And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Luke 4:17-21 ESV
At first glance, it can be difficult to see the significance of Jesus’ words in a modern context. But this dramatic reading of Isaiah 61 and poignant abrupt cutoff of the last verse was the mic drop heard throughout the cosmos. The earthly ministry of the Son of God had begun. But why were all the eyes of the synagogue fixed on Jesus in rapt attention? These people would have been familiar with the scripture being read, and they were likely confused as to why Jesus suddenly stopped speaking and sat down mid verse. After “to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,” the next line should be “and the day of vengeance of our God” but to the people listening, it seemed like Jesus forgot the best part. Everyone in that room had an expectation that salvation and judgement would arrive together simultaneously. The prophets all thought this, everyone in the synagogue thought this, but Jesus ends his reading with “the year of the LORD’s favor.” All the eyes in the room follow Jesus as he sits down. Surely He has more to say. This must hold the record for the shortest and most confusing scripture reading this synagogue has ever encountered. Then Jesus drops what is likely the most shocking thing these people have heard, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It’s too much. They start to murmur, “Isn’t that Joseph’s son? Who does this guy think he is?” And they become angry.
The Jewish people listening to Jesus recite Isaiah 61 were angry at his omission of the coming wrath and vengeance of God because they saw this as a promise of God specifically to the nation of Israel. They were looking for a gospel of deliverance from their oppressors. Every Jewish ear that heard, “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” assumed they would be the only recipients of that promise. And it would take the form of some sort of political or military power that would literally deliver them from their oppressors. When Jesus makes it clear that he is indeed the Messiah that they’ve been waiting on for hundreds of years yet the vengeance of God will be delayed for a season and salvation will look different than what they wanted... they become furious. They were looking for justice and vengeance now, not later. In their minds, they were thinking, “You stopped at the wrong part! Finish the sentence! What about the justice we deserve for enduring hundreds of years of oppression?” But Jesus stopped his reading at a comma. A pause. And that’s where we live now, the brief pause between the acceptable year of the Lord (the time for salvation for sinners) and the coming wrath of God.
Keeping steadfast eyes fixed on Jesus is crucial for living in that comma. Everyone in the synagogue was fixed on Jesus right up to the moment his gospel didn’t jive well with their expectations and desires. Today, many approach Jesus in the same manner. Many will look to Jesus with the hope that if they call themselves Christian they will be healthy, wealthy and blessed with everything their heart desires. But the message of Jesus is not malleable, we cannot mold it and shape it to fit in our lives how we like it. If we do, it becomes a different gospel and we have things backwards. We are the ones to be molded like clay, shaped and fashioned into Christlikeness. We need to take the gospel - Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension - and apply it to every area of our lives and allow ourselves to be transformed by it. For example: Instead of trying to shape the gospel to fit into our own ideas of what marriage should look like, our marriages should be put into the mold of the gospel and the excess trimmed away. Instead of trying to tack the gospel onto our own views of money, parenting, social justice, gender roles, church, politics, you name it, we must take those things and hold them up to the framework of the gospel that we see in Scripture. And then we humbly allow God’s words to change us. And sometimes it hurts. And sometimes we experience trials and difficulties.
Would you endure a year of being sick and poor if you knew you would be healthy and handed a billion dollars at the end? Would you feel tempted to grumble and complain during that year knowing that health and a hefty payout were just over the horizon? You might have good days and bad days, but the knowledge of what was to come would keep you going. It would feel worth it. A little suffering now for a short time, unbelievable riches later. Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus is keeping your eyes on the prize when trials come. We need to keep our eyes on the prize because of what is at stake. A billion dollars sounds like a life changing amount of money, but compared to the riches of being with God for eternity, it’s just loose change in the couch. We may experience what feels like crushing trials now, but these will melt away as a “light and momentary affliction” with our first glance at the Savior welcoming us into glory. Living steadfast in the comma will have been worth it.
Zach Boomsma serves as the Worship Director and a Small Group Leader at Center Church. He is married to Andrea and they have 4 delightful children. He is an Air Traffic Controller at PHX airport but is somehow still terrible with directions while driving.
(Picture via istockphoto)
It always starts with a decision. A choice. It may look like a mouse click. A purchase. The hesitation of a channel change. A phone call made. No matter what it looks like, you know it when it comes. We all do. It is the moment we make the slightest compromise, and before we know it, a slight movement initiates a chain of events that is all too familiar. The moment when temptation becomes more. In my opinion there are at least three places in scripture where we can see this pattern repeated, and although each of these instances are separated from us by large spans of history, they are all too familiar. Change some names, adjust the context slightly, and it might as well be my own story being told. We see this first in Genesis 3 when Eve is tempted by the serpent. Then we see this again in Genesis 13 with Lot, Abram’s (not yet Abraham at this point) nephew. Finally, this issue is addressed by James in the New Testament. I understand that these are far from the only examples, but what I do see in these is a consistency that I think we don’t speak about often enough: how we tend to initiate our own destruction by embracing temptation.
Lot is an interesting character in the story of scripture. We first learn of him in Genesis 11 and as we read through Genesis, we find that he is along for the ride as God leads his uncle Abram into what will be known as the promised land. After a few encounters and a number of years, Abram and Lot become very wealthy. So wealthy that their servants and livestock are unable to coexist peacefully in the same area (Gen 13:7). This leads to a point where Abram decides it is better that their two households separate rather than continue in strife. Abram tells Lot to pick whatever land he wants to inhabit and Abram will go the opposite direction. That simple. No big deal, right? The passage picks up saying,
And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. Genesis 13:10-13 (ESV)
If we pay attention, we will notice a familiar progression. First, we are told how Lot notices the goodness of the Jordan Valley and how desirable it is, but this is encased in references to Sodom and Gomorrah. Ok, we all know where this is going, so what of it? Well, when we see how the author links the choice of Lot to the region, it is not in reference to the fertility of the land, but to the implications behind living in the area. This is confirmed when we read the final line and see that Lot does not just settle in the area of the infamous cities, but he “moved his tent as far as Sodom.” And in the very next verse, the author gives us a little insight, telling us of the city’s infamy.
The point of all this, is that we see here a clear example of what we all often put ourselves through when we are exposed to temptation. We see the allure of something, but while we are aware of the dangers and potential for sin, we allow ourselves to become convinced it is a reasonable move. Like Lot, we appeal to the positives, overlook the negatives, and next thing you know we are setting up camp right next door. Except like Lot, we often don’t stop there. We end up not next door, but inside the city gates (see Gen 18:22-19:1 - notice Abraham pleads for those within the city). What starts as setting up camp nearby develops into having a house in close enough proximity that he needs to be saved from the city’s destruction.
What we see in this example is a pattern that is often replicated in our own interaction with temptation. We often encounter it, see the appeal, and from a safe distance, we think we can handle ourselves well. We assess the situation, and start to tell ourselves things that pacify any concerns that it will actually become sin. Things like, “I know my limits,” or “I don’t struggle with that,” or my personal favorite, “I know when to stop.” If we were really honest with ourselves, we would realize that by the time we are telling ourselves these things, we are likely already too far in. Like Lot, we convince ourselves that nothing bad will come from being outside the city, I mean, we could always just move our camp. The sad thing is that when we do move our camp, it is often in the wrong direction. One compromise becomes another, and the next thing you know, we realize we are too far in, and the repercussions are coming.
The story of Lot and results of his choices are a sample in time of our shared condition. Lot made a small, seemingly harmless choice to set up camp “as far as Sodom” and it had massive consequences. We see his family captured as part of the city’s rebellion (Gen 14), the compromise of his daughters (in numerous ways found in Gen 19) and the death of his wife (Gen 19:26). Every time I read this, I have to ask: ”What am I setting up camp outside of?" and “Where might it take me?” “What small compromises am I making now that are going to lead down a road I don’t want to travel?” These are good questions for us to consider. Wise ones. As we do, let us think about how easily we forget the wisdom of James when he says,
“…But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:13-14 (ESV)
We can easily follow James’ progression in Genesis 3, as Eve starts by seeing, “...that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise...” (Gen 3:6). It always starts with a small thing. A very small moment in time when we entertain our own destruction. Our own desires are the problem. They were for Eve. They were for Lot. They are for us. What are you setting up camp next to? What compromises are you making that will lead to sin?
You don’t have to settle with the choices you have already made. Just as the scripture uncovers how easily we can compromise, it also shows that we have One who has rescued us from our evil desires. We have been rescued from the punishment of our sin, but don’t forget, we have also been rescued from the life of sin! In Romans we learn,
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:1-4 (ESV)
You see, even though our desires are the problem, we have been released from their power to walk in newness of life! We don’t have to make the compromises any longer! We are free to no longer continue in sin! In our union with Christ we are free to walk in newness of life. Free to recognize when we are tempted and resist by faith. Yes, and our resistance is in faith that the pleasure we perceive in our temptation has no comparison to the pleasure of knowing Jesus. So, ask yourself where have you set up camp and know that you are not bound to that place. You are free to leave it now! Yes, now! Thank the Lord! We are free.
Jeff Palen is a member and Small Group leader at Center Church who is also on staff part time doing an internship with the Junior High Ministry. He is married to Barb and together they have 4 wonderful children and live in Queen Creek.
(Picture via 123RF.com)
Recently, I revisited C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia. In this collection of stories, we find ourselves transported to the enchanted world of Narnia – a world that leapt into existence when Aslan the Lion roared, “Narnia, awake!” (from The Magician’s Nephew). Narnia was originally created by Aslan as a place for its creatures to dwell in peace, love, and unity amongst one another. However, evil entered this world and quickly found its champion in the White Witch. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, perhaps the most well-known book in the series, gives us a glimpse into how we all need an Aslan – a powerful, fearful, and awesome lion – who alone is capable of saving his creatures from evil and death.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells the story of four children – Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy – who were sent to stay with an old professor during the London air raids of World War II. At the beginning of the story, this group of children find a magical wardrobe which is able to send them to the world of Narnia. Lucy, the first to enter Narnia through the wardrobe, encounters Mr. Tumnus – a fawn who befriends her and tells her about the land to which she has entered.
During this time, Narnia was under the spell of the evil White Witch who despised all humans and had bewitched Mr. Tumnus into turning in any sons or daughters of Eve that might appear in Narnia. Ignoring the White Witch’s orders, Mr. Tumnus didn’t turn Lucy in. This didn’t bode well for Mr. Tumnus, because when Lucy later returns with the other children to Narnia, they find that Mr. Tumnus had been taken prisoner by the evil White Witch.
The children then embark on a quest to save Mr. Tumnus and find themselves in the den of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Upon learning of the atrocities appointed by the White Witch – including the possibility that she might turn Mr. Tumnus to stone like she has done to countless others – the children begin to ask how they might go about saving Mr. Tumnus. Mr. Beaver, ever the voice of reason, wisely states, “It is no good, Son of Adam…no good your trying, of all people. But now that Aslan is on the move..."
Thus far in the story, the children are appalled at the evil that might befall Mr. Tumnus. Seeking justice, they begin to devise a strategy to save their dear friend. Mr. Beaver tells them this would prove futile – only the great Aslan can save Mr. Tumnus and defeat the White Witch.
By now, you might have gathered that there are some fascinating parallels between the world of Narnia and our own. The curse of death, and even Satan himself, is typified by the White Witch, while Aslan represents our conquering king, Jesus. These parallels are intended by Lewis to help us come to the realization that there is an evil presence in our world that can only be defeated by One stronger, mightier, and greater than ourselves.
As believers who trust in the sovereignty of God, we do not often find ourselves plotting to “save” our friends or family members because we know that Christ alone has the power to save. But there are subtle ways in which we attempt to take salvation into our own hands. If you are like me, you might be worried about saying the right thing in a conversation with someone who doesn’t not know the Lord, or maybe you are concerned with presenting the gospel in just the right way. Remember the wise words of Mr. Beaver: “It is no good, Son of Adam…. no good your trying.” Our Aslan, Jesus, is the only One who can save our family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors from the clutches of sin and death.
“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered...’” Revelation 5:5
If you haven’t read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you should. And if you have read it, try revisiting it again. Only this time when you read of Aslan, remember Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; the One who has defeated the lasting sting of death. While C.S. Lewis helps children – and the fanciful adult – understand their need for a conquering lion hero in a literary sense, only Jesus truly conquered. Just like Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, sometimes we need to be told the words of Mr. Beaver who reminds us that Aslan (Jesus) “is on the move” – be it in our evangelism, ministry, or prayers and even when all else seems to be telling us otherwise.
Frank Lundy is a member of Center Gilbert serving in leadership on the worship team and other areas, including the Blog Editorial Team. He is married to Jessica and they live in Mesa.
(Picture by Frida Bredesen via Unsplash)
I write to you with a heavy heart. This past weekend, a man named Keith Daukas publicly accused me of wrongdoings related to his internship with another church. He was a member of our church for nearly a decade and I truly appreciated my time with him and his family here in Gilbert.
A number of years ago, our pastoral team recommended that Keith pursue an internship with an SGC church in Colorado. He agreed and we sent him off with our blessings. After a while, we began to receive reports of his life and ministry not going as planned but also were encouraged to hear his new pastors were committed to stewarding his internship.
Unfortunately, not every internship results in a call to pastoral ministry and this is where Keith’s recounting deviates from the truth. As it pertains to us, he has accused me of interfering with his ordination process. He has also accused me of neglecting him while he was in Colorado.
I want to be absolutely clear about these matters. Although you may not know Keith or what he has communicated, his accusations misrepresent the truth and must not be left unanswered.
Regarding the accusation that I interfered with his ordination process, the truth is that I contacted him twice and not once. Both times were to fulfill my role as a voting member of our region. Each pastor in the region is instructed in our Book of Church Order to “question the candidate as they see fit to validate that there is no heterodoxy or scandalous sin present in the candidate.”
My first contact with Keith regarded multiple unpaid personal debts with individuals in Arizona. I explained that until these matters were resolved, I could not support his approval for ordination. Financial integrity is an essential qualification for an elder. Keith agreed, sought forgiveness, and repaid the loans. His response was commendable.
My second contact with Keith regarded his harsh treatment of a woman in our church. At the time of the incident, I communicated my concerns to him. Years had passed and I asked for an update. I wondered how he would handle the same situation today. Keith responded with “I definitely look back and wish I had done things differently” and then proceeded to explain himself. I appreciated his response.
Regarding the accusation that I neglected Keith while he was in Colorado, the truth is that I was unable to provide what Keith wanted from me. Keith never expressed a desire to hear from me regularly. Before he left, we had agreed to a plan where he would speak monthly with a member of our pastoral team. However, Keith canceled those appointments so often that it was obvious that he was uninterested. And Keith never requested regular time with me. I readily admit that my care for him was not perfect, but I was not in a position to determine the course of his internship or provide the pastoral care he desired.
On the contrary, I wholeheartedly commend the pastors who led and cared for Keith in Colorado. His internship was less than ideal and we all hoped for a different outcome. Yet I trust in the Lord’s providence as Keith and his family chose to end his internship and return to Arizona.
Please know that I find no pleasure in defending the truth by correcting someone publicly. I wish Keith and his family abundant grace in the years to come. Please join me in praying for them and, as always, contact me if you have any questions.
I remember when I learned that placing pictures on a wall is a matter of reference - that what the picture is in reference to makes a difference. If I placed it with reference to the wall, say, in the middle of the wall, it looked lonely because it hung there without reference to whatever else might be on or against that wall. Now the pictures in our home are happy pictures because they have been placed close to other things nearby.
Might this be a metaphor for Christian living? I see Christian living as living in reference to Jesus. He is our reference. Among the smallest and yet most significant words in the English language are prepositions. Prepositions show reference. St. Paul's use of the phrase, "in Christ", is a good New Testament example. (See Ephesians 1:3) The word "with" is also a preposition and it shows reference. We are told in Mark 3:14 that Jesus appointed twelve...to be with him. "The with of togetherness" is used to indicate where believers are in reference to Jesus. We are with him. He left Glory to come to us and to die for us and he invites us to come to him and so we can be with him. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit enjoy "withness" eternally and offer withness to us.
To be with him is to be no longer lost. We are found. He is our reference. We know where we are. Unlike that picture occupying its lonely place high on the wall, we don't need to be lonely, and we are never forsaken, for we are with him.
We've been sailing on stormy seas, haven't we? But just like the disciples that night on the sea of Galilee, Jesus is in the boat with us. Our reference is not the storm, but the Lord of the storm. So let's sail on. The Lord - our reference - is with us.
Godfrey Ebright is an active member of and Small Group leader here at Center Church. He brings over 35 years of experience as a former pastor to his leadership and writing. Godfrey and his wife Lorraine live in Gilbert.
(Picture by Andrew Sharp via Unsplash)