April 28, 2010 § 2 Comments
by Matthew Raley
So, I’ve been a little too stressed. On my 39th birthday last Saturday, I discovered I have shingles, as if Someone is underlining the end of my youth.
I do not like shingles.
The doctor who checked me out stopped the examination when he discovered I was pastor, and announced that he had gone to a Jesuit boarding school. He described this at some length, adding a critical analysis of the current papacy.
When by and by he was finished, he said I was extremely contagious. The nurse gave me something to sign, and when I handed back her pen, she refused to take it and said, “It’s yours now. You should throw it away.”
My right cheek is so swollen that my right eye can see it. There is sharp pain running down my face and neck. There are blisters inside my mouth and on my lips. I drink coffee through a straw.
Vicodin is bad. It keeps me from my scotch.
My boys stare at me. Malcolm (4) is particularly insightful about what I’m going through. This morning, huge blue eyes fixed on my blisters, he declares, “Bumps that make you sick are gross. You have a lot of bumps.”
Through it all, I am thankful. At least I’m not yet 40.
April 27, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
Peter has been restored by Jesus (John 21), and he learns something that fires his zeal — especially his zeal for comparing himself to John. In this sermon, we see how Jesus cuts the strings that keep pulling Peter’s focus to the other disciple.
April 21, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
We don’t like confrontation, fearing that it will be destructive rather than healing. But in this sermon, we see how Jesus confronts the issues around Peter’s denials, and how we can imitate his ways to bring restoration to our relationships.
April 14, 2010 § 3 Comments
by Matthew Raley
Rebellion in a child is not a phase, and it doesn’t just happen. Rebellion is the sin of disregarding or overthrowing authority, and as we saw last week, it is the convergence of four patterns.
These four are on display in Deuteronomy 31-32, where Israel’s past and future rebellions are confronted. In chapter 31, the Lord commands Moses to draft a written witness against Israel to set beside the ark of the covenant. Chapter 32 contains the witness itself, a song about the Lord’s faithfulness and the nation’s twisted response.
Let’s think in more detail about the first pattern described in these chapters, idolatry.
After Moses’s death, the Lord says (31:16), Israel “will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them . . . .” The sexual metaphor captures the intimacy of Israel’s coming betrayal: having taken God’s faithful love the people will reject any bond with him.
Moses dramatizes this unfaithfulness in the song of witness (32:16-18). “They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods . . . They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently.”
Rebellion through idolatry has been characteristic of Israel throughout Moses’s life. Most notoriously, the nation made the golden calf at Sinai (Exodus 32:1-6), calling it by the Lord’s name and proclaiming that it had brought them out of Egypt. Israel also worshiped Baal of Peor in Moab (Number 25:1-5).
Israel’s idolatry after Moses is well-documented in the Old Testament. The prophet Ezekiel, whom the Lord called to “nations of rebels” (Ezekiel 2:3), offers an important reference point. He gave repeated descriptions of the nation’s whoring after false gods, with abominations even brought into the temple (8:7-18). Inside, “engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel.”
So Israel’s rebellion both under Moses and after him consistently involved the worship of false gods.
The close association between the scriptural concepts of rebellion and idolatry is no accident. Rebellion has a perverse logic. The Bible’s God is sovereign, making submission to him the only option. For the rebel to gain control of his life, he must fabricate a new god, a pliable deity whom he can manipulate through rituals and rationalizations. A woman who was leaving her husband put this rationale to me quite succinctly: “My god wants me to be free.”
People often grow up treating God like he’s made of Legos.
There’s a pile of ideas of about God on the carpet, and your job is to assemble God out of them. So you try different ideas and see how God looks. If an idea about God’s justice doesn’t work for you, it’s like a black Lego that looks out of place. Pull it off and try a red one, a piece of mercy perhaps, and see if it doesn’t look better. Or if a Bible verse seems like a “hard saying” to you, it’s nothing more than a block that’s too big. The Bible has other verses. Find a smaller block.
Whatever. They’re your Legos.
If you want to nurture your child in a way that prevents rebellion, that first thing you have to do is teach him about idolatry. Train him that the real God does not conform to his imagination.
One summer when Dylan was 2 years old, we stopped in Ashland, Oregon, one of neo-paganism’s many little pleasure domes. In a store, I noticed a wall full of Buddhas and a sampling of Hindu gods. I walked Dylan over to a shelf at his eye-level, got down on one knee, pointed to a fat and happy Siddhartha, and said, “Son, this is an idol. Many people believe this is a god.”
“People pray to him, and even bring him food.”
I pointed at the whole wall of shelves. “This store sells idols.”
I did this more than once when Dylan was small. He is now 9, and has a deep aversion to idols. The other night, I was reading him The Lightning Thief, the well-written series opener by Rick Riordan that treats Greek mythology as if it were happening today. We enjoyed it enormously. After I closed the book, he knitted his eyebrows and said, “I can’t understand why anyone would pray to those gods.”
When we instill the truth early that God is God, and will not yield His being to the human imagination, we are building powerful categories for discerning reality from fantasy. Further, we are teaching a child to yield to reality — the one thing a rebel will never do.
April 14, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
Shame over past sin or broken relationships is debilitating, emotionally and spiritually. In this sermon, we begin a new series, “How Jesus Restores Our Love,” focusing on the restoration of Peter in John 21.
April 12, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
In this Resurrection Sunday sermon, we look at John’s account of the disciples’ blindness. Why are they so slow to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? What finally convinces them? And what will finally convince us?
April 7, 2010 § 6 Comments
by Matthew Raley
One day when I was 11, I stood eyes down in our family’s laundry room while Dad bawled me out. I don’t remember what I had done. But I do remember taking my eyes off a pile of dirty rags and giving Dad the sharpest look my face could make. And I remember the look as a conscious decision.
Dad changed. His voice dropped. “You are looking at me with defiance. Don’t you know that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft?”
He was quoting the verse we examined last week, 1 Samuel 15.23, in which the prophet defines rebellion as the overthrow or disregard of authority, and the search for power.
Rebellion is not a phase in a child’s life. Identity formation is a phase; rebellion is a sin.
It takes strength for a child to maintain defiance against his parents — moral and emotional strength. Morally, a child has to be convinced that his defiance is right. Emotionally, he has to be able to hold his course without parental approval.
Maintaining strength requires the child to twist his mind and habits with falsehoods.
The twisting is on display in Deuteronomy 31. The Lord and Moses confront the rebellions of Israel, both in the past and those coming in the future. The passage shows that rebellion is a close association of four distinct sins, all of which give rebels a feeling of empowerment.
The Lord says (31:16) that after Moses’ death Israel “will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them . . . .” That is, they will leave the true God who loves them, has brought them out of Egypt, and is giving them their own land, and will follow the gods of their imagination.
Rebels have to receive spiritual blessing from somewhere. They fabricate gods who will meet the need. A woman recently told me she was leaving her husband. “Your God wants me to be in bondage,” she said. “My god wants me to be free.”
The Lord tells Moses that Israel will “break my covenant that I have made with them,” a phrase he repeats four verses later (31:16, 20). He is referring back to the covenant at Sinai and ahead to the renewal of that covenant in the land (Joshua 24.19-22). The nation is going to lie.
I have noticed a pattern in rebellious people, both young and old, of deceit. They create different personalities for different sets of people. They make up half-histories of ill treatment — legitimate claims, but highly selective. And they tell outright falsehoods.
The Lord foretells that the Israelites “will despise me,” having “grown fat” from the land’s fruit (31:20).
A rebel’s emotional life needs the energy drink of scoffing. The feeling of superiority, of remaining unaffected by others, and of knowing people’s “real” motivations becomes the animating power of the rebel’s personality. There’s security in sarcasm.
Moses tells the people (31:27), “For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death!”
Rebels do not listen. They debate, rationalize, and shift blame. But they do not consider the points of view they don’t agree with.
We will look at each of these characteristics in more detail over the next few weeks.
For now, here’s the point. I do not think of my fatherly task as controlling my boys behavior at all levels so as to make them compliant. Instead, my task is to counter these four sins separately, before they join. My boys need to learn how to gain strength from the true God, Jesus Christ, strength from being personally truthful, from cultivating humility, and from a habit of listening to counsel. They need to draw strength from grace.
This is how my parents raised me. So, in our laundry room when I consciously attempted defiance, I did not have the toxic compound of sins to carry it off. My strength was already coming from good sources. I submitted sincerely, for the right reasons.
Looking back, it was a crucial moment in the formation of my identity as a man.