Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gospel Paradox - Sermon

This is my sermon (minus inflections and a few more jokes). probably long but it made for a quick blog post.

Sermon on the mount (Matt: 5-7, Luke 6):
Matthew 6:
22"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Anytime there has been an opening to preach I ask myself: “self, is there a burning message (a burden) on my heart that God wants me to share”. I’ve preached a few times at our last church and my time finally came up to preach here. This is probably the most written out I’ve been for any sermon. Not because I need the notes, I love winging it and am not a natural organizer; but because it is such a burning heart message for me I don’t want to mess up the delivery any more than I will by nature..

Gospel Paradox
I get about 1hr each day of drive time while going to work in Ellwood City. I love this time. I mainly use this time to pray and to listen. I have been listen to lots of books & sermons on my commute. I’ve come to value this time so much, I’d have a hard time going to a 5 minute commute.
Somewhere in the past 2 years I was listening to GK Chesterton & Timothy Keller when some ideas merged; and I finally understood a few spiritual mysteries. Not all mysteries, but a few; those few have made me feel alive. Basically one hit me in the heart and it has made all the difference. The idea of a paradox and there being a paradox to the Gospel. This is my attempt to explain. So if your a visitor, sorry for the brain dump; if this message doesn’t connect never fear, Pastor Bill will be back next week.

A paradox is two truths that seem to be opposed but work together. Think of a football offense. A successful offense needs a running game & a passing game. If it was all running the D would ignore the pass run blitz & crowd the box. If it was all passing they’d blitz, drop to zone coverage, etc & shut it down. Lucky for the steelers, we have a defense & clearly don’t need an offense.

God often works in a Paradox. It sounds strange but realizing this was freeing to me.

There are two basic questions that plague the spiritual curious and the new believer.
Why do bad things happen to good people?
If God is so loving, why is there a hell?
Not easy questions. And we naturally don’t like to leave things un-answered.
Gaining an understanding in your faith is a good thing. Not just these questions, but in how God works in the lives of believers. Studying God’s word and how that applies to your life is part of what we are called to do. (2 Tim. 3 - All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction, and training in righteousness). Some has been studies of curiosity, some joy, and some wrestling with doubts or un-ease.

These are not easy questions. With answers to questions there a 3 basic options you can take:
1) take an easy answer and don’t think further about it.
2) Trust God to be all knowing, and don’t think further about it.
3) Wrestle with it to get your thinking to match what we know about God, his character and his creation.

Why is the sky blue?
1) because angels painted blue, they must have big brushes.
2) I’m not sure, but God made it that way and I’ll enjoy it.
3) Because blue is the only color not filtered by the atmosphere in our visual spectrum. I’ll enjoy the blue and the colors that appear it at sunrise & sunset when the refraction is bigger. What a beautiful creation.

While not necessarily dangerous in smaller issues we need to be careful with the answers we settle with. I think scripturally your stretching to find out if Gabriel uses 1 coat or two. It does become harmful when it affects our outlook on life and how we see God. It is a very clever trick by clever people or Satan to take a nugget of truth then twist it. The Bible is a huge book and taking only one verse or one passage as a foundation for an entire theology is dangerous. It will sound mildly good because it starts with that nugget, but it can end away from the truth and away from God. Prosperity gospel (step out in faith and you will be blessed in this world), social gospel (if you’re a Christian you will support cause XXX), political gospel (vote for Joe, because you’re a Christian).

The Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7 & Luke 6) is Jesus’ overarching teaching ministry. Basically his longest single teaching moment. The read scripture is a part of the sermon the mount and we’re going to buzz through the whole thing.

Jesus starts in Matt. 5: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger & thirst for righteousness, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted. Those who are serving and seeking will see (v16) “Great is your reward in heaven.” All of these humble outlooks in spirit and in service are good things. These people are justified.

Key theological word - justified. To be right with God. Declared righteous. To be justified is a status; a static definition of who their standing with God. In court terms a person found not guilty has been justified. It is not a process like sanctification. Sanctification is more of a movement in holiness, seeking living in a way that is honoring to good.
If we also look at Luke 18 9-14 -
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Taking this as a truth nugget you can build this into a message of poverty for Jesus, or of a great reward for the downtrodden who were left stranded by the economy. This easily gets twisted and grows. We hear that if we’re beaten up by the world, we are loved and there is a plan for us. If we stop listening there, this grows into making your own future righteousness with no cost. And we still see this today.
If we don’t read the rest of the sermon and say Jesus was only talking about Love:
With a singular focus on nugget of : Love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:31). For God so loved the world.(John 3:16)... God is love.(1 John 4:8)...
This thinking rolls into:
+ Everyone is basically good. You want to help everyone. Reach out to all communities. We can just talk through differences. Nobody is really evil. Everybody is really good in their heart and all will be well in the end. This can easily become a Universalism - all will be saved. “Yes, this world’s economy is broken and there is something better that all will get.” It’s a nice place to rest mentally. But it is not a truthful place to rest.
Back to the tough question: How can a God who loves us & made us send people to hell?
This question is stuck wrestling with a true holiness of God. We end up dismissing God’s holiness with two thoughts.
1 - You know more than God. Actually you love people more than God. Because you wouldn’t send someone away from you. But we know from Matt7:-22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
It doesn’t sound like “love” and your sense of love is bigger than God’s actual love. Your rules are better than God’s. You know more than God.
-OR- 2- God isn’t big enough. He character will allow sin to hang around. There is no punishment.

So a singular holding of being “in favor with God” doesn’t really hold up.
Before we can stop there we need to look further at what Jesus says. What about law?

v.17 Jesus says Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. An economy being an exchange of goods/services for other goods & services. It can become a game to be played of continually making trades to move up. It’s easy to see the law as an economy of blessings. I will trade some of my behavior (doing good or not doing bad) for some blessing. Jesus says - Nope - winning that isn’t good enough. “They say don’t murder, but I say don’t hate. They say don’t commit adultery I say don’t lust. They say love your neighbor, I say love your enemy.” That blessing economy is what you see the Pharisees trying to play. With the prodigal sons; The older brother mad at the party for a lost younger brother; the 1st vineyard workers angry at the later workers being paid the same. There is a sense that if I play nice I will be blessed with prosperity and easy life. If I’m doing well, it’s because I’m behaving well.

With a singular focus on nuggets of: Keep my commandments (John 14:15). For the wages of sin are death.(Romans 6:23).
This thinking rolls into:
+Hard work gets you to where you are. Fight the good fight, run the race with pride.
The evil will be punished. Prosperity gospel. If bad things are happening it’s because you deserve it. You suck, try harder. There is a blessing economy and rewards are waiting. Just “do” good.

All of this ends with the tough question: Why do bad things happen to good people?
This question is stuck wrestling with limiting the love of God. God’s love is fenced in by two ideas:
1) You know more than God. Your idea of love is better than God’s providing of it. Mercy is better handled by you than by God. You want to with hold mercy (love) to some who seem unfit, when we’re all unfit.
2) God’s grace isn’t big enough to forgive some sin (if you don’t like yourself) OR your sins aren’t big enough to need the forgiveness (if you do like yourself). “You’re a good person & only need a little saving grace. “ While maybe stopping short of a works based salvation, it is easy to slip into a works economy. A thinking that Jesus got me the car but I can drive the Highway to Heaven myself. Blessings to me are a result of my works (at least partially).

With the Sermon Jesus also pulls apart those who are winning the economy game. Those who are doing well and keep most of the laws. You have the law and say do this...but I say do more.
Matt5: 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
You aren’t measuring up on your own, you are a sinner.

So a message of blessing alone leaves me stuck, and a message of law alone leaves me stuck.
Wow, thanks for the great news. I’m gonna go crawl under a rock now.

So here Jesus is saying there is a love that will reach down to the lowest of lows, and a bar set high by Law that we will never clear.

Jesus says hold both. It is a paradox of us being a justified sinner. Believing in faith, we are justified sinners. While we are fully justified, we are fully a sinner.
Romans 5:
1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!

They seem to battle each other as ideas, but we must hold both.
At the end of the Sermon (Matt 7:28) the people are amazed because he taught as one with authority and not as their teachers of the law. Up until now the Law teachings had been “you suck, try harder” OR a teaching “you don’t suck, it’ll be okay.” Jesus blows through this, “you suck, stop trying on your own”. In this teaching Jesus is bringing people to a new understanding of God the Father.

Let me see if I can bring this out.
I grew up in a small town in central PA, similar to GC. Graduating class of 145 kids. One day there was some water problem for our street. We had received notice that the water would be out for a few hours while doing repairs and then “good as new.”
After the work was done we had water pressure and my mom started the laundry. Upon going to move it from washer to dryer, she found the whites were now orange. A mud and rust orange.
Mom tried to re-wash, and to use bleach. No luck, t-shirts were still orange.

The world-love philosophy will say there is not true white, orange-ish is close enough. Or will deny there is a white, it’s upto us to define white for ourselves and it will be okay in the end.

The law philosophy will say scrub more. “the clothes aren’t white keep scrubbing until it’s brighter since I’m closer to white than you”. But at the end of the rinse cycle, they’re still dingy.

We knew what color they were supposed to be. We knew the right color. It wasn’t that the soaps and bleach couldn’t work; we still had orange water.

We know what is right and that we are not quite right. We know what it will look like to be of use to God. Maybe not exactly, it will probably be better than we can dream; but we have some idea. But we are dingy. We are trying to clean ourselves with orange water. It doesn’t matter how much we may want to be clean. We can call orange the new white; in our hearts we know it isn’t true. Ignoring orange doesn’t work. Ignoring white doesn’t. Denying the difference between orange & white doesn’t work. Similarly all the “love” doesn’t remove God’s holiness or his perfection and our sinfulness.

We can hand scrub with the best of soaps. We can soak with ultra-clorox. The water we’re soaking with isn’t clear. It isn’t that the process can’t work, it’s that we can’t work the process. All of the “law” effort will still leave us coming up short.

v23 if your eyes are bad. We need to have the clean water.

Hold Both:
There is a trap in truth nuggets. They draw us into limiting our view of God and rejecting truth that doesn’t line up. Traps of a one dimensional thinking about God. It’s convenient to hold him in the one dimensional box. But it’s a trap that is limiting.

You are loved more than you’ll ever know. You are more sinful than you can bear.
God is big.
Realize that it isn’t the system that’s broke; it’s us. We have nothing of value to present to God. v24 you cannot serve both God & Money. God & Mammon in some versions. Do you know what mammon is? mammon is stuff, identity stuff. You must give up on your identity stuff. It’s easy to identify materialism, money, stuff that may be holding your claim. I’m the guy who owns the big house, cool car, nice tractor. Identity can also happen with title / career: president of the company, supervisor, mom or dad of great kids, children of so&so, so&so’s brother. Another and much more difficult mammon is to see when your identity is generally good things. We can start to see that as our own righteousness. It becomes a point of pride “I’ve done this; I’m doing that. I’m pretty good.”
I can tell you firsthand, hard to see; and therefore hard to give up. Ever read a passage & think, “Oh, phooey. I’m a Pharisee”. I was a Pharisee in thinking I had something of value to God. Yes Jesus saved me; but now I was working with God to get things done. I had a mental economy going on with God. My thinking was “God is my co-pilot” and needs my driving skill. The truth is that God doesn’t need or want my driving skills; he wants my broken heart.

I had to understand that the truth is a paradox. Specifically the paradox of being a Justified Sinner. One of the essential things is a paradox be all of two truths knotted together. It is not 1/2 of one truth and 1/2 of the other.

Charles Spurgeon had some battles against the Law-keepers at the time. Especially with predestination VS free-will thumpers. He was accused of being too much free-will and of being too much focused on predestination. He says:
That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

We are Justified Sinners.
Being a sinner I have no reason to be proud of any accomplishments or possession or any identitity, I know they are still dingy. Further (as a sinner) I can’t look down on the poor. We are the poor. Being justified we can reach out in love because there is a blessing, a Good News to share. The rich have no leverage when compared to that future blessing. There is no reason to be envious, jealous, or spiteful to the winners in the economy game.

Trying for 1/2 and 1/2 and balancing two truths will not work. It will result in an economy between the two. You become moderate between the two trying not to be pulled too far by either. Still trying to keep something that will be of value on the other side. It’s in holding both that you are alive, passionately alive.
Spurgeon put it like this:
My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God.

Once I got this understanding of a Gospel paradox, I couldn’t stop seeing them. The pattern is throughout scripture:
The 1st shall be last & the last shall be first.
Dying to the world, to live for God.
Having the strength to surrender.
The greatest King being the greatest servant.
Paul saying (2 Corinth 12:10) - when I am weak, then I am strong.
Rejoice in your sufferings.
Jesus being son of man & son of God. Fully man and fully God.
A God of holiness and strength, becoming weak and taking on sin.

The pattern is freeing throughout life. It frees you from worrying about ultimate success or perfection - you will fail. It also frees you by giving you a peaceful, solid starting ground - I can now serve joyfully.

These aren’t just two separate concepts. When held together they become a motivating breath of life. You are loved more than you’ll ever know. You are more sinful than you can bear. It’s because I bring nothing to the table, that all the works are to glorify him. Because I’m not depending on my own success to define who I am; that I can go where he sends me.

I know I’ve thrown out a lot of information.
Sorry, it’s something that’s been stewing in me for 2 years and will continue for much more. I tossed out a bunch of heady stuff and as a justified sinner I know this: God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, His thoughts are higher than my thoughts.
Love the lord your God with all of your heart, mind, and strength. And to love my neighbor as myself.

This morning has been deep in the mind, hopefully in the hear also; may it motivate you to go out and love the Lord with all your strength also.


It’s there. All of this has been there the whole time. It was in the very mission statement of the church. . ...redeemed by grace & motivated by God’s love.... Redeemed because we are a sinner and are now justified. It's the heart of the gospel.

- Center Church is a spiritual family, redeemed by grace & motivated by God's love to make a difference in the world for Jesus.

Hebrews 13:20, 21
Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.


  1. Wow man, Spurgeon and Chesterton in the same speach... that seems risky to me.

    Seriously though, we need to have a talk about Rayleigh diffraction theory. You sort of illustrated the negative case of your own point with that one. Red isn't really filtered out by the atmosphere, it is more the other way around. Sun light comes from the sun: i.e. the direction between you and the sun. In that direction the light looks yellow (and intensely bright). This is because the sun is brightest in the yellow-green area, but the blue is diffracted out. Small particles in the atmosphere diffract the blue more than the red: essentially they spray the blue in every direction. As that blue light shoots out away from the line between you and the sun, it hits other particles that further spray it in every direction. The net effect is that when you look away from the sun, there is scattered blue light heading towards your eyes from every direction in the sky.

    A much deeper and tougher question is: Why is it dark at night.

  2. It was received really well. Lots of comments of "things to think about", "taking notes", "deep". We then had a very deep sunday school on this, plus a few discussions in passing.

    Last week Caleb was telling me "black wasn't really a color, it's just when there's no color. Like dark when there is no light."
    That kid scares me.

  3. Cool man. Three cheers for Ca'buu.

    Actually, what I was getting at is the idea that the surface brightness of each star is mostly the same, and that, if we are completely surrounded by stars in every direction then the whole sky should be as bright as the sun, each photon being from a different star, having traveled different distances, but still arriving at your eye at this moment.

    The fact that the night is dark means that we are not completely surrounded by an infinite number of stars extending out to infinity; or it means that the cloud of stars in the universe around us are so widely spaced that the light from many (most) of them has not reached us yet! I think there are other possible implications, but in terms of a universe balanced finely tuned for life and beauty, it is a fascinating and often completely overlooked question.

  4. Now that you've pointed this out to me, I think I'm ruined. Because, yes, duh, these paradoxes are everywhere. I never thought about them before. (Maybe I think Michael really did paint the sky with his fluffy wings?) Not much is more amazing than "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." It almost makes my head want to explode. Almost.