The history of the glory of the Lord and the temple in Jerusalem makes for a fascinating story. This is one of those subplots of the Bible that we find woven across many books and in both Testaments. It is a complex relationship full of tension, betrayal, despair, exile, and unforeseen hope.


Exile is not simply political or geographical or economic. Exile is the absence of God in you and you in God.
In this message, which is a part of the series The Hope of God’s People at Grace Church, I tell the part of the story that is most relevant to the Christmas season. Building on the temple construction and dedication stories of 1 Kings 8 and Ezra 6, I follow the story through the eyes of Ezekiel, the prophet in exile. His prophecies portend both doom and glory, a relationship broken beyond repair and yet one that holds the possibility of hope for future reconciliation.

The story finds its resolution in a dramatic and unexpected way. An unforeseen fulfillment of Ezekiel’s final prophecy leads us to an exciting new hope and a new way of finding our way home.

iTunes-A-PeopleThis past Sunday we finished up our series A People of His Very Own at Grace Church. I was fortunate enough to preach the last message of the series, which was on the shared mission of God’s people. As I understand it, God’s mission is new creation, and he wants to partner with human beings, both to make them new, and, through them, to make all things new. The impetus for the message came from a question I asked in the other sermon I preached in the series, Eyes Up. Here is the question:

Will you still follow Jesus when it dawns on you that he has not come to fill the God-shaped hole in your heart, but rather to call you, together with all the saints, to fill the cross-shaped hole in the world?

In other words, are you still going to be committed to Jesus when you finally understand that his top priority is not to meet your needs, but rather to equip you and call you to fulfill his mission in the world, in the same way that he fulfilled it? The primary text for the sermon was Matthew 10:38, but I also went to 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 and 2 Corinthians 6:3-10.


There is a God-breathed kind of life that is ours for the taking, but it can only be found when we lay down this self-centered life to which we cling.
The thing that I was most fortunate to take from my sermon prep was the time I spent listening to the stories of how people at Grace have been walking out this mission, and how God is, in turn, causing his kingdom to grow in our neighborhood. The things that Jesus said about God’s kingdom really are true. You sow a small seed and you reap a massive harvest. You do your work, and the kingdom grows without you knowing it, or, sometimes, even seeing it. While I’ve been living in Boston and Columbus for the past ten years, God has been at work in the church where I grew up in powerful and transformative ways. I’m grateful that I now get to be a part of that work as both a participant and a pastor.

I was at this event, and it was the first time I’ve had the pleasure to see and hear N.T. Wright speak live. My friend Joel and I sat very close, right next to two founding members of Mars Hill Bible Church (no, it wasn’t Rob Bell). It was a wonderful time, and I found Dr. Wright both brilliant and engaging. I encourage you to find an hour and watch this. Below you’ll find all my tweets from this event.

And then my phone battery died. I think that was somewhere around the middle of the talk. Obviously I thought it was a great talk, and it really summed up the heart of N.T. Wright is all about. So if you don’t want to spend months and months reading the copious amounts of books he has written, you can take one hour sometime and watch this.

 

I’ve begun reading Walter Brueggemann again. This time I’ve picked up a little book called Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile.

The spirit of the age, he argues, is one of autonomy. Everybody is an authority unto themselves. We all do as we please.

There was a similar spirit making the rounds in Jeremiah’s Jerusalem. Just listen to the people’s attitude reflected in Jeremiah 18:12. But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’” We’re all going to do what we want to do.

Jeremiah, on the other hand, had a deep and unshakeable sense that God had called him to the prophetic ministry, and as a result, God had certain claims upon his life. “Such a call is not an event, but an ongoing dynamic of a growing and powerful claim.” (18)

Such a sense of call in our time is profoundly countercultural, because the primary ideological voices of our time are the voices of autonomy; to do one’s own thing, self-actualization, self-assertion, self-fulfillment. The ideology of our time is to propose that one can live “an uncalled life,” one not referred to any purpose beyond one’s self.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Let’s assume that this is true. Historically, Christians have understood this “wonderful plan” in terms of God’s call on your life. The specifics are different for everyone, but the implications are universal.

If God has called you, then he has called you to life in the context of his kingdom and within the purpose of his mission.

Because God has called you to life in his kingdom and for the purpose of his mission, you are subject to his rule and his purposes. You cannot simply do what you want.

Life in God’s kingdom and for his mission happens in the Church. Specifically, for you, it happens in the context of the local congregation to which you belong.

God has ordained certain men and women to exercise leadership and authority within your congregation. This authority is exercised in the name of, and in the manner of, Jesus Christ.

For the sake of the vitality of his kingdom and the accomplishing of his mission, God has proclaimed that there must be order within the churches. Just as in your family, one important component of church order is submission to the leadership of the church. You cannot simply do what you want. (Of course, neither can your leaders. But that side of the equation has been beaten like a dead horse. It’s the other side that needs to be addressed today.) 


Submission to your leaders is an act of discernment of the motives of your heart.

Therefore, for the sake of God’s kingdom and mission, you are subject to the leaders of your church.

No one, at least no Christian, can lead an uncalled life. Neither can any Christian lead an unsubmitted life.

This means that, if you are to live into your calling, then you must listen to, even submit to, your leaders. This is an activity that can only be accomplished in the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. It is an act of discernment of the faithfulness of your leaders, and perhaps more importantly, of the motives of your own heart.

We crave autonomy, but autonomy is incompatible with the God-called life. You are subject to God. And you are subject to the authorities he has placed in your life.

Consider that, as you faithfully pursue this calling, God will some day place you in a position of authority in your church. Having practiced submission already, you will be more equipped to lead those in your care. You might even say that submission, over time, will give you a certain moral authority that is otherwise impossible to attain.

Something I said in my sermon Eyes Up resonated with the staff here at Grace, and so I’ve been asked to preach a message that elaborates on it. Here’s the quote:

Will you still follow Jesus when it dawns on you that he has not come to fill the God-shaped hole in your heart, but rather to call you, together with all the saints, to fill the cross-shaped hole in the world?

The obvious text that communicates this (besides the one from which I was preaching at the time – Luke 9:57-62) is Matthew 10:37-39. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

The first thought that struck me was this: The world needs cross-bearers, not because it is bloodthirsty and eager to kill those whom God sends (though it is those things), but because it must be shown, at all costs, the way to New Creation.