Not so good, but I’ll get through it. Ask me again tomorrow, ok?”, and then we both chuckled. But I do believe I have the joy of Christ in my heart.

I am not sure you need to have the pep and excitement of a cheerleader to be a joyful person. Joy runs deeper in one’s bones than enthusiasm or excitement. Joy is a gift from God. Joy is “orientation of the heart” that allows you to live in a “settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope” (Theopedia). Joy comes from being grounded enough to believe that ““All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” as Julian of Norwich said.

I am joyful when I can acknowledge the difficulty of my present circumstances, and realize that the present circumstances I am in are not the end of my story. That is why James says we can consider it joy when difficult circumstances come our way, because we know in the end that God can use many of those circumstances to make us stronger, healthier, and happier (James 1: 2-4)

I am joyful when I shun anxiety. Worry is the great enemy of joy. After Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord, he follows that immediately by saying, “Be anxious for nothing…” in Philippians 4. When we succumb to worry and anxiety, we live in a black hole of bitterness and darkness that robs us of our joy.

I am joyful when I live with purpose. When I have a direction for my life and energy, I know what I do matters. The Bible says Jesus’ joy is made complete when we love one another and keep Jesus’ commands.

Finally, I am joyful when I choose to make the things of God my focus. Philippians 4:8-9 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
God bless you!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Be Safe


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Greetings are not always as straight forward as you might think. For instance, when I was growing up if one wanted to make a quick greeting as one was walking by, one might say, “Hi” or “Hello” or “Hey there!”. When I moved from my sleepy small town to the middle of the country, and then to a large city people would often offer, “How are ya?” as a greeting. 
This confused me for a while. Where I came from, that was an invitation to conversation. So, I would stop and answer and begin to ask “How are you?”, but the person would already be moving away from me. To me, that greeting was a conversation starter. To the people I met it was another phrase used as a quick greeting as you are moving along down the sidewalk.
I moved from Montana to Colorado in 2003. 

When I moved to Colorado, I noticed that people often ended their conversation with the phrase, “be safe”. I may have heard this before, but the frequent use of this phrase as a substitute for “bye” took me off guard. I chalked it up to hypervigilance in the light of 9-11 and Columbine, which had both happened within the last 5 years. I did not like the phrase though, because I think life Is less about playing it safe and more about taking risks and living life to the fullest.

These days, I am more safety conscious than ever. I have two little girls, and my wife teases me that I am a “helicopter parent” at times. I pray for their health and safety daily. Yet there is a large part of my that continues to believe that life is about more than “being safe” and “playing it safe”. It is about living fully, audaciously, and tenaciously in service of our Lord Jesus Christ, building his kingdom with passion and gusto.

There are lots of risks we are called to take as believers. Can you risk rejection by walking across a room and sharing your faith with others? Can you risk financial hardship by following the Lord’s call to give at least ten percent of your income away? Can you risk leaving a place of safety and going to a new place that is unknown for the sake of the good news? Will you risk persecution in order to boldly proclaim and live your faith in the midst of an increasingly secular world? Will you speak up against injustice, even if it costs you financial standing and reputation? These are difficult questions that call us to a deeper, more committed faith, and away from merely playing it safe.

Don’t simply seek security. Seek Christ and his will. And trust the word from Jesus which said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Inside Out: Praying Our Sadness

They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad
They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad
Wednesday's worse, and Thursday's also sad

Yes the eagle flies on Friday, and Saturday I go out to play
Eagle flies on Friday, and Saturday I go out to play
Sunday I go to church, then I kneel down and pray

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy on me
Lord have mercy, my heart's in misery

The Blues. Born of a fusion of European folk songs and slave work songs that had its roots in African call and response rhythms that are also evident in African-American worship (even preaching!) to this day. Uniquely American, in part due to this fusion, the blues has its roots in deep south. The flatter notes and the cadence of the music allows for the expression of pain, tears, crying out, and sometimes whining, and sometimes lighthearted complaining of the artist.

They call it Stormy Monday is a classic blues song. It is a song of complaint, yet it is not without humor. It speaks to the pain as well as the rhythms of everyday life. A pained week, a raucous Saturday night, and a cry for help and forgiveness come Sunday until the whole pattern starts again on Monday.

Of course the blues have evolved, and infused much of contemporary music. The blues are powerful, because our pain and our heartache, our suffering and our hardship, it all needs to be acknowledged.

As Prince, who is a musical artist that died this week, opined in the introduction to his song, “Let’s God Crazy”, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this things called LIFE.”

In the Psalms, there are these blues notes as well. Jesus prayed one of these songs, Psalm 22, as he died on the cross when he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”

The Psalms teach us how to pray our joy, as we discussed last week. They also help us to pray our sadness.

We are looking at Psalm 42 this morning, which is a psalm of lament. As we will see in a few minutes it asks questions, it expresses heartache and doubt, and through the Psalms we are instructed to do the same.

In the movie Inside Out, as we discussed last week, we observe, in a smart, witty, and humorous way, the internal life of a 11-year old girl named Riley who is forced to move with her parents from Minnesota to the city of San Francisco, CA. Inside Out begins movie begins with the emotion Joy, personified by a spritely blue haired yellow girl, pretty much taking control of everything. But slowly, as a series of life circumstances make life much more difficult, Sadness begins to awkwardly interfere, moving into Riley’s “control panel” and awkwardly even messing with her “core memories”.  Sadness is seen as a burden, a problem to be solved, and thus the other emotions attempt to deny her any influence, and seek to give her little if any acknowledgment. The movie, in many ways, is about Riley, the young girl, and her ability to process an increasing sense of sadness and loss.

As the movie shows, and as we have seen, there are many unhealthy ways of dealing with our sadness. Addictions can often be born as a way of coping with sadness. Sadness can lead us to isolate ourselves, harm others, and even harm ourselves.

Yet, if you look at the spirituality of the Bible, especially centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, what we do not see is a denial of the pain of sadness, but a transformation of it. Other Easter Religions, such as Buddhism for instance, seek to avoid and deny heartache. The Scripture speaks of sadness redeemed and transformed.  “Every tear will be wiped away” the Bible says, He will turn your mourning into dancing, God’s Word teaches.

And so, Scripture shows us, through the presence of psalms of lament, that we are to bring our pain, our hurt, our sadness and place it at the feet of Jesus. He told us to “come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden”.

Psalm 42 is one such Psalm of Lament. It expresses a longing for the presence of God when it says, “My soul pants for you my God. My soul thirsts for you, the living God”. It says three times says, “Why my soul are you so downcast? Why are you so disturbed within me?”
The Psalmist is facing difficulty in his personal relationships. Specifically, it appears that he has enemies that are getting the upper hand. Verse 9 says he is mourning. Verse 9 also says that people are attacking him. Verse 10 says that his enemies are mocking him. Furthermore, his friends are mocking his faith.

Earlier in the Psalm he remembers times when things were more joyful, more happy, When he soul felt watered and refreshed. Now even the waters that come near him feel like a storm that he must survive.

Yet, like many Psalms of Lament, songs of sadness, even when he is praying to God, pouring his heart out, he is still doings so from a perspective of trust and faith. Even in the difficult dark moments of his life, he says, “Put your hope in God, for yet I will praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Two of our hymns are statements like these, statements of hope out of a painful time in the song writer’s life. Most of you know the story of “It is Well”, but it bears repeating. Horatio Spafford was a businessman, heavily invested in real estate in Chicago. When the Great Chicago Fire happened, he lost a significant amount of his personal wealth. His two year old son died. In order to get a break from the difficulties and pain, the family planned a trip to England by boat. Spafford was delayed, but his wife and daughters went ahead. There was a boat collision, and as his wife made it to England she sent a telegram, “Saved alone.” Spafford then made his way to his wife, and when he came to the place where the ship sunk he penned the hymn that begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, and sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot he has taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Precious Lord, Take My Hand was penned by an African American gentleman named Thomas Dorsey, who began his musical career as a guy who played in the clubs, and then after coming to Christ began to write, play and perform sacred music.
Lets listen to his story. PLAY RECORDING.

These are beautiful statements of faith, these hymns. But we do not have to The willingness to come to God in prayer, vulnerable, wounded, full of questions about why God seems so far away and distant and uninvolved in rescuing him from his suffering—all of this is an expression of faith as well.

Sometimes our tendency, as people, is to run away from God when hardship comes our way. We try and handle our problems ourselves and blame ourselves. Our we become angry with God and for some reason believe that we can avoid God. Or we deny God’s existence because we don’t want to deal with God anymore.

Praying prayers of lament, of sadness, shows that we have the faith to have difficult conversations with God. It shows that we are not afraid to bring to him our more difficult emotions, and to trust him to help us with them, to heal us, to be with us, despite our struggle with the moment that we are in.

When I read the Psalms, and pray through them, I find praying the sad Psalms especially helpful.

I read through the Psalm the first time, then I pray through it again, sometimes in my head, and sometimes aloud. I slow down. I read it sentence by sentence. I then use the concept in each line as a prompt to then make that prayer my own, expanding on the psalms words with my own words. Or sometimes I just pray the prayer by reading the Psalm, and I just let my mind bring situations I am dealing with before the Lord, with or without words, and I place those hurts and difficulties in his hands.

The Psalms show us to be brutally, straightforwardly honest in prayer.
The other things that can be healing about praying the Psalms, especially Psalms of Sadness, is that as we pray these psalms, especially if we are in that place in our life at that moment, we feel heard and affirmed in our journey.

Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, was a brilliant student of the Psalms. One of the reason he preached and taught them so well is that he both struggled with what we would call depression, and debilitating depression at that, and found healing in the Psalms, and because at times encountered what we would call the “dark night of the soul” and had the Psalms to sustain him in those moments.

There is so much in our world that tries to put on a plastic, chipper face, and pretend to be overjoyed with every moment.

The truth is that we can be both joyful and sad, and we can find a deep abiding joy, even in our sadness.

Last year, I went to a continuing education event in Loveland. It was on the Future of the Church, and there was so much to absorb. I plan on sharing some of it with you in the near future.

In the process of being there, they challenged us with some unique worship experiences. One of those unique worship experiences had us go to a station, and read a Psalm that corresponded to our age, and then sit with that for a while, reflecting on what it meant to you in that moment.

I am 42. I got this Psalm, Psalm 42. It corresponded to right where I was at. Frustrated. Discouraged. Feeling like nothing was going right, even though I was trying to do everything I was supposed to do, and everything I was called to do. I read through the Psalm and I found a sense of peace. I can’t get into all of it right now, but I had the Spirit give me a sense of peace that it was ok to be where I was right then. It was not weird. I was not wrong for feeling the way this Psalm expressed. I was not abnormal. I was in fact, in good company. So I prayed through the Psalm, and even though the words were rather sad, they gave me a sense of joy and hope. I was known. I was heard. I was who I was. Right where I should be. And that was ok. And I was able to accept the discouragement I was feeling instead of fighting against it. And that sense of praying it and accepting it, and experiencing God’s acceptance, helped me and is helping me find my way through the difficult and dark places in my life with an abiding peace and joy in the midst of the storms. Can’t explain it all to you. Just know that by praying this Psalm, I sensed that I was heard and acknowledged. And I know that this is part of the blessing of praying through sadness and pain.

Because, when you pray your sadness through praying the Psalms of Lament, you can gain many things. But perhaps the most meaningful thing that can come out of this kind of prayer is that by speaking your heartache, and praying it in conjunction with the saints throughout the ages, you learn that you are not alone. Not alone because many souls have prayed the prayer you are praying while carrying similar burdens and having similar questions. Not alone, because even as you come sensing God as being somewhat distant, as you pray with the Psalms there can be a sense of being heard by God, and a new realization that for those that place their hope in Christ, they are never alone.

Friday, April 22, 2016

You Are What You Love

I don’t often try to spend my time in venues like the Breeze doing book reports, but there is a particular book that has caught my attention lately, because its thesis, which is stated in the title, has caused me to stop and think. That book is entitled You Are What You Love and it is written by James K.A. Smith at Calvin Theological Seminary. I have not finished the book, but the concepts of the book have been marinating in the back of my mind like the chicken tenderloins are marinating in Italian dressing or garlic parmesan sauce until I put them on the grill this evening.

The thesis of the book is that our lives are defined less by our ideas and our stated values, and informed more by what captures our heart. That is why the Proverbs tell us to “guard your heart, because everything else flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). It is why Jesus invites some of his disciples to follow him in the gospel of John by asking them, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). It is also why when Jesus seeks to reinstate Peter as an apostle after his betrayal of Christ before his crucifixion he does not ask Peter if he has figured out what he has done wrong, he asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
James Smith puts it this way, “discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing” (p. 2).

Of course, discipleship is a matter of both loving God with our whole hearts and our whole minds, but we can often forget the primacy of the heart. We can describe conversion and the life of faith in a way that speaks more to what we intellectually assent to that what we give our lives to. And when we reduce faith in Jesus to agreeing to a good idea, we miss the message of faith. Because, as was stated earlier, we are what we love.

The author then goes on to say that our loves, wants and affections are formed and informed by our habits. In other words, we can say all sorts of things, but our life’s habits reflect what we really love and what we really worship. Furthermore, a large part of apprenticing ourselves to Jesus is taking upon ourselves habits that, as they are practiced and become integrated in our lives, begin to re-form our hearts and lives, and reorient ourselves toward seeking God, his kingdom, and his righteousness.

A big part of the reason why we gather for worship on Sunday mornings is that we are forming the habit of worship, which in turn orients our hearts toward reflecting our professed love of Christ. We sing in worship because singing engages the body and the emotions. Our radios are full of love songs to romantic interests. Our worship is full of love songs to a Savior who loved us enough to die for us in order to set us free from sin and death, and make us alive to serve and love Christ for eternity.

Last week, as we dialogued about the direction of our church at the Board of Trustees meeting. We discussed that we had an adequate mission—making fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ—but we had yet to set objectives and to gain enough specificity in the nuts and bolts of how to fully implement that mission. In other words, we have a lot of good ideas about where we are going, but we have yet to form intention and habits on how we are going to specifically work together to get where we need to be as a church. We need to continue form habits as a congregation that are going to empower us to be more hospitable and invitational, more passionate about knowing and living the good news, and more oriented toward seeking the good of our community. We have got some good starts in this direction, but we must keep pressing on until our mission and vision become our second nature—our habit.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Inside Out: Praying Our Joy Sermon

As you can see from the insert in your bulletins, as well as the cover of your bulletins, we are making a little turn in our teaching for the next few weeks here at United Churches. For the next five weeks we will be looking at the Psalms through the lens of the movie Inside Out.

The Psalms are the prayer book and the hymn book of the Bible. It exists to provide models of how to communicate with God.

The Psalms are also unique in that as one reads through them, a vast array of emotions are present. One cannot read through the Psalms without coming the conclusion that the Psalmists bring their whole heart before God, and as they pray through verse, through song, through written prayer, that they lay themselves bare before God. In the Psalmists beauty and brokenness, their victories and with their vices, they hide nothing, and let God minister to them as they are, in their own uniqueness.

As theologian Walter Brueggemann says in the title of his recent book, the Psalms show us that Psalms are prayed to one “from whom nothing is hid.” The Psalms teach us to pray in a way that we pray as we are, not as we should be. They teach us that we don’t have to hide, to play a game, to manipulate, but rather we come as we are to God in prayer, and we allow God to mold, transform, reprove, and grow us as we pray.
So, I have been thinking about this thing for a long time—this thing about the raw honesty and the transformation of our emotional health that is available through praying through the Psalms. And then my kids started wanting to watch this movie that was somewhat related.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch the movie Inside Out when I first saw the previews. The movie is based on the struggle of a girl in late grade school that has left the idyllic home of her childhood in Minnesota to move to San Francisco with her family, and it throws this little girl into an emotional crisis.

The action of the movie then moves into her mind, where her emotions are personified by characters. The lead character is Joy, who has controlled everything in the little girl’s life up to that point, but who begins to be losing control, especially to another character, who is Sadness. Before long, every character in coming to the forefront. Anger, Despair, Fear. The move has created emotional upheaval.

And, (spoiler alert), one of the things that is learned is that the young girl functions best when each of the emotions are allowed to be acknowledged and accepted as part of who the little girl is.

So, we are going to look a little bit at the Psalms, and ask God how we can be changed from the Inside Out by praying our whole selves, mind and emotions, positive and difficult emotions, and letting God form our emotions in a way that makes us more faithful instead of being either completely out of control or completely bottled up.
Now, there are lots of ways to pray through the Psalms, and I am sure several of you do this without thinking, but I think this phrase, “Praying the Psalms” might be helpful to unpack for some of us who are not used to praying or praying the Psalms.
We pray the Psalms by reciting or reading through them, and making the prayers that are written in that Psalm our prayer. We relate what is said to our circumstances as we read slowly through that. We borrow the words that are in the Psalm, and we speak them from our heart. And we use the Psalms as a springboard to speak to God in our words.

I suspect many of you have done similar things with songs, Christian or secular, that you have sang. You hear the song enough you memorize it. You allow it to speak to you. Although the singer of the song and you may have different stories, you find a way of relating that song that you love to your life. More about that in weeks to come.
The first emotion we are going to talk about praying through is Joy. Joy is often demonstrated in the Psalms. It comes to us through prayers of thanks—acknowledging God for what he has done for us, and it comes to us through prayers of praise—giving God appreciation for who he is. And, much like the movie, joy is often born out of the experience of other emotions.

C.S. Lewis says, “Joy is the serious business of heaven”. And he is right. Joy is central in the life of the believer. And central in the emotional life of healthy persons. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
So let us look at Psalm 33. Psalm 33 is Psalm that teaches us some things about what it means to pray joyfully, and to learn joy through prayer. The first verse of this Psalm encourages us to sing joyfully. In verse 21 our hearts rejoice.

As we look at Psalm 33, the first thing we see is that when we pray our joy through the Psalms we find PERSPECTIVE

True joy, the Psalms teach us, as we pray them, is a gift from God. It is based on God’s provision, his goodness, and his grace. Through prayers of praise for the Creator, and thanks for God’s gifts, we find perspective about our life and circumstances. And that perspective brings joy.

Psalm 33:5 tells us, after exhorting us to express joy, that “The Lord loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of his unfailing love.” The rest of the Psalm bears this out. As we learn to pray our joy, we learn where our joy comes from. It comes from a sense of awe and gratitude in how blessed we are to know God, and to be taken care of by him.

We discover joy, not through anything we do, but when we become radically aware of just how much of our life is truly a gift. When we become aware that we are a part of something that God is doing that is bigger than us, then we experience joy.
When we remember that God is in control, we can begin to put our worries behind us. When we remember that God’s justice and love is ruling the world, we can live with an attitude of trust instead of fear.

We learn this perspective as we pray and remember the vastness and the beauty of creation. We experience this sense of awe and joy in being connected to our Creator through simply observing the creation around us.

Have you ever been filled with joy watching a sunset? Have you ever been overwhelmed with joy holding a baby in your arms? When you think of all that there is, and how you have been blessed, you can’t help but experience joy.

I can have the worst day ever, and I can be walking up to the house as the wife and the kids pull up to the driveway, and suddenly I gain perspective as Karis and Mattea jump out of the car, demand a run hug from their daddy, and wanted to be lifted into my arms. Because I know that I have been blessed, and I can let go, at least for a bit, of the joy-robbing stuff in my day.

It is interesting here that political leaders are mentioned. Ultimately we have joy even in the most discouraging and trying political situations, because the control is not in the voters hands, it is not in the hands of the politicians, ultimately we are to trust not in men or women, but in God’s unfailing love. Yes, even in an election year we can live with the joy that comes from an eternal perspective.

This is because no matter what our foundation of our joy is in the love and goodness of God, and celebrating that.

Another thing that we notice as we pray through Psalm 33 is that we are not meant to pray our joy alone, but to allow our joy to overflow into our lives together and our everyday live

As we pray the Psalms we learn to PROCLAIM our joy

We are called by this Scripture to sing joyfully together. To play instruments to express our joy. To speak and testify to our blessed-ness.

We are meant to share our joy that we learn in prayer with those around us.
That is why we share praises every Sunday in prayer. This is why we read Psalms in our calls to worship.

Sometimes we have this picture of simply praying the Psalms with our coffee in a quiet corner of our house with our coffee. And, indeed, the Psalms can be read and prayed as they are read in moments like these. But we are called to express our joy with one another as we are gathered together.

Robert Louis Stevenson says, “Find out where joy resides and give it a voice far beyond singing.” We start with singing, but our joy is proclaimed in our words and our attitudes as we live our lives.

As we praise God together, and share the things we are thankful for, we help others experience God’s gift of joy. Think about how you are encouraged as you hear how God has answered others prayer, how God has blessed others during the week. We pray our joy together, and watch our joy multiplied. This is true through the words we speak, as well as the songs we sing.

Eddie Izzard, a British comedian, tells the story of African American worship experiences he has had in comparison to the Anglican worship that he was born and raised in. He shares the historic plight of African American persons. Slavery. No civil rights. Sharecropping. Segregation. Poverty. And yet, he says, enter a black church and you will be overcome with the celebratory, joyful nature of the singing and the worship. He then describes the folks where he came from. Some of the wealthiest, most blessed people in the world. Very little to complain about. Yet, when they sing, “How Great Thou Art!” it is drab and passionless, like they are sleep worshipping (demonstrate). Let it not be so with us, let us not only have a joyful perspective. Let our joyful attitude be shared with those around us at worship, in the workplace, and even in our homes. As we give word to our joy, our joy is multiplied.
When we experience and live joy, it exudes from us. And often we gain that overflowing joy by praying the psalms and praying our joy together.
Finally, though, praying our Joy gives us POWER to deal with difficult circumstances and other difficult emotions.

In the movie Inside Out, Joy begins by trying to overpower the other emotions in the little girls mind by taking over everything. But the joy that the girl was experiencing with shallow and immature. In the end of the movie, the character of Joy learns that she can have experiences and memories that combine sadness or fear with joy, instead of denying other emotions and denying difficulties, we can find joy even through the difficult moments.

Verse 19 talks about finding joy in the fearful circumstances of possible death or possible famine.

When we gain perspective we realize our circumstances of the moment need not define our attitude. We find that even as we face hard times, that we can at the same time experience the goodness of God. We find unexpected graces in undesirable circumstances. And that brings enduring joy, as we stay connected to the Savior, and he sees us through.

Joy is deeper than happiness. It is an attitude that knows that we can live with a hopeful confidence that all things will be well because we serve a good God who works all things together for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. It is a positive grace that endures even through the bad times, and being honest about the bad times, because we know whose we are, and we know that in the end, and even now, we have victory through the power of the resurrection of Christ.
So live joyfully my friends. And pray with joy as you pray through the Psalms, because as the old hymn goes, you know who holds the future, and you know who holds your hand. Amen.