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Monday, May 23, 2022

The Ascension of Christ

For the Season of Easter this year, I challenged you to read the book of Acts.  It's only 28 chapters.  How are you doing?  It's not to late to read the book.  Try to finish it by June 5th for Pentecost Sunday.

There are 7 Sundays in the Easter Season and then Pentecost Sunday.  Today is the 6th Sunday in Easter.  Jesus rising from the grave is such a powerful event, you can’t celebrate it all in just one Sunday.  Plus, Jesus was alive and on earth in the flesh for 40 days from the time He walked out of the

tomb until the day He ascended into Heaven.  If you’re counting, Easter was 5 weeks ago on April 17th.  That’s 35 days ago.  That means this Thursday would be the 40th day after Easter.  So, that’s the day we call Ascension Day.  It represents the day Jesus “ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty…” as we say in the Apostles’ Creed.  It is tradition to celebrate the ascension on the 7th Sunday of Easter (next Sunday) but I will be out of town that Sunday.  So, I want to study the story of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven with you today.

Act 1:3
During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. 

[I just want to say here that I really do believe Jesus rose from the grave.  He is alive.  The ressurection is not some nice story or symbol.  True Christians believe that Jesus literally rose from the grave.  If Jesus did not rise, then there is no point to Christianity.  But if Jesus is alive, that changes everything.  I believe Jesus is risen indeed.  How about you?]

Act 1:3-11
Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

This World Is Not Our Permanent Home
Jesus ascension reminds us of an essential truth which we must not forget. This world is not our home.  Jesus left the glory of Heaven to be born as a baby.  He lived on Earth for about 33 years.  His public ministry was 3 years.  He lived on earth in resurrected form for 40 days.  Then He returned to His rightful place in Heaven.  

Just as this world is not Jesus home, it is not our home either (at least, not in it's current, broken form).  So let's don't get too attached to this world.  We will be leaving this place too, one day.  

I can’t help but think of graduates this time of year.  Families have been posting their graduation pictures on social media.  People are attending graduation ceremonies.  Students spend 13 years of their life attending school.  Many go on for 4 or more years of college.  Education is a huge chunk of everyone's life in our modern world.  However, school isn’t the point of our lives.  Right?  The point of education is to prepare people to live life in the real world.

In the same way, Jesus time on earth and His ministry was to prepare the Disciples and us for something important.  We have a job to do.  Jesus reminds us of our job in verse 8 – “…you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere…”

We are called to be witnesses for Jesus.  In other words, we are to tell people what we know about Jesus.  We are to share how He changed our lives.  We are to share the Good News that Jesus forgives sins when people repent and restores them to a right relationship with God.  

Of course, people like to point out that you can be a witness both by what you say and what you do.  And what you do is often more important than what you say.  This statement is tru, but it often serves as an excuse for people who don't feel comfortable talking about Jesus.  It's ironic.  Most people don't have a problem talking about their spouse, their children, or even an amazing destination they visited.  However, we feel uncomfortable talking about our Lord so we say, "Well, you can be a witness by what you do as much as what you say."

On the other hand, being a witness for Jesus by what you do can be very challenging.  It requires you to fight for the oppressed, clothe the naked, help the needy.  It means you must welcome the outcast and alien.  It means you must forgive people even if they don't deserve forgiveness and pray for your enemies, bless those who curse you.  It can be challenging.  Witnesses for Jesu by what you do can mean picking up a cross and carrying it and maybe even being crucified upon it.

There’s an interesting thing about this word witnesses in Acts 1:8 (and other places in the New Testament).  The original Greek word is martys.  It is actually the same word we use today for martyr.  Originally, the word martyr, which we think of as someone who died for the faith, just meant a witness.  If you had a court case, your would call your "martyrs" up on the stand to testify.  How, then, did this word martyrs come to mean what it does for us today--someone who died for their faith?  Well, the early Christians were telling people everywhere that Jesus was murdered on a cross and rose from the dead and was absolute Lord of all.  The authorities didn't like it and told them to stop or else be executed.  The Christians replied, "Kill us if you must, be we are going to be faithful witnesses!"  And many Christians were killed for continuing to tell people about Jesus everywhere they went.  And so the word that used to just mean "witnesses" took on a whole new meaning.  

You see, Christians are still called today to be people who are willing to tell people about Jesus no matter what the cost--even if it costs us our lives.

And we are supposed to be the witnesses willing to die for the truth everywhere.  Many of you will be going on vacation this summer.  I’ll be going on a trip this week to take my daughter to see the redwood forest.  It's a trip we planned in 2020 that was canceled because of COVID.  We are finally just now able to make this trip.  And I'm looking forward to it.  

Many of you will be taking trips this summer for vacation or to see family.  While you are away, you may be around people who don’t know anything about you.  You they don't know whether you go to church or what kind of Christian life you live.  You can do anything you want and it might not even damage your reputation because people will never see you again.  Who cares what they think about you.  (As the saying goes:  What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.)  So we need to ask ourselves, "Will you still be a witness of Jesus by what you say and do--even if you are far away from home and nobody there knows you?"  Some of the greatest opportunities to be a witness can come when we are with people we've never known before.  You may be the only person who ever talked to them about Jesus.

The story of Christ's Ascension ends with the Disciples starring up into heaven in amazement.  I imagine them there, with eyes gazing up at the clouds and their jaws firmly laying on the ground!  They must have stood there like that for a long, long time because a couple men in white robes had to appear and snap them back to their senses.  It’s kind of like they said, “Hey guys!  Wake up!  Why are standing here staring up into heaven?”  And the men said, “Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

These men remind us all that Jesus is coming back.  We don’t know when, but He is coming.  How will He find you when He comes?  Will He find you faithfully doing what He told you to do?  Will He find you being a witness (a martyr completely committed to His Kingdom’s mission)?

Monday, May 16, 2022

A Message for Graduates and Everyone

Graduation.  To be 18-19 years old.  To be poised on the precipice of starting your own life.  Your life, where you make your own choices, live out your own values, and decide who you want to be.  I’m so glad I get to share a message for graduates today. 

I’m 48 years old.  Is that old?  I don’t know.  It’s a lot older than our graduates, but it’s still a lot younger than many people!  In many regards, I do feel old.  Why do my feet hurt in the morning when I stand up for the first time?  How can they hurt?  I haven't done anything yet.  I've only been sleeping!  I guess they just hurt because I've been walking on them for 48 years.

But in many ways, I feel like I am still the young man sitting out among the graduates poised to begin my adult life.  I will forever be linked to my senior year of high school, because it was the year I began dating the woman who became my wife.  So much of the man I am today was shaped by that decision and the dreams we had together--dreams we worked so hard to realize.  1992 was the year that I began the journey of who I am today.

My words today are for the graduates, but they are really for all of us.  We all need to remember what it is to be young and charting the direction of our lives.  We also need, at times, to recalibrate our lives to get back on the path of righteousness.

Luke 12:13-21
Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” 15 Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

Don't Be A Fool
The best advice I can give to graduates, to anyone really, if have a rich relationship with God.  Graduates often start with very little money.  If they have a job, they usually aren't earning much.  Their parents probably paid most or all of their expenses.  Then, suddenly, they are out learning to pay for groceries and clothing and laundry detergent and other things.  They may just barely scrape by for a few years and they may long for the day when their finances aren't so tight.

So here's an important word for you.  You're not doing this all by yourself.  Even when you think you are all on your own, you parents, your family, your church are still pulling for you.  And even if no one else is there, God is surely with you.

But don't be a fool like the man in Jesus’ parable.
  He was a fool because he was greedy and selfish. He didn’t think of others.  I do feel some sympathy for him, because farming can be a tough business.  Most years, farmers are just scraping by.  Insects and plant diseases and drought often eat up your produce and you may barely have enough or maybe even come up short.  There are many lean years.  I'm sure there were people who helped the farmer in Jesus' story during his lean years.  But when he finally had a good year with a surplus, all he thought of was himself.  Instead of turning to help others who may not have been so fortunate, he thought only of himself and how he could enjoy the pleasure in this world.  He planned to take it easy saying, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come” but didn’t realize he was about to die and lose it all.

None of us knows how many days we have.  and when this life is over, the things of this world will belong to others.  We can't take them with us.  Therefore, we should think of others instead of clinging to what we have.  And we should value our relationship with God above any worldly goods because they are only temporary.

Be Generous
Be a generous person.  Proverbs 11:25 says, “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”
Always remember, God is taking care of you, and therefore, you can be a generous person who does what God calls you to do.  

You don't have to live out a scarcity mentality.  When you live for a long time barely making it or not having enough, you can get in the habit of clinging to what you do have.  You always have this mentality that you've got to hoard up every little bit you do have because tomorrow you may be without.  Some people get into this way of thinking so strongly that even when they have extra, they still feel as though they must hoard what they have.

That's why I'd like to challenge you today to tithe.  A tithing is giving 10% of your income to God through His Church.  I'd like to clear up some confusion about the tithe, because even a lot of older people misunderstand this term.  I hear people from my church say things like, "I just stopped by to drop of my tithe."  But they weren't really giving a tithe, they were giving and offering because their donation was not 10%.  And I'm not saying I don't appreciate the offering; that's not my point.  I just want to be sure we use precise language.  A tithe is a very specific offering--it is 10% of your income.  If you are giving an offering, great!  But call it an offering and reserve the term tithe for when you give 10% of your income.

The minimum standard for giving in the Bible started with the tithe--giving 10% of a person income to God through His Church.  For graduates, I challenge you to start tithing now while you don't have a lot.  You may think, "That's just not possible.  I hardly have anything to start with."  That's OK.  If you hardly have anything, your see, your tithe won't be much.  10% of $10 is on $1.  However, if you start tithing now, you will develop the habit while it's easy and then later when you do have a lot, it will already be a way of life for you.  If you wait to start tithing until you are wealthy and making 6 figures, your tithe will be very large and harder with which to part.

And the Church needs your financial support.  Our bills and our staff need to be paid, and this is only possible when people give generously.  The Church can only function to the degree it is funded.  That's just the way it works. So we need people to give and the tithe is the biblical standard of giving.

However, the tithe isn’t just about what the church needs.  It’s also about what you need.  Tithing helps you remember life isn’t all about you.  It helps you guard against greed.  It’s also something to help you practice your faith in God’s providence—that He is going to take care of you.  Tithing is an exercise of faith that strengthens your trust in God, helping you build a rich relationship with Him while building His Kingdom.  The tithe is a win, win, win--a win for the church, a win for God's Kingdom, and a win for your spiritual life.

Trust God
Trusting God and maintaining a strong relationship with Him is something young adults really, really need.  The ten years after high school graduation are the most formative of your whole life.  Thin about it.  From the ages of 18 to 28, people are leaving their parents home, maybe going to college or joining the military or starting a career.  They may be choosing a spouse and who will be the most influential person in their life of the rest of their life.  They may be having kids of who be a minimum 18 year responsibility.  If ever there is a time in life when people need God's guidance, grace,  and help, it is those young adult years.  

Sadly, these are also the years when most people drift away from church.  I know it can be difficult to stay connected in that time of life, but it is so worth it and so needed.  I challenge graduates to not drift away but to delve into their relationship with God through the Church.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”  Us older people also must continue to trust God.  And sometimes we struggle.  The last 2 years have been a huge exercise in trusting God because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.  As church, we struggled.  I remember vividly our church leaders concerns in the March of 2020 when we learned we had to shut down in-person worship for an undetermined period of time.  "How will we pay our bills if people aren't attending church and putting offerings in the offering plate?"  We knew we could survive for a few weeks, maybe a few months, but how long without continued giving?

What we found is that God was faithful and people continued to give faithfully.  And as the days and weeks and months wore on, people continued to give.  We actually saw an increase in giving.  We were cautiously optimistic, but we thought, "Well, we don't know how long this is going to keep going on and how this pandemic is going to affect the economy and trickle down to our supporter's personal finances."  However, by the end of 2020, I found that the church ended the year with a surplus--something that hadn't happened in the last 10 years I'd pastored the church.  

And it was in that moment I sensed the Lord leading me to the parable we read today of the rich man who built bigger barns.  I sensed God asking me, "What is your church going to do with this extra?  Are you going to build bigger barns to store it all away? Or are you going to trust Me and help people?"

So I shared this with the finance committee and said, "I think we need to help people in our community, because a lot of people struggling right now."  And Finance was wise and cautious.  They said, "Well, we still don't know what the future holds.  Let's wait a little while longer and see if giving continues to provide a surplus."  So we waited a few more months into 2021.  When giving continued to be generous, finance recommended and the elected Church Council approved a new charitable program called Operation Mercy Drops.  With Operation Mercy Drops (OMD), church members identify and sponsor people in our community who have a special need to receive a $1,000 grant.  (Click here to read about Operation Mercy Drops.)  We made a commitment to give a $1,000 grant each month for at least 12 months.  So many people have been blessed by this so far.  God has been good to the givers and the receivers because we chose to give instead of building bigger barns.

You can't even imagine how much good can be accomplished when people trust God, are faithful, and give generously.  Lives are changed when we choose to think of others instead of hoarded our extra in bigger barns.

A few weeks ago, a member of my church gave me a book titled One Man's Wilderness.  It's the story of Richard Proenneke, who in the 1970s moved to the Alaskan wilderness to build a log cabin and live off the land.  It's a fascinating story; I love that kind of thing.  Well, since Richard was cut off from civilization, a man named Babe would fly in some supplies every so many months.  After about 10 months of isolation, Richard asked Babe what time it was.  He found his watch had drifted off by about 15 minutes.  He had to recalibrate his watch to get back on the right time with the rest of the world.

We all need a recalibration from time to time.  Do you remember being a graduate, with your whole life ahead and you had your great goals and ideals you wanted to realize?  Or maybe it was at another time in your life, when you had a clear vision for the kind of future for which you wanted to strive.  How are you doing?  Are you still on the right path? 

We all drift off course from time to time.  It may not even be by much, but over time a little drift can make you miss the target by a lot.  So, it is good for us to stop every now and then and think about it and commit to do the things we need to do to get back on the right path.

What do you need to do today to get back on the right path?
Or if you are just starting out, what do you need to do to help you become the person you need to be?
I invite you to pray to God about it and ask Him for help.
And if you've never don it before, I invite you today to accept Jesus invitation to come follow Him.

Monday, May 9, 2022

The prodigal

It’s been very touching seeing so many post about mothers over the weekend.  There are all kinds of mothers for all different walks of life.  I've seen sweet mothers who are still actively involved in their young children's lives.  There are mother's who have grown kids in the full swing of life.  There are mothers who have grown old and passed away and also, sadly, mothers who have passed away too soon before they grew old.

I also think of some mothers who have failed.  I listen to the testimony of a prodigal mother this weekend who shared how she failed as a mother because of some of her own shortcomings.  Thankfully, she repented and Jesus turned her life around.  

There are also the many spiritual mothers that bless people who aren't even related to them, but they love and people who need it.  I have had many spiritual mother's in my life who have been so helpful, especially while I have lived so far away from my own mother.

I knew six months ago that God wanted me to read the story of the prodigal son for Mother's Day 2022. God led me to plan for this as I prayed during a planning session.  However, God didn’t tell me what say until the morning of Mother's Day. So I pray His words come through clearly.  So, let’s read through the story and I will make some comments as we go.

Luke 15:11
11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 

It starts, "A man had 2 sons."  But I can't help wonder: where’s the mother in the story?

I should start with this disclaimer:  We don’t know anything about the mother in the story from the Bible.  Jesus doesn't give any information about the mother in the Bible.  So all we can do is speculate about her.  Still, I think Jesus would be fine with us using our imagination and asking some thoughtful questions.

It could be the mother had died.  We know in our day mothers often die and leave a family motherless.  It was even more possible in Jesus' day, as people didn't live as long and something as simple as appendicitis (which we can easily fix with modern medical technology) could kill you in New Testament times.  Could the Prodigal's mother have died sometime prior to this episode?

It is also possible the father had remarried and the mother was a step mother.  And step mother's can have a complicated relationship with their step children.

It is also possible the mother was not mentioned because Jesus lives in a patriarchal societ where women were often overlooked.  However, I don't think that is as likely, because women played a prominently role in Jesus ministry and he never shied away from including women, even if his society didn't.  Jesus was not a male chauvinist. He greatly valued women and treated them with respect.

Luke 15:12
12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

This was an incredibly mean thing for the son to say.  He was basically telling his dad, "Look, I have things I want to do in life that I can't do because I'm waiting for you to die so I can get my inheritance.  So why don't you just go ahead and die or give me my inheritance now so I can get on with my life?"  Can you imagine saying something like that to you mom or dad?  Yikes!

I wonder how the mother would have responded (assuming she was alive).  Some mothers might comfort their husbands, put their arms around them, and cry with them.  However, there might have been some mothers fussing and saying, "Why in the world did you go along with this?!”  How would your mother have handled this? How would you handle it if your child said this to you?

Luke 15:13

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 

Now, in this story, it was the son who moved away to a distant land.  But I can’t help but think of some mothers who have left.  You might think a mother could never leave her child, but it happens more than you think.  My wife works in a neonatal intensive care unit taking care of critical babies and newborns.  You would not believe how many babies are born already addicted to drugs because their mothers have taken drugs like heroine and meth throughout their pregnancy.  And then the baby is born already addicted with severe health problems and the mother is back out on the street chasing her next high.  Addiction is a terrible problem that enslaves many people--including mothers-- and leads to horrific behavior.

The sinful longings of the human heart that draw us away from God affect all people—even mothers.  They turn our eyes away from the truth and make us think the grass is greener.  What we have to realize is the dark seed of sin is in all our hearts.  That dark seed can grow in anyone and, given the right conditions, can take over your whole life.

Luke 15:14-16
14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

Sin, which seems so attractive at first glance, leads to hardship, poverty, pain, and famine.  It is significant that the Jewish son in this story finds himself feeding pigs.  Jews considered pigs to be unclean.  They didn't eat any kind of pork and they didn't keep pigs on their farms.  So for a Jewish boy to be taking care of pigs means he had sunk pretty low.  

People enslaved by sin will sink lower and lower until they are doing things they never thought in a million years they would do. Maybe that was you once. Maybe that is you today. Is it time for you to come to your senses?

And I can't help but thin of the mother’s anguish at the son’s degradation.  She may not have even known what her son was doing, but that's even worse.  A mother mind can go to a very dark place as when she doesn't know if her children are safe.  She can even torment herself, thinking the worst and worrying herself to death.  Is your mother worrying herself to death today because you are wandering from the right path?

Slide – Luke 15:17-21
17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 

18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

The prodigal son shows us what true repentance looks like.  He says, "I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son."  It is unconditional surrender, recognizing one's sins, and throwing yourself upon the Father's mercy.

Repentance is crucial.  People remember many things about Jesus--that He was a miracle worker, that he died on a cross and rose from the grave, and people love to remember Jesus was a man who stood for love.  But we must never forget that Jesus consistent message throughout His ministry was, "“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)  

The son shows us what true repentance looks like.  In the father’s response, we see what grace looks like.

Luke 15:22-24
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Again, the story focuses on the father, but I wonder how the mother responded?  Was she right there with the father, welcoming her wayward son home?

Anyone who knows the way most marriage works realizes while the father was hugging his son and making grand statements about having a party, the mother was probably thinking, “Oh great! There he goes making all these great plans, but the house is a mess and now I’ve got to go grocery shopping to get food for all these people!”  (That's the way t usually works at my house.  My wife does most of the work behind the scenes.  I make the plans and she has to pick up the pieces.  She's a saint!)

The wife was probably thrilled to have her son home, but it’s also possible the mother like the older brother in the story.  

Luke 15:25-30
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 

30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

The older son was angry. He felt unappreciated.  He felt superior to his younger brother who had abandoned the family while the older brother had done his duty.  (How many mother's feel unappreciated sometimes?  That's why we need to have a Mother's Day, to remind them we really do appreciate them.)

Maybe the mother was feeling angry and unappreciated.  Or maybe it broke her heart to see the older, more responsible, son refusing to be be happy at the redemption of his brother. It can break a mother’s heart when her family is full of strife.

Luke 15:31-32
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

We must not forget; this story is an illustration. We don't know if it was based on a true story or not.  However, we know the father represents God.  The Father, God, reasons with the responsible son in the story and God reasons with us.  Do not be angry with the sinner who returns to God.  Do not feel superior.  Maybe you didn’t abandon your family and commit the hideous sins as others have, but you are not perfect either.  We all sin and fall short of God's glorious standard (Romans 3:23).  And God looks into the heart.  He sees the sin seed in each of us and knows that, given the right conditions, it can sprout and grow out of control so that we are just as guilty as the person whose sins are incredibly hideous.

Have you, as a mother, felt yourself superior to others who abandoned their family? Is not that feeling of superiority a sin in and of itself?  Are you like the older brother in the story, standing outside, fuming and refusing to come to the party to celebrate the redemption of a sinner who was lost, but now is found? How long will you wait?

Jesus doesn’t tell us about the mother in the story.  A really gifted great storyteller leaves a few things to the imagination so we can ponder them.  Maybe that’s why we are still retelling and listening to Jesus’ stories 2,000 years later.

Jesus also doesn’t tell us how the story ends.  Did the younger brother remain faithful to the father?  Or did he get bored back at home and run off again?  Some of you are the young, rebellious brother in the story.  Your actions decide how the story ends.

Did the older brother ever get over his anger, forgive his brother, and go in to the party?  Or did he stay outside forever, fuming about how he was right and better than his brother?  Jesus doesn’t say what happened, because some of you are the older brother in the story.  And you are the only one who can determine how your story ends.

As for the fathers and mothers out there whose hearts are breaking because your children, in one way or another, have wandered away from the Truth:
God—the Mother and Father of us all—knows your pain.  He is the Father in the story, whose heart breaks when any of His children goes astray.  Yet He is longing for His children to return and He is quick to forgive and embrace every wayward sinner who comes Home.  

Why don’t you bless God's heart and come Home today?

Monday, May 2, 2022

Beautiful Scars, part 3

Today is the third Sunday of Easter.  There are actually 7 Sundays of Easter. The resurrection is so powerful, it cannot be fully expressed in just one Sunday. Eastertide is the 50 days from Easter to Pentecost, which is June 5th this year. Eastertide is a time of expectant prayer where we wait for the Holy Spirit to empower us to serve God. We recall how the resurrected Jesus told the Disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to empower them to tell people about Him everywhere. During Eastertide this year, I challenge you to read through the Book of Acts by June 5th.

Today, we pick up the second half of the story of doubting Thomas from last Sunday.  First, let's read the full story.  Then we will go back and look at each verse.

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.”

Now, let's look at each verse.

John 20:24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came.
First of all we see that Thomas was nicknamed Didymus (which means Twin). Fascinating!  The disciples were real people, just like you and me.  Apparently one of them had a twin.  We don’t know anything about His twin.  Was the twin male or female? Did his twin die or was he still alive? Was he a follower of Christ? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn't tell us anything about Thomas' twin.  Sometimes we have to live with unanswered questions.

A more relevant unanswered question I have from this story is:  why Thomas absent the first time Jesus came?  Was he off on some important errand? Was he off by himself because that was the best way for him to cope with his grief at losing Jesus?  We don’t know.

How many times have you missed the powerful presence and working of Jesus because you weren’t there? We have so many things vying for our attention these days. It's easy to get distracted and miss out.  That's why we should make sure you make time for God.  We can make time through weekly sabbath rest and worship in church.  We make time through daily prayer and devotion.  We can make time to see God's power and work through occasional spiritual retreats (like the Walk to Emmaus) or a simple walk on the beach.  God is not confined to a set schedule, so always been on the look out.

John 20:25 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.”
It is from this one verse that we get Thomas’ most famous nickname. The disciples nick named him “The Twin”, but we call know him today as “Doubting Thomas”.  It's unfortunate that Thomas walked with the Lord for at least three years and saw and did so many amazing things, but the one thing people remember about him is defined by this one verse where Thomas doubted.  

Has “One” moment in your life ever come to dominate your identity?  Maybe you were diagnosed with cancer and you were forever after known by your cancer.  Maybe you spouse died and you became a widow or widower.  Maybe you went through a divorce and that came to define your life experience.  Sometimes someone hurts us deeply and then forever after the wound shadows us whether we like it or not.  Even though we are so much more, our identities can become defined by that one thing that happened.  People see us through that one; we may even see ourselves through the lens of that one identity shaping thing.

However, Jesu came back to set us free.  We don't have to miss out on the future because of something that happened in the past.  Jesus came to redeem our identity.

John 20:26 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.

Even though the disciples were meeting behind locked doors, Jesus was miraculously there.  Nothing can keep Jesus from finding you.  No wound, no trauma, not even doubt can stop Jesus from coming for you.  No one get left behind in Jesus’ Kingdom. Jesus keeps coming back to find the sheep who doubt, or a little slower, or who just missed out on the chance to be with Him for one reason or another. Isn’t it good to know that Jesus doesn't give up on us?  He keeps coming back to invite us to come follow Him and find peace.

Even so, don’t put off answer Jesus' invitation, because no one knows how many more breaths or heartbeats you have.  Life is short and you don't want to leave this life with any regrets.  And you certainly don't want to leave this life without ever choosing to follow Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  That would be an eternal regret.  You would find yourself in hell, separated from God forever, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

John 20:27 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!”
Jesus had beautiful scars.  He didn't try to hide them.  He came to Thomas and said "Look!  It really is me!"  Jesus' scars were the most beautiful things ever trace upon human skin because they proved His true identity and the depth of His love.  They proved he died on a cross to pay for our sins, but that he also rose from the grave to defeat sin and death.  

Jesus wasn't ashamed of His scars and we don’t need to be ashamed of our scars either.  Remember, everyone has scars, even if you can’t see them.  But Jesus can redeem our scars so the wounds that caused them no longer define us.  Rather, our scars, if we are brave enough to share them with one another, tell the story of how Jesus has redeemed us or is redeeming us.  Our scars ceased to be a record of our brokenness and become a witness to Jesus' transforming power when we have faith and follow Him.

John 20:28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
This is the simplest profession of faith.  Jesus is the Christian's Lord and God.  Thomas proclaimed Jesus was his Lord.  This means two things for Thomas.  First, it meant the man standing there with scars was indeed Jesus, not someone else.  He was the man who walked with Thomas for three hears teaching and loving and healing and performing miracles.  He is also the man who hung and died on the cross.  He was the man Thomas loved.

However, "Lord" also means Jesus is Lord.  He has absolute authority.  He is to be followed.  He is to be obeyed.  Jesus is Lord of all!

And Jesus is "God".  Jesus is more than “just a man”.  He is more than a good man, more than a prophet, religious leader, revolutionary, miracle worker, healer…  How many times have you tried to limit Jesus to what you wanted Him to be – the person who could get you out of a bind, save you from hell, heal your friend, teach your kids to be kind…  Jesus may be all of the above, but He is not just those things.  Jesus is God.  Let that sink in.  Let that define your relationship with Him.

John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
We can “see” Jesus in a thousand ways today.  We still see miracles. healing, answered prayers.  We see Him through the way He works out His plans, bringing people together in a million different ways.  We can even see Christ's power in a sunset or the beauty of nature.

I see Jesus in the workings of my church all the time.  He makes things happen in ways that no man could do by himself.  Jesus is still alive and full of power and working miracles every day.

When we are immature, we may need to see the signs and wonders of Christ to believe. However, our goal is to grow up so we can walk by faith and not by sight. That means we don't have to depend upon frequent sighs and wanders in order to trust Jesus.  No, even if we see nothing, we know Jesus is alive.  We have faith.  That is enough.

See Jesus Through Holy Communion
Even so, Jesus knows our weakness.  That's why He gave a us such a gracious gift in Holy Communion.  This is the sign sacrament Jesus instructed us to practice again and again to remember Him.  It reminds us of His nail scarred body given freely for us.  It reminds us of  His blood shed for our sins because of His love that has no end.  It also reminds us He died for us, but he is not dead.  He is here among us.  Just as Jesus came back so Thomas could believe, Jesus comes back so we can believe every time we celebrate Holy Communion.  

Have you missed Jesus before.  We’re you off somewhere else or distracted when everyone saw the risen Christ?  Did you miss the miracle?  Or have you been like Thomas and you’ve doubted because of something terrible that happened in your life.  Maybe you wondered how Jesus could really be alive and love you because that happened.  

In this bread and this wine of Holy Communion, you can see a miracle.  Don’t miss it.  Come touch Jesus’ nail scarred hands as you hold the bread in your hands.  Come place your hand in the spear wound in Jesus’ side as you partake of the cup of wine.  These are the glorious, beautiful scars Jesus reveals to you to show His love for you.  And keep your eyes opened for the millions of other ways he shows you His life and love.  

Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!