The Heart of the Golden Rule

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In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus summarizes the entirety of the Law and the prophets with what is known as the golden rule: “do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is even more simple and straightforward than another of Jesus’ pithy teachings about the greatest commandment being summed up in “loving God and loving our neighbor.” The golden rule calls us more clearly into action, while also urging us to switch our perspective in a more tangible way. The question, “Am I loving so-and-so as myself?”, becomes the much more measurable question, “Am I doing toward so-and-so what I wish so-and-so was doing to me?”

This immediately forces us to confront many issues which otherwise could be avoided. Not only are we to think, “Should I tip the server generously because I’d like to be generously tipped,” but, “If that’s what I desire under God’s guidance, then that is what I should do with God’s power.”

Consideration is limited to what we want or desire, but not to whether we should or should not put that want or desire into action. The golden rule pushes us into the territory of our hearts. It is not just what should we do, but who are we and what does that say about what we want and what we will actually do.

If I do not treat others the way I wish to be treated, then why?  Because human barriers within me stand in the way of love’s action. Because I do not see others as human in the same sense that I see myself as human. Because my love for them is too weak. The answers are as various as the human heart is various, but all of them lead us into a deep encounter with ourselves and our hearts that ultimately leads us to God and his heart.

Lord, help me to love others like You do and to love in action even as I desire for myself to be loved in action. Transform my heart, bring order to my desires, and shape me to reflect You in this world.

Redemption and Embodied Sexuality

Love Sex Body Series GFX-05I continued our series, “Love-Sex-Body: Toward a Biblical Theology of Embodied Sexuality,” this past weekend at at Eastbrook Church by turning to the third chapter of God’s Good Story: Redemption in Jesus Christ.

This message builds off of previous messages on Creation and the Fall, looking at Christ’s redeeming work as outlined in Romans 5. I take some time to reflect on the significance of Jesus’ incarnation for redemption from John 1 and 1 John 4. I then examine the reality of Christ’s bodily redemption in relation to our bodies, sexuality, and love with reference to various passages of Scripture, including John 8 & 9, Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 6 & 13.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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Knowing Who We Are and Who We’re Not: a lesson from John the Baptist

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One of the most gripping commendations Jesus ever offered was about John the Baptist when He said, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28). There was really no one quite like John, and Jesus recognized that.

Of course, the other part of that statement was this: “yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” John knew who he was and also knew who he wasn’t, and that shaped the way he lived.

At one point in his ministry, John said to a group of his disciples and gathered onlookers: “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him'” (John 3:28). John knows who he is and knows who he is not.

John the Apostle sets us up for this in the first chapter of his gospel when he says that John the Baptist is not “the Light”:

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (1:6-8)

Later on, when John is questioned by religious leaders, he knows that he is not the Messiah,  Elijah or the long-awaited Prophet:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’

They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’
He said, ‘I am not.’
‘Are you the Prophet?’
He answered, ‘No.’

Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”‘ (John 1:19-21)

John clearly knew who he was and who he was not.

Not only that, John knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he, John, was not Jesus:

  • John was not the light, but, as we read in John 1:9 – “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” – Jesus is the light
  • John was not the privileged son, but, as we read in John 1:14, “the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” – Jesus is the One and Only Son.
  • John was not the Messiah, but more than once he exclaimed to his followers when Jesus passed by, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29)

John knew that he was not the awaited one, but that Jesus was the one the world was waiting for.

So, when John the Baptist’s followers come to him feeling out of sorts because Jesus’ ministry is increasing, John is not really bothered. In fact, he knows this is the way things are supposed to be. He knows that all of what he is doing is really about Jesus.

John the Baptist is a powerful example for all of us who follow Jesus. He reminds us that not any one of us is the Messiah, and we should live accordingly. I am not the Messiah. You are not the Messiah. We cannot solve everyone’s problems, be everywhere at once, or be the one to save the world. That was Jesus’ job. Believing this and live out of this belief  is a significant part of our discipleship.

We are not here to replace Jesus, but to display Jesus in our life on earth. The difference seems slight, but it is gargantuan in practice. In our lives we are not trying to be the Messiah, we are trying to direct people to the Messiah.

John the Baptist knew who he was and who he was not, and it set him free to minister as God would have him regardless of the outcome.

Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent

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I had the privilege to write an article on preaching in Advent for Preaching Today, which was just recently released. You can read the entire article, “Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent,” at Preaching Today, but here’s a taste of what you will find there.

In my childhood, one of the greatest moments of anticipation was Christmas. I couldn’t wait for the chance to decorate, eat Christmas cookies, and, of course, open presents on Christmas Day. Every Christmas Eve I struggled to go to bed, and was usually the first one up to see what was waiting under the tree. The anticipation and wonder were like adrenaline coursing through my body.

As we grow older, most of us lose some of our wonder. The novelty of Christmas starts to wear off, at least a little bit. Along with that, our anticipation gets trampled down under the weight of responsibilities, the rush of preparations, and, at times, the heaviness that comes on those of us for whom the holidays bring sadness.

There is a remedy for lost wonder and trampled anticipation. That remedy is not getting more expensive presents, having flashier decorations, or inviting the right people to our parties. The remedy is stepping back enough to realize what we have lost it, and then going through a journey of recovery. Like a relationship that has lost its spark or a hobby that has lost our interest, we need to take time and effort to see what’s right in front of us with fresh eyes.

The church has a recovery program of sorts for lost wonder and trampled anticipation leading toward Christmas. That recovery program is called Advent, which means “appearing,” coming from the Latin word adventus. Advent looks back with wonder at Jesus’ birth over two-thousand years ago, while also looking forward with anticipation to his future return at the end of human history.

As preachers, we have a unique opportunity to help our congregations enter into that recovery of anticipation and wonder. My hope in this article is to offer four pathways for preaching in Advent so that our congregations both taste the longing that leads us to cry out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and savor the joy that sings, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

Serving God in Hard Places (Hard Places)

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This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we concluded our annual MissionsFest. As we celebrate God’s faithfulness to us as a church for forty years, we heard from two of our long-term, international ministry partners on the theme of “Hard Places.”

This second weekend, Rev. Canon Francis Omondi from Kenya spoke to us about the nature of life in the kingdom, beginning from the Sinai Covenant and the Exodus through the exile to Jesus and toward Revelation.

You can watch Francis’s message below, as well as find out more of what is happening in the next week and a half with MissionsFest here.