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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

Jesus Appears to His Disciples
            Sunday was the second Sunday of Easter.  Most people know Easter marks the day Jesus rose from the grave.  But not everyone knows there is a whole season of Easter that continues for several weeks after Easter Sunday.  Jesus appeared to his disciples on Easter, but he also appeared many times in bodily form over the next few weeks.  So for the next few weeks, we will study some of those stories.  And the main idea I want us to consider is does Christ still appear to people today?  Have you ever seen Jesus?  Have you ever  touched his scars and how? 
            I want to read a story from John 20:19-29, which details two separate times Jesus appeared to his disciples.  I will make some comments as we read through the passage.

John 20:19-20
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!
            First of all, I want you to notice Jesus came in peace.  Maybe you would be afraid to see Jesus.  I mean, if he really were alive and going to pay us a visit, we might be ashamed because of something we weren't doing right in life.  Or maybe we would be afraid he would be angry with us or would want to punish us.  The disciples were afraid.  They locked the doors to the upper room because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.  But they might also have wondered if Jesus would be angry with them for the ways they had failed him.  Would he come to scold them or punish them? 
            But Jesus reassures the disciples saying , "I come in peace."  And Jesus' visit was a good thing. It filled the disciples with joy when they saw the risen Lord.  He was glad to see them and they were glad he came.  We don't have to be afraid to see Jesus either.  If he were to come pay a visit, he would come in peace.  He loves you and wants to reassure you.  It would be a good thing and would fill you with joy.  So don't be afraid to look for the risen Lord.
John 20:21-23
21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
            In Luke and Acts, the Holy Spirit does not come until the Day of Pentecost.  The Gospel of John seem to indicate the Holy Spirit was given in when Jesus met with the Disciples and Thomas (although some have said it this was just a symbolic act from Jesus to show the Holy Spirit would be given).  Whether the Holy Spirit came at this time or at another time or at multiple times, the main point of this passage is the Holy Spirit will always be with us.  That will be an important idea we will address again in a moment.  But first, let's go on with the passage.
John 20:24-25
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.”

            This was the first appearance of Jesus.  It happened on the first Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the grave.  But the disciple Thomas was not with them.  We don't know where he was, but he wasn't there. (Maybe he was off having the oil changed in his camel.  We don't know...) 

John 20:26
26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them.

            Here we have a second appearance of the risen Christ.  This one was one week later.  Again, it was on a Sunday.  So, notice, that both of these appearances happened on a Sunday.  Sunday is a special day.  It is known as "the Lord's Day."  Technically, Saturday is the Sabbath (the seventh day) because that is the day God rested after 6 days of creation work.  But here we see that right after Jesus rose, the Disciples are meeting together on Sundays.  And it became the custom for Christians to meet for worship on Sundays, which they called "The Lord's Day" because he rose on a Sunday.  Sunday is a special day.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  And it would seem Sundays are a day when we can encounter the risen Christ in a special way when we gather in the church with other believers.  If you want to see the risen Christ, I recommend you start by going to church on Sunday.
John 20:26-27
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!”
            Again, we see that Jesus comes in peace.  He is not angry or upset with Thomas or the other disciples.  Some have looked down on Thomas for needing proof.  The other disciples told him Jesus was alive and they had seen him, but Thomas said he wouldn't believe unless he saw it with his own eyes.  But there's no need to look down on Thomas.  He wasn't asking for anything the other Disciples hadn't already received.  And Jesus is not upset with him.  He wanted Thomas to believe, so he gave Thomas what he needed.  He wanted Thomas' faith to be secure.  And Thomas was convinced.  He said,
John 20:28-29
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.”

            Right here at the end of the passage, we see that Jesus has made a distinction between the Disciples (who saw Jesus and believed) and us (who have not seen Jesus and yet still believe).  And Jesus said we are more blessed because we believe without seeing.

            The Disciples—including Thomas—were able to witness for Christ in an exceptional way because they saw the resurrected Christ.  In 1 John 1:1, the beloved disciple said, "We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life."  They had seen Jesus while he was alive.  They had seen him on the cross.  They saw him in the grave.  They saw him, heard him, and touched him after he rose from the grave.  Thus, they were absolutely convinced Jesus was alive and that he was their Lord and God (as Thomas put it).
            It had to be that way for the very first disciples.  There had to be a firm foundation.  I believe that is why the resurrected Christ appeared in bodily form to the 11 disciples and so many of the first Christians in the days immediately following Easter.  Jesus wanted to absolutely convince them so they could build a firm foundation for the church.  We needed them to see Jesus so we can be assured our faith is built on something solid.  And yet, Jesus also said we are more blessed because we have not seen. 

We Are More Blessed
            Jesus walked on the earth in bodily form after his resurrection for 40 days.  Then he ascended into heaven.  We recall this essential element of our faith every time we recite the Apostles' Creed.  We say, “…He rose from the grave, He ascended into heaven…”  Perhaps we do not experience the resurrected Christ now in the same way the disciples did in the first 40 days after his resurrection, because Jesus has ascended.  We can still see Christ.  He is not dead; he is alive!  But we may see him in a different way because he has ascended, whereas he appeared to the disciples in bodily form.
            Most Christians overlook how important it is that Jesus ascended to heaven.  Because Jesus ascended, we now have the Holy Spirit.  And through the Holy Spirit, Jesus can be present everywhere at once.  You see, a body can only be in one place at a time--it is limited by time and space.  That is why Thomas missed out of Jesus' appearance that first Sunday.  Remember, he wasn't in the room with the other.  He was off getting the oil changed in his camel or something.  Why didn't Jesus appear to the 10 disciples in the upper room and to Thomas at the same time down at the camel service station?  Jesus couldn't, because he was a body and not a spirit.
            But we are more blessed because now Jesus is present in the Holy Spirit and is not limited by time and space.  So Jesus can be present right here with me as I type the words of this blog and he can be present with you wherever you are reading them.  As the Holy Spirit, Jesus can be everywhere at once.
            We are also more blessed because we believe Jesus rose based on faith.  Faith is very powerful.  Faith helps us see Jesus in more ways than the Disciples did at first.  They could only believe if they saw his nail scarred hands.  But we can believe and see Jesus when we gather together to serve in God's name.  If we believe, we can see Jesus there in that moment.  If we believe, we can see Jesus when a mother loves her child sacrificially.  Through faith, we can see Jesus in her actions.  Through faith, we can see Jesus when a father forgives his son.  Through faith, we can see the risen Christ is with us when we take our own father to the hospital for a critical surgery.  Because we believe, we know we are not alone.  We can see Jesus through our Christian friends who support us and pray for us and help us when we need it most.  Faith helps us see Jesus is more than just a man's body walking around with nail scars on his hands and a wounded side.
            Increasing faith is the mark of mature Christians.  Think of those Disciples in this story; think of Thomas.  They were only baby Christians--just born really.  And They needed to see Jesus.  When we see a child, maybe two-years-old, that child might cling to its mother's leg.  It might not ever want to let go.  And if Mama leaves the room, the child's whole world falls apart and it is afraid and may even cry uncontrollably until Mama comes back into the room.  That's normal for a two-year-old.  But eventually, the child grows up and matures and becomes a college student and may even move away to another town to attend school.  You wouldn't want that child to still be clinging to its mother's leg all the time.  No.  The child is grown up now and has faith that their mother is still there.  She is still alive.  She still loves them.  They will still see each other again.  And so it is with more mature Christians.  We don't need to see Jesus in bodily form all the time with us.  Through faith we trust he is there. 
            The Disciples would eventually mature in this way too.  At the beginning, like babies, they needed to see Jesus with them.  But they would eventually grow up and spread out to do amazing things because their faith matured.  Thomas' faith led him to travel all the way to India.  To this day, there is a community of Christians in India that trace the founding to the Disciple Thomas who brought the story of the risen Jesus to their community.  Faith is a powerful thing.

We Must See Jesus
            Jesus is alive.  He is not dead.  And we can see the risen Christ, through faith.  He still appears to us today.  He may not appear in bodily form as he did for the disciples and Thomas in our scripture reading, but he shows up in other ways.  Do you have faith to see him?
            It is not enough to just know Christ intellectually.  It is not enough to read and memorize the things he said or to know historical facts about him.  We must actually see him, in some sense, so we know he is alive and real and participating in our lives.  It is not enough to be a Christian because your parents or grandparents were.  It is not enough to be a religious person who follows the religious program of Jesus and his Church.  It is not enough to mumble an empty prayer into the air, not believing there is a living Savior listening.  No. You must see that Jesus is alive and he is here and he is listening to your prayer and will answer according to his great wisdom, power, and love.  We will probably see Jesus is different ways than the Disciples, but we can still see him.  We need to see him, through faith. 
            Jesus showed the Disciples and Thomas his scars to prove it was really him.  You see, he wanted them to believe.  He wanted Thomas to believe.  That's why he came back a second time when Thomas was there.  Thomas said he wouldn't believe in less he saw Jesus and his scars for himself.  So Jesus came, because Jesus wants all his followers to believe.  And if that's what it took for Thomas, that's what Jesus was willing to do.
            Which proof do you need in order to believe?  Jesus wants you to believe.  He is willing to help you.  Maybe you don't need to see the scars like Thomas, but you might need something.  What is it?  Why don't you ask Jesus to show you?  He wants you to be secure in your faith.  So why not ask him to help?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Jesus Rises from the Grave

Where do you find ultimate meaning in life?  Do you even think such a thing exists?  That is the subject of today’s message.  The Christian faith promotes a relationship with Jesus as the way to ultimate meaning in life.  The Disciples thought they had found ultimate meaning, but then they suffered the great disappointment of Jesus' arrest, crucifixion, and death.  Suddenly, their faith was called into question.  On that first Easter morning, they were still in shock, trying to figure out what was going on.   

Slides – Luke 24:1-12
1But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. 12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

The Empty Tomb
At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.  But in this Easter reading, Jesus does not yet appear.  The women went to put spices on the dead body of Jesus; but when they arrive at the tomb, Jesus is not there.  Peter rushes to the tomb to see the body, but Jesus is not there—dead or otherwise.
Usually when I think of Easter, I think of the radiant, resurrected Christ smiling and saying, “I told you so!  I told you I would come back to life!”  But here in this passage, we have only an empty grave and a pile linen.  It is the absence of Jesus in the passage that strikes me.  For those of us who know the way the story ends—we want to jump right to the point of acknowledging that Jesus is alive.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  
            As I pondered this passage, it occurred to me that these twelve verses illustrate three common attitudes people have toward spirituality.  First we have the women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James.  They didn’t come seeking the risen Jesus.  Such a thing never occurred to them as a possibility.  They were looking only for the dead body of Jesus.  It was customary in that day to put fragrant spices on the body of the dead as a way of honoring those who had passed—much the way we place flowers on the graves of our deceased loved ones today.  We don’t go to our deceased grandma’s grave with flowers expecting to see her risen to life.  We go to remember the dead.  And so it was for the women in this passage.  They sought only to remember a dead Christ, not to see one risen in power and glory.

It strikes me how much that attitude prevails in church people these days.  These women came to the tomb in grief and sorrow.  They were looking for a dead man’s body.  They are like people who go through the motions at church, but aren’t truly seeking the living Christ.  They say and do the right things, but they only come to pay tribute to a dead man.  Their lives do not display the power and glory of the risen Christ and they do not reach their full spiritual potential.  It doesn’t matter how many flowers or spices they use to make it look or smell good, it’s still just dead and lifeless.  No wonder people turn away from a church that worships God like that.  

But then, the women in our story saw something amazing that dramatically altered their state of mind.  They saw two men in dazzling clothes that appeared and told them the good news—Jesus is not dead!  He has risen from the dead, just as he said he would!  This sight seized their attention and they forgot all about their religious duty to put spices on a dead body.  Suddenly, they were filled with excitement and hope and they rushed off to share this astonishing story with the Disciples.
I have known quite a few church-goers who for years just went through the motions. They really didn’t come to church expecting anything exceptional. They were—in a sense—just seeking a dead man’s body. But then something shook them from their spiritual slumber and they forgot about their dead religion and started seeking the risen Christ. And suddenly, they began to worship and live with a new passion. They even begin to tell others about their wonderful new experience of life. 

Next in the story are the Disciples.  If we examine them, we also see an attitude that is common in our day and age.  They took the women’s story to be nonsense.  The Greek word Luke uses to describe the women’s story is the same that Greek physicians used to describe the babbling of a fevered and insane mind.[i]  And that is how the disciples took the women’s story—it seemed like nonsense to them.  You can almost hear them saying to the women, “Why, just this morning you were going out the door, carrying all your spices to put on his dead body.  Now you claim he’s alive?!?  You must be sick with grief.  You're not making any sense.”
This is much the same as cynics in our time who say there is no real meaning to life (or that such meaning is unknowable).  They shrug off the stories of those who claim to have had deeply spiritual experiences.  Yes, and many people in our age look at the church and scoff.  They think these stories Christians tell about changed lives and divine power is a bunch of non-sense.  “Why, I’ve seen the way you worship at church,” they say.  “It’s boring and lifeless and dull.  If you ask me, you’re just worshiping a dead man.” They dismiss the church; they dismiss Christ; they refuse to believe. 

            But then there is Peter.  He hears the women’s story and he rushes out the door to investigate for himself.  And when he arrives, he sees that indeed the stone is rolled away and the tomb is empty.  All that’s left are the empty linen wrappings.
It’s ironic how things turn out.  According to Luke, Peter is the only one who runs to check out the women’s story.  Peter was not a particularly “spiritual” person in the sense we might think.  He was not a monk or priest or holy man of any sort.  He was a fisherman, a sailor, a common worldly man.  (Today, we use the expression, "He cusses like a sailor" for a reason.)  By Peter's own estimation the first time Peter met Jesus in Luke 5:8, Peter exclaimed, “I am too much of a sinner to be around you.” And yet it is Peter who goes to look in the tomb when all the other Disciples dismiss the story.  And it says when Peter saw the tomb was empty, he went away wondering what happened.
Peter reminds me of people in our age who are sincerely looking for meaning in life.  They may or may not consider themselves to be particularly “spiritual” people, but something prompts them to take a deep look at themselves and they recognize, “Huh… Something really important is missing.  I wonder where it is.”  And they start to honestly search.  They might look in quite a few places.  They might look for ultimate meaning in their career.  They might look for it in another person—a spouse or a friend.  They might look for it in a cause or in a family or in some other place.  But everywhere they look, they find only an empty tomb.  Where is that Most Important Thing that they crave? 

Which Are You?
The Christian faith teaches that life’s ultimate meaning is found through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  But some people miss out on the fulfillment that comes from a relationship with Jesus because they are like the women.  They are really only looking for a dead man.  Others are like the Disciples; they think the story of Jesus’ resurrection is a bunch of non-sense.  And still others are like Peter—they hear the good news, investigate for themselves, and discovered that the tomb is indeed empty.  Who do you resemble?
Are you looking for a dead man instead of a risen Savior?  Is your religious devotion helping you experiencing the life changing power of God or are you just trying to put sweet smelling spices and flowers on something dead?
Or maybe you are like the Disciples; you think all this talk about a risen Savior is just a bunch of non-sense.  You think, “There is no Higher Power and people don’t change.”  Maybe you’ve dismissed Christ and the church.  If so, I hope you will listen.  I hope you will take an honest look for yourself.  Maybe then you will see that there are a lot of empty, meaningless tombs in your life.  Maybe then you will say to yourself, “Huh…  Something important is missing in my life.  But maybe it’s out there somewhere.  Maybe what those Christians say is really true.  Maybe Jesus is alive.  And maybe Jesus is what I really need.”   

Dear God,
            Thank You for glorious hope of Easter—Christ is risen, just as he said.  Help us to see the empty tomb.  Jesus is not there.  Help us to see the lifeless parts of ourselves where Jesus cannot be found.  By Your grace, help us to surrender these to You, to let them go so that we can experience the divine, life changing power of the risen Christ living in us.  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.

[i] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, the Gospel of Luke, revised edition; page 292

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jesus Clears the Temple

Holy Week
            Lent is the 40-day period of spiritual preparation between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  It is a time when Christians focus on deepening their relationship with Jesus through prayer, study, and service.
            That last week of Lent is called Holy Week.  Holy Week consists of several special days that commemorate important events during Jesus' last week on earth.  The Wednesday before Easter is called Spy Wednesday and commemorates the day Judas and the priest conspired to betray Jesus.  Thursday is called Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday and marks the day Jesus shared his last supper with the Disciples.  We will have a special service at my Pleasant Grove UMC at 7:00 PM (Varnell UMC will join us).  Friday of Holy Week is called Good Friday and recalls the day Jesus was crucified; There will be a Good Friday service at Varnell UMC at 7:00 PM and I will attend that service with members of my church.  I hope you will join us for one or more of these services or choose another that is near you. 
            Holy Week all starts one week before Easter on Palm Sunday, the day Christians commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  We call it “Palm” Sunday in because the crowds of people waved palm branches and cheered as Jesus entered the city.   

Slides – Matthew 21:1-17
1As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!”
10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” 

12 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. 15 The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.”

But the leaders were indignant. 16 They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

“Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’” 17 Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight.

Summary of the Story
            That is a long passage, so lets summarize.  Jesus comes to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. He comes as a King—fulfilling the prophecy that one day Jerusalem’s Eternal King, the Messiah, would arrive riding on a donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9).
            Everyone is thrilled (well, everyone except the cynical religious establishment who felt threatened by Jesus). The crowds of people cheered as Jesus arrived—expecting Jesus to do great things as the long-awaited Messiah. Everyone wanted the Messiah to come and make Jerusalem great again.
            However, Jesus immediately shows His Kingdom is incompatible with many of the practices in Jerusalem. It infuriated Jesus that merchants and bankers were doing business right in the middle of the Temple at the only place Gentile’s could pray. Even worse, they were cheating their customers right there in the holy Temple.
            This is the only story in the Gospels where Jesus takes up arms in the name of God. He flipped over the bankers’ tables and used a whip to drive them and the merchants out.  We like to think of Jesus as sweet and gentle and carrying baby lambs, but sin is not compatible with the reign of Christ.  Christ must drive sin out from us and we must decide if we will let him cleanse us or will we be offended and resist and ultimately join the crowds of people on Good Friday who demanded that Jesus be crucified.

Jesus is Coming
            Jesus entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday nearly 2,000 years ago, but Jesus is always coming to us in a spiritual sense.  Perhaps the thought of Jesus’ coming does not thrill you. Perhaps you are ashamed of something in your life that you don’t want Jesus to see.  That’s ok. That’s a good place to start. At least you are not a hypocrite. At least you recognize you are a sinner. That’s a good thing. Jesus can work with that. The Apostle Peter once felt that way. When Peter first realized Jesus was holy, he said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) But Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid!” and invited Peter to be his disciple.  Peter followed and became one of Jesus' closest companions, and eventually the leader of the Church. You can follow Jesus too. Jesus accepts you as you are when you are humble. Jesus can work with that.
            However, a lot of people are like the crowds cheering Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. “Praise God! Jesus is here! This is amazing!” We are so happy he has come. 
Yet, we must realize, Jesus has come as our King. And there are somethings we must let him change in our lives.  I do not say that we must change ourselves. We can’t change ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit that changes us when we accept Jesus as our Lord, but we must be willing to be changed.
And sometimes that change is difficult. It may even feel like Jesus has come into our sacred Temple and flipped over some tables. He may even need to break out a whip and chase some sinful behaviors out of our hearts. “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Sin has no place within your heart. Jesus must drive it out.  When these times come, we are faced with the choice: 
  • Will I humble myself before the King? Will I allow him to make these changes? Will I cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart?  Or...
  • Will I resist? Will I try to hide my sin in the shadows? Will I secretly plot to thwart the Lord—like Judas and the priests? Will I be proud and angry and defensive? Will I refuse to let Jesus be King—the true Lord of every area of my life? Will I join the angry protest of the crowd who ultimately rejected Jesus? “Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!” “What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. (John 19:15).

Are You Ready? Jesus is Coming Again.
Jesus is King.  And Jesus is coming.  He is coming to take back what belongs to him.  You.  He is coming to break every chain that has you shackled.  He has come to set you free.  You have a choice to make.  Will you let Him?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Jesus Takes a Vacation

Sharpen the Saw
            Do you ever feel like you are sawing away at life, but not getting anywhere?  The other day, we had a birthday party for my daughter Grace.  She wanted to have here friends over and wanted to have a camp fire to sit around.  I meant to by a bundle of firewood at the store, but forgot.  We only had about 15 minutes before dark, so I dragged a fallen tree from the woods behind my house.  I grabbed my chainsaw (which hasn't been used in about a year) and tried to cut the tree up into firewood.  The chain was so dull it would hardly cut.  I should have paused to sharpen the chain and it would have made quick work of the tree.  However, it was almost dark and I didn't want to be cutting wood in the dark so I just kept trying to cut that tree up with my dull saw.  It was loud and the chain was smoking as the dull blades grinding against the wood--more burning it than cutting it.  It took three times as long to cut the tree with the dull saw (and it was more dangerous too).
            It’s important to take time to sharpen your saw.  That's true of chainsaws and yourself.  We need to make sure we sharpen our mental, physical, and spiritual abilities.  Otherwise, we will just be loud but not very effective.  Lent is a great time to resharpen.  Lent is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday at Easter Sunday when Christians prepare for Easter through prayer, study, and service.  Our focus on prayer, study, and service helps draw us closer to Christ so we can be sharp again. 
            Jesus was a carpenter.  I’m sure he understood the importance of “sharpening his saw” so it would cut well.  Jesus certainly applied the principle to his ministry.  He took trips and celebrated religious holidays (Holy Communion was originally a Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples).  And we read time after time how Jesus took breaks from his work to rest and pray.  These “vacations” helped him stay physically, mentally, and spiritually sharp.
            Jesus took one such “vacation” near the end of his earthly ministry as he made his way to Jerusalem where he would be arrested and crucified.  I want to share that story with you today.

Slides – Luke 10:38-42
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 Jesus Takes a Vacation
Mary and Martha were Jesus good friends.  Spending time with friends can be a good way to relax and recharge.  Jesus—ever mindful of the cross looming before him—sought solace in the company his good friends.
You have probably known some people like Mary and some like Martha.  Martha was all wrapped up in the work that needed to be done.  Jesus came to relax and be with friends.  That was the main point of his visit.  Mary was doing just what Jesus wanted—resting and spending time with him.  Martha was distracted by the big dinner and all the work she felt needed to be done. 
There’s a time for work and a time for rest.  When you take a break or a vacation, take time to rest.  Yes, there are details that you must attend to, but if you spend your whole vacation or visit distracted by organizing and planning and logistics you might miss out on what’s really important.
I want to make three points today.  First, everyone should take a vacation now and then.  Second, I want to consider a Christian way to take a vacation that will make yours more fruitful. 

Vacations are Important
            Do you realize that vacations were originally God’s idea?  Think about it.  Go back to the beginning of the Bible, way back in Genesis at the creation story.  What did God do on the seventh day? … Genesis 2:2-3, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”  God establish the Sabbath to give His people time to rest and spend time with Him.  God gave us this special gift:  a little mini-vacation woven right into the fabric of our week.  And God declared it holy.
            In the Old Testament, the Law of Moses required certain vacations as religious obligations.  In addition to resting on the Sabbath to keep it holy, there were also regular holiday festivals to be celebrated throughout the year.  Furthermore, the Law encouraged faithful Jews to make travel to the Temple in Jerusalem often.  Some strict Jews interpreted the law to mean they should travel to the Temple 3 times a year.  The Gospel of Luke says Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover every year.
The word vacation literally means to vacate – to leave.  The word was first used to describe the long summer breaks taken by law courts and by wealthy Europeans who would “vacate” their regular home and move to their summer home.  Ultimately, a vacation is to take leave from your normal daily activity and go or do something different.  It can mean taking a trip to Florida; but technically, a business conference could be consider a vacation (in some sense) because you are taking a break from what you normally do (say sitting at a desk in your office) to do something different.  A changes of pace—even if it is still work—can be refreshing.
According to one article[i], “More than half of American workers left vacation time unused in 2015. This adds up to 658 million unused vacation days.”  Some of the reasons people say they don’t take vacations are: returning to a mountain of work (37%), fearing no one else can do the job while they’re gone (35%), and trouble affording a vacation (33%).  Does one of these reasons describe you?
Some people just feel guilty about taking a vacation.  They might feel vacations are indulgent, wasteful, or only the practice of lazy people.  Have you ever judged others because they took a vacation?  Have you ever felt judged yourself?  I hope not, because vacations are important.  They are a way we can “sharpen our saw.” 
Vacations make you happier.  Well, obviously, going on a vacation can be fun and relaxing and will most likely make you happy.  But it’s more than just that.  Research shows[ii], “People who come back from vacation are more satisfied with their lives in general when they return.”  Calmer, more satisfied, mentally healthy people are actually better workers and members of society in general.
Some may say, “Well, vacations just stress me out.  All the packing and stressing over leaving on time and finding a place to stay and all the details of the trip…”  Hmmm… that’s true if you’re acting like a Martha.  Remember Mary and Martha from our scripture?  Martha was all worked up about cooking the meal and all the work that needed to be done.  Be more like Mary than Martha and just enjoy!
Vacations make you healthier.  They reduce stress.  Vacations give your body time to recuperate and repair.  According to experts, “Research has shown that people on holiday immediately feel healthier, have less physical complaints and even have a reduction in cholesterol levels on their return.”[iii]  My summer vacation last year helped me establish a new healthy habit—a morning walk.  you see, I'm an early riser and everyone else in the vacation house decided to sleep late.  So what was I to do?  I decided I would go for a walk each morning while I waited for the rest of the household to wake up.  I took a walk on the beach and watched the sunrise while getting some healthy exercise.  Well, when I got back from our vacation, I decided, "Why not keep this up?"  So I started getting up a little earlier and taking a walk every morning.  It's gives me time to pray, listen to the Bible or an audiobook, and start the day off with a little exercise.  It's been almost a year now and I go for a 30-45 minute walk almost every morning.  I might not have developed this healthy habit if I hadn't gone on vacation last summer.
But there’s another benefit.
Vacations actually make you more productive.  Vacations decrease job stress, employee burnout, and reduce absenteeism.  Workers come who take vacations come back with a renewed vitality at their job and are actually more productive than before.  So, a vacation can make you a more effective worker.  I hope you will all consider the benefits of a periodic vacation.  I hope any employers or supervisors who read this will consider how a vacation could help your employees help you and will encourage them to take time off now and then. 

A Christian Vacation
            I am convinced the Christian way of life is the absolute best.  True Christians who follow Jesus whole-heartedly are the most joyful of all people on the planet, love life and live it to the fullest, and are also the very best employees and members of society.  Christianity is not some set of religious rules we follow.  It's a living relationship with Jesus that actually makes us better people when we apply our faith to every area of our life.  How can we apply our faith to our vacations?  Let me give you some tips.
            First, don’t take a vacation from your faith.  You are still a follower of Christ even if you are in a different town.  Don’t forget your values, your spiritual practices (prayer, devotions, worship time, etc.), and your purpose (to love God and your neighbor).  Take Jesus on vacation with you and it will be the best trip you ever took.
            Second, don’t be a Martha. In other words, don’t worry so much about all the details that you forget the main point—to rest and take a break from all the things you have to do in your regular life.  It’s supposed to be a change of pace.  Don’t let your own “Martha-like” tendencies keep you from the joy Jesus wants to give you during your vacation.
Third, forget the world’s views about the perfect vacation.  In the hilarious National Lampoon's vacation movies, Clark Griswold is always getting into trouble because of his unrealistic notions abut the perfect vacations.  Don't be like Clark Griswold.  Vacations aren't about making perfect memories for our kids.  Vacations aren't about over-indulging ourselves.  We can treat ourselves, but we don’t have to be selfish.  Being too self-indulgent will not make you healthier or happier.  Over indulging self-indulging actually feeds your selfish tendencies and makes you less happy and satisfied in the long run.  Don't try to "keep up with the Joneses" or fall for the world's ideas about the perfect vacation.  Keep it simple and remember what's really important in life is what's really important in a vacation too--love and relationships.
Fourth, think outside the box on your vacations.  Jesus was not a rich man.  He was basically homeless and he lived in a poor peasant society.  Yet Jesus somehow also managed to take regular trips and vacations.  If he can manage it, so can you.  Don’t fall for the world’s lie that every vacation has to be an elaborate, expensive, extravaganza.  Something as simple as a walk through the park on a pretty spring day can qualify as a vacation.  (Remember, Jesus would often retreat to a quiet place to pray).  Sunday rest can be a vacation—if you are intentional about it.  A religious festival—like an Easter egg hunt or a sunrise service or a Maundy Thursday service—can be a vacation.  (Remember, a vacation is doing something different than your normal daily routine.)  A spiritual retreat (like the Walk to Emmaus) can be a great vacation; it allows you to step away from the normal tasks of life and spend 3 days focusing on your spiritual life.  A trip to see family or friends qualifies as a vacation (and can be a lot cheaper since you may be able to stay with them and not have to pay for a hotel or food).  A short term mission trip can be an interesting and truly life-changing vacation.  Even a work conference or some extra training can be a nice break from your regular daily duties as an employee and might be covered by your employer.  The point is, your vacation doesn’t have to be a typical trip to the beach or a cruise to the Caribbean that costs thousands of dollars.  And those trips may not be the best way for you to "sharpen your saw" anyway.

An Invitation 
Take time to sharpen your saw.  People usually think of Christianity as a bunch of religious rules and obligations.  That's not true at all.  Christianity is an invitation to an ongoing vacation from the worries of a selfish life.  Perhaps this is expressed best in Jesus invitation from Matthew 11:28 where he said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."  Christianity is an invitation to walk away from doing things the way the world says you must and to live differently--the way Christ lives.  The Christian life is not always easy, but it is always good and wholesome and leaves you feeling refreshed and whole even when it is hard work that makes you tired.  So I invite you--as Christ does--to walk away from your weary ways and come find true rest in Jesus Christ.