Life - Jon Fryer
Christ is Risen!
When the followers of Jesus went to the tomb on the third day an angel told them ‘Why do you look for the living amongst the dead? He is not here. He has risen.’
Jesus Christ is alive, and in fact ‘living’ is probably the one word that describes Jesus better than any other. Where ever he was and what ever he was doing, life overflowed from Jesus. It was as if God packed so much life into him that it just spilled out uncontrollably into the lives around him. Where ever he is and whatever he is doing, life still overflows from Jesus. For those of us who know him, we recognise Jesus’ influence in the world by the presence of life.
Its very easy to read Bible stories and think that they are boring, ‘cos they are not written in a style that we are familiar with – there is little detail, not much conversation, and very few pictures – just a load of detail and some very sketchily written ‘First this happened, then that happened’. This is a shame, because it hides the fact that Jesus was and is the most lively person you are ever going to meet.
What’s my point? The point is that the word of God is not a bunch of dead words on a page pinned down like butterflies in a museum. I’m going to be controversial and say that you can not learn how to live a Christian life by reading the Bible. You can learn what you need to do, but you can not learn how to live. If you want you can learn about breathing from a biology text book, but the only way to learn how to breathe is to actually do it. It’s the same with the Bible – it can tell you about Jesus, but the only way you are going to understand him is if you meet him personally.
I have an advantage over you guys when it comes to Bible stories, because when I was little the tv was packed with dramatised versions of the Bible. When I read or hear a story about Jesus I can see it in my head, because I grew up seeing it. I get little details that aren’t in the text but that make it real to me – for example, when I read about Jesus casting demons out of a boy I always see Jesus’ shadow with his hand upraised falling over the boy and the boy quieting down, just ‘cos that’s the way its done in one of the movies. And when you start getting into the Bible stories, either in films, or by understanding the writings, or whatever, you come to realise that Jesus is the most interesting person to ever walk on the face of the planet. And he is the most interesting because he is the most alive.
It is impossible to describe Jesus as boring – the guy did miracles, told jokes, went to a lot of parties, broke the rules, went to some more parties, argued with the government and the church, went to even more parties, was betrayed by his best mate in true soap opera style, was murdered by a corrupt government, and then he rose from the dead. That’s not a boring life!
Why was I stressing the parties there? Because its one of the details that you miss if you only read the words on the page as if they are supernatural and holy and sacred, and without thinking about how they apply to the life of a man as real as you or me. Nearly every single story about Jesus happens whilst he is at a party, or on the way to a party, or out with friends or whatever. Jesus was totally engaged with the world around him. Despite being the holiest person in the world he didn’t let it stop him enjoying life around him… but rather than desperately pretending to be alive like we all do so often, he went into those places and took life with him.
Life overflowed from every little thing that Jesus did. You know that Jesus told lots of stories, and we even have some of them in the Bible. And you might think they are boring stories. But you have to remember that at the time there was no tv, no movies, no easy access to stories on demand. Tens of thousands of people came from miles around to hear Jesus speak – why would they do that if his stories were boring? Jesus was a master story teller in a time when spoken stories were the major source of entertainment and teaching, in the way that tv is today – Jesus was the Steven Spielberg of his time, making the stories that everyone was talking about. And not only that, but Jesus stories changed lives. Another detail you might miss, but almost every story Jesus told was in answer to a question, or to change someone’s behaviour, not through telling them off, but by gently pointing out that there is a better way to do things. And by getting their answers, people went away changed for the better. Jesus didn’t just stand about preaching – even his teaching was directed at meeting people in the here and now and making their lives better. We only have one record of Jesus actually standing up and doing anything remotely like a church sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, and even then you can bet that the people didn’t just sit and listen quietly – Jesus would be answering questions, bantering with hecklers, and generally holding the crowd enthralled with his words. The man was not boring.
And you can’t say that Jesus’ teaching is boring either. Jesus was the most controversial speaker you can imagine. He shocked people every time that he opened his mouth. He scared people every time he taught. We hear the words of Jesus so often in the church that they have lost their challenge for us, but we need to take seriously how dramatic that challenge actually is. Listen to this. That’s pretty radical stuff. We live in a culture that says that every one has their own opinion, and that all of those opinions are equal. We live in a culture that says you can have your religion as long as you accept that everyone else is also entitled to their own beliefs. Jesus didn’t say that. Jesus said that he was the only way to be right with God. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him. Jesus said that all of the other things in the world that promise you life are empty lies that will ultimately result in death, because He is the only real life. That’s not boring. That demands a response from you, and there aren’t that many options. You have decide that Jesus is mad, because only a mad man would say such things. Or you have to decide that Jesus is a liar, and that many of the people in this room have been taken in by a con man. Or you have to decide that Jesus is telling the truth. Those are your only options. Many of the people in this room have decided that Jesus is the only way to God, is the only way to live real life. What do you say?
And if you say Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, then what does that life look like? Jesus said that ‘I am come to give you life, and live filled to overflowing at that’. What does overflowing life look like. You only have to look at Jesus’ life to see what it looks like, and let me tell you, its not boring.
Jesus’ culture said that men and women were not supposed to associate too closely. Jesus laughed with women, taught women, ate with women, and lived with women, and he didn’t care what society said, because life is meant to be shared with everyone.
Jesus’ culture said that you were not supposed to hang out with thieves, and traitors, and foreigners, because God would not be happy. Jesus spent more time with them then with religious people, because God says that life is where you find it, and it has to be lived in the real world.
Jesus’ culture said that the sick and the handicapped should be thrown out in case you catch something, but Jesus spent his time hugging them and he didn’t care, because life is needed more by the dying and the broken than by the healthy.
And Jesus’ culture said that to be holy and please God you had to keep lots of rules and have no fun and walk round like you had a poker shoved up your ass. And Jesus’ got furious with these so-called religious people, because God loves life, and all they wanted to do was to make life harder and less alive for people. Listen to this:
Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. "The religion scholars and vicars are competent teachers in God's Law. You won't go wrong in following their teachings on the Bible. But be careful about following their example. They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It's all spit-and-polish veneer.
"Instead of giving you God's Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn't think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' and 'Reverend.'
"Don't let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don't set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of 'Father'; you have only one Father, and he's in heaven. And don't let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
"Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.
"I've had it with you! You're hopeless, you religion scholars and preachers! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God's kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won't let anyone else in either.
"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and preachers! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.
"You're hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, 'If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that's nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that's serious.' What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: 'If you shake hands on a promise, that's nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that's serious'? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.
"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and preachers! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God's Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that's wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?
"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and preachers! Frauds! You polish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and preachers! Frauds! You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds."
That’s not boring. In fact, that’s pretty much as offensive and in your face as you can get. Don’t fall into the trap of believing what our culture says about Jesus – that he’s all meek and mild, and lovey-dovey and harmless. Jesus was and is totally alive, and that’s challenging to people. And its definitely not boring.
What does overflowing life look like? Overflowing life carries on living and bringing life even when you yourself are hurting, or upset or even dying. When Jesus was on the cross he carried on living. He prayed to God that those who murdering him should be forgiven, and the Bible says that ‘On hearing these words many Jews about the Cross came to believe’. Life. When one of the thieves to his side was cursing him, the other needed comfort, and Jesus spent some of his last breaths telling him that it was going to be ok, and that he’s see him in heaven. Life. Even when Jesus had died and the Roman guard thrust his spear into Jesus’ side, life was still overflowing from him. The guard on duty was on guard duty because his eyesight was so bad he couldn’t do anything else. Blood and water sprayed from Jesus side into his eyes, and he was healed. Life.
And ultimately Jesus was so full of life that death couldn’t hang on to him. Jesus spent three days in the tomb, after which he gave death and hell a good kicking and rose from the dead. Where oh grave is your victory? Where oh death is your sting? This wasn’t some supernatural accident, and it wasn’t even God the Father reaching out to save his Son. Jesus makes it quite clear that He is the Lord of Life, and all life is in his hands. In John 10;17-19 he says ‘I lay down my life – only to take it up again. no one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
And Jesus says that if you come to him he will give you life for free, life overflowing, real life. This next question is for the Christians in the room. Why is it, if you have life overflowing, that the word I see most often on your MySpace bulletins is ‘bored’. Life is not ‘Boring’. Our culture sleepwalks through life, is dead even though it has not stopped breathing yet. We are only truly born, truly come alive when we take our first breath as we come up out of the waters of baptism. When you are baptised, you come out changed, even if you don’t know it yet. You are the only people who are really alive. So act like it. As the Bible says ‘Wake up oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’.
This picture is the famous ‘Creation of Adam’ from the Sistine Chapel. If you look at the way its painted, God is all dynamic, reaching out, straining to reach Adam. Adam is all limp, and can’t be fagged. And we’ve been that way ever since. You are the most entertained generation the world has ever seen – music, films, computers, games, instant conversations. And yet all it does is put you to sleep. ‘I’m bored’. Let me suggest that if you have time to be bored then you have stopped following Jesus and are lagging behind, because he is off doing something exciting, or scary, or miraculous, or wonderful. And you’re bored. Let me suggest that if you’re bored then you have starting believing the lies our culture tells you, about what life is about. Listen to this:
No wonder you’re bored if that stuff is your life. I chose not to choose life – I chose something else. Jesus. Real life. Not the counterfeit. If your life is about money and stuff then you’ve been conned – it will rot, and so will you. I want the life that comes from following Jesus – he goes to some interesting places, meets some interesting people, and he goes to all of the best parties. I don’t want just to read words on a page about Moses raising his staff and the sea parting, or Daniel surrounded by lions waiting for God’s love to save him – I want stories of my own to tell. I want stories of my own. You can tell you’re properly alive when you’ve got so many stories to tell about what Jesus is doing next that the rest of the world seems dull in comparison.
John Wesley, a great preacher from a century ago was asked why people came to listen him. He answered ‘ I just set myself on fire for God, and people come to watch me burn’. If you want to share Jesus with your friends, if you think this life is worth living, then you need to set yourself on fire with real life. People will come to meet Jesus if you are so alive that they’re jealous of what you’ve got. If people are looking at you going ‘What’s he smoking, and where can I get some?!”, then you’re living life properly!
But you have to choose. Real life has to be a choice to get off your ass and live. A choice to do something. A choice to love someone. A choice to speak up when its easier to stay quiet. Choose life. That’s why God leaves a gap in the painting – Adam has to choose to reach out and live – because God will not force you. You have to choose, because that’s what life is about – a choice to act or not to act, to bless or to curse, a choice to help or to harm, a choice to feel or not to feel, care or not to care. Jesus always chose to do and feel and say whatever would result in more life, and that would cause the powers of death to flee away. What choices do you make?
Don’t be a slave to just mere stuff. Don’t be a slave to the lies, because the pretty lies of our culture are actually as ugly as the liar who spawned them. You aren’t meant to live as a slave to anyone or anything. Live life the way its meant to be lived, freed from the chains of the everyday. Nothing is boring if you share it with Jesus. Even doing the washing up can be an activity filled with life if you share it with Jesus.
Listen to what the Spirit says to the church – “Stop your sleepwalking, wake up and live!”.
We have decided not to die.
We have decided not to believe the voices of cynicism
the prophets of doom
the harbingers of despair
the proclaimers of fear
who speak loudly and only of death that’s inevitable.
we have decided not to die.
we have chosen to believe in life.
and now we must learn to live.
We have decided not to die.
and now we must learn to live.
to really live
to stretch and wonder and test and dare
to imagine the unthinkable
to defy the gravity of fear and despair
to find the faith that believes there is another story
of life, grace and redemption
and to live as though it is the only story.
we will listen for where God’s heartbeat is giving life to the world
and we will search,
until we find where our own heartbeat echoes in it.
and though it may mean letting go of all we know,
for we have decided not to die.
we have decided now to live.
What was Jesus like?
The Character of God
How do we know what God is like?
The Authority of Scripture
How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?
The Wise Mans Tragedy
What can we learn from Solomon?
What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
What can we learn from the first murderer?
Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
How do we look for God?
Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
What is the period of Lent all about?
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
What does it mean to say "God is with us"?
What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?
The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
Do you really want to follow him?
How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?
Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?
Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?
Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed