Essential Blog

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS: ESTHER (WEEK 3)

 
 


UNcensored & UNashamed: The Women of Christmas- A Sordid Past

uncensored-612x612-instagramUncensored and Unashamed:  The Women of Christmas
A Sordid Past: The Women of Jesus’ Family Tree
(Blog Adapted from Sermon notes)
In our home, the Christmas decorating comes a day or two after Thanksgiving.  We all work together to get the decorations up around the house (OK, my wife does most of the work) and then we come together to decorate the Christmas tree as a family.  As we begin pulling out and hanging up the ornaments, there is a familiar pattern.  The ornaments everybody loves go front and center, the ones we are not crazy about go in in the back, and the ones that we don’t like at all, are embarrassed by or are broke, we just leave off the tree altogether. 
            At the time that the Gospel account of Matthew was written, genealogies or family trees were a big deal.  If you had the right genealogy, you were an
INSIDER.  Those from the right family were invited to all the best parties and into all the right social circles.  If you had the wrong genealogy, you were an OUTSIDER. Whenever land was bought or sold, the genealogical records were consulted to make sure that land belonging to one tribe was not being sold to members of another tribe. You couldn’t just buy the land. You also had to prove that your ancestors came from the same tribe.  Imagine not being able to buy a house or get a loan without being able to prove you were a part of “the right family.”  For the nation of Israel, genealogy also determined who could become a part of the priesthood.
According to Old Testament law, priests must come from the tribe of Levi (remember for later).
            In that time, when a wealthy or powerful person would hire someone to write their family history, they would knowingly censor the unsavory parts of their family history and overly focus on their successful family members, military conquests, or other notable accomplishments.  This was common practice among the rich and powerful.  If the family tree were a Christmas tree, they would put all of their success stories front and center, their minor accomplishments in the background and the failures and blacklisters would be censored out altogether. 
            What is so incredible about the Bible (in general) and the genealogy of Jesus (in specific) in Matthew 1 is that the Bible is completely
Uncensored and Unashamed
in its account of the people of God.  If you have never dug into the stories of the Bible, it would be easy to think the people of the Bible were these angelic, heroic people.  Honestly, much of the Bible is NOT suitable for children. The Bible is not always “positive and encouraging & safe for the whole family.”  The truth is, there are some nasty stories and jacked up people in the Bible.  While we may be tempted to skip over the genealogy because it seems like a boring list of names… we should give it a closer look. 
Read: Matthew 1:1-16

3 Reasons Why The Genealogy Matters:

  1. The genealogy establishes Jesus as part of the royal family of David. (2 Samuel 7)

            God had said 1000 years earlier that the Messiah must come from the line of David. Matthew and Luke both make special mention that Jesus was of the house and lineage of King David. To a skeptical Jewish reader, if Jesus was not from the line of David, that would be the ultimate deal breaker! Forget it. He can’t be the Messiah.

  1. The genealogy distinguishes Jesus as a historical figure.

            Matthew does not begin with, “Once upon a time…” like a fairy tale.  Jesus is not a fictional character and Christmas is not an inspiring fable.  The genealogy grounds Jesus in history by revealing His roots. If the Christmas story were merely an inspirational fable, the intent would be to give us an example of what we should do. The truth is, there is no “moral of the story” to the nativity. The Gospel of Matthew however is a historical account. The Christmas story is not God’s advice on what man should do, it is man’s account of what God has done. The Bible is not a helpful manual for self-improvement; it is a historical manuscript for God’s salvation of mankind.

  1. The genealogy is a resume of God’s amazing grace.

            A resume including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David and Solomon was strong.  Yet, Matthew did something totally counter-cultural- He included 4 women with a sordid past in the genealogy of Jesus.

A Sordid Past: Four Women with a Shocking Story of Grace

  1. Tamar (Genesis 38) Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judahà Er. Er married Tamar- An ethnic and religious outsider. Er was wicked in the sight of the Lord and the Lord took his life unexpectedly. Then Er’s brother Onan was forced to marry Tamar and because he selfishly refused to impregnate Tamar, God also took Onan’s life unexpectedly. Tamar was left both husbandless and childless— a terrible fate for a woman. In desperation, Tamar dressed up like a cult prostitute, seduced her father-in-law Judah into sleeping with her (which didn’t take much seducing on her part) and then became pregnant.  When it became obvious that Tamar was pregnant- Judah, the man who got her pregnant- ordered for her to be burned alive.  Tamar exposed Judah as the father by revealing the signet ring & cord & staff that he had given her while she was dressed as a prostitute.  Jerry Springer! No one looks good in this messed up story. That’s all we know about Tamar. No happy ending. Yet, out of this horrible and sinful story, a baby named Perez was born… and from THIS family tree Jesus was born.
  1. Rahab (Joshua 2 & 6) We studied Rahab in detail a few months ago in our series through Joshua. Everyone knew her as Rahab the Prostitute. Rahab was an idol worshipping Canaanite—the hated enemies of Israel.  If anyone was going to be spared during Israel’s conquest of the walled city of Jericho, Rahab the Prostitute seems the least likely. When Joshua sent spies into the city, Rahab hid them in her house. She placed her faith in the God of Israel. In exchange for safe passage out of the city, they promised to spare her and her household when the invasion took place. As a demonstration of her faith, they instructed Rahab to hang a scarlet cord from her window so the Israelites could identify her house. She hid the spies, and let them out of a window with a rope.  While Rahab's faith is commended in Hebrews, she is most remembered by her sinful past… God orchestrated the marriage between Rahab & Salmon, from a prostitute into a Princess- and an unforgettable member of Jesus’ family tree.
  2. Ruth (Ruth) She, too, was not a Jew.  A Moabite. Back to Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. On that dreadful day Lot escaped Sodom with his two daughters, finding refuge in a cave. His daughters were pretty messed after their time in Sodom and on successive nights they got Lot drunk and slept with him. Both sisters got pregnant and gave birth to sons - one named Moab, the other named Ammon. Those two boys—born of incest—evil nations, bitter enemies of Israel. The Jews hated and avoided the Moabites and Ammonites.  Ruth tells of the romance between Ruth the Moabite outsider and Boaz the Israelite insider.  Why did Boaz show such compassion for a despised outsider like Ruth? Boaz’s Mom was none other than Rahab the Prostitute.  Ruth and Boazà Obedà Jesseà David = Ruth King David’s great-grandmother and member of Jesus’ family tree.
  3. Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11&12) The last woman in Jesus’ family history is not even mentioned by name. Clearly identified as the woman “who had been Uriah’s wife.” Great political scandal- King David, saw Bathsheba bathing on her roof top… fully aware that she was married to one of his best friends and soldiers, David had an affair with Bathsheba and got her pregnant. After failing to trick Uriah into sleeping with Bathsheba while on duty (in order to trick him into thinking that the child was his), David intentionally sent Uriah into a deadly field of battle in order to get rid of him and to marry Bathsheba. David married Bathsheba, had another son—Solomon, dysfunctional family.
 Think about these four women- they can clearly be labeled as outsiders-
“gender outsiders”
– in ancient patriarchal societies a woman was virtually never named in a genealogy.
“racial outsiders”– 3 were Gentiles, considered unclean, not even allowed to enter the temple to worship.
“moral outsiders”– Prostitutes, liars, adulterers.
            Why would Matthew include these women in this list? We need to get to know Matthew.  Gospel written to the Jews. Yet, Matthew the LEAST likely person to write a Gospel to the Jews… Matthew was a tax-collector
! What’s the big deal about Tax collectors?  The Roman government would hire individuals to collect the taxes.  The Romans taxed for everything! The tax collector would add on an additional fee which he would keep.  The fee was arbitrary, so he could charge whatever he wanted and become very, very wealthy.  This made tax collectors a rich, but despised group of people.  The Romans got smart and started hiring Jews to collect taxes from fellow Jews.  To make matters worse, Matthew was a member of the tribe of Levi (the Priest tribe.)  So, this meant that Matthew was not only a moral outsider, but a cultural and religious outsider as well.  Nobody was more hated by the Jewish people than the tax collectors.  Read- Matthew 9:9-13 “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners
.” Matthew 9:12-13
We see Matthew’s intent for placing these 4 Women with Sordid pasts front and center in Jesus’ family tree-
Jesus came from sinners because Jesus came for sinners.
The message of Christmas-Jesus came for Sinners.  He came for the broken, the prostitute, the adulterer, the liar, the thief, the sick, the dirty, the labeled, the discarded and the outsider.  He came for you and He came for me. 
            Many of the religious leaders were self-righteous and judgmental toward others. If Matthew had only included David, Abraham and Isaac in the genealogy of Jesus the religious people then would have done the same thing religious people do now. What all religious people do- focus on their achievements and gloss over their sins.
The religious had grown accustomed to censoring David and Abraham’s stories, just as they would
censor their own sins out of their own stories.  But the women… were different… their stories could not be censored. Matthew sticks them front and center in Jesus’s messed up family tree.  You may feel like your family tree is pretty messed up.  Jesus understands. His family tree was decorated with sinners. If the Son of God came from THAT family tree… there is HOPE for everyone!  These sordid pasts of these women are uncensored and unashamed in the genealogy of Christmas so that we might believe and receive the Good News of Christmas.  As the angels proclaimed to the shepherds…“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11
Jesus is the Star of Christmas. His grace is greater than our sin. No matter your past, Jesus can save you.  Jesus wants YOU to be a part of His family tree.  God wants to adopt you into His family and put you on full display.  If you turn from your sinful ways and place your faith in Jesus Christ, you can be saved, forgiven and adopted.   “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23


Essential Church and Elder Leadership

This past Sunday at Essential Church, we were blessed to be able to ordain two men to serve alongside of me as Elders.  It was a special day and one that I have been anticipating for over 2 years now as we move from having an outside Advisory Team to a locally led group of spiritual leaders.  During the service, I spoke from a document entitled-  Why Elders are Essential (see below) and we all read from a document entitled- Elder Covenant Essential (see below).  Anyone is free to use these materials in whatever way will help advance the Kingdom of God.

Why Elders are Essential

Biblical Eldership: The Calling, The Character, The Congregation

  1.  The Calling of Elders (1 Timothy 3:1)

Noble- Fine personal qualities, or high moral value

Task- An honorable work with great demands.

Desire- To aim toward and stretch ones self forward to grasp.  This is the same desire Paul alludes to in Philippians 3:11-12 when he talks about obtaining the goal and pressing on toward the goal in Christ Jesus.

            In the New Testament, the church leaders are given four titles.

  1. Elders
  2. Overseers (or Bishops)
  3. Pastors (or Shepherds)
  4. Deacons.

Elders and Overseers are used interchangeably: Acts 20:17, 28, Titus 1:5, 7 & 1 Peter 5:1-2

Elders and Pastors represent the same role: 1 Peter 5:1-3, Ephesians 4:11, I Timothy 3:2

Elders are given the same tasks as Pastors: Shepherding and Teaching

 Why is a Biblical structure and terminology important?

* It bases church authority on the Bible and not human wisdom. It is dangerous to base a church leadership structure on a current secular model. A “whatever works” mentality lifts man-centered wisdom above God’s.

* It allows the congregation to know what is expected from their leadership. The Biblical terminology clearly outlines the Biblical expectations.

It requires the elders to live up to the Biblical qualifications of leadership.  Once the Bible is not the basis for qualifying leaders for ministry, the entire selection process becomes completely subjective.

 The Four Primary Duties of an Elder:

  1. A Leader– Humble, servant leadership does not demand respect, but earns it by being an example to the church.

1 Timothy 4:12 and 1 Peter 5:2-3.

  1. A Shepherd– Jesus is the “chief Shepherd” and elders serve as under-shepherds.  The shepherd must protect the flock, attend to the needs of those in the congregation and care for God’s church.  Acts 20:28-29, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 The Greek word “care for” used in 1 Timothy is only used two other times in the New Testament- both times Jesus used the word to describe how the “Good Samaritan” had compassion on the injured Jew by cleaning and binding His wounds.
  2. A Teacher– An elder must be able to teach God’s Word 1 Timothy 3:2 To give both Biblical instruction and to rebuke those who oppose the truth of the Gospel.
  3. An Equipper– An elder must be one who equips others to preach, teach, and do the work of the ministry. 2 Timothy 2:22 and Ephesians 4:11-12
 
  1.  The Character of Elders (1 Timothy 3:2-7)

The qualifications for Eldership can be broken into 3 categories: Situational, Family, and Moral Qualifications.

Situational Qualifications:

* Desire to serve (1 Timothy 3:1) (the desire to serve as an elder is something that must be present)

* Able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:9) (it is one of the primary duties of an elder)

* Not a recent convert (1 Timothy 3:6) (pride, sin issues, and lack of understanding)

* Well thought of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7) (non-believers should have a healthy respect for the kind of life he lives- If unbelievers do not respect those in leadership, they will likely not attend the church or become turned off to the Gospel in general)

Family Qualifications:

* The husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6) (We understand and interpret this scripture to mean that an elder must be a “one woman man.” In other words, he is not to be engaged in an improper relationship either emotionally or physically with a woman other than his wife.

* Manage his own household well (1 Timothy 3:4-5, Titus 1:6)  (An elder should be leading his children toward a respectful and obedient lifestyle in Christ.  While each child must spiritually respond to God on a personal level, it is the role of the Father to be the spiritual leader of his home.)

Moral Qualifications:

* Above Reproach (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6) (Not perfect, but free from blemishes of character or glaring moral weakness.)

* Sober-minded (1 Timothy 3:2) (Ability to think clearly, make well thought out decisions and maintain emotional maturity in the midst of pressures and problems in ministry.)

Self-controlled (1 Timothy 3:2) (Prudent, disciplined and discreet)

Respectable (1 Timothy 3:2) (Worthy of respect)

* Hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8) (Willing to build relationships with people outside of the service.)

* Gentle (1 Timothy 3:3) (Kind, gracious and patient with others, especially when he has been wronged)

* A lover of good (Titus 1:8) (Willing to help people and seek their good.)

* Upright (Titus 1:8) (Lives in obedience to God’s Word.)

* Holy (Titus 1:8) (Set apart to God in order to obey His will.)

* Disciplined (Titus 1:8) (A life of discipline reflects a dedication to obedience to God.)

* Not a drunkard (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7) (One who abuses alcohol or drinks in excess.)

* Not violent (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7) (One who resists the temptation to resort to physical or verbal retaliation, but with a peaceful spirit seeks to resolve conflict through prayer and humility.)

* Not quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3)  (Not one who is seeking to start arguments that can lead to disunity.)

* Not a lover of money (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7)  (Free from the love and controlling influence of money.)

Not arrogant (Titus 1:7) (Pride and authority can make a dangerous combination. Humble, servant leadership is Essential in ministry)

Not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7) (Like God, godly leaders should be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8))

  1.  The Congregation and the Elders (Hebrews 13:17)

There is a sense of weight to this… the congregation is held accountable to the elders and God, the elders are held accountable to God and the congregation.

“Leaders”- word picture of the “primary shoot of a plant.”

  There is a picture of the elders not only being responsible for themselves, but for others as well.  If the elders are not spiritually healthy, it can impact the whole congregation, which is why it is of mutual benefit to the elders and the congregation to focus on the health of the elders so that the elders can focus on the health of the congregation.
*

Elders have Authority

:  1 Thessalonians 5:12, Hebrews 13:17

* Elders have Limited Authority

: Elders are under the authority of the Word of God.  They are not to be obeyed because they are elders, but because they have the responsibility of shepherding and teaching the congregation.

The Congregation has Authority

: Jesus Christ is the head of the church, the Chief Shepherd.

New Testament teaching leans toward the autonomy of the local church congregation for many important decisions:

– Selecting Leaders (Acts 1:23, 6:2-3)

– Sending missionaries (Acts 13:3, 14:27)

– Church discipline (Matthew 18:17)

The Elders are in a position of leadership and should be given freedom to lead.  It is their role to bring important decisions before the church on such matters as the addition of a new elder, the affirmation of the annual budget, or a change to the constitution or bylaws of the church.

 

Essential Elder Covenant

It is indeed a noble calling to aspire to the role of an Elder.  As Elders, we recognize that we bear a greater level of responsibility as spiritual leaders at Essential church.

We have a great responsibility for the care and spiritual wellbeing of the congregation at Essential. 

  • I commit to pray for the congregation regularly.
  • I commit to model a lifestyle worth of the Gospel.
  • I commit to serve the congregation sacrificially.
  • I commit to lead the congregation with courage, humility and wisdom.

 We have a great responsibility to serve as a plurality of Elders at Essential; loving one another, listening to one other, learning from one another in submission to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.

  • I will pray for you and your family.
  • I will support and encourage you in your walk with Christ.
  • I will be a safe place for you to share your fears, hopes and dreams – without judgment and criticism.
  • I will meet regularly for prayer, Bible study and discussion.
  • I will seek your approval/agreement on any people or organizational changes.
  • I will speak the truth in love.
  • I will seek to know you as a person.
  • I will strive to reconcile our differences quickly and privately in a Biblical manner.
  • I will trust the one of us who has to lead an area of ministry.
  • I will support the decisions that we make as Elders.
  • I will maintain confidentiality.


Joshua: A 14 day devotional- DAY 11

Day 11 “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.  Do not turn away from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7-9)

“Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you.”  By all accounts, Joshua (and Caleb) were the bravest of all the Israelites.  Yet, even these courageous warriors and men of God were vulnerable to experiencing moments of fear, doubt and discouragement.  Whenever you find yourself in those moments, you must be reminded of the reality that “God is with you” (Immanuel).  I know that in my life I have to stop and remember this fact and I have to take time to remember that God is not only “with” me, but He is also “for” me.  If God is “for us” than who or what can be against us?  As we meditate on that truth, we find that in the inner recesses of our soul that there remains a reservoir of courage that begins to flood our spirit again.  The reality of the presence of God in our lives is the well from which our courage to face difficult situations springs up in our lives.

  1. Reflect on the truth that God is “with you” today. How does that change the way you face your fears?
  2. Reflect on the truth that God is “for you” today. How does that change the way you face your foes?