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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Guest Blog: 4 Ways to Stay Grounded as a New Immigrant to the US


The community around Pleasant Grove Methodist Church is home to a large immigrant population.  I am proud of the diversity in our community.  One of my church's 3 main goals as we share the love of Jesus is to build new relationships.   We would love to build a new relationship with you.  We invite you to come join our church family and experience the unique advantages of being part of our church.

I'm pleased to share a guest blog by Jason Lewis that highlights the importance of community and how participation in a local church can benefit immigrants.

About our Guest Blogger: Jason Lewis is a personal trainer by day and the primary caretaker of his mom after her surgery. He writes for StrongWell.org and enjoys creating fitness programs that cater to the needs of people over 65.

4 Ways to Stay Grounded as a New Immigrant to the US

Traveling to a new country is a big step. Now that you’re in the United States, what’s next? You might feel unsure about how to reach out to others or where to find support. Immigrating can be challenging emotionally and culturally, but there are ways to stay grounded while adapting to your new home.

Find New Community

Connecting with other people is the best way to start feeling more comfortable in the US. You can form friendships and learn about your new home by reaching out to the community. A great way to find friends and support is by joining a local church like Pleasant Grove United Methodist. Attending services and forming fellowship with those who share your beliefs supports your spiritual path in life. The church can also offer a social platform that helps you feel less alone as you navigate your new country.

Nurture Your Connections

Missing your loved ones left behind can be a complicated feeling. While moving to the US offers you new opportunities, it also means being far away from those you love. Fortunately, technology makes it simpler than ever to reach out even if you’re thousands of miles apart. From video chatting to updates via social media, finding ways to stay in touch with your friends and family is an excellent way to boost your mood anytime you feel stressed out or homesick.

Help Family at Home

One of the positive impacts of immigrating to the US might be the opportunity to support your family back home. In fact, the United Nations highlights the importance of these remittances for people living below the poverty line all over the world. If you’re able to offer financial support to your loved ones, you may feel more empowered and less homesick. After all, if you moved to the US to help support your family in India, that fact could help you adjust to your new routines and responsibilities. When the time comes to send money to family, avoid prepaid cards or sending cash, and instead opt for a transfer service that delivers funds on your timeline. A platform like Remitly makes it easy to send funds home to India, and you’ll never pay more than $3.99 for a transfer.

Build a Professional Network

Many people choose to immigrate to the United States for professional and personal opportunities. If your profession is the reason for your move, building your network could help you achieve your goals while you develop deeper skills in your field. In fact, Pew Research notes that the number of immigrant workers who hold high-skill jobs is increasing in the US. From collaborative projects to conventions (online or otherwise) and even attending social events with co-workers, there are countless ways to strengthen professional connections. You never know what opportunities might come up when you have the right contacts in your field.

Making the decision to immigrate to the US is a big step, but it’s also a chance to change your life, learn new things, and make connections that could be instrumental in building your new life. Taking these steps to become more connected in your new home while keeping in touch with your roots is a great way to build on your past while looking to the future.

Photo via Pixabay

Monday, April 12, 2021

Seeing is Believing?

Introduction
For our messages over the last couple of months, we’ve been comparing the conventional wisdom of our world with what Christ actually said.  

Today, we conclude this series with the common expression “Seeing is believing.”  Seeing is believing means you need to see something before you can accept that it’s real. 

We live in the age of science.  Most people don’t believe in silly superstitions anymore because science has shown them to be imaginary.  Furthermore, we know talk is cheap.  How many times have leaders made promises and not followed through?  Talk is cheap.  Seeing is believing.

One state in our union even made the philosophy “seeing is believing” their state motto.  In 1899, Representative Willard D. Vandiver said, "Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I'm from Missouri. You've got to show me." This led to Missouri being called the “Show Me State”.

Maybe we could all do with a little more of the Missourian’s common sense.  It seems like some people will believe anything.  A little skepticism may help guard you from being so gullible.  But what did Jesus say?  Did Jesus subscribe to “seeing is believing”?

Last Sunday was Easter.  We celebrated the incredible ressurection of Jesus Christ.  He was crucified, dead, and buried in tomb.  On the third day, he rose and appeared to His disciples.  Today, we read John 20:24-29.

John 20:24-29
24 
One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Jesus is Alive!
(and patient with our skepticism)
I sort of feel bad for Thomas.  First of all, he missed it the first time the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples.  Thomas must have been out doing errands and when he gets back the other Disciples are all like, “Jesus is alive!  And he appeared to us!” Thomas must have been like, "Great and I missed it!"  In all seriousness, Thomas understandably doesn’t believe their fantastic story.  He says, “Unless I see it for myself, I won’t believe it.” 

I probably would have said the same thing.  After 20 years of church ministry, I seen enough supposed miracles turn out false to make me plenty skeptical.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve also seen countless answered prayers and legitimate miracles of God.  But I've also seen enough illegitimate ones to give me a healthy dose of skepticism. Furthermore, I've seen enough duplicity in people to make me wise enough not to accept everything or everyone at face value.

And—let’s just be honestif all the other disciples started claiming something as fantastic as Jesus coming back from the dead, a lot of us would be like Thomas.  We might even use the expression: “seeing is believing”.

That’s why I love that Jesus showed himself to Thomas.  He didn’t leave Thomas out.  He came back to visit His Disciples when Thomas was with them.  And to Thomas, he’s like, “Here I am.  You need to see it to believe it.  Go ahead.  Look at me.  Touch me.  Feel the scars.  It really is me.” 

Jesus is patient with Thomas’ skepticism.  He helps him. And I think Jesus is patient with our skepticism too.  He understands.  We live in an age where much leads us to be skeptical.  Jesus understands.

However, Jesus also knows the value of faith—deep faith.  Faith is critical, and because Jesus loves us, he doesn’t want us to miss out on the full power of faith.  He even told Thomas and the Disciples something in verse 29 that we need to take to heart.  He told them, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.

Seeing is Believing vs. Believing is Seeing
Have you ever thought of all the things in life you believe without seeing?

When you heat up your leftovers for lunch in the microwave, do you really know how it all works?  Probably not, but you trust that it will.  You press start and the magic light comes on inside the box and heats up your food.  

How about when you use your computer to connect to the internet.  If you are really smart, you may understand how it works in theory, but really you just have faith that it will do it's computer thing when you need it too.

You probably don't give it a second thought that your brakes will work when you drive in a car.  One minute you are hurdling down a road at 60 miles per hour and the next you press the pedal to slow to a safe stop.  You have faith your brakes will work.

We believe these things work the way they are supposed to because someone who knows better than us told us.  We believed them and we trusted the these machines.

Have you ever thought about the kid of faith it takes to go to the grocery store?  I grilled hamburgers for dinner the other night.  My wife went to the grocery store and walked up to the meat counter.  She picked up a styrofoam container wrapped in cellophane.  Inside was some mushy red ground flesh called ground beef.  Why are you able to take that bloody meat home and cook it and put it in your mouth and chew it and swallow it?  Perhaps it's because you trust the food from the grocery store is safe.  We believe because we trust the grocer has kept that meat safe and sanitary.  Or maybe it's because we trust the Food and Drug Administration (FDA )has monitored our grocer and ensured they did the right thing.  Now think about that for a minute.  You trust a government agency to ensure what you put in your mouth is safe.  Government and their agencies have not always had a stellar record of being trustworthy.  Let that sink in for a minute.

We live a lot more of our lives by faith than we realize.  We put our faith in people, products, companies, and even the government.  Hopefully these are worthy of our faith.

When it comes to religion, in whom do we put our faith?  Christians are known in the Bible as “Believers”.  In whom do we believe?  

Sometimes, people put their faith in a pastor.  (Listen, I'm a pastor and I know my own heart.  It’s a scary prospect to think of people putting their faith in fallible pastors.)  People will often put their faith in a church or a denomination.  All of these have proven to be unworthy.  Through the centuries, we have seen corruption and the abuse of power in these organizations.

True Christian faith must be in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  The most reliable witness we have to Jesus is the Bible, which we call the Word of God.  John 3:16 says, “…everyone who believes in him [Jesus] will not perish but have eternal life.”  And in John 16:9, Jesus said, “The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.”

I appreciate that the NLT says "refuses to believe in me."  People are capable of believing.  We live by faith and believe in things all the time.  However, when faced with the choice to believe Jesus or not, very often people refuse to believe.

Would you be skeptical of Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Word of God who was with God in the Beginning, who gave life to everything that was created and whose life gave light to everyone? (See John 1:1-4)  Would you doubt Jesus’ own word in the Holy Bible while at the same time you trust the FDA, your grocer, and even the mechanic who fixes your car’s brakes?

The resurrected Christ showed himself to Thomas, the other Disciples.  In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes Jesus had appeared to more than 500 people.  That’s a lot of people, but the vast majority of Christians over the centuries have accepted Christ’s ressurection by faith and not by actually seeing.  We are able to see Jesus is alive because we believe what the Bible says about him and this opens our hearts to know He is walking with us in all of life's circumstances.

Faith Makes All Things Possible
In Mark 9:23, Jesus said, “Anything is possible if a person believes.”  Have you ever thought of all the incredible things accomplished over the centuries because someone believed it could happen when no one else believed? 

500 years ago, no one really believed people could fly.  Then in the early 20th century, the Wright brothers switched from making bicycles to flying machines.  That made one that could fly only a few hundred yards.  Today, we have airplanes that can fly anywhere in the world and people travel all over through the air.

On hundred years ago, no one really believed a man would walk on the moon.  Then in 1969, we had "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."  For the first time ever, a human foot touched down onto the dusty surface of the moon.

In 1966, the TV series "Star Trek" debuted.  People were amazed at all the fantastic, futuristic gadgets they portrayed--things they believed people might only way off in the distant future.  They had things like personal handheld communicators (cell phones), hand held computers (tablets and smart phones), and voice activated computer ("Hey Siri...")  I wonder what crazy, outlandish, impossible inventions will become a reality next al because someone imagines it and has a vision and faith that it is possible even if everyone else says it's impossible.

How can a high school senior face graduation and an unknown future unless they believe that somehow, they can do it and a bright future lies ahead of them?

How can a wife and husband reconcile a broken marriage if they don’t believe it is possible (if only through the help of God)?

How can an addict become sober if they don’t believe it is possible through the help of a Higher Power than their own?

How can NICU nurse care for a 2 pound baby born 3 months early unless they believe that somehow, that child full of tubes and IVs can make it and live to have an incredible life if only her caretakers believe it is possible?

How can a cancer patient find healing through a incredibly difficult chemo treatment without faith that it might just work?  Or how can they hope to face death if the treatment doesn’t work unless they have faith that their is something more to life than just death?

How can a person work through the grief of losing someone they really care about without faith that somehow the future hold more than just sorrow and tears and darkness and loneliness?

There are countless real-life examples of times when faith is essential to help people imagine a better future despite their current situation. 

Seeing is believing is not enough.  Sometimes, we just can’t see it until we believe.

If you are from the Dalton area, you may remember how on April 5th, 2013, Coahulla Creek High School student Hannah Locke was in a terrible car accident that left her paralyzed.  Her tragedy and also her faith and determination have inspired countless people.  Her journey has not been easy.  For some, it would have been impossible, but Hannah’s faith helped her do the impossible.  Though Hannah is still in a wheel chair, she is a living example of how faith can motivate and inspire a person to live their best life despite tragedy.  Hannah is now married (Hannah Mackenzie Reed) and expecting a child. 

Hannah's faith has inspired so many.  In a recent public Facebook post, Hannah shared this: “As I reflect over the past 8 years, I can’t help but to think about how immensely blessed I have been. While these 8 years have brought trials & tribulation, frustration & heartache, it has also brought growth, perseverance, and immeasurable joy. If it took these 8 years to bring me to where I am today, filled with the peace that only comes from God, full of love for life and the people in it, and full of thanksgiving for the many blessings, I would do it all over.”[i]

Faith makes Hannah's positivity and progress possible.  Faith is absolutely essential for us all.

Conclusion
Today, I invite you to trust Jesus.  His Word is trustworthy.  You may be wise to be skeptical of some things or people in this world.  However, you can always trust Jesus.  Put your faith in Him today and let Him save you.  

And one more thing.  Don't let your skepticism about people or other things in this life cripple your potential.  There will always be disappointments and let downs. But don't give up.  Keep having faith.  It's worth it. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Y.O.L.O.?

Introduction
For our messages over the last couple of months, we’ve been comparing the conventional wisdom of our world with what Christ said. 

Today, we briefly look at a very popular expression in our world right now, and it’s very fitting for Easter Sunday—Y.O.L.O.

"YOLO" is an acronym for "you only live once". Along the same lines as the Latin carpe diem ('seize the day'), it is a call to live life to its fullest extent, even embracing behavior which carries inherent risk. It became a popular internet slang term in 2012.[i]

On the one hand, YOLO could motivate some people to push themselves to make the most of their time.  The thinking is, if you only live once, you better use your time wisely and make the most of your limited life.  You’ve only got one shot at this, so make it count.

On the other hand, YOLO can also be fatalistic.  If this life is all you ever get, why waste your limited time serving others or doing good.  Why not simply “Eat, drink, and be merry” because tomorrow (or one day) you will die and it will all come to nothing.

But what did Jesus say about YOLO?

John 11:25
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.

Jesus utterly rejects the concept of YOLO.  He says anyone who believes in Him will live again.  You will not only live once.  You will live again.  This life is not all there is.  There is something after—an afterlife.

YOLO is a popular modern acronym that expresses an old idea.  Going all the way back to the ancients, there have been people who believed this life we can see is all there is.  But thankfully on Easter Sunday, we celebrate that YOLO is utterly untrue.  Jesus said He is the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in Him will live, even after dying!

Well, it is one thing to say it.  That’s the problem isn’t it?  We may want to believe in life after death, but this life is all most people ever see.  We can’t see beyond the veil of death.

But Jesus didn’t just say “You Will Live Again.”  On Easter, we celebrate He actually did it!  He died on on the cross and His lifeless body was placed in a tomb, but on the 3rd day He lived again!

Y.W.L.A.
The Disciples saw Jesus die and the witnessed Him alive again.  The women who were closest to Jesus saw it too.  Many of His followers--as many as 500 people--also claimed to have seen the ressurected Jesus.  They saw Him, talked with Him, ate with Him, and touched Him.  They were utterly convinced.  The disciples really believed Jesus was resurrected and it completely changed their lives.  

Some might wonder if the disciples were just deluded.  If only one or two of them had believed Jesus was alive, you might be able to make a case for delusion.  However, it's much harder to believe that all the disciples, all the women, and all the other followers who saw Jesus alive were deluded.  

Furthermore, there is the very real difference the resurrection made for these grieving people.  If you've ever lost someone you love, you know the grief and pain it brings.  Our grief does not go away over night.  It stays with you a long time--perhaps forever.  Jesus' followers had more cause for grief than anyone.  Jesus was their everything.  Many of them had given up everything to follow Him.  Though Jesus was completely innocent, He was wrongfully accused, treated shamefully, and cruelly beaten and crucified.  You can't imagine the deep grief these followers bore.  The reality of Christ’s resurrection transformed them instantly from an utterly broken, grieving, defeated group into a inspired, motivated, joyful people on a mission to tell the world about their risen Lord.  That doesn't happen because of a lie or a delusion.  That kind of transformation could only occur because they knew Christ was indeed alive again.  

The Disciples and early followers of Christ spent the rest of their lives on a mission to tell the world that Jesus was alive.  They went their graves believing and preaching that Jesus is the Risen Lord and believing in they would also be resurrected to eternal life because of their faith in Jesus.

The Church’s faith in an actual resurrected Christ ultimately transformed the Roman empire who crucified Jesus into a Christian Empire.

Conclusion
YOLO just isn’t true.  It’s a dangerous philosophy that could have devastating consequences for the way you live, leading you hurt yourself and others.  Believing or acting as if You Only Live Once could have eternal consequences, because you will live again.  Jesus clearly said this and proved this.  So, you will either live with Jesus if you have faith in Him and accept Him as Lord (Heaven) or you will live eternally separated from Jesus if you reject Him (and that is the very definition of Hell).

So, if you are not truly celebrating the resurrection of Christ—believing it with all your heart—you may need to do some soul searching  Do you really believe You Only Live Once?  Is this life all there is? 

Or do you believe Jesus when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.

Invitation
Today, I invite to decide in your heart to believe Jesus and to trust Him to save you.  I invite you to join with the Disciples and choose to follow Jesus as your Lord.  Become part of His ressurection people.  Let the truth of Christ rising change you forever and guide everything about your life from this day forward.  Because Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!



[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YOLO_(aphorism)

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Who Will Roll the Stone Away?

Introduction
One thing I always like about these sunrise services is how they happen right at this pivotal time between the darkness of night and the dawning of a new day.  That was precisely at this time of day when the story of Jesus’ resurrection takes place.  The sounds you hear this morning, the chill on your skin from the cool morning air, the dew on the grass, the dim light growing steadily brighter—all these were part of the women’s experience as they walked toward the tomb.  One difference we cannot recreate is the overwhelming grief and numbness they must have felt.  Looking back, we know they were walking toward an empty tomb and a marvelous discovery.  They did not know and could not anticipate the glory that lie ahead.  They could only imagine a lifeless tomb blocked up by a cold, immovable stone.  Let’s hear the story again.

Mark 16:1-7
16 
Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

Just Mundane Things
Something struck me as read this.  It’s how these women were just doing the mundane, ordinary things of life.  When life is awful, sometimes all you can do is just go through the motions and do the routines your accustomed to do.  For the women, this meant putting burial spices on the body of their Lord.  Because Jesus died on the afternoon just before the Sabbath and now work was allowed on the Sabbath, they had been rushed to place Jesus body in the tomb before sunset.  And all day on Saturday, the work of properly preparing Jesus’ body had been off limits.  So on Sunday, the ladies were finally able to come do their duty.

The burial customs of ancient Judeans may seem foreign to us.  But we have our own funeral customs.  I think of the things that normally happen when someone in our congregation dies.  Ladies from the bereavement committee are busy coming and going from the church, dropping off and delivering food for the family.  Flowers are being delivered to the church or the funeral home.  People are gathering to visit.  Many tears are being shed. 

Sometimes, when your lost in grief—like Jesus’ closest followers must have been—it’s just nice to have something to do, something to keep you occupied. 

Miracles are too much for us.  Earthly, human tasks are our forte.  Cooking, cleaning, praying, singing. Sending a card to a friend.  Delivering flowers.  Saying a kind word. 

But faith reminds us that while we are busy with our ordinary human things, our supernatural God is working ahead of us.  The women walked toward the tomb, wondering who would roll the stone away.  They arrived to find, God had already solved that problem ahead of them.  The stone was already rolled away.  Jesus was not there.  He was alive!  And God—anticipating their confusion—even left a messenger, as a courtesy, to tell the women why Jesus wasn’t there and to give them instructions so they wouldn’t be utterly confused.  (Even then, it was so overwhelming it took quite a bit of time for Christ’s followers to process it all.)

So as you deal with the overwhelming troubles of life—a whatever they are and whenever they come—let the story of these women encourage you.  Just keep doing what you know you need to do.  Miracles are not your forte.  You don’t have to understand how it will happen or when, but God will act with His supernatural power.  In fact, God is probably already at work ahead of you in ways you cannot know or understand—rolling away stones, commissioning angels, bringing healing, opening doors, resurrecting life.  So just keep doing what you know you need to do.  And trust the Lord is doing His thing.

And so now, Sunday has come.  This is the Lord’s Day! 
We call it “The Lord’s Day” because it is the day He rose from the grave. 
It is the Day He conquered Sin and Death.
From the Day Christ rose, A new High Holy Day was instituted into our week.
Formerly Saturday was the Sabbath—the holiest day of the week—a day for rest.
Now Sunday has become our Holiest Day—the Lord’s Day.  Every Sunday is Easter!
For Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  

And through His resurrection, Jesus even changed funerals. 
What was formerly a only an occasion of grief and loss,
has now been forever infused with the fragrance of hope.
For at every Christian funeral since the women went to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty,
has the smell of resurrection all over it.  For we know that our loved ones who die in Christ are not really dead, but alive in Him.  We believe we will see them again,
just as the Disciples saw their Lord.

Listen, I will tell you a mystery!
We will not all die, but we will all be changed.
For this perishable body must put on imperishability,
and this mortal body must put on immortality.
Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sing?”
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:51, 53, 54-55, 57)

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure.  (Psalm 16:9)
For Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  

Thursday, April 1, 2021

A New Mandate

John 13:1-17, 34-35
1 Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.

34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Everyone Struggles
Every disciple had their own personal struggles.  They were ordinary men.  We find they were ignorant, selfish, and argumentative.  While Jesus was beset with bitter foreknowledge of the crucifixion, all the disciples are arguing about who among them was greatest.  Because of their beef about it, not one of them was willing to do the demeaning chore of washing the other’s feet.  It was like a bunch of kids after dinner arguing about who has to put up the food and wash the dishes.  Finally, Jesus says, “Look, I’ll do it,” and he grabs a towel and kneels down and starts washing. 

Peter had his own personal problem.  He was impetuous and full of boastful pride.  He was always opening his big mouth and it usually got him in trouble—like the time he reprimanded Jesus for talking about death and Jesus called Peter Satan and told him “get behind me!”  Then, after bragging he was ready to die for Jesus, Peter denied he even knew Jesus when questioned. 

Thomas was doubter and full of cynical resignation—like in John 11:16 when he assumed they would all die when they went to Jerusalem with Jesus.  Simeon the Zealot identified with a group that supported killing Romans and their Jewish collaborators. James and John were ambitious schemers.  They sent their mom to try and sweet talk Jesus into giving them the best seats of power in God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 20) 

Obviously, Judas had his struggles.  Verse 2 in the NLT says, “the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.”  I appreciate the way the NLT uses the word “prompted”, because it suggests Judas had a choice.  The Devil can’t “make” you do something.  He can only prompt you and then you must decide for yourself.  A great part of the Christian walk of faith is opening your heart to the Holy Spirit to help you become more self-aware to make conscious decisions instead of unconsciously following your naturally sinful inclinations.  Perhaps during these 40-days of Lent you’ve been intentional to pray and meditate as you walk with the Lord.  Perhaps the Lord has helped discover some things about yourself—attitudes, or behaviors—for which you need to be more aware so that they don’t unconsciously control your life.  Jesus wants us all to be fully awakened people who live for Jesus on purpose. How are you doing in this?  How will you remain purposefully awake in the days ahead? 

Judas walked with Jesus for at least three years—all the while struggling with his own sinful nature.  Greed was certainly part of his flawed character.  John 12 relays how Judas often stole money from the ministry’s treasury.  I’m sure Jesus knew all Judas’ flaws and even about his embezzlement.  Christ still gave Judas a place at the Lord’s Table.  Sadly, when the Devil prompted Judas, he consciously chose to betray his Lord to the chief priests.  Even after that horrendous decision, I am convinced Jesus would have graciously welcomed Judas back into the Kingdom if he had repented.  Sadly, Judas did not repent.  He was full of remorse—to the point he hung himself—but Scripture never indicates Judas repented.  I wish he had.  What a story of Christ’s grace that would have been.  What a testimony.

All the disciples had struggles.  So, when I think of myself as one of Jesus’ disciples, I feel like I fit right in.  I have my own struggles too.  One thing that has been on my mind throughout Lent is how I sometimes struggle with cynicism.  Rather than remaining hopeful about people or situations, I get frustrated and often think the worst.  I may say in my heart (and sometimes even out loud), “They won’t do what they said they would do.  They aren’t really committed to Christ.  Christianity is just a hobby for them.”  I can be judgmental and sarcastic and fatalistic.  I’m a lot like Thomas when he resigned, “Sure!  Why not!  Let’s go to Jerusalem and die with Jesus!” (Paraphrased from John 11:16)

We all have our struggles, but the Lord accepts us all and calls us to follow Him and join Him around the sacred Kingdom table despite our flaws. Thanks be to God.

Mandatum – A Command to Love
We call this night Maundy Thursday because it recalls an essential command Jesus gave His disciples that last night he ate with them.  The word “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word Mandatum which means “mandate” because at the Last Supper Christ gave his disciples the command (or mandate) to love one another.  

Jesus doesn’t expect us to be perfect—and that’s a good thing given all our many flaws. However, Jesus does expect all His disciples to love one another the way He loves us.  It’s a command so important, Jesus said it will be the defining element that proves to the world that a person is one of Jesus’ disciples. 

Being perfect doesn’t prove you are a genuine Christian.
Celebrating certain holidays or keeping special traditions doesn’t prove you’re a Christian.
Defending your personal freedoms as an American or supporting certain political candidates or certain agendas doesn’t proves you’re a Christian. 
It’s not going to church or even believing all the right Christian doctrines that proves you’re a Christian. 
Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35).  And in verse 24, He mandated, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”

The Lord took off his robe, lowered himself, and washed his disciples’ feet as a tangible example of the way we are to love one another.  What are some tangible ways you might lower yourself and love one another? Perhaps you could do a random act of kindness without seeking any credit.  I heard today that there is an urgent need for blood donations; maybe you could donate blood to help those who need it.  Maybe you need to swallow your pride and make amends for something you’ve done worng.  Or maybe it’s something else. 

What might you do to fulfill Jesus’ mandate to love one another? 

Christ is here with us now, even as we remember His last meal with the Twelve.

Let us remember Him, and recognize His presence, and find courage and strength to love as He loved.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Fight Fire with Fire?

Introduction
Today is Palm Sunday—the day we commemorate Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he was hailed by crowds of people from the city as the King of the Jews.  As we remember this remarkable occasion, I want to continue with our series that compares conventional wisdom with what Jesus actually said. 

Today, we consider the popular expression: “You’ve got to fight fire with fire.”  When someone says you have to fight fire with fire, it means to fight against an opponent by using the same methods or weapons that they use.  Fighting fire with fire is an actual fire fighting technique that started in the 19th century to combat forest fires.  A controlled burn of a strip of forest will create a barrier to an oncoming forest fire because it uses up all the available fuel. There is, however, always the risk that the "controlled burn" goes out of control and starts a new inferno. The technique works for forest fires and is still used to this day.  It has its place. 

Usually when people say, “You’ve got to fight fire with fire,” they’re not talking about forest fires.  What they mean is if someone is rude to you, you be rude right back to them.  If someone starts a nasty rumor about you, you start a nasty rumor about them.  In a larger communal context it means if another nation sinks one of your ships, you sink one of theirs (better yet, sink 3!).  If they drop a bomb on your territory, you drop a bomb on them? 

Fighting fire with fire in these contexts seems natural.  “Do unto others what they have done to you.”  But what did Jesus say?  Quoting Leviticus 19:18 (and what has become known as the “Golden Rule”), Jesus said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a subtle difference that makes a world of difference.  The world says treat others the way they have treated you, but Jesus says treat people the way your want them to treat you.  That’s the way he lived. 

Jesus had the opportunity to fight fire with fire.  As He entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, crowds of people were shouting his praises.  They’d heard of his wonderful miracles and powerful teaching.  They were looking for a king who would free them from Roman oppression and restore the power and dignity of Israel’s glory days.  Could this Jesus who did so many wonderful things—driving out demons, healing the blind, feeding the multitudes, and even raising Lazarus from the dead—could Jesus be the long-awaited Messiah who would fight fire with fire for Israel against her enemies?  

Jesus had the popular support of the people.  He could have used it to start an uprising, but he didn't.  Let’s look at the story. 

Luke 19:36-44

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

Palm Sunday – A Patriotic Scene
This is a patriotic scene.  The people of Jerusalem loved their country—just like many people love America.  They were waving their palm branches like many Americans wave the American flag at a Fourth of July parade.  Palm branches were a national symbol for Israel and were carved on Jerusalem’s Temple walls and doors. Kings and conquerors were welcomed home with palm branches strewn before them and waved in the air.  So as people waved their palm branches for Jesus, they were waving their national symbol of victory.    They were saying, “He’s the one!  He’s the one who will save us from the Romans!”  And they even shouted Hosanna, which originally translated something like: “Please!  Save us now!”

 

How does one save a nation like Israel?  Well, one way would be to fight fire with fire.  You could raise an army to fight the Romans in open battle.  This was nearly impossible.  Rome was the most powerful empire in the world.  They always won their wars.  They were too powerful, too well organized, and too learned in the strategies of war.  No one could defeat them.  Even if they lost a battle, they would eventually win the war.  Israel was a small territory with no organized army and no allies to help fight against Rome.  And outright war would be suicide.

There was always the possibility of guerrilla warfare, where individuals or small cells of freedom fighters ambushed Roman soldiers or assassinated pro-Roman leaders.  There were many who were already doing this in Jesus' day.  One person mentioned in the Bible--Barabbas--many scholars believe was a freedom fighter.  You may recall that when Jesus was on trial, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Guerrilla warfare is brutal and takes a long, long time to wear down the enemy.

Many of the political leaders in Jerusalem--like the Pharisees and Sadducees--begrudgingly worked with the Romans and bided their time until the day they felt it was possible to break free.  These were the people who felt especially threatened by Jesus' popularity and wanted him killed.  They were afraid he would upset the delicate balance of power in their world.

Jesus had a different plan.  He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."  Even though Jesus had the unlimited power and resources of God at his disposal, he chose not to fight the Romans. He could have defeated them, but what would that accomplish? It would just set up another earthly kingdom by earthly means with all the same problems that plague all the earth.  There would still be corruption, abuse of power, injustice and oppression, and we would still have the core problem of sin that separates us from God.  

Jesus wanted something better and He offered Jerusalem a better choice.  He said, "Repent of your sin and turn to God because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"  He said, "Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me!" because chasing after our own selfish ambitions is what leads to all the world's problems.  He preached, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you!" because His Kingdom is not just for the Israelites, it's for the Romans too (and for Americans and Russians and Egyptians and Koreans and everybody everywhere).  Jesus said, "If a Roman soldier demands you carry his pack one mile, carry it a second mile without even being asked.  And if someone demands you coat from you, give them your shirt too."  And then Jesus commissioned all His followers to "Go into all the world and encourage everyone to live this way."  For when the whole world finally lives by Jesus' principles, their peaceful Kingdom of Heaven will finally come upon the earth.


Jerusalem’s Brief Independence
Even as Jesus gave Jerusalem the option, He knew the tragic choice they would make.  They would choose to fight fire with fire instead of love and they would reap the consequences.

I want to share with you the story of how Jerusalem won independence from the Roman empire.  You probably don’t know this story, but it’s true.  In 66 AD (about 30 years after Christ came to Jerusalem and was crucified), religious tensions worsened in Jerusalem and lead to open rebellion.  After Jewish worshippers witnessed Greek civilians sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue, they were incensed and complain to the Roman authorities.  Their complaints were ignored, which led to am uprising.  Roman soldiers tried to put down the riot, but there were too many people.  Civillians joined with the rioters and attacked and killed the soldiers.  Surviving soldiers fled the city along with the pro-Roman King Agrippa II.

 

Jerusalem was free!  But for how long?  A Roman legion soon arrived from Syria to restore order, but was somehow defeated and Jerusalem remained free!  Jerusalem’s success inspired many other towns in Judea to throw their lot in with the rebels.  There was growing sense that finally the Jewish people would restore their nation to its former glory.

 

In 66 AD, the Judean Provisional Government was formed and  Ananus ben Ananus, the former High Priest of Israel, was appointed one of the heads of the government.  They even minted their own coins, an important symbol of freedom because the money no longer bore the image of a Roman emperor. On the coins were inscribed in Hebrew “the Shekel of Israel” and “the Freedom of Zion”.

 

Jerusalem was ruled by the Judean Provisional Government from 66 – 68 AD.  Unfortunately, infighting led to the killing of most of its members as all the different factions fought against each other and vied for power.  From 68-70 AD, various despots rose to power, but there was no attempt to restore civil government.

 

On April 14 in 70 AD, three days before the beginning of Passover, the Roman army arrived and laid siege to Jerusalem.  The city was bloated with Jews from all over who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Three Roman legions surrounded the city—allowing no one in or out.

 

The Jerusalem defenders, made up of vicious gangs and factions who had been at war with each other for years, now found themselves surrounded by an overwhelming and organized Roman force.  They had no idea how to work together to defend Jerusalem.  Among one of their ludicrous plans was to destroy all the food stored in the city, "a drastic measure thought to have been undertaken perhaps in order to enlist a merciful God's intervention on behalf of the besieged Jews, or as a stratagem to make the defenders more desperate, supposing that was necessary in order to repel the Roman army.”[i]

 

The Romans lay siege to Jerusalem for 5 months, hoping to starve the inhabitants of Jerusalem into submission.  Inevitably, the Romans built siege works and breached the city walls.  Soldiers swarmed the city and destroyed everything—included the sacred Temple--fulfilling Jesus' prophecy, in Luke 19:44, "They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”  


Jewish historian, Josephus, claimed that 1.1 million people died in the siege—either by famine, disease, or sword.  After the Romans killed all the armed men, they also murdered the elderly becuase they had no use for them.  Jerusalem’s remaining citizens--91,000 people--became Roman slaves.  Thousands were forced to become gladiators and eventually expired in the arena.  The Romans celebrated by parading the sacred Menorah and Table of the Bread of God's Presence through the streets of Rome. Up until then, these items had only ever been seen by Jerusalem's High Priest in the Holy Temple.

 

Conclusion
Abigail Van Buren (who started the “Dear Abby” column in 1956) once said, “People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” 

 

Jesus has a better way.  He offered Jerusalem his better way.  They refused it.  Instead, they chose Barabbas and crucified Jesus.  History shows what came of their decision to try and fight fire with fire.

 

How about you?  What will you choose?  Will you choose what seems most natural to sinful human nature—to fight fire with fire?  Or would you instead choose the narrow path—the one few take, but the only one that leads to life, to healing, to peace, and to eternal salvation?

 

Jesus pleads for you today as he pleaded for Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago.  Luke 19:41 – “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.

 

You can.  You can turn away from the fire to Jesus today.  You can choose His way over the ways of the world. 

 

Will you?