Sunday’s Sermon: Journey to Forgiveness: Understanding Sin

Each season of the Christian year enables us to focus on various topics or themes that are a part of our desire to grow in our faith in Christ.

At Advent, our central focus is waiting in expectation for Christ’s coming and what it means to await Christ’s return. During Christmas and Epiphany, we remember that Christ is our shining light that guides us in our dark world. Kingdomtide, or Pentecost, reminds us of our participation in the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ through the witness of the church, both local and global.

Lent is no different. The calendar has turned, once again, to a new season in the life of the church. Since Wednesday, we have been in this season of Lent, which prepares us for Easter, our celebration of the hope of Christ’s resurrection. Lent serves a specific purpose, more than just preparing us for Easter. It sends us on a journey into the wilderness. For 40 days, not counting Sundays, we partake in this important period of self-examination to see what hinders us or might prevent us from true faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ. In this season, we want to look deep within our souls, through the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, to see where we are in our faith and how we might experience God’s love more.

Our journey into the wilderness is symbolic of the journey our Lord took at the beginning of his earthly ministry. After being baptized, Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness in a deep fast. At the end of the fast, he faced temptations that challenged his identity and the Father’s will for the kingdom. Jesus was able to overcome these temptations and went forth on his ministry in fulfilling the Father’s purposes.

Today, we begin our journey into the wilderness. For the next few weeks, we are going to look deep within ourselves so that we are prepared to worship the glory of the Lord on Easter morning. On Easter, we celebrate that Christ died and rose, winning the victory over sin and death. By his act on the cross, we who believe receive the free gift of grace and forgiveness from our sin. We are called justified in the eyes of God, pardoned from the penalty of our sin, and renewed in our relationship with the Father. We are going to walk through each step in the process of forgiveness. There are multiple benefits to this. Two are worth pointing out this morning. It helps us to see what it means to receive the free gift of God’s grace in our lives. As well, it helps us to be people known as forgivers and reconcilers in a community and world that need to hear God’s love.

Our journey to forgiveness includes many steps. The journey ends when two people, or a community, are reconciled after being apart for some time or reason. That is where we are going. We are working toward this moment of unity and coming together. But to get there, we have to understand why we need reconciliation in the first place. We have to understand why we are in need of grace and forgiveness. There is a need to understand repentance and confession, as well. But, first and foremost, we have to understand sin.

This isn’t a topic we like to talk about and, to be honest, it’s one we can ignore in the church. We would rather talk about things that make us feel good, instead of talking about things that call attention to how we are living our life and how it might be counter to the Father’s will. Our inability to speak about sin and our culture’s inability to call right right and wrong wrong has led to a gap in our knowledge of what is sin and what it means that we are sinful people.

To understand, we need to go to the beginning of God’s story. In Genesis, we see that God created the world. Even more, we were specifically created. There is nothing accidental about humanity. We were made and formed to reflect God’s image in the world. Each one of us is a reflection of God’s love, grace, and character. Everything in God’s original creation was good. There was nothing out of place, nothing defective, and nothing impure about what God created. Now, why did God create all of this? Why did God create us? We were created to be in relationship with the Father. The basic reason for our existence is to be in relationship with God. That is what we see with Adam and Eve, our spiritual parents, who had a deep intimate relationship with God. It is this relationship that God intended for all time.

Yet, something happened. Something took place that fragmented the relationship between humanity and God. Genesis 3 took place. Adam and Eve were told that they could roam the entire Garden of Eden and eat of its fruit, except for the Tree of Knowledge. In this chapter, we see the serpent, Satan, convince Eve to take the fruit, which both Adam and she eat. In this moment, sin entered the world. It entered as an act of disobedience.

At its most basic level, sin is our disobedience towards God. Sin is when we put our wills, our desires, and our goals above that of the Father’s desires for us. Sin is about us wanting our way, instead of us wanting God’s desires. Sin came into the world, as James 1:13-15 tells us, as a desire that is counter to God’s desires. When temptation was felt, Adam and Eve allowed their desires to control them, and it created a distance between them and the Father.

Adam and Eve’s rebellion altered the course of God’s creation. Our natures were forever changed. Humanity was fallen, and all who would follow Adam and Eve would live into this fallen nature, a nature that is capable of increasing the distance between us and God. In Romans 5:12, Paul points out that this fallen nature was changed by Adam’s act of disobedience, and we all sin because of it. This is the idea of original sin. Sin entered the world because of Adam’s act of disobedience, and we continue to sin. Even though we know God’s law and God’s desires, we continue to do what we want by seeking our desires. We can see it in each of us. We know the bad thoughts we are capable of having about others. We can see the wrongs that we do. We can see the evil that exists in the world.

None of us are immune to this altered state or condition of our humanity. We have the tendency, those of us inside the walls of church, to believe that sin only exists among those who are outside the fellowship of believers. Somehow, we have come to believe that because we are in the church and we come to church every Sunday that we are protected from sinning. It’s only those who are not here who are capable of sinning. Oh, how we believe the trap of the Pharisees. Throughout their interactions with Jesus, the Pharisees believed their own hype. They believed in their own righteousness and claimed that there was no sin among them. It was only the Gentiles who were capable of sinning. Jesus constantly reminded the Pharisees of their own unrighteousness and how they sinned by not following the truth of God’s law. We play the act of the Pharisee when we believe there is no wrong about us, or that we are incapable of sinning. As Paul writes in Romans 3:10, there is no one who is righteous. We are all in need of God’s grace.

There are many ways that each of us, in our own unique ways, violate God’s law and desires. We can lump all sin into two separate categories. There are sins of comission and sins of omission. Sins of comission are what we are most familiar with when we think of sin. These are the acts of sin. These are those acts that violate God’s law. For instance, it’s a sin when God calls us to not covet our neighbor and we get jealous at someone’s new car. We act in sin when we advocate war when God calls us to be peacemakers. We act in sin when we live lives of immorality, when God calls us to strive after discipleship and growth in our faith in God because God is holy.

1 John 3:4 makes it clear that “everyone who sins breaks the law.” This gets to the heart of sin being an act of rebellion and disobedience. God has given us his desires, through Scripture, and calls each of us to be obedient and follow his desires. We sin when we have knowledge of what God wants, but go about life in our own way. Our actions put us in the seat of God when we seek our own will. It is a narcissistic response to God’s love. When we do things that are counter to God’s desire, we sin.

For the most part, sins of omission run along the same line of thought, but are more subtle. These are sins that are violations of God’s law, but something is different. We know what God wants us to do, but we ignore it. Paul writes in Romans 7:15 about knowing what he is supposed to do, but not doing it. We all fall guilty to this type of sin. It’s knowing that God has put it in your heart to call someone and you never do. It’s knowing God has called you to say something to someone and you never say it. It’s knowing that God has called you to give your life to him in service and you never serve. Our acts of omission are just as harmful as our acts of comission. Here, we are saying we’re not good enough. There is no way God could really be calling me to do this. I can’t do it. Once again, we put ourselves above God and say ‘our will, not yours.’

Sin has a cost. We know the cost of sin is death, a spiritual death that separates us from our relationship with the Father. This is a death we can only avoid by faith in Christ and believing that Christ died for us. It destroys our lives. When we sin, we are not what God intended. We are not living to our full potential as children of God. It is a selfish way of life that harms ourselves and others.

Each of us struggling with sin. Lent reminds us of our sin and the temptations that we face. What is the sin that you are struggling with? What is that thing that God has reminded you of in our time together? What is that desire from God that you have put aside for your own will? You each have a card and I want to encourage you to write that sin down. After you’ve written it down, I want you to put that card where only you know where it is and then bring it with you each Sunday. That card, that sin, is going to come on the journey with us.

As we walk through this journey together, I want to encourage you to begin the process of giving that sin over to God. In an act of humility, give that sin to God so that God may begin to do a work in you that is transformative and holy and brings you back into the fullness of a relationship with the Father.

Sin is a part of each of our lives, but as we go forward on this journey we will see that it does not have the final answer. It does not have the final say in our lives. Our faith in Jesus Christ has the answer to our sin. Let us place our hope and confidence in that fact as we journey together this Lent.

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I Don’t Want Popularity … I Want to be a Servant

This morning, I finished watching the PBS two-part documentary on President Bill Clinton. It was a fascinating narrative of a president and a person who achieved much and failed, personally, just as much.

One of the common themes that came out in the documentary was how Clinton wanted to be liked. Whether it was in his elections in Arkansas or as president, Clinton has a desire to be liked by everyone. It might have been part of his undoing, personally, as a president.

The quest to be personally liked is one we all desire. None of us want to go through life being the person no one got along with. We all want and need community and fellowship with our fellow brothers and sisters. It would be difficult to live life without community and the support of people who care for us and desire the best for us.

Being liked is one thing, but where we often struggle, especially those of us in ministry or in the public arena, is a full desire to be popular above being a servant. We become so desperate to be liked or accepted that we can easily lose sight of the greater purpose, which is to serve Christ.

It’s a fine line, to be sure, of a nature inclination to being liked and to seeking popularity for popularity’s sake. Perhaps, for each person that fine line is going to be different. Regardless of where our line is, the question we should often ask ourselves is this: Why are we doing the things we are doing? Are we doing them to only receive the respect and adoration of our peers or are we truly seeking to be servants of the Risen Lord? That is a difficult question to ask, because it requires us to look deep within our soul to check our motives and to align our entire self with God’s desires.

There is no better time than during this season of Lent to look within ourselves and question our motives and purposes for doing the things we do. We may like what we find out, and, then again, we may not. But, in looking within we allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us into what it truly means to live as Christ’s servant followers.

How the Witness of the Church Can be Harmed for Political Gain

Rick Santorum has found his niche.

The former Pennsylvania Senator came into the 2012 presidential campaign as someone with little or no chance at winning the Republican nomination. He had lost, soundly, in 2006 and did not have the financial support of a Mitt Romney or a Ron Paul. For Santorum to become relevant, he had to offer something different and be effective at it.

Santorum has found his niche, and it is one that is close to him personally. For some time now, he has run as a strictly social conservative candidate. The posture has helped him win support in the midwest and keep Romney from securing an early knockout victory. In a campaign mostly focused on economic issues, Santorum has attempted to make it about social issues and causes.

To give Santorum credit, he has been effective in his niche. That doesn’t mean it comes without faults or challenges. Santorum’s niche is to parlay his faith as a Christian into a political victory as the GOP nominee for president and a win over President Obama in November. It comes with a cost of playing the “us versus them” card that is prevalent in political campaigns. It is a card that has been used, unfortunately, several times this week by Santorum and his supports, which, while helping his campaign, only hurts the message and witness of the church.

On the campaign trail in Ohio, Santorum compared his theology with that of the president’s saying Obama’s was a “phony theology.” He would later add, essentially, that Obama is trying to make his views about government fit his faith. While Santorum is right that, as followers of Christ, our theology and engagement with the public square should be based on our faith, the impact of his statement is not what was meant. Santorum’s comment suggests that Obama is “not like us,” which, unfortunately, has been the main stance used by many against the president. Fuel was added to the fire when his spokesperson, Alice Stewart, attempted to say what this meant.

Then today, Franklin Graham helps Santorum’s cause, indirectly, by going on MSNBC and saying that one has to “assume” Obama is a Christian, while not needing to make the same assumptions about Santorum or Newt Gingrich. Graham’s interview helps play into the idea that Obama is “not like us,” but also shows the dangers pastors have when stepping into the public square.

We should not be surprised by any of these comments. Since America’s earliest days, politicians have danced on the thin line of proper public engagement of Christians and using the church for political gain. It is a dangerous dance and one that must be done carefully. As someone who is interested as a pastor and theologian in public engagement, I’m not sure it can be done by someone who is seeking to win an elected office. There is too much to be gained, personally, that it can weaken and skew the intent of the message.

While we should not be surprised that politicians make these comments and use their faith for political gain, we should be concerned when it happens. This is equally true if it is a Republican or a Democrat. Politicians who use their faith for political purpose also become voices of the church. To the world, they become a reflection of the witness of the church. Tactics used to win a political election can turn off someone from hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope that comes in receiving him into your life. These comments, and others like them, hurt the witness of the church, which is more important than who occupies the White House or the halls of Congress.

I believe our public engagement should be informed by our faith in Christ. But, I also believe that we must be like Christ and seek to build relationships and not use “us versus them” judgmental language. My hope, and prayer, is that our political candidates will follow this example. My fear is we will continue to see more of the same until November.

Who is the Greatest President?

One of my favorite hobbies is presidential politics. I don’t know how I became interesting in presidential history and leadership, especially growing up in a family where that was the least of their interests. My only guess is that I was intrigued by Ronald Reagan and how, to a young child, he looked like a grandfather.

I’m so keenly interested in the presidents that I could probably name something about each of the 43 men who have served as president. I’m not sure if this is something to brag about or not. We will leave it at that for now.

During President’s Day weekend, we often see lists attempting to rank the presidents from greatest to, well, not so much. Of course, these lists are subjective based on the criteria used to rank and any personal biases. I recognize that my addition to these lists will be subjective and based on my own biases, as well.

My criteria is this: Impact on the country that is still being felt; interactions with the issues of the time; and leadership ability. The last meaning simply could the president inspire people or were they someone who was forgettable even in their own time.

With this as the background, here is my list of the greatest presidents. Each will include comments on their presidencies.

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Sunday’s Sermon: A Defining Moment and A Transformative Mission

One of my favorite things growing up was to go to Grandview. It is a former state park which is now part of the New River Gorge National River. This magnificent place was just 15 minutes from my home, so I went there a lot.

Grandview offers some of the most breathtaking views I have seen. There are caves where you can get lost in. There is rocky cliff that provides a great place to look at the widening New River through the Appalachian Mountains. Every place in this park offers an amazing view of God’s creation.

This is especially true for a place known as Turkey Spur. It is the park’s highest point. When you get there, either by car or walking, you notice it is a huge rock. You have to climb a steep incline to get to its top. It is an exhausting climb, but well worth it. At the rock’s highest point, you are surrounded by beauty. There are rhododendron bushes all around. There is the New River. There are trees. There is God’s beauty, which is simply magnificent to behold.

Turkey Spur has two overlooks, but it was the highest that I would spend the most time. It had this bench that I called the “Andre the Giant Bench,” because the late pro wrestler may have been the only person who did not need to jump to sit on it. When you find yourself on this bench you get lost in the area’s beauty. You take it all in. You feel God’s presence right next to you. I spent a lot of time there knowing that it was a safe place. It was a holy place, because I know God was there.

Perhaps you have a place like that. Maybe you have a place that is special to you that is filled with beauty and a representation of God’s creation and glory. There is something about these places, especially high mountaintop locations. They connect us with God and bring us closer to the reality of the Creator Father in our midst. There are many reasons for this. I think one of them is that being near these high mountaintops brings us in connection with the forbearers of our faith. The high mountaintops, for them, were places where they met God and experienced great moments of teaching and growth in their relationship with God.

There are several high mountain moments throughout Scripture. On the high mountain of Sinai, God gave Moses the Law and the Ten Commandments. In 1 Kings 18, it was at Mount Carmel where God gave Elijah a victory over the prophets of Baal. Mountaintop scenes were important to  Jesus’ earthly ministry, as well. For instance it was on a mountaintop, or its side, where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. In each of these moments, there is a connection to the truth of God and God’s desires. At Sinai, it was the law. At Carmel, it was right obedience. At the Sermon on the Mount, it was the law’s true application.

This connection to the greater things of God plays out in our passage today. Jesus takes his inner circle – Peter, James, and John – up a mountain for a time of deep teaching. Traditions says it was Mount Tabor, but some believe it was Mount Hermon. Mark doesn’t really say. His focus is on this significant moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry. A moment that serves as a transformative and transitional moment, which helped to bring Jesus’ purpose in to greater focus.

Context is always important, and it is extremely important with this passage. In the previous scene, beginning with Mark 8:27, Jesus asks his disciples a question. He asks, “Who do people say I am?” It is a way to lead in to the next question asking who they thought he is. Peter replies that Jesus is the Messiah. With this response, Jesus tells the disciples what must take place in order for his purposes to be fulfilled. Of course, this leads to Peter’s rebuke and Christ calling his followers to be willing to deny themselves.

This is the background when Jesus takes these three disciples to the top of this mountain. As they are there, something happens. Jesus begins to show his disciples what it truly meant that he was the Messiah. In this moment, his appearance is transformed. It changes. Peter James, and John no longer see Jesus as a human. They see Jesus as the Christ, as he truly is and has always been. In this moment, Christ temporarily reassumes the fullness of his glory as the Son of God. Since his birth, Jesus had voluntarily set aside his glorious nature so that he could fulfill the Father’s mission. That mission is to redeem humanity through his death on the cross. When Jesus is transformed, Peter, James, and John see the beauty and the splendor of the Lord.

A question comes from this moment. Why? Why was Jesus transformed in this moment? Why did Jesus show Peter, James, and John who he truly is? I have wrestled with these questions this week. Depending on who you ask, these are questions that could elicit many thoughtful and appropriate responses. My answer is that the disciples needed to see what it truly meant when Jesus called them to take up their cross in an act of obedience. They needed to see what it meant to be self-sacrificial in following God’s desires. They needed to see the lengths Jesus was willing to go to bring forth redemption for humanity. Jesus was willing to voluntarily suffer on the cross to serve as the great atonement offering for our sin. A sacrifice that brings grace to all who believe. Jesus was willing to put aside his glory, if only temporarily, in order to bring all back to the Father. The transformation is a deep moment of Jesus showing his disciples, and us today, what it means to give of ourselves in order to follow the Father’s will.

It also leads us to another question. Why were Moses and Elijah there? A soon as Jesus’ appearance is transformed, Mark tells us that Moses and Elijah appear. Here are these two central figures of faith and they are conversing with Jesus. This would have been a frightening moment for the disciples, and we can hear this in Peter’s response. He suggests building three shelters.  It was a comment in connection with the Festival of Booths. It was a celebration that remembered recognized Israel’s wilderness experience and also was the festival many expected the Messiah to come during the end of ages. Peter thought that time was now, because Elijah was expected to be there.

But, there is another reason that Moses and Elijah are there. They give witness to Christ. Moses and Elijah connect Jesus to the Law and the Prophets. The law came from Moses and the prophets prepared the way for Christ. These great leaders of the faith were there witnesses to who Christ is.

As this is going on, a cloud overshadows this mountain. A voice is heard coming from it. In Exodus, a cloud was symbolic of God’s presence with the Israelites. In Exodus 40:38, a cloud hovers over the newly-built tabernacle. We also have times when a voice comes from the cloud. In Exodus 24:16, God’s voice spoke for six days on top of Mount Sinai.

Here, God’s voice came in the cloud perhaps so the people would understand what was happening. We hear God’s say, “This is my dearly loved Son.” Note the similarity with the statement made in Mark 1:11. There a voice from heaven, the Father’s voice, speaks to Jesus and confirms his identity as the Son of God. In this passage, God gives witness to all to who Jesus is. This is His Son, who He truly loves.

He says something else. God says we are to “listen to him.” We are to be obedient to Jesus, because he is the Son of God. What he says and does we can trust, because it comes out of his identity as the Son of God and in obedience with the Father. Jesus’ witness comes before the authority of Moses and Elijah, because their authority comes as an act of obedience to the Lord. When Jesus says the Messiah must die for humanity, we can believe it. God affirms Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice and obedience and calls all of us to follow this path.

As quickly as it began, the moment was over. Moses and Elijah were gone and Jesus stood before the three disciples. While brief, everyone on the mountain would leave change. Peter, James, and John leave knowing who Christ is and what it means for Christ to fulfill his mission. They would struggle with this, but from this point on they understood the lengths Christ is willing to go to bring redemption to humanity.

For Jesus, this moment is a transitional point. Moving forward, Jesus is focused on Jerusalem. He is focused on fulfilling the mission on the cross. Nothing will distract Christ from fulfilling his call as the Son of God. The transformation sets the stage for the journey to Jerusalem and the atonement of humanity’s sin through the self-sacrificial actions of Jesus on the cross and the resurrection on Easter morning.

This is a lot to take in. There is a lot of depth in this passage, and so much more we could say today.

Given that, what does all of this say to us today? What does it say to you? We’ve seen the glory of the Lord. We’ve worshiped the Lord in his presence today. We’ve seen that Christ has a mission and a purpose and was focused on bringing it about. What about us? Do we leave this moment and say “Well, that’s nice,” or does the transformation say something deeper to us as a people and a church?

If it says anything, I believe it says this: We’ve gone to the mountaintop and we’ve seen Jesus in his glory, and now we are called to be like Christ and share the glory with others. The transformation invites us be focused on our mission just as Christ focused on his. For Jesus, his mention was to bring all back to a relationship with the Father through his act of self-sacrifice on the cross. For us, our mission is to follow the words from Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples of all the nations.” We are called to go out into our communities and proclaim the name of Christ through our acts of mercy, justice, and our presence in people’s lives. That is the calling of the church, and that is our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Ask yourself this question today: As you climb down from this mountaintop experience, as you’ve seen the fullness of God’s glory and worshiped in his presence today, what are you willing to do to share Christ with others? What are you will to give up so that Christ might be made known?

How will you stay focus on the mission and the purpose of the church?

Sermon: Who is Christ: Driven by Pasion

Each us have, one time or another, closed our eyes and tried to picture what Jesus looked like? We’ve tried to picture the color of his hair or even how tall he was.

Our Scripture writers didn’t give us these kind of biographical descriptions. They weren’t worried about telling future generations about what Jesus looked like, but about how Christ called each of us to live in obedience. So, when our imaginations turn to picturing what Jesus looked like, we are limited and influenced by artistic renderings.

Some of these pictures are quite familiar to us. In the late 15th Century, Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper. In it, Jesus sits quietly in the middle of the painting as the Disciples question who might be the one to betray him. Another famous one is the Head of Christ, which was painted in the 1940s by Warner Sallman, and which shows the glory and righteousness of Christ. In recent years, we’ve seen photos that focus on Christ as happy and friendly, perhaps even our buddy.

Even though artistic renditions focus on different Scripture passages, there are a number Jesus’ characteristics that get the most attention. These paintings highlight Jesus’ pastoral nature. We often see him caring for others. We see his strength exhibited. We see his holiness and righteousness. We also see the fullness of his ministry from his prayer life to, of course, his self-sacrificial nature in taking on humanity’s sin on the cross to be the atonement sacrifice for all generations and all times.

One aspect of Jesus’ character we don’t often see in these paintings is his temperament that comes out in John 2:13-22. In this well-known and uncomfortable interaction, Jesus shows a side we don’t like to focus on. He comes into the Temple and overturns tables. He clears out the people. He makes a whip. This is not the peaceful side of Jesus we are so used to focusing on. This is a side of Jesus that we are not comfortable with. We would rather focus on the sides of Jesus that makes us comfortable or even secure in our faith.

Jesus invites his followers to take on the side of his character that comes out in this scene. He doesn’t necessarily call us to overturn tables and make whips as an outflow of our faith, but Jesus does invite us to participate in the reason for his actions on this day. To understand the fullness of Christ, we have to wrestle with why he walked into the Temple and, essentially, cleaned house.

Each of the four Gospel narratives includes this scene. John is the only one to include it at the beginning. Matthew, Mark and Luke include this story in their descriptions of Jesus’ activities in Jerusalem the week of his crucifixion. The placement of the story is not important – John is writing a theologically-focused discourse – but what is important is that this event happened during the Passover, which was the most important time of the year for someone of the Jewish faith.

Jews, such as Jesus, would have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Part of those celebrations would have been to offer sacrifices at the Temple. Oxen and sheep would have been regularly used for the sacrifices, and it’s likely that marketers had opened shop in the Temple to tap into people’s interests. There were other things likely being sold as well that made the Temple not a place of God, but a place of trade and commerce. It was no longer the symbolic place where God’s spirit would rest, but a supermarket.

John tells us that Jesus saw this scene and reacted, but why? Why would Jesus be so passionate about this? What would cause Jesus to make a whip and clear out the entire Temple?

Verse 17 is John’s commentary on these questions, and it points us back to the Old Testament for an answer. John quotes Psalm 69:9, which says, “Passion for your house has consumed me.” Derek Kinder writes that in this verse, which sees its fulfillment in Christ, we see David talking as a “devoted ambassador” of God’s purposes and house, which was the Temple. When Christ arrives, he is the “devoted ambassador” who is passionately consumed and committed to God’s house, which sees its fullness in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is completely dedicated to the kingdom and desires to bring all of God’s people into the kingdom and in a relationship with God.

Jesus exhibits his passion and devotion to the things of God. He actively removes those things that have become obstacles to a full relationship and fellowship in the kingdom. Jesus is not merely a nice, happy, and peaceful teacher. He is the King of Kings, the Son of God, whose purpose is to inaugurate the kingdom of God that reflects God’s righteousness, truth, justice, and peace.

This isn’t the only time we see Jesus as being completely devoted to the truth of the kingdom. His interactions with the Pharisees are highlighted by a deep compassion and commitment to the things of God. His miracles and acts of mercy were signs of the compassion that flowed from the kingdom. His ministry was a passionate display of truth that attempted to point all people, both then and now, to the fullness of God’s kingdom that is available to all who would freely believe.

We are invited to take on the cause of being completely dedicated to the kingdom in our own lives. This means to be completely sold out for the cause of Christ and the purposes of the kingdom so that nothing else hinders our devotion. We are not called to just be followers who sit on our hands and be simply reflective about faith. We are also called to be children of God who take up our crosses and passionately grow in what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Being consumed by all things Christ is a goal we all desire. Do we live this out? Sadly, we can get caught up in being passionately consumed about things that don’t matter and are not reflective of a deep faith in Christ. There are several examples we could highlight.

We can be totally consumed by our worship desires. In this, we say unless you worship God in the same style, with the same songs, and the same liturgy as we do then you are not a true Christian. There are people who will get angry if God is not worshiped in the ways that best suits them, and claim that Christ is not glorified by the “wrong” expressions of “joyful noise.” In the same vein, we get too caught up in the color of carpets, when the church meets, and if we sit in pews or chairs in worship. All these are distractions of comfort to what it truly means to worship God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

As well, we get too consumed with being at the “right” church. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen people proclaim that unless you go to their church or believe exactly what they do you’re not a true Christian. This “us versus them” attitude has done so much harm that is outside the realm of this sermon. It is best to say that the right church, the true church, is the one that stands on the witness of Scripture and lives out the fullness of the words of the Apostle’s Creed that proclaims the church to be one, holy, apostolic and universal.

We can get too consumed and devoted by partisan politics in the church. Now let me say this, I believe the church should be political. It should have a voice in the public square on issues that matter. We have something to say about hunger, about war, about justice, and about life in general. But, the church should never take a partisan side and should never be aligned with one political party or another. Too often the church is focused on aligning itself with the ideology of its leadership’s preferred political party or ideology than about being the living witness of Christ. True witness of faith in Christ will make the Democrat and the Republican uncomfortable. Jesus is truly not a Republican, a Democrat, or even a member of the Tea Party. He is above these things, but yet he informs our involvement in the public square.

There are so many more things we could address of how we can get passionately consumed by the wrong things. Perhaps, there are things in your life that you are so passionately consumed by that it distracts you from being passionately consumed by your faith in Jesus Christ.

Why is that? Why is it so easy for all of us to be consumed by the wrong things and not our faith in Christ? In all of these “consuming attitudes,” there is a common denominator. We can be consumed and devoted to ourself, first, above being devoted to God. What these consuming actions show is we are all capable of using our faith to passionately get what we want or to advocate what we want. Even more, we can get so caught up in ourselves that it distracts us from seeing Christ active in our lives.

We must be careful to not be like the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2, which did a lot of hard work for the Lord but lost its first love. 1 John 4 tells us God’s very character is love and we are called to love others, because God first loved us. The fact God loves us unconditionally should be our passionate commitment. It informs our actions and our witness to others. When we are consumed with ourselves, we are the person who occupies the space God desires in our lives. Everything becomes about what we want and how we can get it.

If we want to be truly passionate and committed to the things of Christ, then we must take the focus off of us and put it on the things of God. We must be totally committed and concerned about the things that God is concerned about. It is difficult and challenging, but we are not called to make disciples who are carbon copies of ourselves. We are called to make disciples who are living reflections of the love of God that was exhibited in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What would it look like for us to be totally committed to and passionate about the things of God? There are a couple things we could comment on here, but Luke gives us a good picture. In Luke 4, Jesus goes to his hometown of Nazareth to preach for the first time. He opened up the Scripture to Isaiah 61:1-2, which says the “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” In taking on this prophetic call upon himself, Christ says to his followers that if we want to be truly and completely passionate for Christ, then we will live this out.

Being truly passionate for Christ is to be witnesses of Christ who take on the cause of the poor and oppressed. It means sharing the love of Christ and entering into relationship with those who are outside of the church. It means we are passionate for righteousness and holiness, but share it in ways that we hear their story and help them to walk into the story of Christ.

It means placing our faith and trust in Christ, first above all things, and growing each day in our relationship with Christ.

There are so many ways we can be fully compassionate and passionate for Christ. Each of us in will have unimaginable opportunities to share the love of Christ and to be witnesses of Christ with all the people we encounter. Each day is a new opportunity to be passionate for the Lord in ways that brings others to a relationship with Christ.

The question for us is: are we willing to be used by Christ in such a way? Are we willing to be truly passionate for Christ so that all might know him? Or, are we too caught up in our own needs that we forget what it means to be passionate for Christ?

So, what are you going to be passionate about?

Does Character Impact How We View Past Presidents: On JFK and Mimi Alford

Does character matter in how we view or judge past presidents? What about when we learn something about a president’s character long after they have left office?

These questions are inspired by last night’s interview on NBC and subsequent book by Mimi Alford. According to Alford, she had an affair with President John F. Kennedy when she was a White House intern. She was 19 when the affair began.

While the fact that Kennedy had an affair, and perhaps multiple, has been long-held as fact, the details that Alford provided were quite revealing. It showed a president who was entirely different from his public persona. A president who spoke of high ideals and who, seemingly, thought it was not improper to ask Alford to “take care” of a top aide or his brother.

This is not the first time that the details of a former president’s private life have been uncovered well after they left office. We’ve learned about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, even though it was reported during his administration and confirmed by a 1998 DNA test. We’ve learned that Franklin D. Roosevelt had affairs throughout their lives. In both of these cases, the revelations did not damage the esteem the public holds these men to.

That’s not the case for other politicians, especially those who have not been elected to the presidency. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards’ political career was ended by revelations of an affair with a staffer. So were the political careers of other politicians such as Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, or, on a lesser scale, Bob Wise.

Presidents whose lives have been less than perfect have not met the same career-ending fate. President Clinton, even with his well-known infidelities, is revered as a good president. Kennedy, himself, is still revered and beloved even with his dark private life.

There is a reason for this, and that is that the reverence of the office dictates how we view the person occupying the office. The office places the occupant on a pedestal of esteem to where it dims and distorts our ability to effectively evaluate the entirety of a presidential administration, which includes the person’s character. When a president is considered great or historic, the ability to properly evaluate a president’s character is made even more difficult.

(Of course, the ability to evaluate a president is difficult when we are still hindered by the emotions that the administration produces. For instance, it will take another generation to properly evaluate Kennedy’s administration.)

In a way, we don’t want to think that a president is capable of moral failings. We want to see each president as someone of high moral character who always did things in the best interest of the country.

Certainly, we know that is not always the case. The men who have served as president are humans who have had various moral failings, just like the rest of us. Our character is part of who we are, and it is part of how we evaluate anyone’s contributions to society, especially someone who occupies the White House.

In the case of someone like Kennedy, it may take time for a character analysis to be included in the evaluations of his administration. That is because of the mystique that has surrounded the Kennedy family and the fact his life was cut short. We’ll never know if Kennedy would have made changes to his personal life for the better.

For now, we are left to wrestle with the descriptions of an affair by a former presidential mistress. Only time will tell if Alford’s story impacts how we view Kennedy as a president and as a person.