By: Joel Snider Not only can we count on the future changing, that change occurs more rapidly than before. If they want to reach new generations, churches must be in a constant state of readiness to adapt to change.
By: John Pierce Many U.S. Christians measure their righteousness by a narrow list that reflects their political inclinations and personal piety, yet the Bible's overwhelming message of justice for the oppressed has been missed.
By: Joel Snider Our lives are consumed by the 'tyranny of the urgent,' those things that get in our way and demand attention. Instead, as the 17-year locust reminds us, the long view of life is the healthiest and most effective.
By: Joe LaGuardia An Internet "troll" is anyone who comments online with threatening, intimidating or abusive language. Such online aggression is not an isolated moral lapse; it's a rampant infestation of sin.
By: Joel Snider When we think of greed, we picture Ebenezer Scrooge counting coins in his drafty house or Michael Douglas in "Wall Street" proclaiming greed's virtue. We think greed doesn't apply to us, but it does - often.
By: Martin Marty (The Martin Mary Center: Sightings) Even as old-style confessionals fade away, more serious lay people as thinkers and spiritual leaders are advocating "confession" and "forgiveness" as elements of great potential in our cultures of chaos.
By: Joel Snider We regard sloth as a sin of an imagined lazy member of the welfare class. Rather, it is the sin of all who waste their lives on loves that are too small and causes that are not worthy of our devotion.
By: Joel Snider People who work with those in deeply engrained poverty must balance the need to alleviate desperation versus creating dependency. To understand the struggle of that decision, you must know the people in crisis.
By: Joel Snider If we want to encourage the fullest life to the end of mortality, we must get over our fear of mortality and our denial of death. Honest discussions with caregivers, patients and families are critical.
By: Joel Snider You know the blessings within the Beatitudes. When you reverse them, you discover curses for those who ignore those blessings. These curses help you better understand the road map that Jesus gave you.
I’m not saying that we should all go out and try walking on water. But I am saying we need to get over this idea that because Jesus is the Son of God he can do everything and because we are not we can do nothing. In this story he seems to suggest that the same power and presence of God that was in him can be in us, not to the same degree perhaps but to some degree. [W]e may have more of God’s presence and power than we have dared to believe.
This story helps us understand that God was there all along as the silent partner in Joseph’s life. He had to confront the reality of the circumstances that had fallen his way and to determine that he was still in the hands of a God who controlled the larger stage on which his life was being lived out. God may not have been micromanaging the story, but the Eternal God was in the wings setting the stage for future events.
Jesus, in other words, taught his followers how to “talk to God in a different way.”2 Has he done that for you? When the storms of life rear their ugly heads, are you prepared to meet Jesus because he has taught you to pray? That doesn’t mean the storms won’t come up. They most assuredly will. But it does mean, I think, as Vivian Greene has said, that “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
If I’m going to be just like Jesus I have to do more than look at people: I have to see them. I have to see their suffering and sorrow and I have to feel compassion for them. And then I have to let that compassion move me to do something for them, to help and heal.
We all have our battles with God. Some of you have been fighting with God for a long, long time. But in the light of the coming dawn, after fighting with God through the night and all you can do is hold your own, what you discover is out of God’s unlimited storehouse of love and grace, God is ready to bless you.
To live amongst the weeds is to acknowledge that God is in control, and to understand that this is what he has called us to do: live simply, do our best to follow Jesus, and leave the rest to God. It is indeed the way of the kingdom, letting the wheat and the weeds grow together. After all, is it beyond God’s ability to eventually turn the weeds into wheat? I’ll leave you to answer that question for yourself.
Listen to those who can see what you can’t and know what you don’t. Don’t shrug them off when they warn you of impending danger by trying to impress them with your bravado. Seek their counsel and advice. Ask them how they remained faithful in the heat of the battle. Enlist their help to hold you accountable so you can keep your promises. Be honest and transparent with them. Pray with them.Ask God to help you keep your promises. Lean on God every day. Exchange your weakness for His strength, because all things are possible when you rely upon God’s strength instead of your own.
I believe God wants to see a good, strong heart which values giving over getting, serving over being served, honesty over deception, love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, right over wrong, faithfulness over fickleness, strength over weakness, courage over fear, selflessness over selfishness, humility over arrogance, justice over favoritism and peace over war.
How does your family stack up against Jacob’s? Do you have some of the same dynamics going on? Do you see many similarities? No one inherits a perfect family or develops flawless friendships. Every relationship has its ebb and flow. Misunderstandings are inevitable and feelings get hurt. People and circumstances change and so must relationships. This is normal and natural.
Funny how when God finally gets our attention and we realize God is trying to do great and wonderful things through us and wants to bless all of creation with our existence in the world. What we discover is that God is not interested in our abilities to manipulate the world. What we discover is that God wants to radically transform us from the inside out, making us more like God than the world.
God’s love is poured out like a fountain flowing to fill your life … When we live God’s love in everything we do or say, God’s love and kindness flows in such quantity it is poured out like a waterfall that never stops. The water flows and flows and flows whether you pay attention or not. In fact, the waterfall flows endlessly day and night, day after day … no matter who you are, no matter whether you’re tall or short, skinny or fat, no matter what color your skin is, or whether you’re good at sports or video games or what. God’s love is like a fountain pouring out day and night God’s goodness and love for you.
So this is not advice that Jesus offers us, it is news... good news. When life is burdened, for whatever reason, Jesus encourages us to walk with him. The yoke he offers is not a single yoke but a double one. When we accept it, we cannot walk our own way, but must go in the direction he determines. We need to understand that.
We serve a generous God, who extravagantly invested in all human beings by sending God’s Son Jesus to earth. Some received him and grew. Many rejected him and even crucified him. But out of that death and failure, God raised him up so that humanity is offered the extraordinary returns of eternal life. We who are worshippers of this God and this Jesus are now invited to join in the extravagant sowing of the seed of God’s Word. In so doing, we are not defined by a fear of failure, but by a faith that God will provide extraordinary returns in growing God’s Kingdom.
God is the God of all, from the top to the bottom, from the left to the right, from the oppressor to the oppressed. God is the God of us all and there’s room at God’s table of reconciliation for us all.
condition. Our cross is not a challenging relationship, our failing health, or our grief over loved ones. No, our cross is the deaths that we choose to carry precisely because we strive to be faithful to Christ and his commission. But there is good news. As Christians, we believe that death does not have the last word. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we have hope that in our deaths, there is also a rebirth, a resurrection into a new age in this life and not just the next.
Based upon today’s text, what did Paul want the believers at Rome to know about being a disciple? I pondered this question for some time last week and came to this conclusion. You don’t trample on love. You appreciate the ones who love you and show your gratitude by doing your best to be your best.
You never know who you might sit down next to on an airplane. You never know what conversation you might have with someone that changes that person’s life. You never know who is observing what you are doing at any given moment. You never know who is accepting that cup of water from you, and what impact it might be having on them. You never know what circumstance, or perhaps even a tragedy, that comes to you will shape your destiny and that of others you encounter. You just never know.
No one can take God from anything that God himself does not want to abandon. Still, the very best act of stewardship and patriotism that we can exercise is our willingness to give back to our country what belongs to it, and to God what belongs to God. In fact, that is the very meaning of the word that is translated “render.” It means to give back again.
The question therefore, is not whether we will find rest by ridding ourselves of all yokes. The question is which yoke we will take up, the yoke of Jesus or the yoke of something else. The truth of the matter is, if we do not live for Jesus, we will live for something else. We will either serve Christ, or we will serve some other master. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Therefore, the question is: Will we submit ourselves to the heavy yokes of human approval, of material gain, of social status, of self-righteous pride? Or will we find rest by submitting ourselves to the gentle yoke of Christ?
God is breathing all the time, in and out of us, and in and out of the world. Our task is to simply breathe in the grace of God; breathe out the love of God. We breathe in the grace of God and we exhale out the love of God. When we do this spiritual exercise, we will be visited by the Holy Spirit.
Credo: It’s my belief the creation story in Genesis is a religious story rich in faith but not one meant to be understood in a scientific or literal way. I believe in science and so do you. The book of Genesis was written in an age before science was known or understood. To hold the Bible up as scientific writing is to do harm to its original intent or meaning.
We have been created, you and I, in partnership with our Creator-Redeemer God, to help bring our world into right relationship with God. That has to do with more than just getting to heaven. Far more. It speaks to how we take care of the earth God has created and given us, it determines how we relate to others, especially those who are different from us. It expresses itself in every facet of our being. We live – right now, you and I – in God’s faith story.
Get serious. Bare your soul and voice your fears. Acknowledge your weakness and tendency to quit when the road gets steep. Most of all, ask God to give you the wisdom, strength, stamina and courage you need to break out of your self-imposed prison by accepting every opportunity to make yourself and the world around you better. Often life is bigger than we are. It is never bigger than the God who made us and is eager to help us meet every challenge.
Jesus prepared his disciples for this grand opportunity and strategic task. This was his investment strategy. He gave them the deep roots and strong wings they would need for their own public ministries after he was gone. It was now time for them to go back into a sinful world to offer hope to those seeking a better life and into a broken world to offer healing to those who were wounded.
Some of us may be able to sing on key, but we are all out of tune with God and with others. We may approach the gates of worship wearing our best, but God ultimately sees our brokenness and inability to be righteous. We may arrive at the courts of this sanctuary and sing hymns with an angelic voice, but God’s Spirit ultimately hears the cacophonous cries of our heart.
On this Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church, I believe that God’s Spirit is working within this congregation possibly to conceive and give birth to an alternative worship service that taps into the different kinds of gifts, different kinds of service and different kinds of working at UBC to worship the same Spirit, the same God and the same Lord.
But let’s go back to that fateful night when the Risen Christ appears to his frightened disciples in the upper room. There is rejoicing then as well, but a different kind of joy... a joy that comes more in the form of relief, like when it appears that all is lost and suddenly the Cavalry comes to the rescue. It wasn’t with the force of a wind that would knock them off their feet, but with a soft puff of the cheek that Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Pentecost is a reminder that God has called all of us to a life of service. God has blessed us so we can be a blessing. What God has done for us through His redemptive and transforming work, He wants to do for all people. At Pentecost, God sent the disciples back into a sinful and broken world to continue the work they began with Jesus during his public ministry. Jesus’ earthly ministry was over, but not theirs. In many ways, it was just beginning.
I was thinking about how it would have been if they’d had Twitter on the Day of Pentecost, and if they had used the hash tag “churchjusthappened” (with no caps and no spaces). Can you imagine? Someone would tweet: “Mighty wind, flames of fire, unknown tongues. #churchjusthappened.” And they would be right: church did just happen, for the first time ever, because we often think of Pentecost as the day the church was born. It was the first time, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Imagine
That may be as clear a picture as we get in this life of what Christ has done for us. He came to us, loved us, and set us on fire with the light that he was. He died for us, rose again, and made a way between earth and heaven, so that someday we can follow him into the Father’s eternal presence. For now, here we are, sent as he was sent, to light up the world he loves.
These words in Chapter One of Acts are a freeze frame for the moment, giving us a quick look at the circumstances of the church just before the Spirit of God invaded the world of human believers. Our task is to be ready when the winds of the Spirit begin to blow. We are to be busy being faithful so that when the winds pick up and begin to blow, we can go with them. We are the carriers of the Spirit in our world and God wants us to be ready when the answers come.
The hardest road we travel is the one we don’t want to go down. This road, however, is usually the one we most need to travel for our own welfare and those around us. How do we embrace our hour, the challenge which awaits us this week? Begin where Jesus did. “After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come.’ ”
[W]e can entrust ourselves to God as a child to a loving father. A child cannot do that unless first the father has let it be known that this kind of relationship is possible. Again, that was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. He hadn’t just come on the scene as yet another in a long line of would-be spokesmen for God. God had sent him on a particular mission, and at the very center of it was the need for Jesus to give his people a different picture of their God.
Because of the occasional deaths of Christians in the world today, Peter’s letter speaks painfully across the centuries to those of us who live seemingly protected lives about how we are to be ready for our time of suffering if it should come our way. [ ]Peter’s letter reminds us that following Jesus is the right thing to do. In following Jesus, we are expected to live right. We can’t revert to our old ways of living. We are to live courageously and faithfully doing the right thing day in and day out.
Let’s take another look at what Jesus said. Of these three phrases – “I am in my Father, you are in me, I am in you” – if you had to reduce it down to the one that means the most to you, which one would it be? “I am in you,” Jesus said to his disciples, and to you and me, “I am in you.” Isn’t that the phrase you would choose? “I am in you.” What does it mean – not theologically, not analytically – but personally, inwardly, to have the Spirit of Jesus in you? Not what it means to the person sitting next to you in that pew, but to you, that the Spirit of Jesus is in you?
Jesus wanted the disciples to know neither his enemies nor death would have the final word in his life. God would, and that word would be a good one. That tomb would not hold him because God would raise him from the dead, just as God will give abundant and eternal life to all who are faithful in the pursuit of justice and peace as Jesus was. Furthermore, Jesus wanted the disciples to know sin would not have the final word in their relationship. Grace and mercy would, because Jesus loved them unconditionally.
When a person feels fully loved, it opens the door to loving obedience. Furthermore, Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” not as a way to tell us how to earn his love. Remember, Jesus already loves us and the scars on his hands are proof of his love. God demonstrated His own love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We demonstrate our love for God by obeying God’s commands and following the way of Jesus.
[Jesus] makes it clear that the Father has already sent one Paraclete, and that was him—Jesus—the one the disciples could always call alongside themselves when they needed a helper, a comforter, or a friend. Now he's leaving but he’s going to send them another Paraclete, and that's the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is going to be able to do everything for them that Jesus has done, with one important difference: the Spirit is going to be with them forever.
From nobodies to somebodies. From stone cold dead to living stones. Each one of us, having a place in the heart and purposes of God. God is inviting you to come join in the project. There’s a process that’s offered.
So let us remember that God has included us all! God is building us together to be a living temple, because Christ is our Living Cornerstone. So no matter what challenges, fears, and struggles we may feel right now, let us hear these words affirming who we are.
And maybe this time it’s the little sister who says, “Look! A squirrel!” Because she is the one who is completely free of concern. She’s holding onto her brother’s hand, and he’s holding onto the father’s. Hold that image in your mind for a moment, and put yourself in the place of that little girl, because it’s there, when you are connected to Jesus, who is connected to the Father, that you find the cure for the troubled heart. Everything else Jesus says in this passage seems to depend on that simple truth.
Now, here’s the question... how can you have abundant life – joyful, jubilant, triumphal, exhilarating life (after all, that’s what the word abundant means) – when your days are spent just getting by – laboring, sweating, working, worrying – under such an oppressive system? What did Jesus mean and how does he provide such a thing? And how does what he said – “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” – translate from his world to ours?
There are times when all of us are sheep in need of a shepherd. Be careful who you listen to and follow. [ ]On the other hand, there are times when we are called upon to be shepherds who take care of sheep. As parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, administrators, ministers, business owners, civic and church leaders, we must be careful how we lead those who look to us for guidance and protection. As Christians, we never have permission to ignore their needs or exploit them. As good shepherds, our priority is to build healthy families and communities where everyone is valued, treated with respect and encouraged to achieve their potential.
As Christians, we believe the risen Christ is alive and at work in the world. And if what Jesus said in Matthew 25 is correct, we also believe that Christ is also present in the least of these, in those who may be a stranger to us, in those who aren’t as visible in our communities. What keeps us from seeing the presence of the risen Christ in these seemingly invisible strangers?
The door that had opened to let me in to warmth and comfort had also opened to let me out to adventure and freedom. My abundant life required both. I think Jesus knew that about me before I was born. I think the Heavenly Father has known that about his children all along.[ ]This is the kind of God who will open the door for you when you've come to the end of your resources, who will invite you in to sit down and sup with him, but also the kind who will open it up and let you go out again. Because it's not just safety and security he wants for us; it's life—abundant, overflowing, and everlasting.
The lesson that persecution had to teach the early church was a radical realignment of their values. Those things they had previously thought were important turned out to be worthless and empty. And those things they had overlooked because they weren’t considered of worth turned out to be the very things needed. Our problem is that we place more emphasis on our things than on the people in our lives. The value of persecution is that we are forced to see them both in a new light.
Their eyes would have never been opened had they not been kind to a man they thought they did not know. He would have continued on his journey, and they would have missed this sacred encounter. Their simple gift of kindness and hospitality made this revelation possible. This point has not been lost on my friend and biblical scholar, Dr. Colin Harris. “Unless we see Jesus in the stranger,” he writes, “we are not likely to see him anywhere else.” Anytime we are kind to a stranger, we open the door for good things to happen, not only for the stranger but also for us.
Even dead hope can come back to life. That doesn’t mean that every hope we have deserves to live. There are some hopes—false hopes—that probably need to die. The sooner we crucify them and bury them the better. And if they are false hopes then that’s where they’ll stay. But if they are God’s hopes they will not stay dead. God will not let his Holy One see corruption, and God will not let his holy plans come to naught. God will raise them up again, just as he raised Jesus. We will feel our hearts burning within us as we realize the thing we have always dreamed of is beginning to come true.
The journey of despair away from Jerusalem ends in a journey of joy back to Jerusalem. And before they could even speak about their experience of seeing the risen Lord, the disciples go ahead and declare, “Simon has seen Jesus.” They were not the only ones to see the living Lord that day.[ ]“We were hoping” turns into “We are hoping.” Death turns into life.
John has come to know and believe that faith is not an easily-packaged reality. It is not the same, exactly, for everybody... no one-size-fits-all. There are different levels and types of faith, different layers, if you will, to one’s understanding and ability to believe... which, I would imagine, is just as true of us who are gathered here today.[John} wants his readers to be encouraged in knowing that whatever level of faith is theirs, it is still regarded as true faith in the eyes of the kingdom of heaven. He wants them to believe that their faith has validity, no matter how deep or wide it may be, because they have believed even when they haven’t seen the Risen Christ.
What seems significant about this baptismal sermon is the way it holds the crucifixion and the resurrection together as one event.[ ]In truth, each needs the other to be wholly true. Without the crucifixion, we might be tempted to be triumphalistic as though we walk between the raindrops of the reality sin and evil and suffering. We would become escapists and many Christians seem to take that position in their denial of injustice and their refusal to connect the dots between faith and life.
Why did Jesus appear to the disciples the same day God raised him from the dead? He loved them too much to let them wander hopelessly through the cemetery of broken dreams. He was as anxious to turn their grief to joy as he had done for Mary earlier that day.[ ]Jesus also wanted his followers to know he cared for them even though they had abandoned him the night he was arrested and the next day when he was crucified. The resurrected Jesus was still their Good Shepherd, something they needed to know before they tried to sleep another night.
As I wrote in my column this week, the early church theologians such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom sometimes interpreted Easter as a joke. They didn’t mean this in an irreverent or dismissive way, the way we might describe something poorly done as “a joke.” Instead, they quite literally felt that Easter was a holy joke, the moment when God played a joke on death itself, turning a grim time of mourning into a festive time of laughter. The early Church recognized that the season of Easter was a time of celebration, for praise, for joy.
Practice resurrection. That’s our gospel today … to go from here to practice resurrection! There’s nothing shy at all about this response. We are to live fully in God’s thunderous YES! We are to live God’s resounding affirmation of the world and all God’s children who need God’s offer of love and reconciliation.
So let us hear this and hear it plainly and hear it clearly... This is not a table for the perfect, or for those who have their spiritual act together (despite what some people think when they try to interpret Paul’s version of this event). It is not for those who have all the answers. This table, and the invitation to come to it and partake of the bread and the cup, is for those who have it in their hearts to betray Jesus too.[ ]Why? Because it is the only place where we can hear Jesus say to us, “It is you who have stood by me through my trials.”
“My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus tells Pilate. “You’ve no cause for worry or for fear. I do not plan to overcome the kingdom of Caesar.” But he did, didn’t he? Not right away, perhaps, but it did happen. And guess what? Because he was willing to die on the cross, that kingdom – not of this world – is still in this world. And in you and me, in our hearts. Jesus thought it worth dying for. Isn’t it true that the least we can do is live in such a way that others can see it in us?
So let’s consider this... During these past six weeks, as we’ve made the Lenten journey with Jesus, we have heard what he said about temptation and thirst and birth and sight and the resurrection and the life and servanthood and betrayal and the kingdom. Today, we hear what he said about fear. And what did he say? Are you ready for this? He said, “Do not be afraid; go and tell...”
Then it dawned on me. The empty tomb is a vital part of this story, which is why all four gospel writers describe it in detail. However, after God raised Jesus from the dead, that tomb was not empty because now it was filled with hope.
It’s not a romantic story, but it is a love story. It’s the story of someone who loved Jesus almost as much as Jesus loves us. Mary went back to the disciples and said, “I have seen the Lord!” and in that moment became the first Easter preacher ever, the first person to share the astonishing good news that Christ had risen from the dead. For Mary and those disciples things would never be the same. If resurrection was real, then death was no longer an enemy. If resurrection was real then life had won the day. If resurrection was real then anything was possible.
[O]n that first Easter morning, Mary was awaken to a faith in the resurrected Christ when Jesus called out her name, “Mary!” The Eternal Word spoke a personal word that finally aroused Mary from the darkness of her night and brought her into the light of a new morning. It was a new world in which sin, pain, suffering and death could no longer contain the Son of God in a tomb of their making. Yes, on Friday afternoon, those powers of darkness seemingly gained an upper hand, but on that third day, when a new morning was dawning, God opened up the tomb and called out, “Good Morning, Jesus!”
This week we are invited to think about what Jesus has done for us and to think about it deeply, to enter into the drama of Holy Week and walk with Jesus every step of the way. But many of us will refuse.[ ]Today is Palm Sunday. It is the beginning of Holy Week. And, as Alyce McKenzie reminds us, it is an opportunity to take our stand with Jesus, to be a shouting stone rather than a silent disciple, to ask not what Jesus can do for us, but what we can do for Jesus.
Think of it... the resurrected Christ, the Light of the World, has gotten on his knees and made a fire so he can prepare breakfast for his friends![ ]Don’t try to analyze it. Feel it! Feel the early morning dampness. Listen to the water lapping against the shore. Look at the fire with the fish roasting on the makeshift grill. Smell it. Sense the moment, take it all in. The greatest person who ever walked on this earth – the very Son of God, by the testimony of these men in that boat – and he chose to do the smallest and simplest of things; not just to symbolize what he wanted his followers to do and be, but because that was his Spirit, his purpose in life. That’s who he was and who he is... the Giver, the Servant. Now... how could you and I possibly want do otherwise?
The intertwined stories of Jesus and Lazarus stand as a witness to the power of God over the despair and emptiness of death. In short, as Jesus stands in front of Lazarus’ grave, he stands in front of his own. This makes this incident of Lazarus a preview of the main attraction that will follow. [ ]“Your brother will rise again.” In that proclamation, Jesus was pointing beyond the power of death to a realm of faith few of us have achieved. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live … Do you believe in this?”
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says to Martha. [ ]Martha thinks resurrection comes only “on the last day,” some time out in the future when God chooses to culminate life on this earth as we know it. But Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Resurrection begins now for those who believe... now! That is what this sign, the raising of Lazarus, points to. It points to Jesus... now! It points to life in Jesus... now!
Salvation begins, apparently, by telling the truth about the way things are, but also by believing that they can be different, that new life is possible, and being willing to do the work it will take to get you there, but it continues by believing that you do not work alone. “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” Jesus says. “Not you. Me. But the one who believes in me—who puts his faith and trust in me, who loves me and leans on me in times of trouble, that one—even if he die, will live. Even if everything he is trying to hold together falls apart, even if everything he has tried to build comes tumbling down, even if the breath should leave his body and his body turn to dust, I am the Resurrection and the Life,” says the Lord.
This was not the time to abandon the man who had done so much for him. As hard as marching into the eye of the storm would be, disappointing Jesus would be harder. [Thomas'] commitment to Jesus was not just for the good times; it was for all time. Jesus had taught him to confront his fears with faith instead of letting them control him. Now was the time to do this. [ ]“Let us go and die with him,” Thomas said.
The Good News of Lent and Holy Week is that, like Lazarus, life steps out of an open tomb. And even if we are like Martha and Mary in the face of death, conflicted between frustration and faith, head knowledge and heart longing, belief and doubt, Jesus does not count that against us. He comes to offer us life anyway. Therefore, we have hope that even in the deep despair of our night, joy returns in the morning.
A man who has never seen the faces of his friends or family, the smiles of children, a sunset or a brilliant night sky, finally sees! But when he comes back a healed man, no one celebrates with him. [ ]No one believes him and the man is cast out of the synagogue and cut off from the Torah. He’s cut off from his family, the sweet-smelling incense of the Sabbath, and the certitude of the Law. By the end of the tale, he’s victimized one last time … all for looking deeply and directly into the Light.
A man healed of blindness. What a blessing, right? Who wouldn’t celebrate that? Who wouldn’t be thrilled to see a man healed of blindness and receive sight? Well, if you had a chance to ask that Pharisee, he would tell you that the day he met this man was the day his troubles began. Before meeting this healed blind man, the Pharisee’s saw the world so clearly, his moral vision was so certain, his beliefs, so secure. But upon meeting this man, this “sinner” who was supposedly healed, things were no longer so clear.
Those of us who can see often take such a wonderful gift for granted. But have you ever considered that it might be a hindrance as well... when it gives us, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, the “cheap confidence that one quick glance at things” can tell us fully what they are, when it distracts us from the light that God gives us inwardly in our hearts, when it fools us into thinking that we have a clear view of how things really are, of where the road takes us, of who is right and who is wrong.2
What makes this story so interesting is that the beggar was not the only person who was blind. The religious leaders who had ignored him for years and who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath were also blind. They could not see what was important to God, where God was at work in the world, and how God could use them to help those who were suffering. [ ]We can have 20/20 vision and be blind. This is because light comes not just from the world around us, but from the faith within us. What does faith help us see which our physical eyes cannot detect?
Here we are, not in a clinic or a courtroom, but in a community of transformation. We call it the church, and it ought to be one of those places where we could stand up and say, “My name is Jim, and I’m a sinner,” and everybody could say, “Hi, Jim.” It ought to be a place where we could admit that we are powerless over sin: try as we might to stop ourselves we seem to just keep doing it. We need help, and the kind of help we need can only come from God. But with God’s help we can begin to change.
One of the things I love about my GPS is this button right in the center called “Home.” When I push that button, no matter where I am, Shania starts figuring out how to get me home. And if get tired, or distracted, and miss a turn, she doesn’t say, “You idiot! How could you miss that turn? I’ve been telling you it was coming for the last 10 miles!” Instead she says, in that patient way she has, “Recalculating.” Maybe that’s the most hopeful thing God could say to us when we wander off course, when we miss the mark, when we sin. Maybe God could say in that patient way of his, “Recalculating.”
When we come to the place where we believe that God is for us, something miraculous happens. It is as if the floodgates open. Years of hiding, of building up barriers, all the energy needed to push back the shame, the corrosive feelings of inadequacy -- they are washed away. The living water of Christ pours down like rain, washing our eyes to see who we are, but also to see Jesus’ majesty and love.
What do you think the disciples learned from this experience? Following Jesus meant they would need to go where others feared to tread, talk to people others shunned, dismantle walls of suspicion and hate, build bridges of reconciliation and good will and share goodness and mercy with everyone along their journey. At all times they were to make hope as visible as Jesus did that day in Sychar. Maybe this is why they were speechless! This was no small challenge. [ ] Now it is our turn to learn these lessons.
Does this fascinating story still have something for us?[ ]I think it has, and offer this to you for your consideration. Continuing to drink from the well we call Jesus is to be the presence of Christ to others and to offer them the same water he has given us. And how do we do that? We can’t see in someone else’s heart and know what is there. Not like Jesus can. But we can know that everyone we meet – everyone we meet – is struggling to some degree. And we can accept others as Jesus does, and give him the opportunity to do for them what he did for that unnamed Samaritan woman so long ago. The water is already there. All we have to do is show someone else where to drink.
By: Preston Clegg As we journey through the season of Lent, we have the opportunity to confess our individual and collective sins. What would it look like if the corporate church repented? Here's a start.
But we’ve already entered into temptation, haven’t we? Why, we’ve invited it in, closed the door behind us, locked it, and thrown away the key. Temptation, you see, is inevitable. Again, it’s in our DNA. But so is the promise of the One who shows us how to overcome it. Trust in him, and regardless of what temptation comes your way, he will have the final word. And Jesus’ final word is always one of redemption and grace.
Be disciplined. If this passage teaches us anything it is that our ability to say no to anything harmful and yes to all things good is crucial to remaining faithful to our calling. [Jesus] knew if he had to worship anyone other than the God who called him and in whom he placed all his trust, it was too big a price to pay. His mission was to reflect the heart and nature of a righteous and loving God. Any decision which did not meet this standard was rejected.
What would it mean for the church not to live by bread alone? Of course we need to play attention to the things that are important for our existence – such as attendance, financial giving, and programming. But let’s not live by those things alone – those things should not define us and our mission. Instead of the church catering to meet our own needs, how can we live on every word that comes from the mouth of God, a word that not only offers us abundant life, but also challenges us to share that abundance with those in need, whether spiritual or physical?
Being born anew, or from above, is beginning the journey toward such a place and experiencing at least a part of it right here and right now. It is understanding earthly things from a heavenly perspective. It is to live in opposition, counter-intuitively, to the way most of the world operates. Look at Jesus’ life – what he said and what he did – and you’ll find that this is who he was.
What we think we know about God can actually put God in a box of our own making and hinder us from believing and trusting in the true God who cannot be contained. The mystery of God cannot be fully captured by our human understanding. [ ]God is a divine mystery. But God is also a saving mystery.
There is no shortage of questions in this narrative, which I see as beneficial to faith development. The Christian faith has a leavening influence and is meant to disturb and disrupt. An authentic faith will lead to questions which result in a greater understanding of God, life and self. Ask Nicodemus.
[D]amnation was never God’s plan for his creation. He never wanted us to start down the path that leads to our own destruction. But when we did he sent his son to call us back, to turn us around, to set our feet on the path that leads to life. If we do that—if we stop choosing the things that move us further away from God and others and start choosing the things that move us closer, if we heave every thought, word, and deed up on the sin scale to see which way the balance tips, and then find the strength and courage to embrace the good and reject the bad—we will, with God’s help, find our way.
We’re afraid God will change us. We want to live as we want to live. If we spend time alone with God, He just might shape us and mold us as a potter shapes and molds the clay. You need to be cautious. You need to be fearful about spending time alone with God.
I think it means that while in that garden, hearing nothing from his Father, Jesus could look back on this moment, this epiphany, this transfiguration, and remember. In the silence of that desperate, desperate moment, Jesus could know that if God had been there with him and for him before, God would – even in his silence – be there with him at the cross.
Why did Jesus want his disciples to know wherever they went, he would be with them? I can think of a couple of reasons he wanted to reassure them of his abiding presence. Jesus knew what it was like to be abandoned in his darkest hour, and he never wanted his disciples to experience this.
You don’t know this man, the one who gave you your name, the one who called you to come and follow? You don’t know the one you heard preach and teach, the one you saw help and heal? You don’t know the one who stilled the storm, or walked on the water, or fed the multitude? You don’t know the one you called the Messiah, the Son of the Living God? You don’t know the one who was transfigured on the mountain, whose face you saw shining like the sun? You don’t remember how the voice of God thundered from the cloud and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” You don’t remember how he touched you, and helped you to your feet, and told you not to be afraid? That’s funny. But fear is a funny thing. It can do this to you. It can drive all knowledge of Jesus straight out of your head.
Living faithfully, living truthfully, is a reflection of the very nature of God, and when we do that, we are most like the One who has created and saved us. Jesus carried that truth to the cross and embodied it in ways no other person has ever done. But before he did that, he brought it to the table.
When you are interrupted by Jesus, you have to rearrange your whole life. Your priorities have turned upside down. If you want to come to Christ, if you want to follow Jesus and leave everything the same in your life, you’re not going to follow Jesus. It’s a radical interruption demanding a radical response. Get ready to re-order your life if you try to follow Christ.
For the most part, people come to know God by observing the lives of his followers. The way we as believers arrange our priorities, spend our money, do our jobs, parent our kids, handle our challenges, problems and temptations, treat our neighbors, react to those who hurt us and respond to those in need reveals the God we worship and serve. [ ]What kind of God do people see as they observe you?
I sometimes imagine that everyone in the world is holding a cup, and that some of those cups are empty while other cups are full. The people with empty cups are always going around begging from others: “Could you put something in my cup? Anything? Anything at all?” While the ones whose cups are full are busy pouring what they have into the empty cups of others. And that’s where God is. His cup is full and running over. [W]e have held our cups under the waterfall of God’s love and grace. We’ve got plenty. We don’t have to save it up or ration it out. We can share it with our enemies as well as our friends.
Our choice may be to determine what our portal, our door – maybe even our river – is that connects us between the world in which we live and the place in which we worship. And, he would tell us that there can be no real difference between the two.[ ]The world is our church, and the church is our world. And the only real choice before us, wherever we are and whatever we do, is to choose life.
Yes, good decisions begin with character development. Moses knew this. This is why he told them twice in this passage to love God, seek His will for their lives and walk in His ways. Doing so would bring the best out in them and build healthy communities around them as they crossed over the Jordan and settled in a new homeland.
It feels like a church service when brothers get together and remember what their parents taught them, and this, I think, is Jesus’ hope: that when we get together as brothers and sisters and remember what he taught us it will feel like a church service, and when we are what he taught us to be.[ ]It will feel like family.
Our movement is nothing less than joining the movement of God in bringing the kingdom of heaven on earth. God is looking for disciples who are willing to be deployed as salt and light to push back the very gates of Hades in our community and in our world. I’m not offering comfort or safety or security. Instead, I’m offering a journey of adventure and risk. But Jesus promised us that He will always be with us in this journey. And I promise you that you will make a difference in this world for the sake of God’s Kingdom!
The church of the imperative mood is slowly dying and being replaced by a different way of practicing the faith and that shift has questioned the old platforms on which faith has been practiced. In the past preaching described faith using the verbs, ought, should, and must. [ ] But this is not the only way faith is framed. Interrupting all this imperative language, Jesus tells the multitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit ... blessed are those who mourn ... blessed are the meek.” Notice something missing?
We are the salt of the earth, from Jesus’ perspective, and the light of the world. And he says “are”... “You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world.” Not will be, not might be, not even “I want you to be or should be.” The verb is not future tense, it is present. Nor is it dependent on our ability to be good. It is a God-given reality, a matter of divine grace, and there is no way we can get around it. We cannot escape it, we cannot avoid it or try to slip around it, explain it away or certainly deny it. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Still, what does it mean?
They needed no one’s permission to be kind, compassionate, courageous and bold, and they did not need to wait for another time to begin this faith journey. Jesus commissioned them and turned them loose that day. Go change the world one person at a time he challenged them on that hillside. I want to believe they did.
Standing on a hillside overlooking the deep blue Sea of Galilee with the huge crowd that was now following him, Jesus took society’s standards of happiness and turned them upside down. He came to tell them that what appeared to be the world’s wisdom was the world’s foolishness. He seems to be saying, “Stop it! You’ve got it all wrong! What you thought was down is up.
There is only one thing that will please God and start the wheels churning toward reconciliation. What does the Lord require? Three things, that when sifted down, are really just one thing: the Lord requires that you do justice, that you love kindness, and that you walk humbly with your God.
Love is willing to do the difficult. Love will not let you take the easy road. Love will not allow you to walk away when others need you. Love will not give you permission to be stingy. Love will not give you a pass when so much is at stake. Love compels you to act boldly and courageously because the deepest level of love always involves sacrifice.
Jesus was God’s own fool whose shameful death on the cross overcomes our fear and shame with the boundless and foolish love of God. Jesus had to be a fool to love us sinful and faithless creatures enough to die on a cross. And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus did, and in His resurrection, Jesus also demonstrated that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
I believe that wherever there are people walking in the dark, like in Zebulun and Naphtali, Jesus is already there.[ ]And since where Jesus is, the Kingdom of heaven has already come near[...]Where’s the heaven in the dark places in our city, in our workplaces, in our dorms or on grounds?
So let us mark it and mark it well: we are bound together by our devotion to Christ. Nothing else – nothing else – matters. The light of Jesus’ presence illuminates our deeds and encourages us to unite in him, even when we disagree. It is the only way to be church. It is the only way to be followers of the One who gave his life for us. It is the only way to live out the promise of our baptism, to be united in Christ.
Jesus seemed to be comfortable with change. He certainly wasn’t bashful about challenging others to make changes in their lives to follow him. Everywhere he went he invited people to examine their lives and make changes. I wonder what he knew and saw they didn’t. I wonder what he sees in you and me that we don’t.
When Jesus says the Kingdom of heaven has come near he doesn’t just mean that things can be different; he means that things will be different. He uses a word that means the Kingdom of heaven is already breaking into the world, that somehow, in him, the Kingdom that will come has already come, and here is how you take hold of it: you follow.
God has made you for a reason and if you are available, God will make your life count. Imagine that, God picks you! You are gifted for some key place in life that will advance God's life in the world. What will you say to that?
When you think about the sin of the world as a kind of spiritual blindness this passage takes on a whole new meaning. Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descended, the fog lifted, and John the Baptist could see Jesus for who he really was. Not only that, but he could point him out to others. And when Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” this passage becomes especially meaningful, because these two disciples may have been stumbling around in their spiritual blindness for a long time, they may have been groping around in the fog of sin forever, but now—suddenly—their eyes are open, and they can see the one who has caused the fog to lift.
Oddly enough, it was when Isaiah gave up in his despair – essentially calling a spade a spade when he said that he had no clue as to what to do next – when his own ideas of what was needed were given over, and his own sense of purpose was shredded and put away, that he then found room in his heart for God to give him a new vision for his people.
Jesus’ baptism symbolized his willingness to embrace a journey which God himself would make if He walked among us, which helps us better understand why he was given that name, Immanuel. At his baptism, Jesus offered God all his time, talents, resources and influence to be used to advance His kingdom and make earth more like heaven. As he yielded to the water in the Jordan and let it envelope him, so he yielded to the will of God and let it guide him.
One of the greatest gifts you can give those you love is to share with them the potential you see in them. Let those around you know of the talents, skills, abilities and gifts you believe they possess, and offer your help as they develop them. [ ]Every person needs a support group, a loving, encouraging community where their dreams can be planted and grow. Shouldn’t the church be one of these places?
I sometimes wonder what would happen if, instead of inviting others to come and debate, to come and be lectured, a community of Christ followers might invite others to come and see them live out their faith by affirming the sanctity of all human life by caring for those among us regardless of age, race, ethnicity, social economic class, and sexual orientation. I wonder what kind of witness we might have if we cleaned up our own sins before we condemned the sins of others. Wouldn’t that be an appealing witness? Instead of “love the sinner and hate the sin,” why don’t we first ascribe to this dictum: “Love the sinner, and hate our own sin”?
What does all this mean? It means to me that the first deacons, though they were told they should be seen only and not heard, refused to be boxed in by such limitations. They had things to do, to be sure, but they also had a story to tell.
Every conversion has a price. Something is gained, but something is lost as well and the loss may prove to be painful … The gospel not only resolves problems which trouble us; it creates problems which we never had before and which we would gladly avoid. There’s always a price to be paid when we do what God calls us to do. The truth is we change because we must. The work of the Spirit of God is such that slowly, imperceptibly, occasionally even dramatically, our old lives are challenged by the new reality of the redemption of God. We discover because we have died with Christ and have been redeemed in the newness of life, we are changed people.
God’s voice of truth is beckoning to give you the strength to push back those voices of despair. God’s voice of truth is ringing forth to tell everyone that you are God’s beloved child, and in Christ, God is well pleased with you. May you hear and believe this voice of truth so that you’ll have the faith to show up and to get wet in the messiness of life and to dare greatly for the Kingdom of God.
As for the rest of us, when we respond to the love of God, when we receive the gift of his grace, when we enter the waters of baptism, I can imagine that he feels it all over again, that something inside him leaps up and says, “You, too, are my child! I love you, and I’m proud of you!” Honestly, could anything stop us after that?
On this journey, be far less adamant about impressing others with what you know and more interested in learning what you need to know. Use everything you have learned about yourself and life as a stepping stone which will take you places you have never been, reveal truths you have been unable to see and help you to catch a glimpse of the “God beyond your God.”
When we were living in Baltimore back in the mid-80's, a sculptor created quite a controversy in nearby Washington, D.C. He depicted the holy family, not in the relatively warm confines of a stable, but as homeless, trying to take comfort from the warmth of a sewer grate in one of the city’s streets. Many people thought it unseemly to portray Jesus and his family that way. But it was probably more realistic than you might think. It just goes to show that traveling isn’t easy, especially when you have no home to which you might return. It just goes to show that there’s a dark side to Christmas because, despite all the Christmases that have come and gone, there is still not enough peace on earth.
Matthew says they went home by another way. Others say they went home a different way, while still others say they just went home “different.” What about you? You’ve been invited to look on a little boy named Jesus and see him for the king he really is. You’ve been invited to fall down and worship him, and open up the treasure chest of your heart to him. You’ve been invited to look at him in a whole new light, and to go home “different” than you came. Will you, or won’t you? There’s only one person in the world who knows the answer to that question,
What do we do with that close-up vision of the face of Jesus causing us to come to a mute stillness to take it in? The face is meant for us to remember that God came in the form of a child born in the night among beasts. “And nothing is ever the same again.”
Being a person of faith will take you down roads you never thought you would travel. Don’t wait to begin that journey until all your questions have been answered, or you know where the road will end. Take the first step and rely upon God to go with you and guide you. This was what Joseph did. He responded to God’s call upon his life with more questions in his heart than answers, but he discovered that God took every step with him and provided what he needed all along the way.
. The only way we can connect with others is by making ourselves vulnerable. And as I heard her talk about this I thought about God Almighty—the only one who is actually perfect and in complete control—coming to us in the form of a tiny baby, making himself vulnerable, saying “I love you” first, being willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. That’s putting some skin in the game.
Among all the world religions, only the Christian God is a God who loved humanity enough to be one of us, to suffer alongside us, to weep with us, to hurt and hunger with us, and finally, to die for us. Now that is a scandal, for no self-respecting deity would ever dare or dream such a thing. But there you have it in our Gospel Lesson, a God who does all these things coming to us as a child called “Emmanuel,” “God with us” so that He might be “Yeshuah” or “salvation” to us all.
But please don’t think badly of John. Near the end of today’s Gospel reading Jesus says that “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. He is not only a prophet, he is “the Messenger” sent to prepare the way (Mal. 3:1). And yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.” Jesus says it as he’s looking around at those people he has come to help and heal—the blind, the deaf, the lepers, the lame, and the poor. His dream is not national; it’s global. And it’s not political; it’s personal. Because while he has come for everyone in the world he also makes it clear that he has come for every one
The season of Advent is a time of a provision of hope from God, a time of active waiting for God’s purposes for the world to be revealed and made a reality. Advent is a time for the body of Christ to actively live as a people of hope, a hope that is based on our just and righteous Lord. Advent is a time of active anticipation, when we are invited to be living signposts and pointers of the peaceable kingdom that Jesus will usher in. The signs of this peaceable kingdom are everywhere . . . if we have the eyes to see.
At all times and in every circumstance, we can find silver linings around our clouds. When we do, we need to thank God for them and express our deepest gratitude to those who reach out to us in ways we never expected. This is what Paul did, and it is what we need to do, also.
The same God who created the world out of utter chaos can start where you are and help you create a new life. Where you are now is not where you have to stay. Where you are now is where you must begin to rebuild, though.
Surely, Jesus knew he would be criticized for going to Zacchaeus’ home. Yes, he did, but Jesus was more concerned about transforming lives than shoring up his reputation. He was always looking for ways to bring outcasts back into community, even though he was criticized for doing so...
God knows this is a tall order, and He understands the challenges we face. This is why He has sent the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts to lead, guide and empower us. His grace truly is abundant and sufficient. At the same time, we must keep our eyes focused upon the people who are depending upon us to answer God’s call and remain faithful in the midst of stiff challenges. We must not let them down. Too much is at stake for us to drop out of the race.
We might not go as far as imagining Jesus as our surfer dude, or Jesus as our Hell’s Angel, but we do like to think of Jesus as our friend. Among evangelicals, I hazard a guess that the most popular image of Jesus is thinking of Him as “our personal Lord and Savior.” But that also seems so far removed from the images of Christ described in our New Testament Lesson from Colossians this morning.
Until... until, centuries later, God in his heaven finally agreed with those ancient tribal leaders... not that they needed a king who could muster an army or even build temples, but one they could see and touch and hear and believe in and follow. And what happened? They put him on a cross. But it is that very cross that leads to the kingdom, that brings us to eternity... because what we have is a king who would not save himself in order that you and I might indeed be saved. What we have is the King of kings and Lord of lords, forever and ever. Now that is a king worth following.
In this story, there is a startling surprise that accompanies Christ’s return. For some, those who have been guided by the right values and have tended to the world in compassionate ways, there is one surprise, viz., that all their small efforts to do some good in the world has been duly recognized by the God of creation.[ ]But others, those who are guided by different values and have tended to their neighbor with hard-hearted indifference, not willing to give of themselves for the common good, their response will also be recognized for what it is and they will awarded in a different way.
Jesus may not yet be interested in a birthday party, but I do think he is definitely interested in coming to meet you... that what he wants to do is come to you in ways he has never done so before. Whether Jesus has come to you once or twice, or many times over, he’s waiting yet again for an invitation from you to accept him into your heart. I do believe he is interested in that[...]
The God we serve, however, is full of surprises. Often, God is drawn to busy people and never makes appointments. This means ministry, the kind which impacts people when they need it most, occurs as a result of divine interruptions while we are busily carrying out our own plans.
In our world, as good as it is to have “a place of peace” in a comfy chair or in a bubble bath, it is just not enough. For what we truly long for is not just a “private peace” for ourselves while the rest of the world wages war. What we desire is not an “escapist peace” for ourselves while millions of others are left behind to suffer.[...]What we truly need is “Emmanuel,” the dwelling of God being with us. That is the place of peace, of shalom, of wholeness and completeness that we humans and the whole cosmos long for.
In today’s epistle lesson from Colossians we are reminded that Jesus is the one in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” This one, this bleeding, dying man…all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him. He is unlike any king we have ever seen before, and thank God for that. This is the kind of king who might even remember us when he comes into his kingdom. And for that, on this Sunday before Thanksgiving, I am thankful.
But in the end I believe that God sent Jesus to love us, and save us, and change us, and send us, and I believe that even though the church in America is in decline, if we give people a Jesus like that they will come. I believe they will come in droves. And if they won’t come to us, We will go to them.
Instead, Paul told them to stay alert, expectant that the Lord would indeed come back but not to quit their jobs. In other words he said, “Stay alert … but stay busy!” Then he clarified himself: “Do not grow weary of doing good.” We must model belief from those who are not just living inwardly, but who are busy doing good where working for the common good is needed most.
What we must do is move into the future with the hope and faith that God will be with us and will guide our steps. We may not appreciate this, but it is true. From a biblical perspective, God has always done his best work with just a remnant of the faithful. If we are to be that, we can do nothing better than place ourselves in the hands of the One who has come and given us the gift of life...
Some of you can probably still remember when going to church was “the Sunday morning thing to do,” and when there were regular traffic jams as everybody tried to get to their respective Sunday schools. When someone asked one of my predecessors in DC how he was able to grow such a large church he replied, “In those days it was a matter of opening the door and getting out of the way.” It’s not that way anymore, is it?
There are places where religious liberty does not exist and the freedom to practice your faith is not allowed. Could you suffer for your faith? Could you lose your life in those places because of your faith?
Today is All Saint’s Sunday on the Christian calendar. It is a day for remembering and giving thanks for all the saintly people both living and dead whom God has placed in our lives and in the history of University Baptist Church. I would like for you to imagine with me Paul, Silas and Timothy writing a letter to University Baptist Church based on today’s passage. On this All Saint’s Sunday, perhaps this is what they might have to say to us this morning.
Keep Calm and Stand Firm in the midst of a war that the apostle Paul talks about elsewhere in Scripture, where we do not fight against flesh and blood, but we war against principalities and powers. In the midst of this war, we can keep calm because Christ’s death on the cross has broken the chains of these powers in our lives. We can keep calm because God’s Spirit will not abandon us; instead, God’s Spirit will dwell within us to fight against these powers so that we may become more and more conformed to the image of Christ.
That woman who used to come here every Sunday, and drink in every word that was said, and sing the hymns at the top of her lungs? That young man who grew up in this church, but who is afraid to come here now—afraid that if we really knew who he was or what he’s done we would ask him to leave? Are those the lost that Jesus is looking for? And if he’s out there—seeking them and finding them and bringing them back into the circle of God’s love— Why aren’t we?
I doubt any of the saints we’ve remembered today woke up and decided to become a saint. They weren’t looking to be martyrs for a cause. They weren’t perfect human beings by a long shot. They didn’t become saints by being perfect. They became saints by being faithful to their identity as the children of God.
[K]nowing the power of the crucified and resurrected Christ, [Paul] forgot everything that was behind and looked to the front. There are some of you who need to get back in the race, to quit looking to yesterday and look toward tomorrow, so that you can press on today. You can’t run the race with the chains of the past shackled your feet.
Our message today is a message of hope, and worry robs us of that hope. When you borrow tomorrow’s problems, you rob yourself of today. Worry distorts our thinking. We begin to look at life through a magnifying glass that makes things bigger than they really are. When we worry, our molehills become mountains.
“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled,” Jesus says, “but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” But you can’t humble yourself in order to be exalted; that’s just another way of exalting yourself. Maybe what you have to do instead is become like that child in the baby carrier, maybe you have to stop working so hard to earn God’s favor and try, instead, to receive it, to believe that even when you have dirty diapers and drool on your chin, he loves you, and looks on you with absolute adoration.
Persistent prayer becomes an act of faith in Christ, which opens our hearts to the heart of God, so that our hearts break over the same things that break God’s heart, so that our hearts beat in the same divine rhythm. In so doing, we grow in our faith in Christ.
Here, we see the scandal of God’s grace. It is a grace that humbles those who exalt themselves, and exalts those who are humble. In this parable, Jesus reminds us once again that we are never so righteous as to be beyond the need for God’s mercy, and we are never so wretched as to be beyond the reach of God’s grace.
So, let me ask you again. What’s missing in your life and prayers? Is there not enough humility, honesty and gratitude? Is there too little concern for the needs of those around you? Do your prayers lack heartfelt confession and genuine repentance? Is there no plea for God’s mercy, and the courage needed to make changes in your attitude, values, priorities, beliefs and lifestyle? Why not do something about this in the week ahead. I am confident God will help you.
And in the house of prayer, if my prayers are welcomed, so are yours. And so are the prayers of any humble enough and persistent enough to say them. If a cold-hearted judge would yield to the persistent nagging of a poor widow, how much more will a loving God respond to our persistent praying?
Evidently, Jesus felt that God had something to offer to those who had grown weary. He believed God had a special place in his heart for those who were struggling, like this widow, and was confident God would respond to pleas for help with compassion and justice. So, he encouraged his disciples “to pray always and not lose heart.”
Instead, [Solomon] was intent solely on building a kingdom. What his wisdom didn’t teach him was that kingdoms aren’t built, they are given as a matter of the heart. And to receive that kingdom, one must open one’s heart to the loving presence of God. Of that, there is no limit.
What if we lived as people intent on one purpose – that is, living and telling the good news of what God has done in Jesus? What if next week in the office, at the bank, in the hospital, in the school, in the church – what if we did nothing out of selfishness and did nothing out of empty conceit? What if – this is a hard one – what if we regarded each other as more important than ourselves? It would change the world, wouldn’t it?
Two vivid terms here: shame and boldness. “I will not be put to shame.” There will be no failing. There will be no shrinking back. You know, the good news is that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the gospel will never disappoint you. Whether things go with ease for you or with great difficulty, Christ will always see you through to the end, to eternal salvation. Therefore, in boldness, we can exalt the Christ. “Out in the open” is a good translation. Living or dying, waking or sleeping, we belong to Christ. And that’s what we’re living for, and that’s what we’re dying for – to be devoted to Christ.
So we could sit around complaining about all the things that are wrong with the world, or we could begin thanking God for all the things that are right. It comes down to what kind of people we want to be. Do we want to be bitter, complaining people, or generous, grateful, people? In the case of this one leper, the simple act of saying thank you resulted in a second blessing; he was not only healed, he was made well, he was made whole. Maybe it's true for us as well, that in a very real sense learning to be grateful could save our lives.
We are told that David was a man after God’s own heart, but what exactly does that mean? It is when Samuel anoints David that the spirit of the Lord, as the Bible says, “came mightily upon David from that day forward.” Could it be that God made certain, on that momentous day, that his heart was entwined with the heart of this young shepherd boy? We can’t really say for sure. The only thing that is of certainty here is that David is God’s chosen... for whatever reason.
You see, we’re the rich ones – each one of us – even those of us who don’t know how we’re going to have enough money at the end of the month to pay the bills, even those of us who may be laboring at two jobs in order just to get by. By all earthly standards, we are the rich. We all live with, as Walter Breueggemann says, an “imagined scarcity.”2 So I’m not going to presume to tell you how to respond to all this, except to say that it really is true: we have nothing – nothing – that belongs to us that we cannot and should not give back to God. Then, God will give everything back to us again so we might share it with others. If that is the definition of contentment, then so be it.
The best thing about this story is that it is not over yet. For the rich man, yes, but not for us, because we are the five brothers. Even though Father Abraham would not let Lazarus come back from the dead to tell us this story, Jesus has sneaked it out for us. Now we have that as well as Moses and the prophets and someone who has risen from the dead to convince us it is true. All that remains to be seen is what we will do about it.
Seeing, feeling, doing—these are the three stages of compassion. If you could look at someone in need and not feel anything for them then you wouldn’t have to do anything for them, but since most of us can’t do that we simply avoid step one: we don’t see people in need and we do it by not looking.
I want us to focus on the idea that a part of our stewardship is the notion that we have great power when we join together as Christ’s church. But where there’s great power, there are responsibilities. Stewardship is the key to acknowledging those responsibilities. When we are God’s stewards of the gifts of God, we will become God’s partners in the world.
If we are not using every talent and every gift that God has entrusted to us to manage, then the question is, “Will we be streetwise enough to use our ingenuity and resourcefulness now to go to everyone we know and give away our master’s possessions in order to make them friends of God?” Specifically, will we use the finances, time, and abilities that God has given us to minister to neighbors and co-workers, the poor and the sick, the needy and the bereaved? If we do, we will make friends for ourselves and for our Master.
Are you using all your resources when it comes to your faith? Your time, your energy, your education, your money... to inform and determine how you follow Jesus? If not, think about those irregular verbs and dangling participles, and even if you forgot your grammar so long ago you don’t remember what they are, let this story encourage you to deepen your faith in the One who has given his all to you.
I don’t want to live in a world where people care only about themselves. I don’t think you do either. [ ]Given our insatiable appetite for more, caring for others and their welfare is not easy. Our instinct is to look out for number one and do whatever is necessary to get what we want. [ ]We must be transformed to care for others. It doesn’t come naturally; self-preservation does. This is why faith is about self-awareness and change.
What really matters, of course, is life. It wasn’t a job the manager needed. I don’t need a job. You don’t need a job. What we need is what a job provides: income. And we only need income to the extent that it helps us buy the things that are necessary for life: food, clothing, and shelter. But you may also know—instinctively—that those are the things that are necessary for life with a small “L”; those are the things that are necessary for survival. Life with a capital “L” is something else altogether, and Jesus knew that instinctively; he knew it even before he started to tell this parable.
Jesus seemed to be testing the commitment and resolve of these would-be followers, and he was not afraid to trim down the roster. In fact, he told the crowds to estimate or count the cost before following him. [ ]Jesus’ point, is that anything in life that is worth doing and worth doing well is going to cost something, and we should anticipate that cost in our decision-making.
God is the shepherd and the woman, so crazy about us, that God would go to drastic lengths to seek and find us. God the Son would leave the angelic hosts in heaven—who need no repentance—in order to come to earth to seek not the healthy or the righteous, but the sick and the sinner. We are all lost, all sinners. But when God finds us, and when we accept that fact, then watch out! Because there’ll be a lot of rejoicing, a lot of celebrating, a lot of partying going down in heaven!
On one hand [Jesus] makes heavy demands, on the other he talks about God’s extravagant acceptance of sinners. Which is it? He can’t have it both ways, can he? He says that in order to follow him, his would-be disciples must do more than be found; they must be willing to give everything away and die with him. It’s a tough – and on the face of it – mixed up message. So what gives?
[Jesus] wanted people in a community to reach out to those who were not included “in” by the prevailing attitude of his time and welcome them into the fold. He urged them to get rid of anything in their lives which contributed to another person’s “lostness,” especially a smug, holier-than-thou attitude which promoted division and strife. He encouraged them to notice when someone was missing from their family or circle of friends and to make it a priority to go find them and bring them back.
There is someone you used to be close to you are not close to anymore, and you might not even be able to explain how it happened. A hurtful word here, a thoughtless deed there, and before you know it there is so much distance between you that you can’t imagine how to find your way back again. You are lost to each other. And sometimes it happens with God.
We are driven by opposing forces. Small lives are ordered by the surface winds of selfishness, fear, and negativity. They are also driven by ingratitude and stingy spirits. On the other hand, great lives, gigantic in character and moral stature, are not affected by the surface concerns, but are driven by the deeper movements of God and the currents of faith. Those great souls are steered by a belief in God who always, always provides and who is calling us to be God’s partners in the kingdom God is seeking to bring.
Embracing Jesus’ values and lifestyle will inevitably put us at odds with family members, friends and the prevailing philosophies and patterns of our culture. At times, we’ll feel as if we are swimming upstream. Only the highest level of commitment to God through Christ will keep us focused and determined to remain faithful.
Do you see? In the year ahead we might not only bring heaven to earth, we might bring people to Jesus. They might be surprised to learn that he cares so much about second-graders, and homeless people, and senior adults who need a hot, nutritious meal, and those who need decent, affordable housing. They might be surprised to learn that he cares so much about them.
Paul calls us to pray like our future depends upon it…because it does. As I review Paul’s letter and our own history, here’s another word for us— remain riveted on our mission like a laser beam, but at the same time remain open and innovative on how to accomplish that mission.
With all due respect, this church has never been about you or me, and never will be. The way to make this church’s story line continue and even thrive is to live as deeply into God’s story as you possibly can. Don’t seek your own survival. Don’t seek to have your needs met. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and God will take care of the rest.
Jesus understands that setting people free is the work of God, and that there is no day more appropriate for that than the Lord’s day. Let me say it to you on this Lord’s day: if you have been bound by a spirit of infirmity—by guilt, by shame, by fear, by despair, by self-loathing, by defeat—whatever it is that has roped down your mind, your heart, your spirit, hear this word: on this day, in this place, Jesus slices through that rope and releases you! It is his nature, it is his pleasure, it is the work to which he was called and the purpose for which he came—to set the captives free.
The God of Jesus Christ who confronts and shakes all earthly principalities also confronts and shakes all the tiny little kingdoms that we try to create for ourselves. In these kingdoms, we are tempted to place our faith in created things that just won’t last[.] That’s why Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” Only God’s kingdom will last, with Jesus as our sure foundation. Though the world may shake, we serve an unshakeable kingdom.
We – you and I, this church, this community, this city – can we say we have arrived, that we have reached our final destination? Of course not. We live each day in the midst of a divine promise. How we share that promise with those who come after us makes and forms the true essence of our faith and gives us the purpose for our living now. God’s promise has no expiration date.2 But now, for this period of time when you and I live and move and have our being, the fulfillment of that promise is in our hands.
Rest and worship one day a week will make a profound difference in the living of this great faith we have received through Christ. A warm and endearing Jewish blessing is to remind one another on the Sabbath: Shabbat shalom! Sabbath peace! Shabbat shalom!
[Y]ou do have only one life to live, and you have to make a choice between what matters, and what matters most. There you are, standing on the station platform, and there’s Jesus, holding out his hand and begging you, “Come with me!” He’s creating a crisis; he is forcing a decision; the moment is as sharp as a sword. Will you reach for his hand, or will you stay where you are?
Sounds to me like Jeremiah had an “I’m a nothing or a nobody” complex, which meant God had his work cut out for him. Persuading Jeremiah to accept the challenging role of a prophet was not going to be an easy task, but God prevailed. By God’s grace, Jeremiah persevered in spite of these pesky feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem. What challenge have you just about talked yourself out of today? What opportunity to serve God has come your way which has struck fear in your heart and sent you scrambling for excuses?
The call to mutual love forces us out of our self-love to a love that wishes good for our sisters and brothers. Love that real can only come from integrity. That kind of love turns into a form of empathy where we see the plight of others as our plight. “But by the grace of God, there go I,” we say. Our empathy is extended to those we could easily withhold Christ’s love rather than seeing them as those in the world needing Christ’s love.
The guest may be the one who initially chooses to sit in the best seat or the worst seat at the table, but it’s the host who makes the final decision. It is, after all, his house, and his party; he’s the one who gets to assign the seats. And if what Jesus is really talking about here is the Kingdom of God, and if the host is none other than God himself, then this parable begins to hum on a different wavelength.
Still... what do you do when the dance is done? I mean after you’ve had that good, long sigh. After the Sunday afternoon nap. With the afterglow of such a wonderful occasion still warming your heart, what do you do next? How in the world do you follow up? You go back to work, that’s what you do.
Good friends are friends at all times. You let a tragedy strike – I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “Pastor, because of this I found out who my true friends are.” Sin, embarrassment, discouragement, shame – and watch the people run. But those who are our true friends stay by our side. Good times and bad times. Joy and sorrow. Riches or poverty. Sinlessness or shame.
Well, it seems to me that at the end of this letter, the writer of Hebrews is also rattling off final reminders, exhortations that reminded those early Christians of what it meant to live a life of faith. Keeping the faith is not just about an individual believing in the right things. Keeping the faith is mostly about trusting God enough to behave in such a way that it gives witness to the person of Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. In order for that to happen fully, it takes a community, a group of people living life together.
In your life, who sets an example of what running the marathon of faith is like? What have they set aside in order to run the race toward Jesus? Like the saints of old, we are all running the same marathon of faith; and our goal is Jesus, who has gone before us as a pioneer, and who is waiting at the finish line to perfect us.
The distractions we face and forces of evil we’ll confront each day as we run our individual races are alluring and intimidating. Only a resolve which matches their intensity will overcome them. If we don’t have this “I am not giving up” attitude, we’ll fall to the side and disappoint ourselves and others. By God’s grace, don’t let that happen to you.
So what about you today? Playing hide and seek with God? The reality is God is there. God is here. Wherever you find yourself today, there is no place, as a child of God, that you can go and be away from God’s presence. God is with all His children.
This journey of transformation is not restricted to pastors. It is for every living, breathing soul. Many of you are already well on your way, and others are not far behind. If you have yet to start the journey, do not despair! I can assure you God is ready when you are. And [ ] if you make this journey there’s no predicting where it will lead you. But regardless, God will be there. And that’s all that really matters.
[F]aith is not a possession; it’s not something we have and hold. Faith is not an activity that we schedule in our day. Faith is a never-ending movement in response to an ever-seeking God. God is calling each of us to take up the journey of faith. Our journey is made up of the smallest of actions and responses that come to us moment by moment. In those responses, we become people of faith.
This understanding of faith as a firm and trusted foundation from which we can anchor everything else is very different from a modern understanding of faith. “Faith” in the modern sense is often contrasted to “fact.” The former is often seen as a blind leap into the dark, while the latter is visibly grounded in reality. For us moderns, it’s like we all live in Missouri, the “Show Me” state. We won’t trust something unless we can see and examine it for ourselves. That’s usually a good policy; it isn’t good to put your faith in just anything. What the writer of Hebrews is trying to teach us is that faith in God is more like trusting in a sure foundation.
Little by little our hearts are shifting from the things of the world to the things of the Kingdom. Little by little we are laying up treasure. And if we do it often enough, long enough, we will come to love the Kingdom Jesus loves, won’t we? Isn’t he the one who said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”?
I understand. Standing against the strong winds of injustice is hard, but there is nothing on this table today which calls us to play it safe when it comes to living out our faith. Everything here encourages us to be as bold as Jesus was in the pursuit of justice.
Our children need us to provide a safe place for them to explore the mysteries of life and faith by asking questions and sharing their stories. As a church, we need to provide the kind of environment which encourages our children to be curious, search for truth, think for themselves, ask questions, wrestle with tough biblical passages and voice their opinions. Just as Paul encouraged the Philippians to “work out their own salvation,” we must move our children beyond the faith they have borrowed from us to one that is authentically theirs.
Maybe it comes down to this... following Jesus for his sake and not our own, trusting in him not just because of the promise of heaven and eternal life, but because his way of living right now is the only way that gives you fulfillment and changes the world around you. Perhaps that is what he meant by being ready.
The writer of Proverbs says when you are slow to anger, you show you are wise; when you are quick-tempered, you show yourself to be a fool. If you want to have a vibrant body, then have a tranquil heart, but if you’re going to be a hothead, you’re going to have some rotten bones. Those aren’t my words; those are the words of a wise man written so many eons ago. And how you respond to those words, how I respond to those words, will determine a lot about the rest of our lives.
I’m thinking and praying that we can recognize that where our pocket books are is connected to where our hearts are. Jesus was hard on those with big pockets but his criticism was centered on how small their hearts were. Nothing is more pleasing to God than the person of plenty who’s learned generosity as the sign of their true allegiance. There’s something’s missing in this story and Jesus zeroes in on the heart of the matter. The story is plain about the man’s thinking.
Now, I’m not a financial planner. I can’t help you with that. But I think I can tell you how to become rich toward God: spend time with him, learn to love him, learn to trust him, store up relational capital until you feel your soul relax, until you know that no matter how much money you have or don’t have in the bank……you don’t have to worry about a thing.
And Paul says it will not work! You can’t do the Christian life partially clothed with the old self, and partially clothed with the new. To follow Christ means to be fully clothed in Christ. And the first thing you’ve got to do is strip down to your naked selves! Naked before God.
we have been faithfully praying [the Lord's Prayer] for some 2,000 years now, and God’s kingdom still hasn’t come. I think that’s the other reason we don’t pray as we should: it’s not only that we don’t know how, it’s that we don’t believe it works, at least not for us, not in the way we want it to. We get discouraged when God doesn’t answer our prayers, and sometimes we just stop praying. But Jesus says, “No! Never give up!”
This is a challenge for all of us, isn’t it? Life is full of responsibilities, worries and cares which consume us and demand all our time and energy. How easy it is to become self-absorbed and unaware of what is going on around us. How quickly we become frustrated with interruptions or anyone who doesn’t do what we think they should. Hopefully, we see how this story speaks to us about this. Sure, life is filled with responsibilities, worries and cares. It always will be, but it is also full of opportunities to do good things for others and even ourselves.
I don’t know if we can say it any better than this... pray for what Jesus prayed for, try to live the way Jesus lived, continue to put one foot in front of the other in this journey we call life, and ask God to go with you. I don’t think you can do that without prayer, do you?
We need to stop focusing on our own wounded egos. Rather, we need to express genuine concern for others – communicating comfort, love, joy, understanding, encouragement, and peace. Building up our spouses, our children, our parents, our co-workers with words of encouragement. You will never know what the right word of encouragement can do when it comes during a much needed time.
No matter the double bind of what your role in the war between the siblings has been, whether you’re the one rattling all the pots and pans in the kitchen or whether you’re sitting in the circle of those who are talking about all the world’s big ideas, in truth we’re all guests at God’s table where there’s always enough and where God feeds us all.
There is something going on here that is both urgent and important, and to take time for it, to make time for it, matters. “Mary has chosen the best part,” Jesus said to Martha. It’s not that all those other things aren’t important. It’s not that they are not urgent. But among the many choices you might make this one—to take some time out of your week to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen to every word he says, to do your very best to live by his teaching—that’s the best choice of all.
There is no one way to describe the richness of knowing God in Christ Jesus, just like there is no one way to describe falling in love. All you know is that your once empty heart is full to overflowing, and your vocabulary strains to put into words that which is inexpressible. That doesn’t stop Paul from trying!
Genesis is very clear that when human beings were created they bore the image of God. In fact, all of us were designed to bear God’s image just as fully as did his Son. [W]e are called to slowly but surely be conformed to the image of none other than Jesus, who is the spitting image of none other than his heavenly Father. [ ]Jesus, the Second Adam, manifested the image of God perfectly. And he came, not only to show us what God looks like, but what true human beings look like. And through the process of spiritual transformation, we are called to slowly but surely be conformed to the image of none other than Jesus, who is the spitting image of none other than his heavenly Father.
It’s not really about our questions of belief ... it’s about how we live. In that kind of exchange, Jesus makes sure it’s not about orthodoxy (right belief) but about orthopraxy (right living). At least in Jesus’ thinking, if right belief doesn’t stay connected to how we live, something vital is missing. So Jesus told this story in answer to the man’s question, “Who is my neighbor?”
[Epaphras] begins telling Paul about the young church, the struggles and the successes, the people who fill the pews and the manner in which the gospel is being lived out and witnessed to in the city of Colossae. “He (Epaphras) is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,” Paul says to the church, “and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.” Epaphras has come to Paul, telling him the back stories that serve as the framework for Paul’s prayers. Stories of faith and courage are essential to the life of any church.
A neighbor is an individual whom we see not as a stereotype, but as a human being uniquely created and loved by God. We can’t love our neighbor as ourselves if we only see our neighbor as a stereotype. So many times, we do not really see the person in front of us, whether they are strangers, or our spouse, our children, or our parents. We only see our projection of them. Our presuppositions and assumptions affect what we see, hear and believe.
What about you? Are you a would-be follower of Jesus, one of those who would be his follower if it weren’t so hard? Or are you a will-be disciple of Jesus, one of those who will be his disciple no matter what? Because he is still looking for a few good men, and a few good women, and a few brave boys and girls, who will make up their minds to follow him…and never look back.
Grace sets us free from false identity – Grace sets us free from exile – Grace sets us free from our spiritual poverty – Grace invites us to keep in step with the Spirit in order to join in the feast as one family. This is the good news at the heart of Galatians, God’s Gracebook. There is freedom in grace. Believe it. Receive it. Live it.
Does your faith make you a better American and citizen of the world? Do the dreams you pursue honor God and build healthy communities? Are the things important to God important to you? From what do you need to be liberated so you can pursue the dreams God has given you and live up to the potential God has placed in you? I believe God would like to talk to you about these things.
Some come to worship filled with joy over some goodness that gives them gratitude, which makes praise and thanksgiving easy to offer. But others come weeping, crying for help, or dismaying over some experience that’s tough to face. Others are negotiating with God over something over which they feel out of control. This psalm has something for us all and we’re invited to dance a jig of gratitude no matter where we are in life.
So, let me summarize: It’s not just the Twelve who are sent on a mission, and it’s not just the Seventy. If we’re going to get this message to the world it’s going to take all of us, that whole, big, boisterous crowd of disciples following along behind Jesus.
Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not private, autonomous selves who happen to sit together under one roof. We are the body of Christ, bound together in Christ so that we might freely love one another and be transformed along the way. We are rooted in community.
This story of the woman sitting on the floor has more layers to it than we can consider in one sitting, and often the church has focused on one or two of the surface issues but not come close to thinking it through in depth. There are multiple meanings from the simple to the complex. There are simple truths we can easily recognize about the power of shame and the grace of God, about contrition and forgiveness, about hypocrisy, and about hospitality.
But what if it is the faithfulness of Christ that makes us right before God? Then our status in God’s family is NOT dependent on our “faith” as understood as an inner feeling of trust or an intellectual understanding of doctrine. In other words, it is not our work of faith, but Christ’s faithful work of grace that ultimately makes us right before God. Therefore, to the student who doesn’t feel like she has enough faith, I would answer, “You’re right, your faith is not enough. If your faith was enough, then Christ died for nothing. The good news is that the faithfulness of Christ is enough.”
Simon invited Jesus into his home, but did not treat him with respect. This unnamed woman, without speaking a word, asked Jesus into her heart, and in doing so sought and found forgiveness. Where do you think Jesus would rather be, in Simon’s home or in the woman’s heart? And what does that teach you and me?
How we get what we want matters as much, if not more, than what we want. If we must be deceitful and hurt others, including ourselves, the price is too high, and the day will come when we will regret it. Just ask Ahab.
Hebrew wisdom is the art of success. Stay with me this summer – we’re going to learn how to be successful. A guidebook for successful living. By showing positive and negative rules for life, the wise sages are going to tell us what to do and how to do it. We’re going to know the difference between right and wrong in a whole host of situations. Just the stuff you want your kids to know.
Does being crucified with Christ happen in one fell swoop, one conversion experience? No, it takes place over a lifetime as we engage in spiritual practices that give God time and opportunity to transform us. It’s not the practices that change us—that would just be another form of salvation by works. It’s God working through the practices that makes the difference, so that over time our false, rebellious selves shrink in size, while our truest, Christ-like selves expand in size. And over time we find ourselves walking more closely with Jesus, more in sync with his Spirit.
Let me repeat that—all of our faith engages all of our lives. Which means this—you cannot compartmentalize the Christian faith. You cannot say we are unified in Christ but not in church or this world. You cannot say we are equal before God but unequal everywhere else. All of our faith engages all of our lives.
We can come to terms with the fact that whether it’s poverty or hunger or illness or death itself, the great God stands with us and wants to accept the gift of life as a precious gift of grace. We’re to take our gift of life and share it as we live and breathe and have our being. “Grace given, grace received” all the way through the arc of our lives.
Grace has often been defined as the unmerited, undeserved favor of God, and that is certainly true. But many preachers, myself included, have often tailored our messages about grace to pander to our audience. Alas, Paul’s testimony of grace this morning will not let me preach such a message today.
Jesus seems to turn everything into a lesson on the kingdom of heaven. It was one of his greatest abilities and gifts. The clue to this lesson is found in what Jesus says next. “For it is to such as these (the children) that the kingdom of God belongs. Amen, I tell you,” Jesus says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And then he takes the children into his arms, lays his hands on them, and blesses them. And all the while, his red-faced disciples just stand there in amazement at such a thing. As important as discussions on marriage and divorce and adultery may be, Jesus is saying that having the attitude of a child is just as much so, if not more, important and eternal. Jesus has this gift of taking the moment – whether it’s in the often unwelcomed presence of the Pharisees or the very welcomed presence of the children – and turning it into a lesson on the kingdom of God.
Elijah was directed to go to Zarephath, between Sidon and Tyre, where he encountered a widow living in abject poverty. All of this widow’s provisions would be gone after she used what little flour and oil she had, and there was no hope of replenishing them. No one would come to her rescue.This puts a new spin on the familiar expression “The Last Supper,” doesn’t it?
Why is Paul foaming at the mouth at the Galatians? Because they feel like his own children, children for whom (he is) again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in (them) (4:19). Paul labored mightily to give birth to committed Christ-followers in Galatia, and thought he had succeeded. Now, he’s watching his Galatian children desert the gospel and the God behind the gospel, trading away their freedom in Christ for slavery to the Old Testament Law.
I will always put my money on the wisdom of Jesus, which may look like foolishness to this world, but is far wiser and truer than anything we ever have or ever will produce on our own. And I know the Spirit will proclaim that wisdom to all who have ears to hear.
The simple truth is that anything we give our ultimate concern to becomes our deity, as Paul Tillich described it. It is in those moments that we regress as Christians until we discover we’re living a sub-Christian life that only faintly resembles the faith as it’s meant to be lived.
. Grace reminds us that we do not deserve Christ’s offering of himself for us. Grace instructs us that we cannot earn God’s rescue from this evil age. Grace humbles us to concede that we cannot dictate the will of God the Father. All we can do is to recognize that we need forgiveness of our sin, we need rescue from this evil age, and we need to surrender our lives so that “not my will, but God’s will be done.”
[I]nspiration can indeed come by hearing, not only through words but also in the art that is inspired by faith. And then, having heard, we are called to go out and share what we have learned. Sometimes, not hearing is the blessing. The noise of our world would have you give it all your attention, not to mention your devotion, and the life of faith becomes an exercise in tuning it all out. But more often that not, it is in the hearing that eternity can be found; especially when God chooses to speak to us in a still, small voice.
Trinity Sunday, then, is a day for experiencing the world through wonder and awe and acknowledging that what we know about any facet of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer is vitally connected to the holy and indivisible One.
Can you see it? Can you see God creating, redeeming, and sustaining? Can you see him using the same power—as Father, Son, and Spirit—to accomplish his purposes in the world? On this Trinity Sunday we celebrate the fact that from the very beginning there has been only one power worthy of our worship and praise. That’s the power of love.
[M]emory is a wonderful gift from God, that when accepted and used redemptively enables us to live more faithfully to the One who walks beside us and bids us be like him. [M]emory is not just for remembering the past, it is a wonderful gift that enables us to cope with the present. After all, how would life be now if we didn’t have the benefit of remembering the past? What if you had to start every day from scratch, with no context of your previous experience to guide you?
Recognize that the longing to be set ablaze is proof that the Spirit of God is already burning in your soul. Experienced Christ-followers who know God intimately will speak of spirituality as the fire or the desire that burns within us for something more. That longing for more of God, more of God’s Spirit is proof that the sparks of God are already burning inside us.
On the day the church was born it sucked the breath of the Holy Spirit into its lungs, and it went forward on that power for days, for years, for centuries. But these days the church—in America at least—seems to be gasping for breath. It needs something, but we’re not sure what it is. [L]isten to Jesus. “Wait,” he says. “Pray. Ask my father to send the promised power from on high.”
God’s Spirit at that Pentecost gave birth to the Church. It also gave birth to a missionary movement spreading the love of God beginning in Jerusalem and expanding to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. We are a missionary church because we serve a missionary God who sent His Son Jesus Christ to earth in order to be the Word that spoke the love of God[.]
In short, Pentecost reminds us that we aren't in the world to be spectators. We aren't here to wring our hands and act as if we are helpless to make a difference. No! We have a holy imperative and the assurance of God's Spirit as authority for being ordinary people who boldly take on the extraordinary issues of sin and suffering in our time and places. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This is what it means to be part of a congregation. This is what it means to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.
How open are you to new or different ideas? Of course it’s fine, even admirable to hold strong convictions. We all know if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything. But are you open to the possibility that any of your most cherished, preconceived notions could be mistaken?
We make decisions and then those decisions make us. Some decisions are mindless and seemingly meaningless. Others take rare courage and resolve. Our decisions are all a part of the arc of life we’re called to live. God help us to determine to stand in the crucial places, standing for the helpless and those enslaved unjustly.
Paul and Silas were singing hymns in the middle of the night. I think it’s why those other prisoners stayed put, and didn’t rush out the door at the first opportunity. They wanted to know how they could have a faith like that, a faith that keeps you singing even when you’ve been stripped and beaten and thrown in jail.
To whom do you need to reach out for help as you nurture the children God has entrusted to your care? Why not begin with God, as Manoah did? I assure you God will respond to your prayer as He did Manoah’s. God loves your children as much, if not more, than you do. As a result, God is eager to grant you the wisdom, understanding and patience you need to be loving and responsible parents.
The scriptures don’t even give her a name, but she will forever be etched in our minds as one of the greatest examples of motherhood we will have ever known... if for no other reason than she was willing to go toe-to-toe with Jesus over the needs of her sick daughter. She would do anything to help her sick daughter.
Jesus is ready to save you, and not just on the surface. He’s ready to unchain you from your fears and your prejudices, from your greed, and your addictions, and your despair. All you’ve got to do is invite him to thoroughly transform your soul as only he can do. Imagine what your life would look like if you believed in Jesus like Paul and Silas. Why…you would be saved!
[W]e’re living in a time when everyone seems to be searching for certainty. There are no question marks with certainty, no room for searching and finding. The 23rd Psalm, I do believe, would tell us that trusting in the One who saves us is far more valuable than knowing without doubt how He does it.
This is what Easter people do: when they hear a cry for help they respond, immediately. They don’t think of themselves, they think of others. And they don’t quit until the job is done or they just can’t go on. They do it when people are crying for spiritual help. They do it when people are crying for physical help. They do it because that’s what Jesus did for them. When they cried for help, he came, and because he came, They go.
What do you think Jesus wants you to know as you gather around this table? What did he want the disciples to know the evening they gathered in the Upper Room? Above all, I believe he wanted them to know they were not alone and never would be.
What Paul is saying is simply this: The world is groaning. We are groaning. And the Spirit is groaning with us, and God will bring it out for the good. Another way of saying that God causes all things to work out for good is to say that God redeems all that God permits. God didn’t break our world, and God doesn’t cause all our suffering. But if He allows it, He will eventually redeem it.
What other ways may God be challenging us to open our eyes and minds to see God’s expansive dream? While we may scoff at those early Jewish Christians for obeying strange dietary laws, let us examine our own lives and consider our own list of what or who is clean and unclean, acceptable or detestable. We often find those who are unlike us to be “impure,” people with whom we would rather not associate. But this morning, we are confronted with the question in verse 17: “If God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who are we to think that we could oppose God?”
It seems clear from this story that God wants everybody, everywhere, to hear the good news and receive it. The circle of his love is large—large enough to take in the whole world. So why do we make it smaller? Why do we limit God’s love?
Love is the glue which holds people together when everything around them is trying to pull them apart, because love is more powerful than disagreements, disappointments, shattered dreams and broken hearts. Jesus knew their love for one another would get people’s attention and be used by God to transform people. It would become their most recognizable trait. People always notice when someone responds to disappointment and pain with grace and mercy. It is so counter-culture.
[I]f we really believed what Jesus said I think we would lay hands on people all the time, everywhere, and pray for them every chance we could. I think we would pat on them, and hug them, and shake their hands, and every time we did we might pray that God’s healing power would somehow flow through us to them. We’re not faith healers, but we could be full of faith in Jesus, we could believe that somehow he could use us to get his work done on earth.
During this Easter season, Jesus our Good Shepherd appears and asks, “Can you hear me now?” To his flock, our resurrected Lord speaks plainly these words, “I give you all eternal life, and you shall never perish; no one will snatch you out of my hand. My Father, who has given you to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch you out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” May we as the flock of Christ hear these words and follow our Good Shepherd.
Yet “getting right with God” does not mean our soul work is done. It just means it has begun. The fact is you can be a believer and still be prejudiced in your treatment of others, hardened because of abuse you’ve suffered, and broken because people who should have loved you abandoned you instead. You can be baptized and still live with chronic fear and discouragement and doubt. The work of healing and transforming our souls is a massive project that requires a lifetime, maybe even an eternity.
when he said, as the Good Shepherd, he reflected the heart and nature of God in the way he spoke and lived, they became enraged and wanted to stone him to death. Do you think Jesus knew the scribes and Pharisees were this angry? Sure, this was not their first attempt to kill him, and of course, it would not be their last. Why did Jesus continue speaking out and challenging them? Why didn’t he tone down the rhetoric or avoid them? Above all, he wanted to be faithful to God.
If you believe trusting in and following Jesus means you will live happily ever after with no temptations, challenges or problems, you might want to reconsider. However, if you believe following Jesus will bring the best out in you, and enable God to use you to make the world better for all people, by all means trust him with all your heart.
Bonhoeffer and King, Peter and Paul…these men did their best work in jail out of commitment to the One who also was arrested, and convicted, and beaten, and crucified. Yes, we’ve learned through hard experience that the work of the kingdom often involves suffering, even death. But thanks to the resurrection, we know that no power on this earth can keep Jesus and his followers locked up in jail, or down in a tomb.
I’m guessing that’s what [Paul] thought about during those three days: he thought about how strange it was that you could travel in the deep, reliable ruts of your religious tradition and discover that God had gone off in another direction altogether; that he was not just the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now, apparently, the God of anyone who was willing to follow; that he was making sudden, startling turns and doing strange and surprising things.
So don’t be satisfied with where you are in your faith. Never, never be satisfied. Don’t settle for normal, not until you find yourself on the street called Straight, a place where God takes that which is normal and makes it extraordinary indeed.
Our singing is an act of holy worship to the One who is both the kingly Lion and the sacrificial Lamb. Our song is a witness to our belief that there is no one else who is worthy of our worship and praise. Therefore, with joyful abandon, let us join the heavenly hosts in singing: “To the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
[T]here is something more powerful than broken dreams, disappointment and bad memories, and that is love. With God’s help, and quite frankly only with His help, can we invite those who have hurt us to chart a new course in our relationship. We can build a future based upon the mutual respect and trust needed to repair and restore a ruptured relationship.
If you remember, during Palm Sunday, the religious leaders ordered Jesus to silence his disciples, but Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these people keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Now, after the resurrection, here was Peter – who denied Jesus at his trial, who was left speechless at Jesus’ empty tomb – now this Peter became the rock who cried out[.] The reality of the resurrection experience transformed the disciples from fearful followers to faithful witnesses willing to die for their commitment to the resurrected Christ. Despite our own failings, despite our own weaknesses, despite our own fears, we too can respond to the resurrection by submitting to God’s guidance and transformative work in our lives.
There was a spirit of expectation that drove the eighth-day thinking that grew out of the post-resurrection appearances of the Lord. These provided not only the proof of the resurrection, but also the lively expectation that the risen Christ would be present with Christians as they gathered. What would happen in us if we had that kind of expectation, whether real or symbolically? What kind of new spirit would enliven us, giving us energy and imagination if every time we gathered, we imagined Jesus was present while we worshiped?
I’m glad that people come to church on Easter. I’m glad that we dress up, and sing the familiar songs, and say the familiar words. But this morning I’m thinking about those people who didn’t come to church because they weren’t sure they would be welcome. They think church is for good people, righteous people, who wear the right clothes and believe the right things. I hope when you see them next time you will tell them that Jesus is Lord of all, and that everybody is welcome in his church, that Christ is risen, the stone has been rolled away, and the life-giving, life changing power of God is now available to everyone—every one.
In our New Testament reading today, Peter boldly proclaimed that Jesus not only hung on a tree, but also rose from the dead. So for Peter, anyway, this time of wondering and silent reflection ultimately led not to doubt and despair, but to a transforming faith. When we think of Easter, we think of this transforming faith. However, we often think of an instant change-over from death to life, from denial to faith, from weakness to power, from “Crucify him” to “Alleluia”! Yet rarely in life and certainly not in this gospel account of Easter do we find such an instant transformation.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” That’s the message of Easter, although from an unlikely source. God is always using endings to create something new. As people of faith, [the Israelites] never came to the end of the road. Always and at all times, there was more, even when it seemed improbable or impossible.I believe this is the message of Easter, too, and I cannot think of one we need more. Easter is about starting over when you thought all hope was gone. We, too, believe in a God who makes all things new.
Once upon a time the world was a song. Then it all went wrong. Truth be told it didn’t just go wrong last year. Or ten years ago. Or in 19th century France when Victor Hugo penned the novel, Les Miserable. According to the Apostle Paul, it all went wrong eons ago at the beginning of time, when a man named Adam triggered something eventually called “the Fall.” Even so, God would not let his dream of people living graciously under his reign—his dream of the Kingdom of God--completely die. Every now and then one of God’s prophets would remind God’s people of his ongoing vision for his people. Isaiah was one of these prophets, and when Israel lay in ruins, God used Isaiah to describe the day when God would reverse the curse of the Fall and restore the world to its original splendor.
We too are a ragtag group of people – flawed, broken, sorrowful and in need of healing. Like them, it is easy to jump on Jesus’ bandwagon when things are going well according to our own plans. During those times, it is easy for us to cry out with the stones: “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” But when things are tough, and we are gripped with the fear of the unknown, will we stand firm, will we take the cup as Jesus did? Or will we be like his closest disciples that night on the Mount of Olives, lying on the ground like stones, silent and asleep? What is the greater miracle . . . crying stones or sleeping disciples waking from their slumber?
[W]hat is Christ worth to you? What kind of value do you put on him? I picture Mary pouring out that perfume on Jesus’ feet and I can almost see her face. She is lost in wonder, love, and praise. She isn’t counting the cost. Jesus was her life, and she gave what she had for him gladly just as she knew he would give what he had for her.
[Jesus]knew the days ahead were filled with risks and challenges. So, what did he need in order to face this struggle? He needed the support and encouragement of his closest friends, and Mary provided them in a way no one else did or was going to do. She saw the worried look on his face and sensed the heavy burden he was bearing. This was not why she was content to pour just a portion of the perfume on his feet, but all of it. Her offering had to match his burden, and it did. There is nothing like the sweet scent of gratitude and encouragement. It fills a heart with all that is good and wholesome and strengthens it for the long and winding road.
In the end, we’re just stewards of the story. “A man had two sons,” is the story of all of us in some archetypal way. We might be the one who asks for what is not quite ours so we can wander off God-knows-where or we might be the lost child who stayed home. The work of a deacon is to love the church and nurture it in its God-given task of sharing the story in kind and winsome ways. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.”
A common definition of “prodigal” is “lavishly or wastefully extravagant.” While this father does not live a wastefully extravagant life, he does offer a lavish, extravagant, seemingly wasteful love to both of his children. This father does not love either of his sons according to what they deserve. He just loves them, more because of who He is than because of what they’ve done. As we consider our lives this week, let us remember that God is the prodigal Father, who refuses to give us the love we deserve, but instead who gives the love we need.
[W]hether [the pharisees] are trying to warn him for his own good, or scare him away for theirs—it doesn’t work. Jesus said, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work’” (vs. 32). It’s a gutsy response! Jesus is fearless! He’s the most fearless person I’ve ever known. I want to be like that, but how do I do it? I’ve been thinking about it all week, and I think it begins when you put others ahead of yourself.
It isn’t doing what a good and faithful fig tree is supposed to do. You might say that it is being stubborn and rebellious, you might say that it is being lazy and disinterested, you might say that it is only concerned about itself. In any case, it seems remarkable that the gardener would bother with it, that he would take the time and the trouble to dig around the roots and put on manure. Fig trees aren’t supposed to require that much attention. Why not cut it down indeed? But as Jesus tells the story this little fig is going to have one more chance to get it right, one more year to live into its mission and purpose.
That’s just one reason we need the season of Lent. Lent is the time when you and I are encouraged to say goodbye to the past and travel along a new path. The past is past and it is time to move on. The question that comes immediately to mind is, where? The Apostle Paul would probably tell you that the question is not where but what. “A new creation,” he calls us[...]“Today,” God says to the people of Israel, “I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” “Behold, everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
This is why it is important you hear one of the messages in this parable. And what is that? The gospel will not let you give up on those others would discard. It will not do it, at least not without a struggle.Is this the message you need to hear today? Will you let God help you be like the loving, caring gardener one more time?
Here is what the likes of David, Paul, and Augustine understood that we so often miss—we are most vulnerable and miserable when we deny and cover our sin, and most happy and healthy when we confess our sin – honestly and specifically – before God, and when necessary, before others. We hear this same truth echoed in the New Testament. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It turns out confession is not an avenue to humiliation but a pathway to healing, a gift from God who wants us to be healthy and happy in our souls.
God’s extravagant hospitality welcomes us because the Great Host, the Divine One, wants us to come inside to have a drink on the house, and to enjoy a meal, to soak in the ambiance of the place, all gifts offered as signs of God’s great love. And so we are invited today to God’s table where we are offered bread and wine to remind us of God’s love and welcome. Don’t worry about your money, or your goodness or your failures; simply come to the extravagance of the table because the extravagant God has been expecting us.
God is appealing to us, imploring us, pleading with us. God calls us to come and receive from God what cannot be bought, sold, or stolen—restoration. We've been invited by God to a banquet although we have no way to pay the admission price. We've been invited to healing even though we have no health insurance or money to pay the healer. We've been invited. We've been invited. We've been invited.
Who is thirsty and hungry? Today, we acknowledge that we are thirsty and hungry. This morning, God invites us to feast upon God’s goodness and pardon. We dare to come to this feast not because of what we have done, and certainly not because we could pay for any of this. We are invited and accepted because of what Jesus has done for us. We just tag along with other sinful pilgrims and say, “We’re with Jesus.” And that is good enough.
If our faith is dependent – that is, if it rises and falls – on what happens to us, good or bad, it is an insufficient faith. We do not gain God’s favor by being good, nor do we lose God’s blessing by being bad. But the repentance that leads to faith prepares us for whatever circumstances come our way.
How do we move from hungry and barren to satisfied and fruitful? The New Testament couldn’t be clearer. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says in John 6:35. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Later in John 15:5, that same Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” The answer to hunger and thirst and barrenness is one and the same—a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
God has prayerful changes for you and me also. There are places and spaces for us to enter, away from the routine noises and sounds of our living, where God will inspire us, reassure us, and prepare us to be divine instruments of righteousness, love, mercy, joy, hope, and peace. Let us turn aside to them.
Maybe that’s what you and I need to do... look up, that is. Maybe we’ve been spending too much time of late looking down. As we move from place to place, and the days, the years, the decades just roll on by, we spend too much time staring at our shoes. Do you think that maybe now is the time for us to start looking up? And when was the last time you asked what God would give you? When was the last time you asked God for some reassurance of his devotion to you? Maybe it’s time indeed for you to look up, but if you do, one thing God might just ask of you in response is patience, the patience to wait for his answer.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Luke 13:34. I am intrigued by this lament, and what it tells me about people who were unwilling to listen to Jesus, and the impact this had upon him. It raises a question I have grappled with throughout my ministry.Why are people unwilling to let others help them live up to their potential and be used by God to make the world better? It appears Jesus even struggled with this question. His only mission was to reflect the heart and character of God and show his people how to live in peace, yet they rejected him[.]
How do we explain true grit when we see it? Commitment to the cause and a refusal to fail are surely part of the equation. Jesus was committed to his cause - the stakes for humanity could not be higher. But there was more. Jesus was possessed by God. He was so intimate with God and trusting of God that he refused to allow fear or discouragement to have the final word. Was Jesus ever afraid or discouraged? Of course. But his way of abiding in God enabled him to keep on keeping on and not be weary in well-doing.
Our text today is the mainframe upon which the season of Lent is conceived because it’s based on the 40 days in the wilderness. It’s sometimes called “the Lenten journey,” because it’s a hero’s journey of self-denial willing to go deep within to test what’s there.
After forty days in the wilderness getting clear about his mission [Jesus} is perfectly clear, and because he is perfectly clear about what his mission is he is also perfectly clear about what it is not: it’s not about serving himself, or lording it over others, or about avoiding the cross. To know exactly who you are and exactly why you are here, so that you can fulfill your life’s purpose with single-minded devotion, never slowing down, never stumbling or falling, never being distracted by the multitude of little temptations that come your way[...] “Paradise!”
Lent is a time of spiritual contemplation, preparation, and renewal when we voluntarily wrestle with the dynamics of living for God. Just as people voluntarily prepare academically before beginning the world of work, Lent is a time for preparing oneself for the work of discipleship. Remember, we always prepare for anything we do that we consider important!
Promises and temptation naturally go together. They always have and always will. In light of this, what promises have you made to God and those around you? Who is depending upon you to keep your word? What impact will it have upon them if you don’t? I really think these are good questions to ask during Lent. Carve out time from your busy schedule in the weeks to come and give them a voice; let them speak to you.
It is only in the connections, in the support, and in the coming together that our faith is really shaped to be all that it can be and that it gives the kind of life that Christ intended for it to give. It is a cause of life.
[T]he deeper you go with God, the more (not less) you will be tested. But the good news is, the deeper you go with God, the more capacity you have to defeat the devil at his own game and stay on mission for God. I don’t know when your next time of testing will come. What I know is it will be an opportunity to either fall flat on your face… or go further with God than you’ve ever gone before.
It is often tempting for us to be more devoted to an experience of Jesus than it is to be devoted to Jesus himself. Since that transfiguration, Christians for two thousand years have been trying to recapture and re-create mountaintop experiences of God.
[W]hen you hear the voice of Jesus telling you to go out into the deep and cast your net of faith once more, when you know you need to go on but you don't think you have it in you to do it, try once more... because in your trying you will not be alone. You will find Jesus beside you, casting that net with you. And you will discover that the going may not be all that tough after all, for you have him at your side.
I believe God will be as good and faithful to us when we go to the mountain to pray over tough decisions. We, too, are His children whom He loves dearly. [But] You don’t have to go to a mountain to have this conversation. He’s there with you now.
Discipleship involves following Jesus in taking people alive for God so they become part of God's love, truth, peace, hope, and joy in the world. It means following Jesus in liberating people from oppressive forces and systems—including cultural, social, political, economic, and religious forces and systems—that trap and cripple them. Discipleship involves following Jesus in living as God's good news and work for freedom, healing, peace, love, justice, joy, and hope. This meaning of discipleship—following Jesus—in "people-catching living" gives the term "catch and release" an entirely new meaning.
It is one of the great themes and it is one of the great life-giving themes of scripture. This is life: to worship Christ—to worship, to give ourselves in these moments as much as we can offer ourselves up, and then to receive the confirmation of the spirit and to be a part of God’s work in this world. It is the key and the path to abundant life that Jesus has promised. We have worshipped, now let us serve.
It is all about grace. God loves us because he chooses to. God extends his mercy and forgiveness to us, not because we deserve it, but because that is the way his heart is. God loves us still because of his grace.
Scripture that is alive warns that we will either fulfill God's radical and subversive mission of love, justice, and peace that the Gospels proclaim concerning Jesus or we will fulfill God's mission of judgment and condemnation on the idolatry of opportunism and self-centeredness.
Sing your note; it's the gift of God! Sing it loud; sing with confidence and assurance! Sing it and let it blend in with all the other notes that are sung, so that the beautiful music of God can be heard everywhere.
Let us each give to God that sacred time and that sacred space so that our lives can be directed at him, and that every day, every place and in every way, our hearts would be giving worship and praise to the God who made us.
Turning the water into wine proved to be the turning point in Jesus’ life and ministry, and the world was disrupted in a way it had never been before or has been since. The question is, have you allowed him to disrupt your life?
When a person or a group comes to believe and internalize a hurtful name or identity, it often takes a while to undo that identity. Likewise, we see that God, throughout the Bible, has not been resting or keeping silent in proclaiming our new name.
When Jesus makes wine he doesn’t make just a little wine, he makes a lot of wine, and when he gives life he doesn’t give just a little life, he gives a lot of life. And in the same way that the wine he makes is the best wine there is, the life he gives is the best life there is.
“I have called you by name, and you are mine.” Isn’t this what faith really is? I think so. It is the assurance that I am not alone and never will be. I have not been forgotten or abandoned. I am not on my own.
When God comes calling, you just never know what God is going to show you. So if one of your overriding goals in life is to hear the voice of God, you better prepare yourself because what you hear and see may not be what you expect or want... not at all.
Forgiveness is about healing. It is a gift of God for his children, and for all who will practice it, it is an opportunity to be able to be free of all those hindrances based on bad relationships once and for all.
Bearing the title of “the Holy Family” is a lot to live up to. Perhaps this story of Jesus as a boy and of his parents as his human family helps us see them in the same way we look upon our own families.
Whatever concerns you bring to your Christmas celebration, whether you think your expectations may be met or not, let your requests be made known to God, and then rejoice that you have a grace-giving God to whom you can pray.
The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth encourages us to bring our fears to the feet of the One who is born into our midst this season, and leave them there. It is then that we will be rescued from the hands of our enemies and will be free to serve the Lord.
As much as it might mess with our traditional understanding of the widow’s mite and her sacrificial giving, we must not leave her on the pedestal of a stewardship lesson. When doing so, we miss the life application lesson of Jesus’ radical teaching moment.
The Christian perspective affirms that God's messiah has been sent to deliver the entire universe ("cosmos") from the oppressive power of sin and death. We recognize Jesus Christ as God's designated Lord and King of the universe.
If Jesus is king not just once a year and on a throne but throughout all of time and in every place, then we don’t have to be king or seek another king. We no longer have to judge one another. We don’t have to control what other people think or feel or force them to fit our expectations.
People are moved to sing by experiences that affect them at the deepest levels. Whether the experiences are profoundly pleasant and joyful or unpleasant and painful, across the ages humans have expressed their feelings about what we've gone through by songs.
Each of us can probably give testimony to some moment in life when it looked like there just wasn’t going to be enough and here we are fed, clothed, sheltered, and ready to trust God one more time. We serve a loving, good, and abundant God.
May we invest in God’s future and offer our best and our all to our Master, so that one day, we may hear the joyful commendation of our Master: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness!”
If Jesus, the descendant of Ruth and Boaz – and yes, Naomi – can be believed, God is still in the business of weaving his will in the lives of people he chooses to put together in this broken world of ours.
If we want to have more faith, it is more than just believing impossible things. It is not believing harder. It is taking the things that I already know God is speaking to me about and becoming obedient in scorn of consequences.
The politics of God’s Kingdom proclaims that the right Man has already been crucified, resurrected and ascended, so that all powers and principalities are under His control, and that the eternal destiny of the saints and the cosmos are under His control.
Our only hope for the fruit of generosity to grow is whenever the seeds of gratitude are planted in the hard soil of our hearts and new life is nurtured until it breaks through the hard crust of our souls.
Frustrated faith isn't merely about feeling like God has put us on hold. It isn't about feeling like God has stepped out and left a message for us to use voice mail. It feels like we have called on God from the depth of our dark situations and experiences only to hear the phone ringing, ringing, and ringing!
The man who came to Jesus and knelt before him inquiring about the means to eternal life is alive and well in most of us who are here in church this morning, if for no other reason than we’ve participated in church as long as we can remember.
The great themes of the Bible speak of the vocabulary of our faith and those foundational convictions that are the reason why we are Christians. They are the things we have heard all of our lives because they are the central message to scripture.
During uncertain and anxious times, the church is tempted to batten down the hatches and withdraw from the world. But it is precisely during times like these that God calls forth men and women to send them on mission for the good of the world.
So when it comes to the question as to what God talks like, when it comes to God’s speaking to you, it is essentially an answer you will have to provide for yourself. But know this: however God speaks to you, you can be assured the message will go straight to your heart.
There’s an art to marriage as there is to any creative activity we humans engage in. It’s an art that demands that we pay attention to the little things as well as the big ones that makes up the intimacy of marriage.
We know the reality of sin. We know the reality of guilt. O that we would all know the only answer, the answer offered by God for us through Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of our sins by his death on the cross.
Who loved you when you didn’t feel loveable, accepted you when you felt like an outsider, forgave you when you hurt them, encouraged you when you were ready to give up, walked with you when you felt all alone, and sat with you when you were sick?
Whenever we say, “I am just human,” and use it as an excuse to do something that is less than human, maybe we should just be honest with ourselves and say, “Well, I was broken and less than human. I did not live up to Christ.”
If we can accept that God is always creating, always renewing, always redecorating the world, can you also accept that God has made room for a vigorous partnership with us in order to do these things? The question is, “Will we be God’s partners?”
By God's Spirit, let's love as Jesus loved, live as Jesus lived, welcome all as Jesus welcomed all, suffer for others as Jesus did, and be renewed people whose lives are overwhelming evidence of God's love, truth, joy, mercy, and peace for all.
Rather than withdrawing into our Christian piety, God is calling us to stretch outside of ourselves with resolve we will not regress into the chaos of living as if God was limited by our failure of nerve.
Try to see others, regardless of who they are, with the eyes of Jesus, and I think you will find that faith, more often than not, is found in the most surprising of places and the least likely of people.
Do you remember how the church got started in Jerusalem? How those 120 people were gathered together in one place when the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon them with a sound like the rush of a mighty wind?
Jim Somerville is the 16th pastor of Richmond's First Bapist Church, founded in 1780. He earned a master's degree and a doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His articles and sermons have been published in Christian Century, The Upper Room, Preaching Great Texts and elsewhere. He was also one of the featured preachers at the Festival of Homiletics at the Washington National Cathedral in 2004. He and his wife, Christine, have two daughters.
We think about Paul so much in his Damascus Road experience, but maybe for many of us, Peter is a more instructive example because his life is continually going through these changes to become more like Jesus Christ.
The trick in creating a sense of satisfaction in life is to figure out where to lean the ladder of our accomplishing so that when we climb to the top, we have the deep sense of knowing that the ladder has taken us to the top where joy and peace are found.
If we want to say Christ is the head of our home, then we need to understand that the way this is lived out, day in and day out, is by taking any relationship that might look like this relationship to start with (over-under, win-lose) and under Christ, they become mutual.
All we often hear from the news has to do with the Herods and Assads of our world. But slowly, imperceptibly, somehow, in the mystery and patience of God, the grace and mercy that comes only from God is seeping through the microscopic cracks of our world to redeem people like you and me.
I wonder sometimes if our familiarity with Jesus – or at least what we consider to be our familiarity with him – doesn’t get in the way of our accepting him on a level we have never experienced before.
If we are not our own but live for Christ, then would we not want to live in a way that makes the world a better place and would we not want to live in a way that makes the witness for Christ more consistent with what we say?
Our Lord tells us that the poor in spirit are the lucky ones. To be so, we have to stop thinking simply in terms of money and begin to look at the world through the eyes of the poor, and to feel as they feel.
To put it simply, our bad choices – even those we make willfully, after being warned – cannot and will not deter God from his purpose and plan, which is to call a people for himself, a people to be his own and to experience his blessing so that they might become a blessing to others.
Being committed to Christ through this church requires a lot of patience. Looking at the world in which we live and wishing it were somehow different – and better – and not giving up, calls for a lot of patience.
Ken Fong is senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and the M.Div. and D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife, "Snoopy," have one daughter.
Jesus invited his disciples to move closer from being servants to accepting his offer of friendship by taking on the yoke of friendship. No longer servants but friends … it sounds like such a warm and welcoming promotion.
Every time we gather around the table of Jesus, we not only show forth the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ until he comes again. We declare that we typically self-absorbed people obsessed with our own preferences are willing to lay aside what divides us for the good of this church, and for, the good of God’s kingdom.
Can you identify with the disciples in that Upper Room? Is this a confusing time in your life? Like the disciples, have you been caught off guard by recent events, which have left you perplexed and fearful?
Thank goodness for Thomas and his need for experiential proof. Poor guy, he has gotten a bad rap for a long time and really, his demand for proof provides us just what we need to explore our own doubts, our questions, and it exposes the disciples very human fear.
The risen Jesus is proof of God's life and God's love. The risen Jesus is proof of God's power. And the risen Jesus is the best evidence for hope despite the tomb-like circumstances and situations of life.
Easter assures us there is no situation our faith cannot embrace and change for the better if we let it. If God can reach into a sealed and guarded tomb and give life back to his crucified son, then God can help us with any problem we are facing.
By faith we do believe that the resurrection is true, but if we are honest, at first among the people who were closest to Jesus, it was only marginally disruptive. But then the aftershocks start to come.
Do you really believe that God knit you (literally “crocheted” you) to be as you are today, with a particular plan for your life that matches you and only you, recorded in the Book of Life before you were even born?
God is the deliverer. It is not that we need to worry about what God might do and say, “God, don’t do that to me,” but that indeed God would put us on a path where we could avoid the deeper test, the great temptations, and be delivered from the evil.
We mark sacred time whenever we look up from our troubles and sense the sure and steady hand of God who stays with us in our seasons of trouble. We mark sacred time between our coming from God and our going to God.
Bread may fill my stomach, but it is faith that lets me sleep at night. It is the blessing that satisfies me for today, but it is the faith to trust that it will be provided once again that lets me sleep at night.
In truth, we all have a legacy to pass along as we live out our own stories. We have something of our ancestors in us as a part of our being born and a part of our living faith. We have their courage and we have the promise of God who has given us a name and an identity.
During this season of Lent, let us hear with open ears and courageous hearts what Jesus told his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” How will we respond to this challenging invitation?
Healing is most often found in love offered, relationships formed, humanity affirmed and nurtured. Healing this way is offered regardless of skin condition, sexual orientation, gender, social and economic status, religious practice, and regardless of physical and mental disease.
We work a miracle of healing, we participate in the ministry of Christ, and we have relationships that are above the ordinary when we are willing to turn, to forgive, and to be forgiven as is our turn that day.
If we only depend upon our own wisdom, our own striving, our own talking, we will struggle to get off the ground. But if we wait upon the Lord and pray to the Lord as a unified people, we too can mount up with wings like eagles.
If Jesus doesn’t have authority over who you are and what you do, you need to understand that he will not force himself upon you. Instead, he will gently take your hand, walk beside you, and encourage you to come to increasingly deeper understandings of faith. He will do it with authority.
In everyone’s life, there are memories of arguments and things that are said to us that are too painful to take back, things that were done to us that we are not sure we will ever get over. There are also things that we have said that we would give anything to have not said.
Repent and believe. That is the invitation that Jesus gave to His would-be followers at the beginning of His earthly ministry. That is the invitation that Jesus gives to His would-be followers today. Will we accept this invitation?
A new national memorial has been installed that continues to speak in the silence of stone but a living memorial to King comes whenever we turn our ear to God so when God calls, we can answer, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
Our strategic God is always on the lookout for willing people to work alongside him and make his dreams for humanity come true. As we begin a new year together, I believe God is once again searching for willing people who will partner with him for the Kingdom.
Our God is present in both the joy and the sorrow. That’s the wonder – that’s the surprise of Christmas: God came to us – and continues to come to us -- in the places where we least expect it. Are you listening?
You see, the lure of the wilderness is your search for redemption. And you need look no further, for that is where you encounter the One who gave himself for you. It is in the wilderness you will find him waiting to receive you. It is in the wilderness that you find the answers you seek.
John the Baptist was a meddlesome messenger sent by God to preach inconvenient truths and prepare the way for the Son of God. And as it turned out, the Son of God was an even more meddlesome messenger than his cousin.
We are here, like our slave ancestors, to remind and encourage each other that we share a trusting faith in God's justice. And we are here to declare that God will not abandon us. God will not turn us loose. God will not forget us.
Call it synchronicity, or call it providence, call it fate if you wish … but understand that the events of your life are often the way the Divine leads you and wants you to follow the path where the sign leads you.
Advent and Christmas must have been created for the sake of the artists. Poets, painters, writers, composers, sculptors and every other artist has seemingly been moved to create art in order to capture the beauty of the story of the birth of Jesus.
But any time you feel that holy twinge, when you perceive in your heart that perhaps God is trying to tell you something that will, in all likelihood, change your life, there just may be an angel involved. If that happens to you, you might also discover that God’s message is found, not just in what the angel has to say, but in what is not said after the angel has departed.
ne of the surprises we discover in immersing ourselves in the stories of the Bible is that those stories are often renderings of our own stories. They resonate because they shimmer with our own experiences in life.
In the midst of his suffering and pending death, Jesus was able to see an alternate vision of how his broken body and shed blood can be transformed into a feast of forgiveness, and as a result, Jesus was able to bring blessing and joy to us when both were in short supply.
You don’t have to look far to see those who could use a little light in this dark, dark world. It could very well be that God wants you to be like the Baptist. You don’t have to deny who you are, just be willing to share your light when the darkness comes.
Christ is the Lamb of the World who’d give up his own life for you in a heartbeat. But he’s also the mighty King of this world, and one day he will reappear in glory to clean up our mess and make all that’s wrong in this world right.
Friends, I will not deny that these are difficult, even dark days for many people. But I want you to see that the people of God, and followers of Christ believe in the light, and anticipate the light, and follow the light even in the darkest of days.
Today, we begin our journey through Advent, a season of anticipation and preparation for Christmas. I like Dr. Bill Self’s description of Advent. He says it is like the hush in the theater just before the curtain rises.
We all carry our own issues into worship today, don’t we, our distractions and sometimes our depression? This is how we begin this Christmas season. When you stop and think about it, it’s pretty much how we start every Christmas season. We’re exhausted and we still have a month to go.
How on earth do we ever expect to get to that place where we really wanted to be if we are on the wrong road? A better road is available, and it is the road to Jesus Christ that leads us to peace, to Bethlehem, and to God.
While we’ve been diligent witnesses, we’ve not been faithful in helping people understand that faith must be a lived experience shaped by the values of Jesus, not just some spiritual truth that is internalized in the heart.
Thanksgiving has done far more than give us TV dinners, though. It has highlighted the value of gratitude and reminded us of the importance of expressing appreciation to those who have helped us along our journey.
Today is Christ the King Sunday originally known as, the Feast of Christ. The celebration was put in place in 1925 when Pope Pius the XI realized secular society was losing interest in church participation. This holy day is a celebration of Christ’s reign in the world and a day to offer Christ to the community.
What did Jesus do? He went all over the place touching people, blessing them, showing them a side of God they had never seen before. Rich or poor, sick or whole, young or old, Jesus touched them in a way that no on else had ever done before. People who could do nothing in return for him, Jesus touched them and made them whole.
Every year, studies show that people who are generous are happier, feel more connected to people around them, and have greater life satisfaction. All of these things is a work of the spirit that produces those things that we always wanted, but we think it is a bunch of hokum. But it is true.
How many gods do you have in your life now? Have you divided your allegiance, and as a result, your values and priorities have changed. Is it time to see where those changes are leading you, and what they are doing to you?
If you are now, or have ever found yourself, in grief, think of how it has changed your perspective on life. You just don’t look at things the same anymore. When you look at your world – your daily existence, your faith – through the tears of grief, you see in a whole new and different way.
Are you a person with high standards? In what, you might ask. In anything. In your job, in the people you associate with in business, in your profession, in your school, what you expect from your children, the food that you eat, or the car that you drive. Do you have high standards or will you accept less than quality and excellence?
We can’t quit doing life for fear of what might be around the next corner. We can’t cancel the journey. We can’t even pause at the rest stop for very long. We must plunge forward. We must not withdraw and hide.
Among your family and friends, who needs to know there is no place they can go which is beyond God’s grace, there is nothing they can do to make God quit loving them and there is nothing that can happen to them to keep God away from them?
When Jesus encounters people in the Gospels, there are two things that never happen. (1) People are never encountered and given a vision of God simply for their personal ecstasy. It always results in following and service. (2) No one that Jesus encounters is ever called to serve themselves.
Here’s what I’m learning about the Christian life. It only really works when I practice the discipline of humility, when I let go of my need to control God and everybody else. It only works when God is actually in charge.
God chose us, calls us, commissions us, and will provide for us so we can be agents of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and justice. Jesus said we can trust God to help us become fruitful.
So what do you render to God? If you think the U.S. government first thought of it, when they came up with the image of a white-haired bearded man in a tall hat pointing his finger and saying, “Uncle Sam Wants You,” then think again. God first and last makes that claim.
The heavenly host and the son of the heavenly host are moving the banquet table out of where these wedding celebrations normally take place and are setting up tables out there where the new invitees are.
I can’t do anything about terrorists, but what I can do is something about my own sin. If I turn and repent from my sin, and each of us turns and repents from the sins that are ours that we know would shock everybody around us if they only knew, then maybe we are moving the world toward what God wants and what God is able to use to do away with things like terrorism and the death of destruction of incidents like 9-11.
We must remember that the very way God has chosen to conquer the wolves of evil and death that threaten us every day is by sending Jesus to be the Good Shepherd that lays down his own life for the sheep.
The next time Jesus doesn’t answer one of your questions, it may be because he’s waiting for you to come up with some answers of your own. The question is not, what will you say? It is, what will you do?
We all want to be forgiven, don’t we? Whether we’re sons or daughters, mothers or fathers, friends or colleagues. And no relationship can be mended without forgiveness, including our relationship with God.
As we remember the events of September 11, 2001, let us also remember the event over two thousand years ago, when an innocent man hung on a cross and prayed for his perpetrators, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
The people of God have the sure anchor of hope – Christ has died; He’s emerged victorious; He sits at the right hand of the Father; and He holds the cable and He waits – He waits for us to join Him. Christians are the only people with the anchor of hope – the crucified and yes resurrected Christ.
Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden is dead. The Taliban regime that hosted him in Afghanistan has been overthrown by a military coalition led by the United States. But justice still seems far from us. Ten years later, are we not walking in gloom?
If you have been listening to the radio or reading news or surfing the internet this week, you’ve probably noticed that 9/11 stories are everywhere. We tell stories because we are trying to make sense of what happened 10 years ago.
God is sending prophetic people to challenge the empires of wealth and power that oppress workers, immigrants, those who are poor, elderly, weak, and otherwise oppressed. God's gospel is always working on people, working in people, and working toward justice.
Greg Levoy suggests, every person ever born faces fundamental questions that will not go away: “Who made me? Who am I? What I am here to do, really?” These are the questions “to which (we) need to respond, expose (ourselves), and kneel before” in the presence of God.
The fate of emptiness is simply to have to come back in and fight that battle with evil over and over and over again. But the fate of fullness—fullness of the spirit, fullness of Christ, Christ dwelling in us and working through us—fills us with life that is much more at peace, much more at rest in the goodness of God, a life that satisfies.
If Jesus is to be taken seriously—and certainly people who claim to follow him should do so—controlling "weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun" is important.
Rest assured, as well, that the same God who leads people to new and distant places leads others to this place. God is aware of what each of us needs and, like a loving parent, is always working on our behalf.
There are several things that could be said about the age in which we live, but what I would offer today is that we live in a relationally challenged day. Somehow, we have lost the knowledge, have forgotten the memory, or failed to practice the things that make good and lasting relationships.
What I notice about Christ-followers, including myself, is that as we go through our hard times, one of the first things to go is our belief in a fundamental tenet of the biblical faith—the goodness of God.
Even though we think it’s our willful determination that guides our lives, life has another wisdom afoot and we are somehow inspired, guided or even managed by unseen forces outside our control. Even though we exert our free will and make plans and set goals and proceed with full confidence as though we are in control, it also seems true that there is a larger hand at work in directing us through life.
It takes faith to believe that God will come along and reinterpret our personal stories in such a way that there is grace within them. The least we can do is seek to give God a hand in making sure that things turn out the way God wants and not the way we think they should be.
Weeds always show up close to what has been planted so expect weed-like people, things, and relationships to show up close in your living. Watch out for them in family and other intimate relationships. Expect them in work and study.
My friends, if you want to be conformed into the image of Christ, there is no detour around regular, even daily self-examination. Avoid it, and you will remain stuck. Try it, and God will use it to change your life!
We all have our battles with God. Some of you have been fighting with God for a long, long time. But in the light of the coming dawn, after fighting with God through the night and all you can do is hold your own, what you discover out of God’s unlimited storehouse of love and grace, God is ready to bless you.
There are those times it takes an interruption for Jesus to get our attention, but when we place those interruptions in his hands, they become blessed indeed because anything – anything – in Jesus’ hands is holy.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Listen to Paul’s answer with fresh ears: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither good health nor chronic illness, neither popularity nor loneliness, neither poverty nor riches, neither the acclaim of fans nor the disdain of critics, neither the heights of ecstasy nor the depths of depression, neither job layoffs, government shutdowns, deranged killers, stifling heat waves nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Sometimes we think the loving thing to do is to tell people what they want to hear. No, this is not the loving thing to do, but the easy thing to do. True love doesn’t have cataracts. It sees clearly and shares what it sees, even if painful, for the purpose of redeeming and healing the offender.
This story of twins Jacob and Esau began as they waged their war from within where they “struggled together in the womb.” So violently did they struggle, the Bible tells us that, “they were crushing one another.” In Rebekah’s anguish over the struggling twins inside her womb, she cried out to God, “Why is this happening to me?”
According to Jesus, God sees a potential for fruitfulness where others would predict failure. According to Jesus, God believes in the miracle of fruitfulness. God believes. God cares. God loves. And God has called us to come alongside God's redemptive work in the world even with people and situations that don't look promising.
Saying no to some things and yes to others is a part of what it means to be a disciple. Figuring out what they are and doing it gets dicey, though. The world has one view of what we should let go of and what we should pursue; our faith has another.
Many of us have a walked what one commentator called the “road of godforsakenness.” We walk that road when we flunk out of school. Or fail in our careers. Or lose our jobs. Or experience financial failure. Or relapse in our addiction. Or endure a disastrous divorce. Or lose our health. Or our spouse. Or, God forbid, our child. Maybe we think only those who are weak in faith walk the godforsaken road.
The Bible does not begin with "In the beginning God and country." The redemption theme that runs through the Hebrew Testament and the Christian Gospel isn't based on patriotism, but on divine love and truth.
If we are going to be imprisoned by anything, let it be by hope. Not hope in the past tense, as in “we had hoped.” Hope in the present and future tense, hope in the promise that God is not through with us just yet, hope in the belief that we have so much, despite our personal circumstances, for which to rejoice.
Without ever using the word Jesus, the founder of Christianity and Paul, the first and greatest theologian of the Christian church, make it clear that the Trinity is the most satisfactory way we have to describe our experience of God.
To claim we’re “a welcoming church” has a strong meaning we should consider today and it’s grounded in a widely accepted notion that God’s church should be an open, life-affirming place where people are invited to meet God, receive the reconciliation God offers, that’s theirs as one created in God’s image, and where they can be welcomed as a community with a wide and diverse clan of folk we love so much we want to call them “our brothers and sisters”!
Being nice isn’t on page one of the gospels. Nor did Jesus come into the world to teach us how to be kind. He came to model for us how to be authentic people of God’s kingdom so that when we recite the Lord’s Prayer and say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we really mean it.
I believe that the spirit of entitlement is one way to understand what we would classify as the fall or original sin. Original here does not necessarily mean the first, but it is the root of everything. It is the root of all sin. It is the origination.
If you will invite the Spirit of Jesus Christ to come into your life and wait patiently and prayerfully like those early followers of Jesus, his spirit will blow into your heart, blast out the cobwebs of your life and rearrange the landscape of your soul.
“Go! Do not stay here in Galilee where it is comfortable and familiar. Do not remain where life will be the same as it was before. Go where people need to hear the gospel. Go where the journey has not yet taken you. Go into the unknown. And as you go, tell the good news. Make disciples. Baptize those who believe. And take with you the knowledge that I will always be with you.”
Can we covenant together that if we love Christ we will encourage one another? Can we say that we will push back the darkness of the un-blessing, that we will hold back the tide of cynicism and sarcasm, and speak the words that lift one another in faith? The world needs this. We need it, and it can be a witness to the saving love of God through Jesus Christ.
If it is indeed true that major events in life, both good and bad and maybe in-between – major surgery, a catastrophic illness, the death of a loved one – shape you and change you, at least to a certain extent, then what Jesus endured on the cross, and his coming back to them, surely did change him somehow.
For Christians, every Sunday is a Memorial Day, the day that is set aside to honor by remembering the One who died fighting to set us free from our sin, and to celebrate the same One who was resurrected to set us free from death.
Your gifts are not just for the church. Your gifts are for the common good through the church. The church was birthed so that it can help and equip disciples of Jesus do the next right thing by using their gifts for the common good.
Let us commit ourselves today to the deep faith that doesn’t wash away when the storms come, the deep faith that is a foundation under all of our lives that sustains us for this day and even in the days to come that are filled with trials, difficulties, and challenges that seem beyond us. A faith that stands. Isn’t that what we want?
The ascendency of Christ is a message that challenges the principalities and powers in the political realm, because the ascended Christ who sits at the right hand of God the Father judges all human systems and finds them wanting.
Joy always accompanies a clear sense of identity, purpose and direction. Do you have this kind of joy? You can if you will let Christ open your eyes so you can see the difference you can make in this world.
Michael Cheuk is pastor of University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va., and a Christian coach. He holds degrees from Rice University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Religious Ethics from the University of Virginia. He and his wife Beth have a daughter and a son.
Every generation since the days of Jesus’ has had its false prophets, mostly made false for their promises of knowing when Jesus would return only to end up in unrepentant embarrassment by their miscalculations.
When Christ lives within us, we don’t have to know all there is to know about God, nor do we have to give ourselves solely to an emotional response to God’s presence. We can have a true balance between the two because it is not we who live but Christ who lives in us.
There is no hidden meaning to the word of God. There is no numerology, or gematria that will reveal to you some hidden truth in scripture. The Bible is written in clear, revealed truths. There are no mathematical computations needed to understand the word of God. The message is clear. It’s the message of Jesus.
Today, I want to say to you that we must be transformed, individually and corporately, in our attitude and approach to evangelism. If we love Jesus, we cannot and will not skirt around our mandate to show our love for others by introducing them in a winsome way to Jesus Christ, and then shepherding them in their the journey of spirit transformation.
How do you know you are being formed in the image of Christ? One bit of evidence is that you are willing to place your life, your future, and your eternal life in the secure, and loving hands of God. And along the way, you’re willing to let God be in charge of your relationship.
Walk from this place, with the assurance that God is a God of second chances, making beautiful things from the dust and dirt of our lives. This community, this church, this family is a refuge for you and place where you can begin again, start over, get a redo, enter into a new life with Christ.
In your life, as you journey down this road of following Jesus, if you ever wonder about what you ought to do next and you find the Bible to be more of a puzzle than a help, do this: focus on Jesus... what he said, what he did, and to whom he took his message.
The Risen Christ can meet us anytime or any place, especially on the road to our Emmauses, in the ordinary places and experiences of our lives. You just never know when you might find a shiny new penny on the carpet, or Jesus in the breaking of the bread, or in a meditation upon scripture, or in a host of other spiritual practices.
We have difficulty, sickness, financial stress, hardship in every form and shape. But we know that God is with us and that ultimately, although we may despair – as the Psalmist often does – in waiting, weary from the waiting, God will deliver us in this life and in the life to come.
Can it be that someone who was so obviously dead – after all, they had seen the nails driven through him, the spear thrust into his side, his plaintive scream that it was finished – can it be that he, once so dead, is now alive? Can it? Besides all this.
What are you pondering today? What mystery are you trying to understand? What decisions hang in the balance? Invite Jesus to be a part of that process. Share your story with him and pour out your heart in prayer. Ask for insight, understanding and divine guidance.
Jesus was a stunning specimen of a human being more powerful even than the mythical Hercules. But he never tried to conceal the fact that he was beholden to his heavenly father for all he said and did.
Think about all of the places in the resurrection stories in the Gospels. The angel says, “Be not afraid.” Resurrection changes everything. If Christ has really conquered death, then what is there to be afraid of, except those things that would, in some way, diminish our relationship with Christ and diminish our faith so that we don’t live as closely to Christ as we would like to live.
Easter is about starting over when you thought all hope was gone because, as Christians, grief is always linked to hope, just as it was for our ancient ancestors. We, too, believe in a God which makes all things new.
Humans are inquisitive creatures. We explore, inquire, and question. We do these things because we are intelligent. So when we meet other persons, we try to learn about them. Then we try to make sense of what we have learned, or make sense of what we don't know based on our efforts to learn. We do these things because humans are inquisitive creatures.
Don’t cling so fast to this little life you know that it keeps you from the promise of the life that is to come. Who knows, it might just be the most freeing experience you will ever have. And it will bring you into, and keep you in, the presence of Jesus.
And for every death situation, a question lurks in the background. Is life nothing more than a march toward death, or is there something more? And if there is something more, what is it and how do we experience it? That's part of the resurrection issue.
Whether it be parents, children, siblings in another state, or food for ourselves, we are looking for a blessing, particularly I think sometimes for ourselves. This would be our heart’s desire to have the sense that God’s richness, goodness, closeness, and approval would somehow fall on us, as if we could feel its touch in our lives to know that God’s hand had blessed us.
Today is not a day to condemn our neighbor, criticize our brother-in-law, or look down our noses at somebody we don’t think comes to church enough. It is not a day to consider someone else in our family that we think does not measure up enough. It is a day to recognize that we, too, fall under judgment. Like anybody else we might think about, we fall under judgment.
We are so fortunate that two thousand years ago Jesus, the original cardiologist “who knew what was in everyone,” recognized we had a potentially fatal spiritual heart problem. So he died on a cross to atone for our sins, shedding his blood so the sinful blockage of our hearts might be cleared away.
The Jewish prophet Isaiah said an honest thing about us that “all we, like sheep, have gone astray.” Of course, it’s not meant as a compliment about us, but there’s wonderful good news at work yet because there is a shepherd working to keep watch over us when we go astray.
Where is your water jar? Do you carry it around with you everywhere you go? If it’s sitting there beside you in the pew, come to the One who is the eternal Gift of God. Leave your water jar in the dust of your past, and come to Jesus. You won’t need it any more.
Do we realize the gifts of respect, time and compassion transform people’s lives and all of us have these gifts to offer? Do we also understand that reaching out to others in Christ’s name feeds our spirits and allows “living waters” to flow through our lives?
What must I do to inherit eternal life? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself and don’t go around trying to define who your neighbor is.
To be a person of faith, live by kingdom values and love the world as God did, Nicodemus needed not only help from family and friends, but also God. He needed God to help him see what we commonly refer to as the ethic of love, which Jesus so clearly taught. He also needed God to help him live the life of a servant, which Jesus so faithfully modeled.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I AM WHO I AM,” and he says it repeatedly, “I am the bread of life, I am the door of the sheep, I am the good shepherd... the true vine... the resurrection... the way, the truth, and the life.”
This is our story. We are children of Abraham every time the Voice calls and every time we heed the call. No matter where the Voice might lead, the promise of Abram’s is ours that we will have companionship, as God is our fellow traveler. To such we are called … let us go now to live the adventure.
When we get to the season of Lent, what we don’t expect is to hear a word of good news. So let me frontload this Lenten sermon with good news, really good news: We come to God not by our perfection but by our imperfection.
The entire message of Scripture and the central theme running through the life of Jesus is that God's purpose is to restore humanity to God in "oneness." God is determined to fix all that is broken in the divine-human relationship.
On this first Sunday in Lent, our attention is drawn to the temptation of Jesus in the desert, which came on the heels of his baptism. What a contrast this must have been for him. One minute he was surrounded by people affirming him with hugs and handshakes and soon after he was alone in the wilderness grappling with what it means to love God and live for Him among people chasing after comfort, wealth, power and fame.
We can take comfort in that Jesus is not so unlike us that he can’t understand what we go through every day. It is precisely because he was tempted as we are that he can walk beside us and encourage us to respond as he did... obediently.
We may never really love the Book of Leviticus, but I hope we have discovered that behind all the laws, no matter how strange, is a Holy God that extends to us Amazing Grace. And, following that God is not only our life’s calling, but also Life’s Greatest Adventure.
Temptation is no stranger to any of us. Someone has written that opportunity only knocks once but temptation bangs on your door for years. How well we know! Oscar Wilde has written, “I can resist anything but temptation.” How well we know!
Dan Allender has written, “God has crafted our character and gives us a role that will reveal something about Him that no-one else’s story can reveal in quite the same way.” I am excited to see How God can lead us to discover our unique stories and then become Holy Listeners for each other.
Sadly, many people seem to live without giving serious thought to the meaning of their living. Others appear convinced that living means getting all one can acquire, keeping what one gets, and holding it as long as one can until death comes.
Western culture is filled with stories of individuals who decide to take on the devil. Sometimes it is a pact where someone agrees to sell their soul to get something in return, such as the German legend of Faust, the great scholar, who sold his soul to the devil in order to receive unlimited knowledge.
Welcome to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount! To be a follower of Jesus might in the end cost you something; but “moderately” following Jesus has no place if you listen closely to what he says. Bend your ear to hear what he said and you’ll realize he couldn’t be more earnest about this Kingdom of God he described.
There was a time when right was right and wrong was wrong. To choose the right helped us feel closer to God, and to choose the wrong, left us knowing that we had been a part of creating that gap between us and heaven.
Roughly two thousand years ago Jesus preached a sermon that outshines John Winthrop’s sermon and all other sermons ever preached in human history. That sermon would eventually be titled, “The Sermon on the Mount.”
Who said following Jesus would be easy? Especially when we find ourselves disagreeing with what he had to say? And let me ask you – be honest now – do you agree with everything that was read a moment ago, what Jesus had to say in the Sermon on the Mount?
Most people I know want to live a meaningful and abundant life. How that is achieved is what is up for debate. According to Moses, it begins with character development. When you become the person you need to be, good decisions will follow. What kind of person does God want us to be? What do the commandments, decrees and ordinances Moses referred to reveal?
Today and everyday we have a fundamental choice, a choice that trumps all other choices, a choice that shapes the rest of this life and all of eternity. What will we do about Jesus? On this day God has set before us life and death. On this day, God is saying to you and to me, “Choose life. Choose Jesus.”
It’s the great paradox of Paul. Paul’s independence is based upon his dependence on the Christ. He really isn’t self-sufficient at all when you look at it from the perspective of the gospel. He calls Christ the one who continually infuses power.
With the presence of almighty God in the tent of our soul, I am persuaded, with the Apostle Paul, that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall separate (or shake) us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
Potential is untapped, purpose is lost and needs go unmet when people don’t live out their divine mission each day as the beloved children of God they are. This is why Jesus challenged them to be bold and faithful. Too much was at stake to do otherwise.
When I think about the church today, and the situation many mainline protestant churches find themselves facing, the question I ask of the church and of myself is, can we remain faithful? Are we salty enough? Are our lamps burning brightly? Can we look towards the future with hope and renewed imagination, remembering that we are the salt and light of Christ?
Today we’re going to follow Paul’s lead. We’re going to have three sermons. RELAX! They’ll be brief, but because of Paul’s disparate ideas, we’re going to have space between our topics. It will allow you to ponder each individual idea from the apostle’s pen.
You know what it was like that day on the mountainside? It was like being ranked number one pre-season and expecting your team to go undefeated, only to lose the season opener by four touchdowns. That’s what it was like.
Standing on a hillside overlooking the deep blue Sea of Galilee with a huge crowd of people now following him, Jesus took society’s standards of happiness and turned them upside down. We grow up thinking more will make us happy. We act as if putting ourselves first will get us what we want. We think in competitive terms, thinking that if we can climb to the top of the heap, we will rule the world and it will make us feel significant.
Reflect the heart and nature of God. Strive to build bridges of understanding, goodwill and mutual respect to all around you. Be honest, truthful, trustworthy, reliable, loyal and unselfish. Reach out to those who are struggling with words of encouragement and deeds of compassion. Help those who have fallen and protect those who are vulnerable.
“Prayer sorts out our desires,” writes David Benner. “Notice that I did not say that in prayer we are able to sort out our desires. No. The sorting work is God’s, not ours. Our job is to sit in God’s presence and allow God to purify our desires.
There is only one Jesus, and he is worth more than anything else in this world. More than family. More than career and possessions. More than fame and fortune. And he has called every one of us to follow him to become fishers of people and builders of his kingdom.
In this new year, for the sake of the ministry of the kingdom, for the sake of children whom we want to grow up and have an influence on the world for Christ, let us all covenant together that however it might be, if there is only one thing that we might do to grow closer to Christ, to increase the heart of Christ within us, then let us do it.
At its core, racism and segregation were theological problems then and now in that we don’t recognize the sacredness of all humans but treat others as “less than.” The social system that affirmed the separation between the “haves and the have-nots” meant that those in the latter category were given very few opportunities to grow, to learn, to earn, and ultimately to have dignity. The system rewarded one class while suppressing another and Dr. King was moved to change the way things were.
When Jesus heard the news that John the Baptist was taken into prison, something must have reverberated deep within him. Something profound must have been set loose in his soul and he had to do something in response. What did he do? He left home and moved out into the world with his own message. He sensed the shock of hearing about John’s imprisonment and it stirred him to leave home and begin his ministry.
When accepting new challenges that will take you down unfamiliar roads, you need to be humble enough to learn, brave enough to fail, foolish enough to imagine a better world and faithful enough to join hands with the flawed and broken.
There is such a disease, you know – a strange one at that. It’s been around ever since Plato, who observed that people of real ability and leadership, people who do extremely well in life, will sometimes go through a period in which they lose all appetite and interest for what they are doing.
God isn't just concerned about us. In Jesus, God intimately knows how we live, breathe, hunger, thirst, learn, hurt, and die. In Jesus, God isn't just "out there" or "up there." God has moved into our neighborhood.
In Jesus Christ, God's light has come to our dark places. God's glory is with us to illumine, guide, encourage, and inspire us. God's glory has come to be with us in Christ so that we may become agents of God's glory. God is light, and in God there is no darkness.
“Baptist” is not necessarily a name our spiritual forefathers chose for themselves. It was given to them by those who observed their behavior, didn’t like it very much, and chose the name as a form of ridicule.
What is it about faith that’s a risky decision? What fears are holding us back from taking a running start and letting go of the surety beneath our feet into the uncertainty of the open air and the cool deep water below?
Try as we might to keep our living rooms and lives clean and tidy, they get messy with all manner of problems. Problems with our spouses and children. Problems with our bosses and colleagues at work. Problems with our friends and fellow church members. Problems with our jobs and finances. Problems with our physical and mental health.
People who say the Bible has nothing to do with social justice ignore the fact that Moses and Jesus were what we would call "at risk" children. The decision by the magi not to return to Herod as he had directed was a moral and ethical issue. They disregarded a royal directive to protect a child who was "at risk." Like the midwives who disobeyed the political directive to kill male babies during the time of Moses, the magi disobeyed in order to protect Jesus.
The message of Christmas is really too wonderful to be reserved simply for a season, a week, a weekend, or a day. The message of Christmas is that Christ has come to the world and Christ would come to each one of us. Do we ever genuinely ponder what that means?
Today, we often look for a middle-class, American-style Messiah who would make us healthy, wealthy and wise. Meanwhile, Jesus is looking not for artificial followers but real disciples with real commitment who will get out of their comfort zones, roll up their sleeves, and minister to the least and the lost, the blind and the deaf, the lame and the leper—to his people wherever they are.
Did you know there are two versions of the Christmas story in the New Testament? Often we feel compelled to fuse them together, or we try to, in order to harmonize the two divergent stories into one story. But try as we might, they really are two different stories about the same event and they resist our efforts to meld them together.
We're familiar with the expression "can't see the forest for the trees." The lessons for the Fourth Sunday of Advent from the Hebrew Testament and Gospel of Matthew provide a working example of that expression.
Now that I believe, Christ has come in the name of God. Christ has come embodying love in this world. Now that I believe that I have received this gift, I will practice the love of Christ, and not just in the week before Christmas, but always.
Have you ever been afraid of doing the right thing for the wrong reason? Put another way, your outward behavior was the right choice, but inwardly you made that choice for reasons that were less than completely noble.
Somehow, like Amos Fortune, Paul experienced the worst life could dish out and still believed the best about life’s ultimate outcome. Was Paul an incurable optimist? No. In fact, Paul was very realistic about the trials and tribulations of life.
What part of Mary’s story attracts your attention this year? When we read a familiar story, it is always interesting to see which part will speak to us the most. Rarely is it the same each time we read it and this is understandable. We hear and interpret stories based upon our experiences and fresh events in our lives draw us to different parts of familiar stories.
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I deserve joy.” No. have you ever heard someone say, “I am going out and I am going to get some joy today. I am going to do the things that make me joyous.” No. Joy is usually a by-product of something worthy.
Pope Paul VI said it plainly, “ If you want peace, work for justice.” We’re meant to be witnesses for a day that’s yet to dawn! May we yearn to live differently by believing less in the wild kingdom than in the peaceable kingdom God wants to bring about with our help.
Peace is a dominant theme in Isaiah and each time a new king was crowned, the writers prayed, above all else, he would be a peacemaker. They never envisioned a world that would be free of tension or conflicting interests, but rather a world in which leaders and all people would resolve their conflicts without bloodshed.
The next time you see somebody at an intersection with a sign that says, Will work for food, or the next time you see a parody of the sign, think of this instead: Will work for peace. Let us commit ourselves to being a part of the will of God that wants peace upon the earth.
What are you hoping for this season? Perhaps responding to an invitation will help. No, not an invitation to yet another party. An invitation offered you by the prophet Isaiah. He says to you and me, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”
Advent is a way of preparing spiritually for the Christmas holiday. It is a way of preparing for the birth of Christ, to once again try to experience that birth in its newness and freshness in our own hearts.
Faith determines how we live. Many people have a rear-view mirror approach to life. Their lives are spent replaying old dramas, remembering past glories, and even trying to re-capture bygone energies because they have more faith in the past than in new possibilities for the future. But Jesus did not call us to such a faith. We are called to live looking ahead.
When we reach the season of Advent, we know it’s time to start over. Isn’t starting over what we need? So many times in life, we wish to wipe it all away and take a fresh look, make a fresh start, or take a first step all over again. Advent is a new beginning and a fresh start for those who are willing to prepare themselves.
Are we following the example of Jesus as leaders of families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and communities? Are we choosing leaders who follow the example of Jesus? Does our leadership give God's sheep the blues or does it deliver God's blessings to them?
The world’s attention was focused upon Copiapo, Chile in October as thirty-three miners were rescued from a gold and copper mine that had collapsed sixty-nine days earlier. For over two months, they lived 2,300 feet below the surface of the earth in a chamber no larger than a typical living room.
God wants us to give generously. If you read 1 Corinthians 9 and the surrounding passages that go with it, words like enlarge, surpassing, generous, and abounding, remind us of increasing giving and goodness. The model is God in Jesus Christ.
If you are fearful, I would suggest that you do this... First of all, take the counsel of God and be still for just a moment. Hard to do, isn’t it? Let God’s presence slowly but surely take over your heart and settle into your soul.
Is the glass half empty or is it half full? Do we look at life as life being depleted and there is no more or do we remember all that God has done? All that God has and we even remember the words from the hymn, All that I have needed, thy hand has provided. Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.
The truth is we all have those “I quit” moments. But remember, the word of Jesus is the only sure thing we’ve got in this world. And Jesus is saying, “Don’t quit. Stand firm. Together we’ll accomplish more than you think. And even if you die trying, you will win life.”
We continue to leave our children with a passion for the story of Jesus, a center for missions. Together, we declare that the Creator has redeemed His creation through the death of His Son and the glorious resurrection. And we’re all called to go and tell. As our forefathers have given us a passion for the Great Commission, we must pass that passion to our children.
Paul makes it clear that many of the myths we have about money are misguided. Paul’s emphasis is not that we should give because of guilt – because we have to. Not with a grudge – because we ought to. But with grace – because we want to.
In the wisdom of God, he has given us the principle of tithing and proportional giving so that we might all participate as we have been blessed in the work of the kingdom. The one who had much still had, the one who had little still had, and all who gave were blessed equally.
It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for someone to approach a rabbi with a request to settle a dispute over money, though. Rabbis were experts in the Law and conflict management. The rich were less likely to seek out rabbis, however, because they had the resources to hire professional arbitrators.
Everyone I read who’s writing about the postmodern Post-Christian world will agree: This is not a time to be holding anything back … it’s a time to risk, to step forward, to want to see the world as God sees it … as an infinite possibility!
The challenges, frustrations, anxieties, and other stuff we experience often make it hard to believe in anything better. We seem beset by so many catastrophes, calamities, heartbreaks, tragedies, scandals, and other problems that it's hard to hope for daylight in the face of so much darkness.
It is the best way – actually, it is the only way – I know of giving testimony to your faith. Believe that Jesus will give you words and wisdom, and know that the rest of us will hold you in our prayers... a day at a time.
It takes character and backbone to stand firm when under pressure. When push comes to shove, and one has no place to hide, one stands. When one must know who they are, they can stand. When one holds a truth deep in their hearts and believing means standing, one can muster the strength to endure.
Every church that has any history at all has experienced its glory days when the pews were full and the programs were operating on full cycle and all cylinders. All you have to do is look at a church’s buildings. Congregations build according to size, not to mention growth expectations.
Paul said when a person comes to Christ they are a new creation. The old has passed away; the new has come. Wherever we turn in scripture, we are reminded that an encounter with God or accepting Christ results in some kind of change.
Joseph Wittig once said that when we write people’s biographies we should start with their death, not with their birth. After all, we have nothing to do with the way our lives begin, but we have a lot to do with the way they end.
On this very day—October 31, 1517—493 years ago, on an All Hallows Eve long before our modern customs of Halloween began, a grown man pounded a door. He was pounding on the door of a church, not a home. And he wasn’t trick-or-treating. He was nailing a statement of 95 propositions, or 95 Theses, to the door of Castle Church, the local Catholic church of Wittenburg, Germany. These 95 Theses turned out to be quite a Halloween treat that ultimately changed the world.
So if Paul leaves nothing else to Timothy in his last will and testament, perhaps it is that longing... that longing that he, Timothy, will one day claim that prize as well. Do you think, if that is indeed true, the same might be said for us?
We live in a world of experts. We seek out advice from people we think have the most knowledge and who have proven to be effective in their field. We want to know what they have to say about the issues or concerns that affect us most.
So, if you’re happy and you know it...you’re content. If you’re happy and you know it...you’re not the usual fare. If you’re happy and you know it...you’ve learned to rely on Christ, to be dependent upon His grace and His love, and to measure all things by His all-sufficient grace and not by comparing yourself to your neighbor.
There are a million fears in this room. There are a million reasons to be faint-at-heart – to give up, to throw in the towel, to let down and let it go. But God says, “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Lamentations is dark precisely because it reflects on a dark period of Jewish history—the fall of Jerusalem and the southern kingdom of Judah in 587 B.C. Jerusalem, which had been inhabited since 3000 B.C. had swelled in population over time with thousands of Jewish citizens, and the City of David was unquestionably the Crown Jewel of Israel.
Jeremiah understood their homesickness. He recognized how embarrassing it was in Jerusalem and Judah to be a sacked capitol and defeated nation. So Jeremiah began wearing a wooden yoke in public to demonstrate his nation's plight.
If you have the courage to look back and trace the journey of your life, I think that for the most part your testimony would be that your life is not only good but it is better for the way you’ve done it. In fact, had your life turned out the way you planned it, chances are it wouldn’t be nearly as good as it really is.
Prayer is a spiritual discipline that connects us to the God who created us and who continues to want to hear from us about all those things we that burden our hearts. Prayer is a lifeline tossed our way on those days when that’s all we have. Simplistically speaking, prayer is no more than a conversation between two good friends.
What was Jeremiah’s message to the captives in Babylon? Through his trusted messengers, Elasah and Gemariah, he told them there would be no early release from captivity. That day would eventually come, but not any time soon and possibly not for a generation or two.
If I want advice about keeping my car running smoothly, I’ll go to a mechanic. If I’m concerned about my health, I’ll talk to a physician. If I want to know how to deal with adversity, I can do no better than to consider the words of Paul and the life of the One to whom Paul gave his life.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith?” I’m sure this question put the decision Luke’s readers needed to make in perspective. If they did not remain faithful, who would? If they gave up, who else would? Their decision had broad ramifications.
In America, we replaced family rank with income rank. In this country, it’s your net worth that defines your self-worth. The good news is that ours is a more fair system. The bad news is that ours is a system that easily leads to obsession with money.
There is no quick or easy way to discuss the problem of suffering, pain, and hope. None of us needs to be convinced that suffering and pain exist. There is too much of it for any sensible person to ignore. And there's also no reason to try proving to anyone that hope exists. We see too many people living and acting hopefully.
“Lord, increase our faith!” “We can’t do this on our own. It’s too much for us to bear. We’re going to need some help. No, check that, we are going to need your help. You’ve loaded us down with burdens too big to carry, and if we’re going to do this thing you’re going to have to hold us up!” “Lord, increase our faith!”
What we put into the church is returned to us as satisfaction and joy. What we put in, we typically get out of church. And if I don’t bring myself to this task, I will just be a lump of coal sitting on a pew.
Why didn’t the rich man stop and help Lazarus? It’s not like he didn’t see him. Everyday, he sat at the rich man’s gate hoping he would receive just the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Why didn’t he at least give him something to eat and drink?
When Jesus talks about the lost, it's with a twinkle in his eye and love in his heart. Jesus doesn't talk about lost people like they are the scum of the earth. He’s far more interested in showing his “losties” the way back home, and throwing a big party when they finally fall into the arms of a loving God.
Like Zacchaeus, do you need to make some changes in your attitude and behavior? I encourage you to let the Lord help you as he has so many others. I don’t think any of us wants to live in a world where people look out only for themselves. Let’s do our part to see it doesn’t happen.
It strains our understanding that in the Christian Scriptures we would be urged to pray for leadership that was punishing brothers and sisters in the faith as if we were handing them over to the God of Creation for supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings rather than opposing them for the injustice they support. But the spirit of Our Leader who commanded us to love those who hate us indicates we should say a good word to God on their behalf.
I know we want praise and worship faith, but the bitter reality of living is that our kingdoms die. They become diseased and die. They suffer wounds, whether self-inflicted or caused by others, and die. Sometimes our kingdoms are murdered. We need a faith that will sustain us through the pain we experience when our kingdoms die.
We – you and I – work hard to be like the ninety-nine sheep and the nine coins that never got lost. Yet, there are those out there who capitalize on being like the lost coin and the lost sheep. We call them sinful people.
If God is real as we understand through scripture, and if we follow him according to the ways we are taught by Jesus Christ, then how on earth could there not be something different about people who follow God through Christ and people who don’t?
Welcome to the hard sayings of Jesus where Jesus pushes hard against a common sense level of faith and demands more than any of us are willing to give. What you do with these words is up to you, but I doubt you feel comfortable with them.
Maybe Jesus had an anti-megachurch bias. He didn’t like big groups, or didn’t trust a crowd mentality. Perhaps Jesus was suspicious of many of those who followed after him, especially the ones who appeared to be in it for what they could get out of it. Or, it could be that Jesus was an introvert and preferred to be by himself.
The Jesus we see in the Gospel reading from Luke makes lots of waves. To follow this Jesus means giving up possessions, family ties, and even going against social customs and norms in religion. According to this Jesus, none of us can be his disciple without that kind of devotion and commitment—none of us.
Today’s text contains some of the most astonishing words that Jesus spoke. They certainly caught Luke’s attention and must have reinforced his premise that following Jesus would not be easy. Personal sacrifice was an essential component of faith the way that Luke saw it.
The human longing for higher status is a predictable part of our fallen frame, and the human game of one-upsmanship is one of our favorite pastimes. But it’s nothing new. Indeed, Jesus, the greatest of all psychologists, identified this human dynamic 2000 years ago.
“I believe. Help my unbelief.” In the New International Version, it says, “I believe. Help me overcome my belief. I believe a little. Help me believe more. I believe some. Help me believe all the way. Help me finish this faith. Jesus, I have good faith days and bad faith days, and right now I’m struggling. I want to believe more. I want to believe completely”.
All races, all genders, all economic levels, all ages, all sexual orientations, whatever your circle of exclusion, God says they are all the center of God’s love in equal measure. No one is left out. No one is without God’s love and acceptance. We are God’s creation and we are loved … each and every one of us.
If God is real, which we do believe, then what would the lives of the people of God look like? If God is real and above all and in all, sustains us, and loves us and if I have given my life to God, then what would the life of the people of God look like?
But faith is not found in its definition, as remarkable as that definition may be. It doesn’t do any good if it stays on the pages of your Bible or is kept on your tongue. It has to translate into something beyond just the definition. Faith is not a definition, it is a relationship.
As Christians, God calls us to be people of conviction. God calls us to be discerning people. God calls us to know right and wrong and to persevere in our faith. We are supposed to know where the line is drawn, but there is a tension here.
If you ever wonder why some people take issue with the Bible, wonder no more. Our reading from Luke’s gospel provides us the perfect example. It is just chock full of contradictions, and these contradictions come straight from the mouth of Jesus.
What is the cure for a broken heart? Perhaps you have been thinking about this because someone close to you has broken yours. Was it your son or daughter, a grandchild, your mate, a friend or a neighbor? Just what is the cure for a broken heart?
The thought that God could become so disgusted with worshipping people and worship activity as to not even hear prayers, let alone turn aside from worship efforts, is not comfortable. Our society is full of places where people gather to worship.
In order for us to truly exercise a redemptive influence on the world, Christians must live from a radically different set of values than the crass materialism, consuming greed, and rampant viciousness that characterizes so much of life.
If we will indeed walk with the one true God, without our usual excuses, our steps will take us there. And when our journey is complete, and our final steps taken, we will know that the stumbling and the wobbling and the falling – not to mention the getting back up – is all worth it.
To love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind means first and foremost to sit at the feet of Jesus. And until or unless we get that down pat, nothing else really matters.
The lesson of manna is not only that God provides, and not only that God provides in the moment of need, but that God provides every day, and that every day I must go and I must seek it again. There is not enough today for tomorrow—just enough for today.
I think that God is probably grateful for any prayer we’re willing to offer. Just give it all to God, right or wrong. God knows what to do with it, and will respond with the kind of grace that only God can give.
Hosea and Gomer were to be object lessons to Israel about the moral and spiritual condition of that society's relationship to God. Just as Gomer was scandalously unfaithful to Hosea, Israel was scandalously unfaithful to God.
My friend George Mason says the real issue is “that Martha is cookin’ it up for Jesus and Mary is cookin’ it up with Jesus... Mary teaches us,” he says, “that we do not host Jesus; we guest him as he hosts us.”
The Jericho Roads of our time are not dangerous merely because there are bandits in the world. They are especially dangerous—and people and the creation are left wounded and suffering—because too many religious people would rather be like Amaziah than like Amos.
Instead of trying to argue about whether or not what God teaches us is relevant to our lives, we actually need to make our lives relevant to what God teaches us. We need to recognize that God’s ways are the ways that lead to blessedness.
The concept of spaciousness was special to the Hebrew people, for one very practical reason—they and their land were hemmed in by enemies on all sides. Every moment of their existence felt cramped. To say God was wide, great, and I would add, big, was the supreme compliment.
Early on in our lives we learn how to project different versions of ourselves—sometimes gracious, sometimes gruff, sometimes pious, sometimes proud—whatever version we think is necessary to get what we want.
You’ve tried to exorcise your own demons, and failed—miserably. You’ve told yourself you’ve got to learn to live with your demons, manage them as best you can, hide them in the deep tombs of your life and pray nobody notices.
Letting go is not easy, is it? Power, control and authority are addictive and the familiar is very comfortable. This makes it difficult to pass the baton to others who are waiting to run their portion of the race and make their contributions.
Elijah and Moses are the most prominent prophetic forces in the First Testament. Moses challenged the Egyptian moral, religious, political, and social system that was characterized by the slavery it imposed on the Hebrew people. But Elijah challenged moral, religious, political, and social oppression imposed by a Hebrew king named Ahab and his Phoenician wife named Jezebel.
There comes a time, regardless of the circumstances or the questions that confront us, when we are faced with the need to remain faithful... to each other and to the God who has brought us together. Life can get tough, and when it does there is that tendency to want to bail out, to walk away, give it up, throw in the dice, and say, “What’s the use?” I’ve been there. Have you?
A true worshipper, saved by God’s grace, realizes he has escaped catastrophe because of God’s goodness. Such a worshipper comes as Noah did, to declare dependence upon God thorough sacrificial worship.
Lot's wife has been dismissed throughout history as a vain and materialistic woman who deserved her punishment. Maybe we should see her as we see the rest of us: a human who falls short of the glory of God.
To recognize the full extent of one's sins allows for those sins to be forgiven. To recognize only partially the extent of one's sins allows for only partial forgiveness and, in turn, the capacity to love little.
In Elijah’s first appearance in the biblical record, he announced to King Ahab the coming of a drought, which the prophet interpreted as the consequence of the nation’s self-centered behavior under Ahab’s wicked and corrupt leadership. This put Elijah in great danger because it was not unusual for prophets of doom to be imprisoned or killed.
When we ask Jesus to come through our doors, do you think he would take us up on our invitation? And if he does, will we treat him as our favored guest? After all, he might just bring a few sinners with him.
A sure fact about Jesus is that he made people mad. That is not the first thing we think of when we think about Jesus. We think about Jesus as being nice and kind, but the truth is that Jesus made a lot of people really, really angry.
If you’ve been standing back, waiting in the shadows, afraid to take that step of faith, you might discover, with the presence of God as your Companion, that living on the edge is the only place you want to be.
If the Holy Spirit is one with God, then the Spirit is as real as God the Creator and the Son of God. And if the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, and we are one in Christ with them, then the impact of our lives and living is more powerful than we can imagine.
Cain and Abel were brothers. They played together as children. They built forts. They swam together. They had carved into the same tree. They’d always been racing and competing with one another. They were brothers – they were rivals and friends.
The word in Hebrew for naked is ’arummin. And the word for clever is ’arum. Clearly a play on words in the original language. We might read it something like this in English: The man and his wife were both nude, and they were not ashamed. Now the serpent was more shrewd.”
No, Christians didn’t begin Pentecost. Pentecost started as a Jewish festival, and it’s quite possible the Jews borrowed the tradition from some other form of religion. That’s the way religious traditions are, you know.
Christianity largely owes its start in Europe to two women mentioned in Acts 16—Lydia, the woman who owned her own business selling purple clothing to wealthy purchasers and this un-named slave woman whose exorcism triggered the first public conflict between the followers of Jesus and the established order.
Go ahead and confess, haven’t you ever wished God would write you a letter every now and then? We’re in a time of intriguing conversations about our church these days. If God took the time to drop us a note, what would God write if God were doing such things?
When we neglect our own faith, when we neglect the consistency of our own lives and the implied message that goes along with what we tell our children, we neglect the spiritual development of our own hearts and the spiritual development of our children.
Is it possible that we could be a place, a people, an intersection, where human obedience and divine initiative come together? A place not defined by denominational label as much as a place where the hearts of those who gather here are open to the leadership of God’s Spirit?
At times, all of us need to assume the role of prophet and parent and tell those around us what we sense and see. Living in denial or withholding vital information helps no one. As a matter of fact, it only makes a bad situation worse.
Even when we’re doing the will of God, we live in “in-between” times. Life, we discover, is not so much an uninterrupted continuum as much as it is a series of single moments strung together like pearls on a string.
What do you say to those you love when time is running out? I usually say too much. I am the one yelling last minute instructions to my children as their car is pulling out of the driveway and I know I won’t see them again for several months.
Instead of just going through each day without a sense of purpose or reason for what we find ourselves doing, why not place ourselves in God’s hands and ask to be used for something good, for something eternal, for something that will certainly live beyond us?
Dorcas, or Tabitha, as she’s called in her Aramaic name (meaning, “gazelle”), is called a disciple. Interestingly, no other woman throughout the New Testament is referred to as a “disciple,” and we know she was a woman of great respect because her name has been handed down to the church.
In the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has shown that divine love is not limited to my tribe or your tribe, my nation or yours, my language or yours, or my denomination or yours. Divine grace and truth—what God has liberally provided the world in Jesus Christ—emphasizes that we are one community.
Do people see Jesus in us? Based upon your lifestyle and works, what do people think it means to be a Christian? Are you one with the Father, united in your hopes and dreams for the world? Are you seeking His heart, mind and will and relying upon Him to help you live what you profess?
In contemporary American Christianity, faith in Christ has become much like a clothing accessory—those things like shoes, sunglasses, belts, or ties—the optional parts of what you wear that you can put together to get the perfect look. You can wear the same clothes but just change the accessories.
God is always to be found in the present tense, and it is right now that he has prepared his table for us. Here we will find evidences, in the words of the psalmist, of God’s goodness and mercy. Here we will find all we need for the journey.
Simon had viewed himself as a leader of men. When the disciples of Jesus needed a spokesman, hadn’t Simon stepped in? Hadn’t he been the one to encourage them when they needed it most? Wasn’t he the one who resisted efforts on the part of the authorities to arrest Jesus and take him into custody?
My friends, one of the great challenges of 21st Century Christianity is for us to be agents of loving fellowship with people in God's love. It is not enough for us to have buildings, budgets, and programs. People need help as they wrestle with the claims of divine love on their lives and relationships.
Paul was not into one-man-bands or church situations where one individual tries to possess and express all spiritual gifts. Paul says that the church is comprised of many members with a variety of gifts, all working together to strengthen God’s kingdom.
Singing has a way of re-enforcing, expressing, and turning up the volume. On all of those experiences in life that are most important, music and song seem to engrain them in us in a way that merely speaking does not do.
Stormy things happen to us and to other people around us. Like John and the Christians of his time, there are personal, social, religious, economic, and political challenges to endure. Yet, we are loved by Jesus Christ, the faithful witness who sacrificed everything to free us from the tyranny of sin and death. We are called by Jesus Christ, the Supreme Ruler above every other authority in the world.
Are we running towards life or are we running towards death. Are we running towards pleasing God or trying to satisfy our hearts that are so very, very fickle? Have you ever satisfied your heart only to have it want something else the next day?
A pastor quizzed a group of preschoolers about the meaning of Easter and a precocious preschooler raised his hand politely and when called upon, he answered, “I know! That was the day Jesus became famous!”
I’ve noticed that most people enter cemeteries with heavy hearts and a slow gait. Mary may have approached Jesus’ tomb that way, but she definitely did not leave it like that. A dramatic transformation took place while in that cemetery, from grief to joy and despair to hope. What made the difference?
The idea that smell and memory are powerfully linked prompted pastor Beth Sanders to wonder, “What does God’s love smell like?” For some, there are smells that draw you back in memory to the church of your childhood.
There were two processions into Jerusalem that Passover week of the first Palm Sunday. Scholars have concluded that Pontus Pilate, the Roman governor over Palestine, entered the city from the west with the customary accessories of imperial power.
I don’t know if you have ever tried to speak to someone who does not speak the language you speak, but we do all manner of things. If we are trying to communicate something, we will often use our hands.
If we are going to pray, then how will we do it? It always seems to me that when a crisis comes or when someone knows that a friend is laboring under something that would require prayer, there is never a shortage of advice about how to pray, is there?
What made this visit unique was something Mary did at this dinner given in Jesus’ honor. She poured expensive perfume, worth a year’s wages, on his feet and wiped them with her hair. Quickly, the room was filled with the sweet scent of friendship and the sour odor of criticism.
Life is always full of drama. Even when events in life seem routine, living by faith is never dull. No, there are always dimensions of drama stirring beneath the surface of what may appear to be smooth situations and commonplace occurrences.
God has so arranged the body of Christ to give honor to the inferior members that there may be no dissention within the body and that the members may have care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer with it. If one is honored, all are honored together.
Grace is a kind of mercy that we in the church have had a notoriously difficult time handling. We’ve taken that which is free and we’ve made it something to earn. It’s sad in a way because we first come to God seeking forgiveness and the desire to be whole. And then, after experiencing the liberation that only God can bring, we go out and get lost all over again.
I believe the God that Jesus revealed in this magnificent story will help you. He delights in bringing wounded family members and friends together by providing the patience, wisdom, love and hope necessary to heal broken relationships.
If we want to keep company with Jesus, we won’t generally find him in proper social circles. Instead, he will be found among those he came to seek and to save. If we want to keep company with Jesus, we might just have to re-think our daily agenda and go where he goes, do what he does, love those he loves.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are two issues that we encounter throughout the Bible. Whether we like to admit it or not, God does not allow us to avoid or escape the notion that humans need forgiveness.
One of the great things about Jesus is there is no fine print. You don’t need a Ph.D. in Bible to find out what the demands of discipleship are. There is not an obscure passage in a book that no one has told you about. It is all laid out there for us.
The idea of being thirsty is familiar to us. No matter what the season of the year or time of day may be, no matter what part of the community we come from, work in, or now call home, and regardless to our age, we know what it means to be thirsty.
Elisha has a message for us, and it is still as relevant today as when he whispered it forcefully in the ear of his servant in Dothan. “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
It is at the Lord’s table that Jesus gathers us under his wings and protects us, sometimes even from ourselves. He is willing, even now, to reach out for us and bring us into the kingdom fold. We accept that invitation by eating the bread and drinking the cup.
Jesus shows no signs of fear or anxiety and plainly tells the Pharisees what his plans are. He’s living out in the open where if anyone wants to threaten him, they’ll have to come out into the open to carry out their threats.
This is the season in which we think about Christ’s sacrifice as we move towards, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and eventually towards Easter. It is the time when, traditionally, Christians have thought about discipleship, the sacrifice of Christ and, therefore, what it might mean in our own lives.
If we respect who God is, who we are as children of God, what God's purposes are in the world, and the laws of nature and life that God has ordained, then we will follow the example of Jesus. Because of Jesus, we cannot claim that we do not know that these forces will confront our faith. Because of Jesus, we know how to deal with these forces. Because of Jesus, let us do so as consecrated children of God.
What promises have you made? What promises do you think Jesus made that was symbolized by his baptism? Based upon what he taught and how he lived, I think he made the commitment to love God with all his heart, seek His will when facing decisions and live for Him to the best of his ability.
A commitment is really nothing more than a choice with lasting ties. Commitments are a choice when we choose to tie ourselves to something, and when we choose to tie ourselves to it, it lasts—sometimes for a long time.
It’s interesting – ironic even – that the two most popular passages of scripture recited at weddings have nothing to do with marriage or the love between a woman and a man. But I dare say you can’t attend a wedding without at least one of these passages being read.
What does it mean to live for God? Religious people, especially in Christian circles, often speak and sing about living for God, but what does that truly mean? How does living for God work? Can people live for God and live for themselves at the same time?
The sacred story we hold in the ordinary hands of our humanity reminds us of the delicate balance between heaven and earth because contained in every ordinary moment is a reminder the Divine is present and waiting to be unveiled. The season of Epiphany comes to an end today but it ends in a bang, doesn't it? Jesus climbs to the top of the mountain to pray with three of the disciples and unexpectedly, in the elevated heights of the mountaintop the shades of heaven part and the glory of heaven shines upon him.
What do children and youth really need to survive, to be healthy, to be productive, and to have a good life? Clearly, I think, they need safety. If you kept a child in perfect safety, that still would not be enough. If you could protect a child and make sure they were never injured, never fell, never scraped their knees, and were never in danger from someone outside hurting them, that still would not be enough.
This probably wasn’t the first time they’d fished all night and come up with nothing. Simon, son of Jonah, and his partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, had been in the fishing business for awhile. And after you’ve been in the business a few years – the fishing business, any business for that matter – you’ve just about seen it all.
Each of us needs to think about the body of Christ more than we think about our own rights. And sometimes when you win, you lose because when you hurt the body, all are injured. Remember who you are, Paul is saying. If Jesus really is the Messiah, and you really are the people of the Messiah, why on earth would a civil court have jurisdiction between you.
The passages we read today are guides for meditating on what it means to be called to live for God. Living for God starts by being met by God. There must be an encounter with God, on God's terms rather than our own. God confronts us and we are forced to make sense of who God is. How did you meet God?
How different would you be if you really turned God’s grace loose in your life, like Paul did? If you fully embraced His grace, or more appropriately, if you were fully embraced by it, how would it change you?
In moments of interruption, you always have a choice. You can cling to the old and hope the crisis will pass and you can get back to your plans. Or you can let go and go after God’s new way for you into the new. It’s the way of faith. It’s keeping your eyes and ears open for the new moment of God’s interruption where you might learn to be spontaneous in playful, joyful response to God.
Many talk about whether they liked the sermon, but does that only means the message lined up with their preconceptions? Can preaching really result in changed lives if preachers feel they cannot speak honestly?
I’ve been introduced to you this morning as Larry Greenfield, the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, but that was just a cover so I didn’t draw too much attention to myself. Actually I’m your old – maybe “ancient” would be a better word – your ancient brother in Christ, Paul…Paul from Tarsus
If we would but allow God, God can put us on that wheel and God can spin us, shape us, and make things new. If we don’t believe that, then why on earth do we believe in Christ? Christ went to the cross, was dead, and buried. If we believe that God can transform Christ into a new resurrected life so that all who are in Christ might live with Christ always, then do we not believe that God can be stronger than our fear, stronger than our pride, and make us new.
My grandfather had a certain contempt for preachers. When he learned I was going to become one, he begged me to reconsider. And when he realized I was determined, his advice was simple: Be like Buster.
It is not the book that changes us but the God who lives and breathes and has being within our hearts. But it is that book that opens us up to such a redeeming God. So the more time we spend with it, the more time we spend with the Holy... and that’s a good thing, right?
And it is the power of God to those who believe.One thing about the cross is clear:The cross divides all of humanity into two groups, those who are perishing and those who are being saved.Those who see the gospel as foolishness are perishing.And those who see the gospel as the power of God are being saved.
If you are in an honorable profession, I would like you to have words to put on it to understand that the compulsion you feel by God is your calling.It is what God has asked you to do--to try to go forward from this, to branch out so that it is not just accidental but intentional.The way that you live your life, conduct your business, and work in your profession is a part of who you are as a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake, my friends.This is not a call to tourism Christianity where we drop in on suffering people at times and under circumstances we find convenient.This is a call to travel the Jericho Roads where people are beaten, bruised, and abandoned by the systemic powers of our time.It is a call to enter into the experience of people who are cast out of life because they are different.It is a call to walk like Jesus, live like Jesus, pray like Jesus, love like Jesus, heal like Jesus, be criticized like Jesus, become labeled as subversive like Jesus, and even to suffer like Jesus.
Hold on, dear ones.As we struggle with grief and watch the tragic scenes from Haiti, hold on to the truth that we are God's kinfolk, even when earthquakes strike.As we try to make sense of life when painful things happen to us, hold on to the truth that we are God's kinfolk.God has called us by name.We are not strangers or stragglers.We are God's kinfolk when we cry, God's kinfolk when we scream, God's kinfolk when we hurt, and God's kinfolk when we die.
In our relationship with God, what does God want?It is not a mystery.It is not a dysfunctional relationship where you cannot figure it out.God wants us to do the best things we can do for ourselves in our relationship with him—to love mercy, to be the kind of people who incorporate it in our lives every day, all the time; to live out kindness and compassion, to do justice, to be concerned about what is true, fair, right, and good in the world for all people, and not just what benefits ourselves.
I realized, as we talked, that what we were doing in that moment was not so much to celebrate pink cowgirl shoes – nor even how very cute Anna Claire is – as it was to create a memory... a memory for a little girl who one day may just reach back in the recesses of her mind, and when she needs the promises of God the most, will remember those cowgirl “shoes” and when she wore them to church and so many people made over them and told them how cute they – and she – was. And because of that, I wonder if she might say, “You know, I belong to God. I belong to God.”
The lesson of the magi ends as it began, with the magi following God.As they did, we must be willing to go on a quest with God.Be encouraged, my friends.God has a light to guide us.Be encouraged.Jesus has come to love us.Be encouraged.Knowing Jesus will give us new insight, new perspective, and yes, new life as we journey home with God.Guess who's coming to Jesus?Guess you?
What are you going to do this week to surprise someone who mistreated you? What difference would it make in your life and theirs? Who can help you respond with compassion, restraint and generosity? What are you going to do to surprise someone whom you have mistreated? What changes will you make in your life? How will you make amends? What will you do to begin the healing process? Who can help you? Let the bread and wine you will hold in your hands in a few minutes help you answer these questions.
For Mary, the temple was a place of letting go. And do you know why she had to do it, why Jesus had to let her know that he had a calling to fulfill that would be more important than even is love for her? Because of you, that’s why. And me... and all those whom he came to save. And for that, we can be most grateful.
Do you see Jeremiah’s point? If we wait until the “right” moment comes for us to begin to celebrate God’s blessings, we miss so much in the meantime. And, we show our lack of faith. The time is now, to take joy not only in the blessings God gives us, but to celebrate in anticipation of what God has yet to do through us. Why? Because God is in the anticipation. We are to celebrate who we are right now, with the anticipation that we will become even more, even better, with God’s leadership and grace.
The members of this church will help you, also. I’ve never known a finer support group for those who are carrying heavy loads. There is enough love here to embrace you and walk with you along your journey. Let us be your Elizabeth and Zechariah. We would be honored.
When it comes, not only to Christmas, but to the world in which you live, where do you get your ideas? If you are willing to risk it, look with fresh, new eyes at that book you have in your lap. It might just change your perspective. Better yet, it might just change your world and make everything – everything – topsy-turvy.
The title of the sermon today is Sometimes Call for . . . Joy.The truth is that every time calls for joy.Doesn’t this time in our lives, in the lives of our nation and community, call for joy?If we think that joy is only going to come if the economy rebounds, and if we think joy is only going to come if we engage in repetitive acts that give us pleasure for a moment, we are just kidding ourselves.
All times call for love.This year calls for love, and whatever happens in the next year will call for love.Whatever these children who will grow up to take our places face, those times will call for love, too.May we always, always, be faithful to the God who loved us enough to send his son in the form of that Babe of Bethlehem, not to love as long as it feels good, but to love until Christ comes again because that’s what God’s people do.
Find some Elizabeth people. Get up.Make your way to some Elizabeth people in whom God has been working.Show up however you can.Text them.Tweet them.E-mail them.Phone them.Take your pregnant self—with all the circumstances and questions that come with it—to someone who has seen what God will do.God has someone in whom the ministry of presence will work a comforting blessing as you journey through your circumstances, with all the questions that come with the journey.When you face pregnant circumstances, God has some Elizabeth people who will help you journey by faith through the questions.
Do you have this kind of faith that leads to “nevertheless joy?” You can if you open your life to Christ and let him accompany you on your journey. I assure you that he will provide the encouragement and support you need.Who do you know that needs this kind of faith? Who needs to hear this kind of good news? Who is struggling under a load of care and needs a friend? What could you do to help them? Do it and I believe both of you will discover true joy.
As followers of Jesus, our hope for Advent peace requires that we live in the paradox and all the tension it involves as prophetic agents for love, justice, righteousness, and truth.We do not proclaim a gospel that would have people wait for pie in the sky.We are followers of Jesus, the promised Righteous Ruler of God.As followers of Jesus, we pray and live to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight.We pray and live to fill every valley of despair and push down every arrogant system of pride and prejudice.We pray and live to confront crooked government, crooked rulers, crooked systems, and crooks with a call to straighten up and fly right.We pray and live to make the rough places of life smooth for the weak, vulnerable, oppressed, and poor.We do this because we live in the paradox of Advent peace as followers of Jesus Christ, the coming Prince of Peace.
It is the season of preparation, and it begins not in the usual places but in the heart. Did you hear this morning’s gospel reading from The Message? The Baptist is speaking of Jesus when he says, “He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of your lives.” So the next time you take up a broom to clean your home in preparation for Christmas, remember John, will you? “Come clean and come empty”2 when it is time to meet your King, and recognize there may just be a few cobwebs in your soul. It’s cleaning time, time to get ready for the coming of the King, and the best preparation begins inside, right here (the heart).How will you respond?
We can’t do much about alliances and peace treaties.But all of us face sisters who fight over mama’s money, brothers who haven’t spoken for so many years that they can’t even remember why, children who won’t come home and parents who don’t want them at home.In each of these situations there is something we can do.The peace of Christmas can break out in my relationships if I would but learn these things.
What about us?What about our congregation, community, state, nation, and world?What must change for us to be a presentable people?What must become different, be moved, refined, and purified?Are we content doing life, politics, business, government, family the way that is comfortable?Are we willing to change, seeking to change, praying to change, living to change from earth to ore, ore to molten metal, and metal to precious jewelry for God?I think of this as I ponder the refusal of our Governor to appoint people of color to the all-white Arkansas Supreme Court, and when I ponder so many other things about the way we rationalize in life.What must God's Christ do in us to make us—the people of God—"offerings to the Lord in righteousness … pleasing to the Lord?What does how we live say about what we are offering God?
Is this what you need to do today? In order to find peace in your relationships, do you need to be a better listener? Do you need to care as much about the needs of your mate, parents, children, friends or neighbors as your own? Do you need to enlarge the table where decisions are made so that everyone feels welcome and safe? Do you need to make sure that all decisions made will benefit everyone, not just those with the most clout or loudest voice? I think so and I believe you can, especially if you have the Prince of Peace in your heart. I am convinced he will help you.
So the schoolteacher says to her class, “Now class, I am going down the hall to the principle’s office for a few minutes. I certainly hope I can trust you to act like responsible fifth graders. But just in case, I’m leaving the door open. I’ve asked the teacher across the hall to listen for trouble. I hope you will show me how responsible you are. I’m leaving now. I had better not hear a word out of you. You have work to do while I’m gone …” And with that she softly leaves the room. The anticipation of her return lingers in the quiet classroom. In our hearts, we long for Jesus’ presence, for we are at our best when the Master is with us. Build within our hearts, O God, a sense of holy expectation for Christ’s return while we stay busy quietly doing the work of God in our time.
Our work today, is to sing another verse of that ancient promise clinging to the possibility that God is still at work laboring to make the promise come true. Jesus came to us with a purpose and during Christmas, our temptation overcomes us every time we live as though there’s another purpose.
This Advent season needs to find us doing our duty. And what is that? I’ll put it this way... If we do not use this season as an opportunity to be people of light who share the good news that God has come to our darkened world, then there is reason for us to question whether we are truly Christ followers.
The Christian hope is not some positive thinking that if I just believe it, it will be so.The Christian hope is that God is real, God is in control, and God does not forget us.In our trials in this life and in our journey to the next, God does not let us go.
Just as Advent invites us to think about a God who comes to us, as distinct from a God who is unapproachable, so it encourages us to be accessible, or better yet, go to those who need our help. Who would that be? With God’s guidance and help, reach out to them this week. Go sit with them in “The Waiting Place.”
Today, in Lima, Peru, one of the poorest sections of Peru, six people are there. They were the ones who could go, but all of us together provide the means so that they can be there to tell people about Christ. They can inoculate children. I wish you could see the video of the place. It is so tragic, but in the name of Christ, on your behalf and because of your generosity, they are there.
Maybe then the subversive prayer of Jesus can be prayed by all of us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Maybe, just maybe, that’s why Jesus stood before the government’s man and let him talk till he found the justification he needed to fend off the political accusations of weakness the Jews used to make him do what they wanted.
Here this lesson again. It may be a new normal. I don’t know, but what I do know is this: The God who provided manna, the God who provided water from the rock and quail in the wilderness, his son Jesus Christ who fed one group and then another so much that there was enough left over, that God has more abundance to share with us, and it is enough. For that, let us give thanks with glad hearts this Thursday.
Advent season draws nigh, so we are Singing, Seeing, Shining, and Sharing. Advent season draws nigh, because God's Love deserves our Song, God's Life is too real to not see, God's Truth is too brilliant to be hidden by the darkness of our situations and the reality of evil, and God's Christ deserves our reverent acts of sharing. We sing of God's Love. We see God's Life. We are inspired by God's Shining Truth. And we share in reverence for the Christ who is the Way, Truth, and the Life to God.
But remember the healed man! Remember him standing there, bristling with new strength by the power of God. Remember him, and follow Jesus. Remember him, and love oppressed people in the name of Jesus. Remember him, and look critics in the eye without fear. Remember him, standing upright—so healed!
Could you be the only priest someone knows? “Every member a minister,” is our motto at Smoke Rise. You can be someone’s priest this week as much as any staff member. How? Do what Jesus did. Stop. Look. Listen. Encourage. Help. Love. Share. Do your part to create a just world where their cries for help are heard and taken seriously.
Are we willing to do the same? I don’t know if God is still willing to respond to a bargain, as God did with Hannah. I’m not sure I would encourage you to do that sort of thing. But I do believe this... the Lord will take that which is barren and empty and make it rich and good. If that sounds good to you just about now, I would encourage you to sit down and have a talk with God. Whether your lips move or not, trust that God will hear you and respond. And then, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t bless you with a double portion.
Would you join Page and many other members of this mission-minded church in being a good neighbor? Would you link arms with fellow church members to support this church’s endeavors to be a good neighbor? Will you make a commitment to fund the ministries and programs of Smoke Rise that make a difference in the lives of many people? Will you bring your commitment card to the altar this morning, indicating your support of our 2010 Ministry Plan? I intend to do this and do so gladly. I can think of no better way to use my resources to impact the lives of people. It is a window of opportunity that I certainly do not want to miss.
What a great church!How great each and every person is!We are woven together and used together by the spirit of Christ that makes us one.Together, we are the church.Together, what in God’s name can we not do?
I think that you and I can be this kind of person. It will not be easy in our culture and will require help. You’ll need people who inspire and encourage you, like this widow did Jesus. This church is one place you will find people like this. Come join us on our journey of faith.
Seeds are often inconspicuous. Change is noticed. Seeds are planted in relative obscurity. Crops are noticed at harvest time. Loving people privately in obedience to Jesus Christ will always be necessary before their lives and situations will change. Loving must happen before discipleship can be effective. Loving must happen before people will believe what is printed on a bulletin or tract. Loving must happen before what we sing and preach about can take root and grow into a harvest for God.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord for what God has done. Will we be so narrowly focused that we only think of that in terms of what God has done in my life or for my family or will we think about how in the grand sweep of all time and eternity God’s hand is moving on. Would we united ourselves with the purposes of God so that we might have the opportunity to see the miracles of God, to know what God is doing, to have that intersect our lives and to believe that these promises are true and really above all other promises. If we do and if we will do these things, then we might be tempted to say, Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord for all the mighty things that God has done. Praise the Lord for all the great things God has yet to do, and may God wake me up and let me see what his hand is doing.
There is a sense in which believing in and following the One who gave himself sacrificially for us requires a real diligence on our part, a desire each day – not just once a year – to give ourselves more fully to him than we did the day before. In no way am I suggesting that this is an easy or automatic thing to do.
And just when you think you can’t do it, you see that walking beside you on this new path of life is One who carries his cross in one arm and carries you in the other. It kinda makes you want to pick up your feet and move on, doesn’t it, even if it is on a path that no one has ever traveled before.
This passage in Mark concludes with Jesus’ telling his disciples, despite their failures, that they are salt. You’ll find that same metaphor in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. I don’t think Jesus would have said that had he given up on them. It may just be his way of telling them to take this life of discipleship one day at a time. And as they do, make sure there is enough seasoning in their faith that it will make a difference, that they will make a difference. It doesn’t have to be a big difference. After all, it doesn’t take much salt to flavor a meal. A day at a time, walking in his direction, seeking his will, discerning his purpose, trying to do what he would do.
What we are finally left with is what every child is left with... the need for mercy and forgiveness, the knowledge that in our imperfect world, inhabited by flawed people such as ourselves, the law is not the final word. With God, grace is always the bottom line. And aren’t you glad for that?
Listen. Listen carefully. Listen closely. If you think you “hear” the silence of God, listen again, for what you may really be hearing is the sound of God crying in the next room. And the next time God pierces your heart and soul, as if with that two-edged sword, look into God’s face. You will see the tears. Doing this might just help you realize that dealing with God is not an easy thing to do, for you or for God. But, frankly, do we have any other choice?
The only way to face tomorrow is placing ourselves in the hands of the One who has told us – not three times, but thousands of times – that the only way to follow him is by way of sacrifice and service. If we will be willing to do that, though there is no guarantee where it will take us, we will know that we’re in very good company.
So let’s ask the question again, shall we? “Jesus, which commandment is first of all?” As we wait in anticipation of what he might say in response to that question, he looks at us and says nothing. Slowly he points upward to the cross and it is then we know that is all the answer we need.
What if we changed the way we relate to one another? What if we treated each other the way Jesus treated his neighbors? What if we lived our lives the way he did? What if we arranged our values and priorities the way he did? Wouldn’t it make the world better and eliminate a lot of pain and suffering?
But the Jesus Effect lifts us in order to bring us into new community with God and others. Notice that the joyful man entered the Temple with Peter and John. He praised God with Peter and John. He became part of the community! Peter and John were his fellow worshippers, not merely his enablers. Together, they were evidence to others about God's redemptive power, purposes, and love.
So the next time you’re at a party and you’re asked what Baptists believe, don’t be calling me on your cell phone for a review! Just remember the four fragile freedoms—Bible freedom, Soul freedom, Church freedom, and Religious freedom—and you’ll be fine.
Think about the power of a bad habit and think about the power of a good habit.Cultivate it out of a commitment to Christ and out of a response to what Christ has done for us, making a decision once and for all that decides the way I will be in certain areas for the rest of my life.Could that make my life stronger?I believe that would be a tool that in the hands of God would draw me closer to him.
No, Baptists aren’t the only freedom-loving people in the world. But thanks to their efforts, millions of people here and abroad enjoy freedom of conscience when it comes to religion. No elected official, no ordained minister controls what we believe, or what we do about church, if anything. And that, my friends, is a very big deal!
I’m trying to reply by asking Jesus to open my eyes so that I might see more clearly his mission in the world and my role in it. I say that I am trying because a lot of other things cloud my vision and redirect my focus. Only with God’s help can I look beyond them to what is really important.
When you read about conflict in the Mid-East, if the Prince of Peace could somehow be present in the hearts of more people, could that be a positive thing?When these are places where people are starving and places where refugees are displaced, could any of these things be helped if there were more people in those places who knew about Christ?If the answer to that is no, then why do we even bother being here? If the answer is yes, then let us just continue with the faith that is recognized by others, the faith that is not done working yet.
People need to know that God's love is real, so let's be the Church. Let us live like people who believe that God loves, forgives, and welcomes every soul thru Jesus Christ. Let's call people to trust God's new reality of redemptive love and resurrection hope by our living. Let's challenge the sin system of self-centeredness, self-righteousness, alienation, oppression, and death. Let's be the Church of Jesus Christ by doing what the Church is called to do. Then people will know that God's love/life is real!
Do you think James and John heard that call? I want to believe they did and perhaps the seeds of understanding may have been planted the day they made this self-absorbed request. I think it is possible they learned some things through this experience that changed the course of their lives. What were they?
Remember, we don’t win people to Christ. The Spirit of Christ does that. And the Spirit of Christ is never more evident, never more powerful than when the people of God walk together one in mind and heart.
So, what do you say we just walk across the room—together!
We are God’s children, all of us, sons and daughters of God called to be a part of this large family. And God has called us to be a part of this work. So let us all commit ourselves to hide our love for each other less and be honest, to meet each other in the places where we hurt, because all of us hurt at one time or another, and then celebrate the unity of Christ’s love. Let us learn the greatness of serving one another and commit ourselves to meeting human needs, no matter how alienated we find them. Let us commit ourselves to the fact that this church will be open to all who are alienated from God and that we will seek to open not only our doors, but our hearts as well. For in reality, it is our brokenness itself that makes us more human. And it’s in our healing that we being to reflect the image of God. May God take our brokenness and woundedness and make us healers for God’s sake and for the sake of the world.
In the final analysis, we must be content to be identified as servants of God and followers of Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we stand on equal ground and rank with each other. As followers of Jesus, we are equally obligated to live to God's glory. As followers of Jesus, we must live together, advance together, serve together, rejoice together, grieve together, and hope together. Then, let us leave the honor roll assignments to the wisdom and goodness of God.
We are followers of the resurrected Jesus. The resurrected Jesus has sent us to tell people that he is raised from death. The resurrected Jesus has sent His Spirit to equip us to tell people about Jesus. The resurrected Jesus has commissioned us to live in the power of His resurrection, love in the power of His resurrection, hope in the power of His resurrection, and overcome all things in the power of His resurrection.
Our only hope for the fruit of generosity is whenever the seeds of gratitude are planted in the hard soil of our hearts and new life is nurtured until it breaks through the hard crust of our souls. When that happens, we are more surely bearing the love Christ meant us to bear in the world. When that happens, we are more surely little Christs.
So what are you going to be? An encourager? Or a discourager? Everybody who comes in contact with you – at school, the hospital, the bank, the office, at church, on the playing field – everybody will either be encouraged or discouraged. You’re going to leave your mark. The question is will you be a Barnabas, will you be a Son of encouragement?
What I do have is confidence that God is God and I am not. And what I do have is the belief that you and I are supposed to be about living the vision God has assigned us on this earth. That’s not going to mean all of us will need to quit our jobs and go into full-time Christian ministry. It is going to mean that at the end of the day our ultimate priority should be people - reaching people far from God with a clear and winsome explanation and demonstration of God’s love.
Be free, my sisters and brothers, in the Spirit of God. Live free by the Spirit. Trust the Spirit to equip you to be free witnesses for Jesus Christ. Trust the Spirit to call you and equip you and send you and sustain you come what may. Live in the Spirit. Trust the Spirit. Follow the Spirit. Be free in the Spirit.
You can hear a lot of things that are described as threats to the family today—different rights, divorce, etc. Nobody wants to say that these things are helpful but do you want to know what really affects a higher percentage of families than any of the things that are often portrayed as the great enemies to the family? It is a mistaken trust that somehow money will save us, that somehow money and materialism will make us happy. Only the fullness of Christ can satisfy the emptiness of a person like Solomon who came to the end and said, “I look at all this stuff I have and it is just like chasing after the wind.” Only the fullness of Christ will satisfy Solomon, will satisfy me, will satisfy you, and our children, if we will tell them.
If you keep reading John 4, you learn this Samaritan woman goes into town and tells everybody she meets about her encounter with Jesus. She’s never had the benefit of Sunday School, never read a book about evangelism, never taken a course in seminary. All she’s done is have a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And her only strategy is to point people to Jesus. Consequently many people in her community came to know Christ.
It doesn’t take theological training or moral sainthood to reach others for Christ. A passion for Jesus, and a love for his people are all that’s required.
You have got to bet on something.You’re going to seek the wisdom of God and the revelation of His Spirit in your life, and you’re going to weigh the realities of all the competing stories.But there is only one story that really matters.There is only one story that is the story of redemption.There is only one story that has claimed, through the historical eyewitness of the apostles, that Jesus Christ was God.That He was crucified.And that He was bodily resurrected from the dead.And these are the things John would tell you that he has seen and that he has heard.And he shares them that you, too, might believe.
We’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill.I’m pretty certain we don’t want to follow Joe Paterno at PennState.That would be a formidable task to undertake, to be sure.But we can’t skirt a larger task, for you and I work in the shadow of the Master.We are to share His words, and we are to do His work.We are to be His hands and His feet.
What about you?Are you willing to yield yourself to the Spirit?Are you willing to be a Holy Spirit hole in your church, in your home, in your work place, in your school? Are you willing this morning to become part of the presence of the Holy Spirit among this, God’s people atFirstBaptistChurch?
I’m telling you right now, as a follower of Jesus Christ, you have a stake in the company.God has let go and put it in your hands.You are a part of the church of the crucified and resurrected Christ.It is your responsibility to stand as Peter did and to share the good news of great joy, the story of the prophetic death, resurrection, exaltation of Christ Jesus with a call to repentance.It’s your obligation to speak of it to your neighbor here in Jerusalem, but also on the mission field in the remotest part of the earth.
Because we have witnessed the power of resurrection in our lives, let us encourage others by our witness. As we love one another and demonstrate God's love, let us also encourage one another in resurrection faith, hope, and joy. Let the resurrection witness loose, my sisters and brothers. Let it loose and do not be dismayed or discouraged by small numbers. Let it loose, and do not tie it racism, sexism, or any other cultural and traditional limitations. Let it loose, and so that people will know that God will raise them, redeem them, deliver them, and renew them. Let the resurrection witness loose!
You never know when the experiences you accumulate in daily life will be put to a test. A well-trained pilot took action in an unplanned moment and did what needed doing. On other occasions others step forward courageously and refuse to let evil reign, intervening just as Queen Esther did. Perhaps there’s some heroic act of faithfulness God is calling us to perform on behalf of those unable to work for their own good. “For such a time as this …” the godless book of Esther tells us and in the silence of God’s seeming absence, something good is accomplished.
We have been called by Jesus Christ to be His witnesses. The Holy Spirit will guide and strengthen us for this great effort. This is the highest living we can do. Let's get on with it for God's glory, in obedience to Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I notice that most of us, myself included, are quick to condemn the heartless Pharisees who would rather keep the law than see Jesus heal a man. But how much more sense does it make, my friends, to conduct our worship services and our committee meetings and our programs as though as people outside these walls don’t even exist?
Let's stop quibbling about greatness and replace our competition with the service that Jesus has shown us. Pecking order religion is not faithful to Christ. Let's be imitators of our Savior and Lord by following him in serving God and others. Then we will do great things for the only one who matters: God.
Friends, here’s what we need to know. Evangelism done right is not about following formulas or memorizing scripts or getting people saved through our effort. It’s not about banging people over the head with the bible or scaring them with hell or wearing them down with 28 stanzas of “Just As I Am” until they finally crawl to the altar. It’s about being so in love with God and in love with God’s people and so in tune with the Holy Spirit that you are willing to take the plunge and play the role God wants you to play to point people to him. And evangelism done right is one of the most exciting enterprises in the world.
We think about all these things that we have loved and believed. We think about music that expresses an age in which we were young and we believed all things passionately. We hear music, and it expresses how we feel about somebody in particular and how much we love them. We hear music and it reminds us that there is a savior who died for us. There is a God who loved us enough to send his own son to Calvary for our redemption and for the forgiveness of our sins. Our lives need music to say it all.
The wisest people I know are humble, teachable and open to receiving truth from any source. They are good listeners. They hunger and thirst after righteousness. They suspend their understanding of truth in pursuit of a deeper level of understanding. They say things like, “I was wrong. I made a mistake. I threw away the wrong thing. I don’t know. I have changed my opinion on that. Where will that lead? What do you see? What do you think? What have you learned?”
Let us follow Jesus Christ by living for God's holy and glorious purposes, not our self-centered comfort. If we know who Jesus is, let us follow him. If we do not know who Jesus Christ is, let us learn of him. Above all, let us not present the world a religion of imperial Christianity. Judging from the way Jesus responded to Peter, it is clear that he wants nothing to do with it.
Which one among us always feels fully rested? I would like to meet you and find out your secret. Which one of us always feels fully connected to God? When a couple is having problems, one of the things that a counselor will often do is say, “You need to have a date night,” or “You need to find a way to have some time together.” That is what the Sabbath is. It is a date day with God, to quit focusing on everything else and focus on what God wants for us, what God wants to say to us.
See, disciples of Jesus know that there is no bad time to dig down deep and give our finest love for him, and for those he loves. In fact, every time we give generously of ourselves and our resources at those seemingly bad times, we make the greatest impact for the Kingdom, and trigger major transformation in our own souls.
Can anybody say with absolute authority they know how this ritual works? No. Somehow, in ways no one can understand or explain, the same Jesus who taught in the synagogue and performed miracles and instituted the Lord’s Supper and died on a cross and rose from the grave is present in breaking the bread and drinking the cup. Don’t ask me to explain it—I can’t. But I believe it, and so should you.
And if you are not already thoroughly confused, followers of Dutch theologian Joseph Arminius muddy the water still more. Arminians whole-heartedly agree with Calvin that we are incapable of saving ourselves. We don’t choose God. God chooses us. However, say Arminians, for God’s choice to finally make a difference, we must respond to God’s grace. In other words, God makes the first move (prevenient grace) but he can’t save us by himself. At some point, we have to cooperate (cooperative grace) with God by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. Even though God chooses us to be his own, we have the freedom to resist his grace and say, “No. I’d rather be in Hell.”
For many years I lived my life as if I had no limits. Others might need a day off, but I didn’t. A pastor’s work is never done. Or so I told myself. All the while, I could feel myself getting dangerously tired, and not knowing what to do about it. The only justifiable way to rest was to get sick. And even then I’d often keep pushing because my work was just too important to stop. Or so I told myself.
Many centuries ago the early church father St. Augustine posed the following experiment. Imagine God saying to you, “I’ll make a deal with you if you wish. I’ll give you anything you desire: pleasure, power, honor, wealth, freedom, even peace of mind and good conscience. Nothing will be a sin; nothing will be forbidden; nothing will be impossible for you. You will never be bored and you will never die. Only…you will never see my face.”
But here is a secret of spiritual formation. God does some of his best work when we get quiet and honest with him about the broken places and the old sinful practices of our lives. I used to tell people I didn’t practice silence and solitude because I didn’t have time. The truth is, I didn’t practice silence and solitude because I didn’t have the courage to sit with God in my broken places. It was too scary, too uncomfortable. What I didn’t know is that I was depriving God of the opportunity to heal me and transform into a new person.
As we conclude our Spiritual Formation weekend, let’s be clear about one thing. The goal of spiritual formation is not to experiment with some neat, new practices for our own entertainment or edification. The goal is to get into a hand-in-glove relationship with God, and live out his agenda for our lives.
What this means is that regardless of what is happening anywhere else, the church should be a place where everybody meets on level ground. It doesn’t matter what life is like for the poor at the civic club or the country club or the cocktail party or the local corporation. Here, if we are being formed into the image of Christ, everybody will be valued equally.
Making the connection between our baptism and our lived out commitments may not be your first reaction to Jesus’ inclusion of everyone at the Table of Remembrance, but I believe it’s what we are about as followers of Jesus. In God’s wide world of absolute acceptance, the bread, the wine, even the crumbs under the table are signs of the great generosity of God who welcomes us to this table and to the family of God’s children.
God is much more interested in the out-working of our faith than whether our churches have choirs, the choirs have robes, or whether the robes match the lighting and other building décor. God is more interested in how our faith works for people without healthcare, people without jobs, people without influence, people without wealth, people without strength to protect themselves from bullies, and people without friends and family to protect them from discrimination on account of their immigration status than the size of church building funds.
I once was blind but now I see. I am sure I don’t see perfectly, but I do know that what God reveals to me in Christ is the truth, the way, and the life. May we pray for the sight to always see as God sees.
Fellow members, our clay jars are in need of remodeling again and it’s time to go to work. But let’s remember the clay jars are not the church … we are the church, all of us who make up the Body of Christ that meets at the corner of 97th and Holmes. So while we’ve adopted yet another refurbishing project, we still have work to do in this field where God planted us nearly 55 years ago. In truth, we can do whatever it is God leads us to do as we’ve done over and again in the past. That’s our calling and that’s our belief.
I like the meditation text today from Peter Gomes who talks about the Bible being a book of the future. It contains stories about the past but it really is about the future. Some of you have many collective years as Bible teachers in this congregation and we owe you a great debt of gratitude for keeping the Bible alive, fresh, real, and inspiring in front of us. But today, as we celebrate 175 years, we need to remember that it is not just about the heritage, it is about what comes next. It is about keeping this book, and all that it can be, in front of us, to shape our lives so that we can be what God has called us to be.
What difference would it make in your life if you talked to those who are reaching out to you? What would happen if you lowered your defenses and listened with an open mind? What if you suspended your understanding of truth long enough to see life from others’ perspectives, like Jesus encouraged Nicodemus to do? Are you willing to set aside pride, denial, selfishness, indifference or cynicism to respond to those who care enough to reach out to you?