Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Best of News

“The Best of News”

Hosea 14:1-2; Hebrews 4:12-16; Luke 17:20-21

Pastor Tom Millner

September 19, 2010

Have you noticed lately that everyone wants to assassinate the character of those who appear to oppose them politically? It’s no better for those who possess opposing theological views…beyond religious affiliation; there is outright hostility among Christians who do not hold to a rigid theological bent. We see bumper stickers with the fish symbol emboldened by WWJD as the vehicle speeds through a just changed red light at the intersection. We tout “Christianese” (Church speak) as we hurl judgment at others who act differently than our ideal of “Christian.” We forget Jesus’ charge in Matthew 7 to “judge not that you be not judged.” We humans are all about power and control. God is about relationship! He already knows who’s in control. He waits patiently for us to get the memo!

I read a story this week from a sermon by Steven Grant. A nine year old boy was sitting at his desk when suddenly there was a puddle at his feet and the front of his pants was wet. He was horrified. This had never happened to him before. How on earth would he be able to face the ridicule of his buddies and the girls having wet his pants? His reputation would be ruined and his relationships forever altered by this single event. What on earth would he do? Someone must notice soon. Suddenly, Susie, one of the girls in his class, came rushing toward him holding a fishbowl full of water. She tripped and flung the entire contents of the fishbowl on the boy, drenching not only his pants but his shirt also. Suddenly, the girl became the center of attention and ridicule as young Timmy became the target of sympathy for being the victim of Susie’s carelessness. She was sorely reprimanded by the teacher as Timmy was summarily whisked away to be dried and consoled. Susie was shunned the rest of the day. As Timmy entered the bus after school he noticed Susie sitting alone, having been ignored by the other students for her carelessness. Timmy sat down beside her and leaned over to say “you did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Susie responded; “I wet my pants once too.”

A simple story tells a great truth. Susie lived out WWJD. She took the fall to save Timmy from the condemnation that was sure to come his way. I’m reminded of our reading from Hebrews, chapter 4 today: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,[Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

In ancient times the high priest from the tribe of Levi would be the one who would enter the Holy of Holies in faith that the sacrifice made and the life lived would be acceptable before God. Just in case it wasn’t, a rope was tied around the priest’s ankle so that should the priest be struck dead before a pure and holy God, the body of the priest could be pulled from under the curtain. What the book of Hebrews is pointing out is that Jesus is now the High Priest; there’s no rope tethered to His ankle, for He was and remains sinless. Yet there is something very important to this story that makes it such great news: Jesus was tempted in every way as we, knows every moment of pain and suffering that we have or will ever experience and still remains sinless. He has secured the throne on our behalf – He has been the pure and acceptable sacrifice for us. He has accomplished for us what we could never do on our own! He has accomplished all that we’ve ever desired before God – therefore, we can approach the throne of Grace with confidence that no rope is required around our ankles! That’s the best of news- that because of Jesus’ love for us, mercy and grace have gone to the throne before us and we therefore can be confident before our God that He will regard our relationship with Him as having been restored to His original intent when He created us in His image. There’s no more nor less that we must do to be acceptable before Him. Jesus paid the price; He took the fall; He opened the door; He redeemed our being; He rescued our soul; He restored us to still waters. This is the best of news! Why, then, do we so readily ignore it and act as if there’s more for us to do?

Paul identified with this in Romans 7:19 “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.” For centuries theologians have speculated about what this “thorn” in Paul’s flesh was; I believe it was his natural bent for taking matters into his own hands as a means of being acceptable before God. It’s what we humans do; it’s a part of our old nature that we will spend a lifetime setting aside for eternity. I don’t believe Paul harbored any deep dark secret – he was simply human, bound to commit human acts in an effort to gain heavenly acceptance. The rope around the ankle of the dead High Priest proves that effort to be impossible! Why do we continue to live with that same rope around our ankle?

1. Our quest for power! Humans want to be in control. Political institutions and organizational structures are designed with a hierarchical concept – someone(s) must be in charge. We hear “the buck stops here” and think of the one to whom ultimate control is rendered, but more times than not, we hurl ultimate blame to the one or ones who have not lived up to the standard that is set. So then the fight for power ensues to determine the next who will step into the seat of power to restore the confidence that was lost because of one’s perceived failings. We think that if we can somehow be a part of controlling the outcome we’ll be all the better for it. God is not about power, however! He’s about relationship. He’s not about control; He’s about relationship! He’s not about hierarchy; He’s about relationship. When Jesus placed the commandments in perspective He did it in the context of relationship – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” He was calling us to relationship. When He asserted that the second was like the first “to love your neighbor as yourself” He was calling us into relationship. Jesus paid the ultimate price – His life – for our relationship with God. We can’t improve upon what He has already done. Surrender, Dorothy – you’re already in Kansas! Read the Beatitudes in Matthew, Chapter 5 and show me where there is a single mention of having power, respect from others or a hint of being in control. Why are all those folks described as being blessed? Because they are at the bottom of the human system of values and as such are more open to relationship with the God of our creation. There have been those in the past who would seek to pattern themselves after those described in an effort to be more “holy” in the eyes of God. They miserably fail to accomplish the goal – why? The acts were one of placing God in their debt; the antithesis of the Scriptural intent. When we recognize that we are powerless to command His respect, we approach the place of grace and mercy that paves the way to that relationship to which He calls us. There’s another related reason we continue to live with the ankle rope.

2. We want the last word! This is another way we seek to be in control. I’m reminded of the childhood arguments with my ego nemesis; “you’ve got cooties;” “do not;” “do too;” “do not ‘cause you’ve got bigger ones!” “Do not;” “do too…” until the teacher breaks it up. “Do too!” Someone always wants the last word, even if it’s wrong. We laugh at those childhood moments as adults and fail to notice how we’ve taken the same behaviors into what we call adulthood. We engage the same process but we change the subject. We engage in theological cootie fights over orientation or speaking in tongues or you name it. Wounds are created and divisions are established. Churches are formed and encounter groups established to sooth the pain of the emotional wounds that have been inflicted by the gospel cootie hurlers. What patience our Father must have with us! He sees us anguish over the last word from others when in His Word He tells us that He “is the way, the truth and the life.” When He states that “no one comes to the Father except through me,” He’s not being exclusive; He’s being totally welcoming and inclusive! He’s saying we don’t have to find our own way – He’s already made it! He’s taken all the cooties away for everyone – He’s accomplished the cootie free life and seeks for us to join in the only relationship that will ever matter is our life – the one with Him! Yeah, we all have cooties – we’re infested, just like those described in the Beatitudes. Instead of acknowledging it, we fight to declare “do not!” We thus reject God’s love and cootie coverage for the sake of having the last word. Maybe we should be seeking a different last WORD…the Word of God…the one who was in the beginning, was with God, was in fact God. That’s the WORD of relationship and the example of that relationship in action is mercy and grace. God gives us mercy and grace – He expects no less in return, both in relationship with Him and with each other. Suspend the cootie fight; He’s brought the best of news – no more need for control and power – He’s got your back- He’s been there before. Therefore, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence that He seeks us even more fervently than we seek Him. He calls us and He waits patiently. Have you heard the call?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Outrageous Gospel

The Outrageous Gospel

Isaiah 40:3-5; John 14: 1-7

Pastor Tom Millner

September 5, 2010



When the disciple Thomas made his statement to Jesus about not knowing where He was going, so how were they to know the way, he was seeking something quite different from the response he got. You see, Thomas was filled with pre-conceived ideas about the future. Even though Jesus had told them of the upcoming events, had predicted His betrayal, washed their feet, and told of Peter's denial, none of the disciples understood the depth of what was about to unfold. When Jesus said "I am the way and the truth and the life – No one comes to the Father except through me;" He unleashed a declaration that has rocked the world! What an outrageous thing to say!

In today's post-modern world and in the light of moral relativism, Jesus' declaration is scandalous. Our community is fraught with different and supposedly valid ways to God. After all, don't all roads lead to God? To say there is one way and one way only seems narrow and rigid – it seems outrageous! It's particularly unpalatable to those who have been so hurt and rejected by those followers of "The Way" who demand we change the very foundation of our experience of who we are, to be someone we aren't just to be able to be minimally acceptable to "The Way." It seems reasonable, therefore, that if we can't change the fundamental being that we are and experience, then there must be another way. So we seek to fill the hole in us that yearns to be filled from above, with all the thrills we can muster, or the quest for spiritual enlightenment, grand wisdom, or anything else that temporarily seems to satiate our need. We humans want to make things fit with our own logic. Anything outside of that logic seems outrageous. But the Gospel is full of outrageous statements. Who, in their right mind would love an enemy? Enemies are to be destroyed, conquered, and subdued! We build armies and arsenals to combat our enemies; we don't build shelters and havens for them to thrive and flourish! The Bible is full of outrageous claims!

Who in their right mind would have ever thought that an 80 year old woman would give birth to a child who would sire a nation that would be a lightening rod of controversy for thousands of years? Yet Sarah did it, as God had promised. Who would have believed that as an enslaved nation marching toward the depths of a sea, followed by the mightiest army in the world, would have the sea open up before them as a path to freedom? Yet God parted the waters as He had promised He would do. It's impossible, so we hear that a virgin girl could give birth to someone. It's preposterous to entertain that a human could be as much God as if not human at all and as much human as if not God at all. These are outrageous events recorded in this book we call the Bible. Some say it's a nice story book, a book of inspiration. It refers to itself as the WORD of God – logos – that wisdom and knowledge that defies the reason of mankind and embraces the notion that there is Divine intelligence superior to our own. In man's reasoning we've heard that God is dead: Even this week we've heard that physics has finally proven the non-existence of God. We must notify all historians and those who have lived before through the countless miracles and wonders of the world that their accounts and experiences are neither real nor valid! The claims related to the non-existence of God are nothing new either. After all, the whole notion of God is outrageous until we recognize the improbability of life in His absence! Indeed, Jesus asserted in John 10:10 that "The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full." Does this mean that "the way" offers something greater than first appearance?

Pantheism would have us believe that all gods are one. Christianity asserts that there is one God above all. Religion is the practice of steps to reach God. Christianity is the outrageous belief that God reaches to us, has cleared the path to Himself by giving His very own perfection that makes the step to Him unencumbered. Religion leads us to believe that we must seek a more perfect way to God. Christianity asserts that the perfect way has already been established; it's the person Jesus! The assertion of the Gospel is that the way, the truth and the life has already been established; that Jesus, being God, did not take His rightful place, but rather humbled Himself to take on the nature of mankind, so that being a perfect example of what mankind was created to be, He would be the way back to perfect unity with God. Religion would have us seek the way to God on our own. Christianity says the way has already been made – it is Jesus Christ. Jesus died once for all whether we believe it or not. Our beliefs or lack thereof do not change the fact or nature of God. What keeps us from accepting God's offering of Himself for us?


  1. We fail to understand grace. God's love is manifest to us in two major ways; mercy and grace. You've heard me say before that mercy is not getting what we really deserve and grace is getting what we really don't deserve. What we really deserve is the consequences of our failed attempts to be our own gods, but what we get is undeserved acceptance and a place of honor with the Creator of the universe. Fundamentalism would lead us to believe that all the do's and don'ts of scripture must be engaged to embrace the fullness of God's love. The scripture asserts that grace and mercy are free to all who would access, and that none who come to receive are truly worthy. Nevertheless, His love and His shed blood are sufficient to cover all of us! Scripture calls to "whosoever" to believe that He came to give life abundantly.
  2. We fear loss of control! "I am my own special creation;" "I did it my way!" What did we just say that mercy is? Mercy is not getting what we truly deserve. When we have control, we have to accept the consequences of being in control. We don't like doing that – we want control and all the positive outcomes that we fantasize should be the result. Experience says it's a mixed bag that we encounter. When Jesus said He had come that we may have life and have it to the full, He meant it! Each one of us, even the most humble among us, plays a role in this world. We present to the world our best face and sometimes our worst face when we're threatened with not being seen as the good face we present. To some degree, each of us is an actor on the stage of life. We undertake the role of the character we wish to portray – or be seen as. It's been said that life is a stage, we are the actors, and Jesus is the play. If Jesus is the play, then the character we portray is His. By doing so, we discover the richness of who we really are because of Him. We are no longer limited to the sameness of our repeated attempts to rise above, but rather lifted high through His grace and mercy to fulfill the true nature of our divine destiny. Our belief that we are in any way in control is an illusion!
  3. We fear rejection. Peer pressure is a tremendous force in our lives. Very early in life we discover the pain of appearing not to fit in or of seeing others scorned for their lack of being like the rest. The local rags are full of pictures and other depictions of what the "in crowd" is all about. Even Christian organizations use peer pressure to get people to come in tow with the group. There's a fine line between fitting in and what the Bible describes as idolatry. We have to decide whether grace and mercy, which we all ultimately desire, is worth more to us than the latest fashionable proverb, intellectual concept or gratuitous gathering place. When we choose the side of grace and mercy, we are freed from the chains of "must be" and enter the realm of "free to be." His way is truly the fulfilling way; the completed way; the freedom way!


There were three hikers on their journey to the called heaven. Each was carrying a pack of life possessions on their back. The first one reached the sign that pointed to the gate. A guardsman was standing nearby watching as the first hiker approached. Not seeing a door or gate, the sojourner inquired as to the gate's location. The guard pointed to a small opening near the ground and said; "that is the passage to the other side." The hiker looked dismayed and said "but to go through there I must unload all my possessions and leave them here where thieves and robbers can steal them. Isn't there another way?" The guard answered; "this is the only entrance to the Kingdom. The hiker went away sadly as he could not bring himself to leave his possessions. The second hiker arrived shortly thereafter and was given the same information as the first. He took his back pack off and discarded those things he determined he could do without, strapped back on the pack, dove to the ground and desperately scratched and pulled, seeking to get to the other side. The bulk of the remaining stuff he had deemed necessary for the journey to the Kingdom was too great to allow him through the tiny opening. He pushed his way back from the opening, collected his discarded items and left disheartened. The third traveler arrived and was told the same thing as the other two. He questioned the guard about specifics he had gained on his journey. The guard reiterated that the opening was the only passageway to the other side. With some sadness the hiker discarded his lifetime of possessions; his title, his esteem, his reputation, his perceived identity, his wealth, and his cherished relationships, and he got down on the ground and began to pull himself through the opening. He began to see the light of the other side, gave one last kick and pulled himself out of the opening and into the bright light of the other side. He looked down and there before him was a brand new backpack, grander than the one he left behind. It was then that he realized that what he had given up was nothing compared to what he had gained.

Matthew 19: captures Jesus teaching His disciples about the nature of His kingdom. He says; "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples reasoned and asked "who then can be saved?" Jesus, after looking at them said; "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

The gospel is outrageous in its claim that God gives freely a new life, wholeness and eternal family ties with Him for each of us. It's outrageous that we do not have to suffer the eternal consequences of our self-absorption, but rather be granted a crown of reward that we truly don't deserve. It's outrageous that we don't have to become something or someone other than who we were created to be before we can be acceptable to the perfect God of the universe. It's outrageous that when we seek to live out the character of life's play, we play the part of loving our enemies. What an outrageous gospel! What an outrageous God! Let's live outrageously!!!