Jesus Revolution –

The Jews lived through hundreds of years of captivity in foreign lands, and they were finally returned to their homeland, Judea, one of many nations dominated by the massive military might of the Roman Empire. Every Israelite knew the prophecies about a coming Messiah, the Anointed One who would deliver their people. The Messiah would be a direct descendant of Israel’s greatest king, David, the psalmist & fearsome warrior who led Israel in the overthrow of the Philistines. He ruled & reigned in power & might. As David’s descendant, it was thought the Messiah would overthrow the Roman oppressors & ascend David’s throne as King of Israel.

When Jesus came declaring, “the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent & believe the gospel,” His people kept expecting that if He was the Messiah, He would lead the fight for freedom, & start a revolution.

Except He didn’t.  He didn’t provoke rebellion against the Romans like so many in Judea had done before Him. He didn’t try to stir up Israel in a nationalistic fervor. He didn’t focus on all the elements of a kingdom that seemed so obvious to everyone: political, economic, & military power.

Instead, He proclaimed a kingdom that was unlike any other  – a Jesus REVOLUTION– centered on loving God & loving people. And the world hasn’t been the same since.

This Christmas season at Hillside, we will be inviting God to do a Jesus REVOLUTION  – & exploring where it begins, how it spreads, & how it applies in each of our lives.

Thanksgiving weekend & stuff…

At Hillside, we believe that one of our main purposes as a church is to help people find, understand, & follow God’s plan for their lives. This means moving people towards self-discovery, helping them uncover & develop their God-given gifts, & talents, exploring their hopes & dreams, & hearing God’s direction & moving towards it.

This Sunday, we welcome our friends Anthony & Ally Siwajian back to Hillside for a visit. They were a part of Hillside for several years until moving to Los Angeles almost 2 years ago to pursue their dreams. Currently, Ally is working at the Foursquare Headquarters in the Communications department, & Anthony is writing the next great fantasy novel. (True story – I’ve read some of the rough draft.)

These are two people who are gifted, articulate, authentic, sincere, compassionate, invested in Isaiah 58-style social justice, & they are even nerdy like me (they met in a Literature class at UNR on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.)  I miss them terribly, especially Anthony’s distinctive laugh. At the same time,   I also know that sometimes when people have found, understood, & begun to follow God’s plan for their lives, it takes them on a journey of a lifetime…. A journey out of Reno. These 2 are living well, & I am incredibly proud of them & the steps of faith they are taking daily.

Thankfulness as a response to mercy & grace…

One of the things that has stood out to me through my studies for our current series, “The Gratitude Experiment,” is that our attitude of thanksgiving & living with a grateful approach to life actually flows as a response to God for His mercies, grace, care, salvation, & provision in our lives.

The Psalms (the church’s songbook for a couple thousand years) has dozens of examples of this – with the writer encouraging God’s people to “Give thanks to the Lord because He is…” & follows that with different reasons to be thankful – He is good, gracious, compassionate, our Rock, fortress, & deliverer, slow to anger, rich in mercy & love, never changing, never abandoning us. And the list goes on.

One of our text for this week, Romans 12:1-3, continues in this vein. In it, the Apostle Paul challenges his readers to respond to God’s grace & mercy by offering God every aspect of our lives. Doing this helps us not to become so well-adjusted to our own culture that we don’t see & don’t question where it has headed into the direction opposite to God’s way (see our scripture from last week, 1John 2:15-17.)

Then, as we fix our full attention on God, we see what it means to follow Him… & as we do that, we are changed & transformed from the inside out.

My great hope is that this little 3-week series has brought thanksgiving & gratitude to the forefront of our minds, & long after this holiday season is past, we are still expressing thanks to God & to others, & are living like Jesus would be if He were walking in our shoes.

We have 2 choices…

After having spent the last several months reading, studying, & now teaching through the Sermon on the Mount, I have drawn a couple of conclusions for myself that I don’t think I had before (or at least hadn’t identified.)

In this passage of Scripture, Christ defines exactly what it means to be His disciples:

  • in how we relate to & obey God & His commandments.
  • In establishing our priorities & values from which we live our lives.
  • in how we worship Him, not merely with our outward actions, but from the bottom of our hearts, with all that we have.
  • In how we interact with & care for other people.

Matthew 7 concludes with Jesus telling His disciples they have 2 choices: follow Him & walk in His ways, on His terms, or do anything else. He does this comparing:

  • 2 gates, the narrow and the wide. The narrow gate leads to life; the wide to destruction.
  • 2 types of trees, good & diseased, the good, which produces good fruit, the diseased which brings forth bad fruit.
  • 2 types of disciples – the ones He knows (those who do the will of the Father,) & those He doesn’t know, regardless of what they think they’ve done in His Name.
  • 2 foundations – Rock & sand, with the foundation of rock representing the person who hears & puts into practice His words; sand is the life foundation of the person who has heard His words, yet ignores them.

To me, the entirety of Matthew 5-7 can be summed up in Matthew 7:13,14 – the only way to experience God’s life & purpose is to enter through the narrow gate (Jesus) & to walk the hard road of obedience to God’s word, humbly choosing to do His will over our own. After re-reading this over & over, what stands out to me is that I cannot “self-define” where & how I will be Christ’s disciple. He’s already done that, & my choice is to embrace that & start walking with Him, or to choose the lesser (& easier) wide gate through which I can do what I’d like, how I like it… sifting through Christ’s commands & picking up those that are palatable, while leaving behind those that I deem are not.

Following Christ is hard – Jesus said it would be, because it involves denying our own selfish ambition, picking up Jesus’ way, & moving forward WITH Him.

Don’t be a judger…

“Judge not, that you not be judged. ”

When Jesus made the statement quoted above, what did He mean?  The following verses give us much clearer understanding – they say, in essence:

“In the same way & with the same measure you judge others, you will be judged. Before you try to take the speck of sawdust out of someone else’s eye, take the 2×4 out of your own.

Jesus challenges His disciples not to take a harsh, critical, nitpicking attitude towards others, especially if they haven’t first examined themselves to address & repent from the sin, wrong attitudes, & behaviors in their own lives.  And if the time comes to address an issue of wrong in someone else’s life, it has to be done in a manner that reflects Christ: with great love, compassion, humility, & mercy.

Something else that can help us get what Jesus meant when He said, “Don’t judge” is a better understanding of what “passing judgment” means: Passing judgment involves making a final pronouncement of “guilty” on another individual/group – think: a judge in a courtroom smashing his gavel down while saying “GUILTY”. In that situation, it’s over. It’s done.  All that’s left is the sentencing.  That role, ultimately, belongs to God (see Revelation 20) & “Judgment Day” isn’t here yet – now is the time for healing, restoration & salvation (2Corinthians 6).  So, if  we pass judgment on someone, we are, in essence, writing them off as hopeless cases. That’s not how God sees them (or us).

Jesus on $ MONEY $

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged those that wanted to follow Him to recognize that God’s peoples’ priorities, values, thought processes, & actions run completely counter to those of the prevailing culture. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the passage we’ll be exploring this week, Matthew 6:19-34.

Here’s what I mean. The desire to acquire MORE – money, possessions, & stuff is a part of the human condition. From the time we’re toddlers we learn that MORE is better. Jesus, however, encouraged His disciples to consider a new type of value system. He said:

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

In essence, He is reminding His followers to remember that we’re living in a different way by different values – rather than investing ourselves in acquiring treasure here on earth, treasure we could only have temporarily – by following His example & applying His way of thinking/acting, we can do something that will have an eternal impact.

I’m challenged to continually review my own priorities & values (especially in this area) & to ask the Holy Spirit to help me discern where I’m on/off track so that I can realign myself with Jesus’ way.

Jesus & the hypocrites…

Have you ever heard this (or a version of it)? “Hypocrites. I don’t go to church because of the hypocrites. You know, the people who say they’re Christians, but who don’t live it out.”  I don’t buy that definition – to me any follower of Christ could then be called a hypocrite, because even though we don’t want to sin, to do wrong, &/or miss the mark, we DO. That doesn’t make us hypocrites, it makes us humans in process. And rather than beat ourselves up over our failures, the response of a Christ-follower is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, repent (turn from our wrong thinking & actions & turn to God) & relentlessly continue our relationship with God, through Christ, confident that we’re forgiven & He’s at work in our lives.

So what is a hypocrite? In Jesus’ day, the word “hypocrite” meant “actor; one who plays a role in the theater.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called the religious leaders hypocrites, because their very loud & very public displays of devotion to God were merely an attempt to draw attention to themselves & make other people think they were “all that” – pious, devoted followers of God.

The religious hypocrites made sure EVERYONE knew when they were giving to a charity or making a donation to help a person in need. They’d actually have someone blow a trumpet as they gave in a way of saying “Hey! Look at me! I’m Awesome!.”

Their prayers were long & loud, delivered eloquently in public, with many flowery, spiritual sounding words. When they fasted (going without food for a predetermined period of time,) they made sure EVERYONE knew it by putting ashes on their heads, wearing a burlap sack, & wandering around with pained, hungry looks on their faces. The message their actions & words put forward was, “this is what it looks like to be spiritual.”  And all the while, they were secretly plotting Christ’s death.

So what DOES it look like to be spiritual? What kind of instructions did Christ give His followers about giving, prayer, & fasting?

Growing to maturity…

One of the many challenging declarations Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount comes from Matthew 5:43-48. It’s the passage where He tells His disciples & the crowds, “You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor & hate your enemy. But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies, & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven.”

Love your enemies? Pray for people who persecute you? How?

Something that has helped me to understand & try to live this out was discovering the Greek word for love that Jesus used in this passage was “agape” – roughly translated, it would be “to welcome, to love dearly, & unconditionally.” Doesn’t necessarily make it easier to DO, but it sure gives a picture of what it looks like: extending love & care to all people, without strings.

When we do this, we exhibit a primary Christ-like trait that comes from being in the family of God. Loving like this reflects God’s own love, & points to Him as our own source of love & life.

Plus, like Jesus said, if we only love our friends, people that love us &/or those that are lovable, how Godly is that? Even people who don’t know God & don’t have a clue about His ways do that. (Matthew 5:46,47).

This command wasn’t just talk for Jesus either – He lived it out His whole life, culminating on the cross when He looked at the crowds around Him, yelling, cursing, & spitting at Him. Calling Him names. Blaspheming His Father. And Jesus’ response to this hatred & persecution, as He hung dying on the cross? A prayer: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

That is loving your enemies, Jesus-style.

The heart of the matter…

When I was younger, I equated much of Christianity & my relationship with God to “the Rules:” things I was supposed to do, & things I was NOT supposed to do. If I followed “the Rules,” I was doing good with God, & if I didn’t, well, I was doing bad.  Over time, I got pretty good at keeping “the Rules” & if I would admit it, I was pretty proud of myself. Why? I’m glad you asked.

Because I was good at keeping the Rules I measured myself against other peoples’ abilities at Rule keeping… & , to me, it seemed like most people weren’t as good at me at keeping the Rules. Which made me a ‘better’ Christian. Just about every aspect of my life reflected the fact that I was religious. Went to church & youth group (rarely missed.) I was known for my good behavior.

Except I was mean to people. Judgmental. Arrogant. Unfriendly. I could go on…

My life didn’t reflect Christlikeness – the “God-family traits” that show up in His kids were glaringly absent from most of my interpersonal interactions. I was well on my way to becoming a Pharisee: great at keeping ‘the Rules” while at the same time completely missing the heart of the matter.

The point of following Christ is to become LIKE Christ in how we think, how we act, & how we interact with each other & the rest of the world. It means digging deep into Scripture to allow it to be planted deep in our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can work to apply it & transform our hearts & minds from being selfish, self-focused, self-righteous people to being people who reflect Christ’s love, mercy, compassion, & justice.

You are the light of the world…

Several times in the Gospels, Jesus declared Himself to be the light of the world… He usually made this declaration as He was interacting with the Pharisees/other religious leaders, or to the curious crowds that followed Him around, wondering what He was going to do next.

But to His disciples, those pledged to follow Him, learn, & become like Him, He said the following:  YOU are the light of the world – a city set on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works & give glory to your Father who is in heaven…

With those words, Christ declared one of the core identifiers that would mark His followers – we are LIGHT in a dark world. Meaning, we’re here on earth, created in His image, to do good in His Name. As a result, people notice, & give glory to God our Father.

When we first came to Reno, these verses were at the forefront of what we believed our mission (& the mission of our church) was supposed to be. These verses are the inspiration of the name of our church, Hillside.

Our church community is dedicated to being LIGHT, & to living as a city on a hill overlooking Reno/Sparks, doing what Jesus would be doing if He were walking in our shoes every day.

Let’s let our lights shine today.