A Place and A Time

Picture 10One of the key applications of our series from Exodus was creating a deliberate time and place to interact with God.  Moses did it outside the camp in a tent of meeting.  We can do it almost anywhere–  a park bench, a specific chair in our home or office, a closet.  So choose a place and choose a time!  Check.

Once we are there, then the question becomes, what do we do?  For hundreds of years, faithful Christians have followed plans to read through the Bible and pray their way through Scripture.  You can google Bible Reading Plan and find scores of them.  My favorite is from Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne.  You can read a quick bio here.

His plan gives 4 readings a day (takes about 20 minutes) and takes you through the NT twice, Psalms twice, and OT once, every year.  I love it.  It’s nice to just show up in my place at my time and not have to figure out–  what do I do??

May Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne be a gift to you as well.

The Attraction of Idols

Restoration Anglican Church sermon on Exodus 32-34; IdolatryOver the next two weeks, we will be digging in to Exodus 32-34.  Here is some helpful background on why Israel (and we) love idols.  The information is from one of my favorite professors at Gordon-Conwell, Dr. Doug Stuart.

Idolatry is attractive because it is:

1.  Guaranteed: Presence of a god was guaranteed by presence of idol.  The idol image was like an ancient cell phone.  People believed that the offerings they brought before an idol of a god and the prayers they said the idol’s presence were fully and unfailingly perceived by the god.

2.  Selfish: Idolatry was an entire materialistic system of thinking.  The one ‘hold’ or advantage that humans had over the gods was the ability to feed them.  If you fed the god, it was obligated to use its power on behalf of the worshiper.

3.  Easy: Frequency and generosity of sacrifices were the sole significant requirements of faithful idolatrous religion.  Idolatry minimized the importance of ethical behavior.  As long as you kept the food coming, you could do whatever you want.

4.  Convenient: In contrast to the Lord’s command to come up to Jerusalem three times a year, idol shrines were erected on every hilltop and street corner.  You could drop by to offer a sacrifice at your convenience–  virtually any time of day, any day of the week, at a location of your choosing.

5.  Normal: everyone did it.  If an Israelite asked his Canaanite neighbor how to farm in these parts, the Canaanite would begin with an explanation for how to worship the local idol.  If you want to fit in, worship the idol.

6.  Logical: idolatry was polytheistic, syncretistic, and pantheistic.  It made sense to have a multiplicity of gods, each one covering a different facet of life.  It was enormously attractive to think one could gain assured access to those gods who had power over your greatest need simply by being in the presence of an idol.

7.  Pleasing to the senses, indulgent, erotic: The images of divinity were ‘beautiful’.  The worship ‘services’ were huge feasts.  The more frequently one ate meat and the more meat one ate, the more likely one could curry favor with the gods.  Heavy eating and drinking were encouraged.  Temple prostitution was common because it was believed that if you had sex in the presence of the idol, it would encourage the gods to have sex and provide what you need–  fertility, more crops, more cattle.  Ritual sex would stimulate things to be born on earth.

It is important to remember that Israel never struggled with belief in the Lord or even worshiping the Lord.  Their struggle was always to worship ONLY the Lord.  Even today, many of us would say that Jesus is Lord, but find it challenging to say no to the idols that compete for His worship.

I believe in God…

It’s been a real problem for me.

This week we are reading Exodus 20-24. You’ll notice there are a lot of rules. What do you think about God’s Laws– helpful? hopeful? capricious? mean? rigid? liberating?
I’m asking this question as I write: What do God’s laws tell us about God? What does He value? What’s important to His heart? What matters?

And then, what does it tell us about His people? If He gives this Law Gift to His people, how is that an expression of love, delight, and great care?

Shalom Auslander’s memoir is a well-written reflection on God as arbitrary, petty, and egocentric.

It breaks my heart.

10 Plagues

In case you don’t have time to read Exodus 7-11 for this weekend at Restoration…

God gets a lot more CBM in a recession

Church attendance in recessions: No rush for pews | The Economist.

CBM= ‘Character Building Mileage’

On Sunday I talked about the hard things to which God calls us.  Moses was called to face the most powerful ruler of his day and ask him to release the Hebrews.  Moses had a list of good excuses for why this was a bad idea.

What is God calling you to do that feels really hard?  Are you paying attention to Him?

For all of us who follow Jesus, at some point, God will confront us about our money.  He will call us to something hard financially–  to not buy something, to give more away, to help someone in need, to give sacrificially.  As I talked about God’s call on our finances, I made 2 points:  God will mess with our money…

  1. Especially in such a wealthy area as Arlington (’cause we love it so much)
  2. Especially in such challenging economic circumstances (’cause we are so worried about it)

God gets a lot more Character Building Mileage in a recession.  The Economist article has some interesting poll data about church attendance in recessions–  goes down.  So maybe I’m right.  People don’t want God to mess with their finances, things are hard enough without Him getting involved…

It’s all His.

Summer Sundays at Restoration

The God of all gods and His Rescued People

plaguesOne of the most pleasantly honest features of the Ancient Near East was the attitude of the inhabitants towards ‘gods.’  ‘Gods’ were entirely utilitarian.  You worshiped a ‘god’ because of what that ‘god’ could do for you.  You gave the ‘god’ your food, your sexuality, your allegiance, your children, your time, and your devotion because that ‘god’ got the job done.  ‘Gods’ were supposed to be powerful. Thus there was no place for cultural or nominal religiosity.  Either you feared the god wholesale or you worshiped something else.

The book of Exodus contains the early years of our family history.  Yahweh, the LORD, the One True God (OTG) was forming a nation for Himself.  The book can easily be divided in two:

  • Part 1 (chapters 1-19) tells the story of God’s powerful deliverance.  God shows up and shows off to all the gods of Egypt.  He confronts the other ‘so-called gods’, showing them to be bankrupt and revealing Himself, alone, as true and powerful.  In a milieu of divine attention-grabbing and one-upmanship, Yahweh shows who truly is God.
  • In part 2, (chapters 20-40), God makes a covenant with the people He delivers.  He establishes them as His people, defined by His rules and guidelines.

You might imagine the book as two stories of servitude:  In Egypt, Israel was the servant of Pharaoh; at Mt. Sinai, they became servants of Yahweh.  In the book of Exodus, God rescues a people and forms them into a nation for the purpose of rescuing the world.

At Restoration this summer, we will be journeying through the book of Exodus.  I am captivated by our similar situation–  a people being formed into a community for God’s purposes. God has rescued us, called us to be a church in Arlington, and given us a mission to build His kingdom.

Specifically, we will ask 2 questions each week:  How does God reveal His character in the way He interacts with Israel and their leader, Moses?  How do His law and instruction prepare a young community to be His means of redemption and revelation in a god-congested world?

Finding Holes in a Community of Grace

We are spending 7 weeks in Luke 15, specifically the story about a Dad and 2 sons.

The first step of repentance for the younger son was when ‘he came to himself.’  He came to his senses.  He woke up–  like coming out of a trance.  It is very passive.  He did not ‘make himself wake up.’  It was an act of grace.  God gives us 2 gifts to ‘bring us to ourselves’.  One is the Holy Spirit–  our comforter, counselor, and convicter. The second is each other.

On Sunday I told a story about a friend whose son came to him for help in seeing the holes in the yard so he would not fall into them.  The son’s name was Zach.  I invited our community to a posture of ‘Zach-ness’.  Can we come to other people whom we trust and say, help me see the holes in my life and character.  Help me come to my senses.  ‘Hole-spotter’ is not a position we can assume in someone’s life, but it is a position we can invite other people to take.  You can’t assert yourself as ‘official-hole-identificator’, but you can humbly ask others to play that role in your life.  Hole-spotting has to be invited, it can’t be taken.

Here are the examples I gave of holes we could use help identifying:

  • you go to a few friends–  would you listen to the way I talk about my husband?  Am I respectful with my words?  Do I honor him?  Would you point out the holes in my speech?  Do I need to repent of my words?
  • Or you go to some friends–  would you look at the way I spend my time and energy?  Am I giving my best to loving my wife?  Do I know her love language?  Am I giving a proportional amount of energy to loving her that I give to pleasing my clients?  Would you point out the holes you see in my actions of love toward my spouse?  Do I need to repent of my lack of love?
  • Would you pay attention to, talk with me about the ways I spend my money?  Can I show you my tax return from 2008 and talk about my charitable giving?  Can I talk with you about the big purchases I want to make or the hundreds of dollars that I can’t seem to account for each month?  Would you point out the holes you see in my spending and my generosity?  Do I need to repent of my greed or finding my security in wealth?
  • Would you talk with me about the media I consume–  internet, tv, movies, facebook, pornography.  Do I need to repent of my lust or my escapism?
  • Would you notice how much care and time I am spending with my parents?  Do I need to repent of my selfishness?
  • Do you have other categories of where we need ‘hole-spotters’?

In a community of grace, these are safe questions to ask.  We all need courage to be a Zach–  to invite someone in to be used by God to bring us to our senses and wake us up.  The lavish, unprecedented love of the Father is waiting for those who humbly repent.  Let us be a community that courageously lives this kind of grace.

following your hunger to dangerous places

We have begun our series on Luke 15, about our Prodigal God.  In response to the grumbling and muttering of the religious leaders, Jesus tells a story about a sheep that gets lost.  The reason sheep get lost is because they are hungry.  They wander off looking for food and can’t find their way home.  Their drive to satisfy their hunger leads them away from their shepherd, away from the flock, and often into pretty dangerous places.

I told a story about how sheep can get stuck on precipitous ledges eating grass and then fall to their death. (I also called my sister’s tibia a ‘tibula’.  This gaff apparently shut down the more medically-savvy congregants.  Apologies)  There is actual video footage of this phenomenon on youtube.  Check it out:

So, we had this video all cued up to play in the middle of the sermon yesterday.  I would have cropped it to just the 30 seconds before and after fall.  At the last minute, I decided to pass and we didn’t play it.  Primarily because it would have been a break to the flow of the sermon and in the interest of time, I could ‘tell’ the video much more efficiently.  I didn’t think I would gain more by showing the video than the risk of ‘media transition’ and ‘media malfunction’ merited.

What do you think?  Would you have like to have seen this video during the sermon?  Do you think I should incorporate more vid clips into sermons?  (no guarantee that I will, but we CAN, and I’m curious if you would like it).  Throw a comment up here and let me know.

Curious about why Jesus tells a story about hungry sheep in response to grumbling religious leaders?  Wondering how your hunger and appetites lead you to dangerous places?

You can hear the rest of the sermon here.  You can jump into the conversation in a Restoration small group here. You can finish out the series with us each Sunday until the end of May…

Get your book, Get your group, Get your seat…

Get your book, Get your group, Get your seat…

We’re starting a new series!!

On Easter we gave everyone who came to our services a copy of Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God.  We wanted to be generous, thankful for the last 3 months, and invitational to the next 50 days at Restoration.  Between now and May 31 (Pentecost), we will be talking about the themes of sin, community, repentance, forgiveness, sonship, and homecoming that run through these parables in Luke 15.

One of the features that I love about our small groups is that they are short-term commitments.  You are committing to a group of people for about 12 weeks (until the end of June).  It allows you time to get to know people at Restoration, to go as deep as you want, to talk about interesting topics, and to have a regular rhythm to your week for a few months.  A small group pairs well with Sunday worship.

Here is one more teaser about the Sunday series.  Can’t wait to see you around Restoration as we connect to God and connect to others.

A Father had 2 sons.  One of them requested an early withdrawal on his inheritance.  He wasted it on whatever need was most immediate and ended up bankrupt.  The other son worked diligently and obeyed every rule.  He ended up angry and bitter.  Both of them lived far away from their Father.

Are you mired in the consequences of your own bad choices?  Are you angry that you’re doing all the right things and nobody seems to care?

“The word ‘prodigal’ does not mean ‘wayward’ but, ‘recklessly spendthrift.’  It means to spend until you have nothing left.”  Over the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, we will consider how our Heavenly Father showed His prodigal love for those who would come after Jesus.

Our sermon series and small group discussions will draw from Tim Keller’s reflections on the parable from Luke 15.  “Within that parable Jesus reveals God’s prodigal grace toward both the irreligious and the moralistic.”  We hope that those who are curious and those who are convinced will see Christianity in a whole new way.


The Gospel Changes Everything

Getting excited about our first sermon series at Restoration.  Here’s an overview…  I look forward to wrestling through these issues with you over the next 5 weeks.

Jesus calls each of us into a relationship with Him.  He calls us to leave our former lives, to lay down the things to which we cling for security, and to follow Him as our Leader and Forgiver.  Along the journey, God puts us in contexts that stretch our faithful dependence on Him.  These vocational contexts build our character and provide opportunities to shape our culture.  By way of support, God gives us the gift of community to encourage and refine us.  The community finds its corporate rhythm in regular worship through Word and Sacrament.  Through all of this: character, culture, community, and worship, it is the Gospel that changes everything.

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