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Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts

Monday, January 11, 2021

Put Away Your Sword

Introduction
I had not planned to speak on this subject today.  I planned to begin a sermon series called “The Way of Christ”.  But because of the events of this week, I felt compelled to change today’s message.  Those reading this include Republicans, Democrats, independents, progressives, and conservatives and everyone in between.  I’m not taking sides.  I love you all and what I have to say is for everyone. 

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Jesus' arrest.  Jesus had just shared the Last Supper with his disciples and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the authorities and the led a crowd of his enemies to the garden to arrest him.  

Matthew 26:52-56

51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”

55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. 56 But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Peter Cutting Off an Ear

This story about one of Jesus' disciples cutting off a man’s ear is so important that all four Gospel include it—Matthew Mark, Luke and John.  The Gospel of John says the mob was a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke simply said it was a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs.  The Gospel of John says it was Peter who cut off the man’s ear.  The other Gospel’s don’t tell us who did it.  The Gospel of Luke says Jesus healed the man’s ear.

The incident was very chaotic and happened so fast.  There wasn’t anyone standing by with a smart phone recording it all.  I’m sure it was hard for all the disciples to remember all the details perfectly.  It's no wonder their accounts vary a bit.  However, there is one thing they all reported.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all remember that Jesus told them not to fight.  In John 22:51, Jesus said, “No more of this!” And in Matthew 26:51, he said, “Put away your sword!  Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

Dying by the Sword

Jesus is the most influential figure who ever lived.  He changed the world so drastically, we divide history by whether it happened before or after Jesus lived.  There have been many people who sought to change the world with the sword (or guns or missiles or bombs), but none has even come close to the influence Jesus had on the world.  And he did it all without a sword.  In fact, Jesus was able to have so much influence because he didn’t use a sword.

 

And I believe Jesus message to us today is the same he said to his disciples on that that dark night of his arrest.  “Put away your sword!”

 

We’ve had our swords out for a long time in this country.  And it’s gotten exponentially worse over the last decade.  I realize none of you are literally walking around with a sword.  But figuratively, we carry a sword.  The sword of which I speak is not a weapon with a long metal blade.  The sword we carry is an attitude that we have to fight each other to make life the way we want it to be.

 

Jesus said, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”  What we have been seeing more and more in our country and communities—what we saw vividly splashed across our television sets on January 6th as rioters stormed the Capital building in Washington DC—is what it looks like to die by the sword.  It's not necessarily a physical death--though 5 people died.  It's a spiritual death.  It's a moral death. It can even be the death of ideas or the right to influence public opinion.

 

What led us to this place—a place where thousands of people would gather at the capital and violently and foolishly rush past barricades and overwhelm law enforcement and illegally occupy the Capital for several hours?  What makes people act like this? 

 

We are so divided.  It’s not just that we don’t agree on everything.  (America is too big and too diverse for us to agree on everything; that’s never gonna happen.  We've never in our history agreed on everything.)  The problem is we are so angry we want to swing a sword at people with whom we disagree.  And maybe, we’ve been cutting off each other’s ears so long now that we don’t have any ears left to listen.  We don't use swords, but we cut off ears with words and insults and accusations and mistrust and disrespect.

 

There are times when it is necessary to draw a sword (or a knife or a gun) to defend yourself, but using a sword is not the way to make the world a better place.  It’s not the way to make America great.  And right now, we need to hear Christ’s words when he says, “Put away your sword!”  This is not the way.  Violence is not the way.  Fighting is not the way to make America great or the world the way God wants it to be.

 

The Way of Christ
Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  The people of Israel thought the Messiah would come to save them from their enemies—that he would fight for them with a sword and liberate them from the Romans.  Jesus knew that would never work. 

 

Jesus could have easily beaten the Roman army.  He said in Matthew 26:53, “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” Certainly, God’s angels could defeat the Romans.  However, Jesus knew a violent uprising would never work because it’s not how you change people hearts.  Only love can change people’s hearts.  


Love is how Jesus changed the world.  And love is how Jesus wants his followers to make the world a better place.  Love is how Jesus wants you to make America a better place.

 

And this is a message for everyone—Republicans, Democrats, independents, progressives, and conservatives and everyone in between.  It’s time to stop pointing fingers at everyone else and saying how evil they are.  It’s time to stop calling people names because of what party or philosophy they follow.  It’s time to start treating everyone with respect.  It’s time to start listening and learning from each other.  (You don’t have to agree with someone to respect them, to listen to them, and learn from them.)

 

It’s time to start living by love or else we will die by the sword.

What does that mean for you? The details may vary from person to person. Some suggestions might be to stop calling people names becasue of their political party or ideology.  Maybe you need to change your attitude and understand that people with whom you agree probably believe what they do for good reasons. They are not the enemy.  Quite often they share the same values as you, but just prioritize them differently.  

Most importantly, if you are a Christian who has committed your life to follow Jesus as your Lord, recognize your role and work as hard as you can to do things the way Jesus would do it.  Perhaps the way of Christ is best summarized in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi.

The Prayer of St Francis of Assisi

Lord make me an instrument of Your peace

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness joy.

O Divine master grant that I may

Not so much seek to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love

For it is in giving that we receive

And it is in pardoning that we are pardoned

And it is in dying that we are born

To eternal life.

Amen.

 

Will you live this prayer?  Peter boasted he would die for Jesus.  I'm sure the other Disciples thought the same.  But we see in our scripture, they all fled.  They were probably willing to die for Jesus on a battlefield, but not on a cross.  It’s easy to pledge you will die for Jesus.  But will you live for him—even if it means dying on a cross instead of dying in glory on the battlefield?  Jesus' way is the way of the cross.

 


Monday, August 17, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Episode 1 - Sun, Moon, and Stars

Introduction

A long time ago, in a land far away…

God’s chosen people live in Canaan.

A teenager named Joseph was full of God’s Spirit,

Which made him dream and showed Joseph the meaning of the dreams.

The dreams revealed a glorious future, but also great trouble,

Because even when God has great plans in store for us,

Things Fall Apart.

Joseph was gifted by God and loved by his father,

But Joseph was also young, spoiled, and arrogant.

His brothers hated him.  Their father, Jacob, loved Joseph more than them.

He showered Joseph with praise, cuddled him, and gave him special gifts,

Like the custom made, multicolored coat, Jacob had made just for Joseph.

The borhters hatred of Joseph was fueled by jealousy and by Joseph’s own egoism.

He never missed and opportunity to rub his status as the “golden child” in their faces.

But dark days were coming, because even for God’s people,

Things Fall Apart…

God's Salvation Story
It’s a story that goes all the way back to the beginning of time.  I’m not talking about the story of Joseph—that’s just one series of stories in the midst of the The Story—the story of God’s salvation of humanity.  No, I’m talking about, the story of how things fall apart.  Things have been falling apart since Genesis.  For God created a perfect world and He made a perfect Garden and He made people to be perfect and that’s why He gave them the ability to choose how they would live in this perfect world—because that was the only way to allow them the ability to love.

Love is always a choice.  It must be a choice.  You cannot will someone or force someone to love.  They must choose to love of their own free will.  That is the only way real love can exist.  And God loved His creation.  And God loved the people He made to be stewards of His creation.  And God hoped His people would love Him too.  But God could not make them.  He would not make them.  For He wanted their love—if they chose to love Him—to be genuine. 

And to start with, the first humans did love God.  They obeyed Him when He said, "Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of God and evil."  But then Satan, that crafty, deceitful, shamefully evil serpent slithered into God’s garden and tempted the first woman.  And she ate some of the fruit God told her she must not eat. And she also gave some to her husband and he ate.  And so that day they chose to love themselves and their own ambitions more they they loved God.

That was the first time things fell apart.  Sin entered the world. 

God’s perfect world became corrupt.  His people became corrupt. You can read all the stories in the Bible.  Cain killed his brother Able and then people became more and more wicked until the only solution was for God to wash the whole earth clean with a flood.  He started over again with a man named Noah.  But even then, things fell apart.  Even as God actively works to save the world from sin, things fall apart—right up to this very day.

Who among us haven't experienced our plans falling apart during the COVID-19 pandemic?  I think everyone has.  It's almost impossible to plan.  School was supposed to start back nea the beginning of August, but then COVID cases surged adn they decided to push the start date back to August 31st.  However, we are now experienced enough to know that's just a target date.  We know things can change, because we live in uncertain times and things fall apart. 

But where was I?  Oh yes.  The story of Joseph, a bright young man with a bright future.  But things fall apart... 


Genesis 37:9-13, 18-21

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”

 

10 This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” 11 But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant.

 

12 Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing the sheep at Shechem. Get ready, and I will send you to them.”

“I’m ready to go,” Joseph replied.

18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

21 But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father.

Fallen Red Wood Tree

Have you ever made really good plans, only to see them fall apart? I had some awesome plans to take my daughter to see the red wood forest in California.  It was to be a special trip in honor of her turning thirteen.  We were to fly out to Portland Oregon and spend several days driving down the Pacific coast and stopping in to see the redwood forest.  Then we would end our trip in San Francisco before flying back home.  The flights and hotels were booked and we were supposed to leave the last week of March.  And then COVID-19 shut everything down. a week or two before our trip.  Things fell apart.

If God’s plans fall apart, why are we surprised when our plans fall apart?  We delude ourselves if we think anything is guaranteed.   

Joseph’s brothers hated him and planned to kill him.  Reuben secretly planned to save Joseph.  He had a plan.  He hated Joseph too; but it’s one thing to hate someone.  It’s another thing to kill them.  Rueben didn’t want that.  Reuben had a plan to save Joseph, but it fell apart. 

Genesis 37:23-36

23 So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24 Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime.[c] 27 Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces[d] of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.

29 Some time later, Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern. When he discovered that Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief. 30 Then he went back to his brothers and lamented, “The boy is gone! What will I do now?”

31 Then the brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood. 32 They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message: “Look at what we found. Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?”

33 Their father recognized it immediately. “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe. A wild animal must have eaten him. Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. 35 His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave[e] mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianite traders[f] arrived in Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard.

Who’s to Blame?

What a terrible waste!  Joseph was just about the same age as my daughter, who just started her first semester of college.  I think of my daughter—so young, so smart, so full of potential with a bright future ahead f her.  That was Joseph. God’s hand was upon him.  He was going to do great things through Joseph.  Then, this happened.

Who’s to blame for it all?  His brothers are to blame—for sure.  Their murderous actions were pure evil.  You should never hate someone.  Do you see where it leads?  I don’t care how much you hate someone, you should never murder. 

Even so, Josephs brothers aren’t the only ones to blame.  Let’s be honest.  Joseph’s father is to blame too.  Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons.  And he didn’t even try to cover it up.  If Jacob had loved his sons all the same and treated them fairly and equally, they wouldn’t have been so jealous they wanted to see Joseph dead.

And what about Joseph?  Doesn’t he share some of the blame too?  Didn’t he relish being his dad’s favorite son?  Didn’t he go out of his way to rub it all in his brother’s faces?  I’m not saying any of this justifies what Joseph’s brothers did.  However, I hope you can see everyone shares at least some of the blame for the way things fall apart.  We all share some of the blame because we all sin and sin corrupts the world and leads to this kind of suffering for everyone, everywhere.

God still has a plan for Joseph.  God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  When things fall apart, God is still in control and He is still at work.  Some how, some way, God takes things that fall apart and turns them into something beautiful.  However, in order to see if and how God redeems this broken story, you’re going to have to come back for the next episode next week.

 

The Mosaic of Life 

Some of the most beautiful art is created with mosaics.  A mosaic is a picture or pattern produced by arranging together broken pieces of tile or glass.  It takes incredible vision and artistic ability to make the most intricate mosaics, which may consist of millions of tiny broken pieces.  However, the results are stunning (as you can see in the picture above).

 

Our lives are like the broken pieces of a mosaic in the hands of God.  We see our plans falling apart.  We see only broken pieces, but God has a vision and plan.  He uses even the brokenness to make something indescribably beautiful.

 

God had a plan for Joseph. God has a plan for you.  And it doesn’t matter if you:

·       Messed up with your kids like Jacob

·       Struggle with jealousy like Joseph’s brothers

·       Are arrogant and proud like Joseph

·       Or anything else.

 

If your plans fall apart and you don’t know where to begin putting the pieces back together, trust God. God has a plan for you and nothing can thwart His plans.  Even if everything falls apart, God can put it back together in ways you can’t even imagine. 

But you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to trust God.

You will be tempted to either give up or try to glue the pieces back together yourself.

It won’t work.  Only God—through Jesus Christ—can redeem your broken life and broken plans.

And when He does, it will be more beautiful than you can ever imagine.

Do you trust Him?  Will you let Him?

 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Questions about Jesus, Baptism, and the Bible


Matthew 7:7-8
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus appreciates people who seek answers.  Christ do for those who don't care, but those who seek, find.  Over the next few weeks, I will answer several questions about religions, heaven, forgiveness, and even racism for people who are seeking answers.  Let me start with a few general questions people have asked about the personality of Jesus, baptism, and the Bible.

Does Jesus have a personality?  Does Jesus have a sense of humor?
Let me start the answer with two points:
1)  People are made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 – “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

2)  Jesus is God. John 1:1 “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed. The Word [Jesus]  was with God, and the Word was God.”

So, people are made in God’s image. We reflect His character the way a mirror reflect our face.  We are God's mirrors.  Granted, because of sin, our ability to reflect God's perfect character is broken; however, just as a shattered mirror still reflects an image (albeit distorted and imperfect), we still reflect the image of God (although imperfectly).  People have personalities because God has a personality. People have a sense of humor because God has a sense of humor. 

Furthermore, Jesus was fully God and fully human. This is a mystery. However, it is an essential element of understanding Jesus's character. Jesus was simultaneously God in every way and also human in every way. Jesus was the perfect example of what humanity was design to be.  Therefore it must be true that Jesus has a personality and a sense of humor.  The stories from Jesus' life also bear this out.  The first miracle Jesus performed was at a wedding party--a place of joy and celebration--and he made wine, which is a substance people use to enhance joy at a party.  It seems reasonable that Jesus was at the wedding to party and celebrate with everyone else.

People were drawn to Jesus because he was a real person with an attractive personality.  He had emotions just like the rest of us.  He experienced, sorrow, and anger.  Jesus even showed humor in many of his parables.  We often miss his joke because there is a cultural divide (have you ever watched a comedian from another country and scratched your head because they didn't seem funny, even though everyone else was laughing?  Ever struggled to find humor in British comedy?  There's a cultural divide that affects humor.)  An example of humor is the irony in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  We usually miss the humor, but Jesus' original listeners would have caught the ionic humor.

So yes, Jesus had a personality and humor.  An important question for you is this:  do you know Jesus as a person with a personality? Is he a real person to you or is Jesus just a historical figure or a picture you've seen in a stained glass window?  The main point of the Christian faith is that Jesus is not dead, but alive and he wants to have a real personal relationship with you.  He wants you to talk to him like you would to a real person, because he is a real person.  And he must be a real person to you or your religion is just not enough.

What is the difference in immersion and sprinkling as it relates to baptism?
Ephesians 4:5 says, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”  Jesus commanded his followers to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Baptism is how we initiate people into the Christian faith, the family of God, the Church.  There is only one baptism, but it can be celebrated in different forms.

Baptism by immersion is when we "dunk" a person entire body completely under the surface of the water.  It can be done in a baptismal pool, a river, a lake, or any large body of water.  Baptism by immersion is a beautiful ceremony that symbolizes how a person who becomes a Christian has died to their old sinful ways and has been raised to new life as a new creation in Christ.  The person is symbolically buried as they dipped below the water's surface and raised to new life as they are lifted back up.

Another method of baptism that is more common in my Methodist church is sprinkling.  Through sprinkling, the pastor dips their fingers in a bowl of water and sprinkles a few drops of water on the person's head.  Sprinkling as has deep symbolic meaning.  In the Old Testament when God chose the Israelites to be His people, He had His priest sprinkle them with blood and water in a purification rite.  God claimed the Israelites as His very own people, a royal priesthood set apart as holy.  As we sprinkle a person with water through holy baptism, we recognize that God has chosen and purified them to be part of His holy people, the Body of Christ.

Another method of baptism that we see less often in my part of the world (but that is just as valid) is pouring.  Through pouring, a ladle or pitcher is used to pour water over the head of the baptized.  This method recalls how God pours out His Holy Spirit upon those who are baptized into the Christian faith.

In all these methods, we recognize baptism as the sacred ceremony Jesus command us to practice that God uses to pour His grace into our lives.  God does not save us through baptism, but He marks us as His own people and gives us help to grow in the faith.  We want as many as are willing to receive this special help God offers through baptism.  God can and does offer His full assistance regardless of the amount of water we use.  (It has been said that the minimum amount of water necessary for a valid baptism is only three drops--one each for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).  The amount of water used is not important; faith is what matters.

But why do Methodists (and many other Christian denominations) baptize infants?  Infants are not old enough to understand what God is doing or have faith.  However, their parents (or Christian sponsors) are and they bring their child seeking the assistance of God and the support of the Christian community to raise their child until the child is old enough to understand and have faith for themself.  

Infant baptism is not explicitly recorded in the New Testament.  This is because almost everyone in the New Testament became a Christian as an adult convert from another religion.  When an adult became a Christian they were baptized.  In some places, like Acts 16:31-33, the Scripture says a person was converted and baptized along with his whole household.  The text doesn't say who belonged the household, but this could have included children (possibly even very young children).
It wasn't long though (by the late first century) that Christian parents began having children who they wanted to raise within the Church from the very beginning.  They wanted to mark their children as God's chosen as infants.  Obviously, it is more practical to baptize infants by sprinkling than by immersion.  As Christianity spread worldwide, it became much more common for people to be born into Christian families that wanted to initiate them into the church as infants.

Infant baptism is one of the longest ceremonies we practice in the Christian church.  I don't mean that the service is very long.  Let me explain.  When parents bring me an infant to baptize, I sprinkle water on the child's head and God claims the child as His own and pour out His grace ot help the parents and community of faith raise the child to accept Christ for themself one day.  When the service is over and the parents leave, the sacrament of baptism is still proceeding; it is not over yet.  The infant's baptism will not conclude until the day the child grows up enough to understand and accept faith in Christ for themself.  Then they will come back to the church (maybe not even to me or my church; it could be another) and confirm their faith in Christ as heir Lord and Savior.  It may be 10, 20, even 50 years after the water was sprinkled on their head.  And it is in the moment that they confirm their own faith that the baptism that began in their infancy is finally complete.  So infant baptism in a very long ceremony that could take a decade or more to finish.

One more thing I must state, because I encounter this misunderstanding so often.  Many people confuse christening and baptism.  Sometimes people refer to infant baptism as christening.  So they will sometimes tell me, "I was christen as a baby, but now I want to be baptized as an adult."  If you were christen with water as an infant, you were already baptized.  Christening is one part of the baptismal ceremony.  It is the point in the baptism when we give the child their Christian name.  A long time ago, parents didn't not officially name their child until their baptism.  Then, during the ceremony, the priest asks, "What is the Christian name you give this child?"  And the parents would reply, "Bobbi Sue".  The act of naming the child is christening.  Then the infant is baptized by sprinkling water on it's head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  God pours out His grace on the child, the parents, the sponsors, and the community of faith that the child may grow up in the Christian faith and one day accept it for him or herself.  God has baptized the child and there is no need to ever do it again.  In fact, as a Methodist minister, I am forbidden to re-baptize a child.  To do so would not make sense.  Sense God is the one who baptizes, to re-baptize would like claiming God didn't do it right the first time.  An initiation only needs to happen once.  We can confirm the initiation or remember the baptism, but we don't re-baptize.

Is the Bible the Word of God to humans or is it humans’ words about God?
I suspect the root what's at the root of this question is the concern (or challenge) about the Bible's divine inspiration and/or reliability. This Bible is inspired by God and it is reliable.

To answer the question (and underlying concerns), I should start by saying the Bible is (in a sense) both God's Word and humans' words about God. Hear me out. The Bible is a collection of the stories about people's experiences with God. It was written by many different people over thousands of years. However, the Bible is inspired by God. What we have in the Bible is exactly what God wants us to have and He uses the Bible to speak to us.

Different parts of the Bible were written in different ways. Exodus 32:18 says God inscribed terms of His covenant with Israel (summarized in the Ten Commandments) with His very own finger. In most places, though, the Bible was not written directly by God. It was written by people. Sometimes God dictated a prophecy directly to a prophet and said "Go say this!" or "Write this down and don't you change it!" But the majority of Scripture was written by regular people whom God inspired. People are flawed, and sometimes their flaws sneak into Scripture. (Example, sometimes people in the New Testament mix up quotes from the Old Testament).  Furthermore, peoples cultural ideas are not necessarily good or perfect (or even Godly) just because they are in the Bible.  However, God uses flawed humans (and their ideas) to communicate His Word to people.  As one old expression goes, "God can draw straight lines with a crooked stick."

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the most important way God communicates with people today.  God inspired people who wrote the Bible and He also inspired the people who collected and compiled it.  Everything we need to to lead us to faith and salvation is within the Bible's sacred pages.  It is the primary source of all Christian faith and practice.  It is different from all other books in that God speaks directly to us through it when we read it—even to you personally.  You can certainly find help from many other books, but none of them can speak to you the way God can speak to you through the Bible if you read it through eyes of faith and an obedient heart.

Conclusion
I always appreciate receiving questions.  you can email me more at ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com and I will try to answer them.  Let me conclude with a few questions for you to ponder and answer for yourself.
  • Do you have a real, personal relationship with Jesus? He is a person with a personality. You can talk to him and relate to him as such.  You must.  How could you delve deeper into a real relationship with the person, Jesus?  Will you?
  • Have you been baptized? Baptism is the initiation ceremony of the Church, the Body of Christ.  Jesus commanded us to be baptized and through baptism, we receive the grace of God through the Holy Spirit to continue to grow in our faith.  I would love to baptize you if you are willing.  If you live far away, I encourage you to seek a Christian community of faith to baptize you.
  • Do you read the Bible in order to let God speak to you? Do you study it with others?  The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the primary way God speaks to His people.  Are you listening?  Are you reading?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Lost Books of the Bible???


 My weekly Bible study asked me to teach about the "Lost Books" of the Bible.  Since this is something many people seem interested in, I thought I'd share my thoughts.  Seedbed put out a helpful 7 minute video that touches on the subject.  You can watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYsNRHSSG9U.  Here are my thoughts on the subject.



Lost Books?
The term “Lost Books” is really inaccurate.  It implies that some books were not included in the Bible because they were lost (maybe even intentionally).  This is not true.  There were many books, scrolls, letters, and other writings floating around the ancient world when the early Christian church formed—just as there are numerous books floating around in our world today.  Some books were good and helpful for early Christians and others were not.  Some writings stood the test of time, others did not.  Only certain books, the ones God wanted, made it into the Bible.  We have known about most of the other so called "lost books" throughout the centuries and they have been available for people to read, though few had much interest.  Some books were indeed lost, simply because books eventually degrade and fall apart if not reproduced.  How many modern books printed in the last 100 years do you suppose have been “lost” in this way simply because no one cares to read them?  The term “Lost Books” is really more of a marketing ploy.  It grabs people’s attention—especially in an age when many are looking for salacious conspiracy theories about how a supposedly “evil church” has tried to suppress the supposed “real” truth about Jesus.  This is all nonsense.  If you want to know the real Truth about Jesus and God and how we are to live, it is right there in the Bible—the same one that often sits forgotten and unread on the bookshelf in many people’s homes.  In an age where few people actually read the Bible, one could argue the real lost books of the Bible are actually the very ones listed in your Bible’s table of contents, because if you don’t read them they are indeed lost to you.

The Bible.  The Canon.
When we talk about the Bible, we are really talking about an authorized collection of books and letters that have been preserved through the ages and are considered inspired by God and authoritative for Christian belief and practice.  The authorized list of books is called the canon.  No, we’re not talking about a big gun that shoots cannonballs.  Canon is an old word that means “ruler,” like a measuring ruler.  The books we have in our Bible today were “measured” by God through the use of the early Church Christians and found to be inspired and authoritative to be included with the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) to serve as God’s written Word.


How did they measure which books should be included in the Bible?
Great question!  This was determined by 3 measures:
Measure #1 is Authorship. Who wrote it?  All the books early Christians included in the Bible were written by the Apostles or someone close to them.

Measure #2 is Harmony.  Does the book agree with the doctrine of what other accepted books teach and what Jesus and the Apostles said? 

Measure #3 is Acceptance.  Was the book widely used by the early Church as a whole?  The books that made it into the Bible were only the ones that had gained wide acceptance by the whole church that was spread out across the Mediterranean world during the first few centuries of the Christian era.

[Note:  Historical records show that by 180 AD Irenaeus says that the 4 Gospels had become authoritative (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  By 325 AD, Eusibius shared a list of 20 books that are in our New Testament.  By 362 AD, Bishop Athanasius lists all 27 New Testament books that we now have in our New Testament.  And of course, the Christian Bible always included the books of the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible Jesus read).

Why were the so called “Lost Books” not included in the Bible?
The “so called lost books” weren’t included in the Bible for good reasons.  They didn’t measure up.  They were not written by the Apostles or those close to them (although they sometimes falsely claimed to be).  They were not in harmony with the plain teachings of Jesus and his early followers.  They were not widely accepted by the whole Church.  There were sometimes other reasons too.  When heretical groups tried to corrupt or change the true message of Christ, they often discarded books that contradicted their teachings and/or substitute their own writings, which were forgeries written to support their false teachings.  For example, one corrupted group led by a man named Marcian created their own Bible.  The Marcian Bible rejected the entire OT, used only parts of the Gospel of Luke, and some of Paul’s letters.  (They only allowed the parts of the Bible that didn’t refute Marcian’s heretical religious ideas.)  Marcian and his sect's ideas were strange and vastly different from what Jesus and his Apostles taught and what the Christian Church as a whole believed.  Their ideas and their books were rejected.  Heretical groups like the Marcians eventually lead Christians to establish an authorized canon of books that the church was already using that did "measure up".  These are the 27 books we now have in the Christian New Testament, plus the Jewish Bible that Christians call the Old Testament.

Conclusion
The Canonical Bible that we use is the Inspired Word of God.  The writers were inspired but also the collectors were inspired so that the Bible we have today is the Inspired Written Word of God that has the authority to guide all Christian beliefs and practices.  John 21:25 actually says, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”  We don't claim that the Bible tells us absolutely everything that happened, only that it teaches everything the Christian needs to know for salvation and to live a Christian life.  Furthermore, the Bible can be trusted as the inspired Word of God.  Those other so call "Lost Books" are not trustworthy and are not the Word of God.  At best, they may be interesting and helpful (though they are mostly weird and boring).  At the worst, they are false teachings designed to lead people astray.  

It doesn't make much sense to waste much time reading so called "lost books" of the Bible.  The real Bible, which is the authorized Word of God, has plenty of challenging truths to digest.  You will never exhaust the Bible's resources.  It will change your life and continue to help you grow from day to day as you listen and obey.  Therefore, I recommend you not waste time wading through other ancient writings unless you have a really good reason.  They will not give you some mind-blowing new revelation.  The Bible can, but they can't.  Therefore, devote your time and energy to studying something with true power and authority--The Holy Bible.  And I invite you to join me for Bible Study on Thursdays at 10:30 AM at Pleasant Grove UMC to really get the most out of God's Holy Word.  We will have a discussion about the "So Called Lost Books" April 4th and then start a new series called "Scripture and the Wesleyan Way" on April 11th.  God Bless!



Thursday, September 6, 2018

What is the Reading Level of My Bible?

In my morning study today, I came across this interesting information that indicated the reading level
of various versions of the Holy Bible.  I thought you might find this interesting too.  The Bible is a great book to read.  It is known as the bestselling book of all times.  Actually, I believe the Bible is more than a typical book.  It is a living word from God.  That is, it is sacred tool God uses to speak to us.  If you read the Bible prayerfully, God speaks to you.  Time in the Word is a conversation with God.  All books can speak to us in some sense, but God speaks to us in the Bible in a special way.  

However, can you understand your Bible?  Many people have expressed to me their difficulty in reading and understanding the Scripture.  I understand and have at time faced this difficulty too.  Today, I found some information on biblegateway.com that indicated the reading levels for various translations.  How difficult is it to understand your translation?  If you are having trouble understanding your Bible, maybe you should choose a translation that is easier to grasp.  Here is what biblegateway says about the reading level of the various Bible versions:


Not everyone agrees about the minimum grade level of every translation or the formulas used to calculate them. But we offer as general guidelines the following range of USA school grade levels (taken from information provided by the publishers of the various translations wherever possible) and age levels. The first number is the grade level for which the Bible is generally considered accessible; the number in parentheses is an estimated age at which a reader can fully read and understand it:
Mounce — 12+ (ages 17+)
KJV — 12+ (ages 17+)
RSV — 12+ (ages 17+)
Geneva — 12+ (ages 17+)
WEB — 12+ (ages 17+)
NRSV — 11+ (ages 16+)
NASB — 11+ (ages 16+)
Amplified — 11+ (ages 16+)
MEV — 11+ (ages 16+)
LEB — 11+ (ages 16+)
ESV — 10+ (ages 15+)
J.B. Phillips NT — 10+ (ages 15+)
NABRE — 9+ (ages 14+)
NIV — 7+ (ages 12+)
CEB — 7+ (ages 12+)
NET — 7+ (ages 12+)
GNT — 7+ (ages 12+)
ISV — 7+ (ages 12+)
NKJV — 7+ (ages 12+)
HCSB — 7+ (ages 12+)
The Voice — 6+ (ages 11+)
NLT — 6+ (ages 11+)
CEV — 5+ (ages 10+)
GW — 5+ (ages 10+)
The Message — 4+ (ages 9+)
Living — 4+ (ages 9+)
ERV — 4+ (ages 9+)
NCV — 3+ (ages 7+)
ICB — 3+ (ages 7+)
NIrV — 3+ (ages 7+)

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Graduation Sermon

Introduction
            It’s amazing how fast the years go by.  One minute you're a kid excited to be starting preschool or kindergarten and it seems like it will be an eternity before you graduate high school.  But the years go by so fast and before you know it you've gone through elementary school, middle school, and high school and your graduating.  Then maybe you've finished college and gotten your first job or you're getting married or having kids and then your own kids are graduating high school!  The older I get, the faster it seems the years go by!
            This is the time of year high school students graduate and begin a new phase of life as young adults.  They are excited and maybe a little apprehensive about what lies ahead.  Parents are proud, but also full of bitter sweet emotions--seeing their babies grow up, happy and excited for them, but also maybe a little worried and sad to let them spread their wings and leave the nest.
            Today, I want to share something for parents and graduates to comfort and encourage you in this transition.  However, it's not just for graduates and parents.  It's for everyone who if we has ears
to hear.

Psalm 16:7-11
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.  8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.  11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Praise God!
            Can we just take a moment and, as the Psalm suggests in verse 7a, just praise the Lord for all He has done?  Parents, you've survived changing dirty diapers and crying babies, the terrible twos (when your precious angel baby turned into a diabolical demon child)!  Somehow, you managed to keep food on the table and the bills paid when there never seemed to be enough money to make ends meet!  You taught them to drive and they didn't crash a die in burning ball of flames!  You survived boyfriends and girlfriends and arguments over prom dresses and makeup.  And, through it all, you had the joy and pleasure of holding this precious life in your hands and nurturing them and learning from them and being challenged by them because they are so much like you and yet so distinct from you!
            Graduates, you managed to grow from a baby who had to learn to use the toilet to learning the ABC and how to write and math and algebra and geometry and maybe calculus!  And you survived history and English literature and writing essays and countless pop quizzes and finals and SATs.  And you managed to deal with parents who love you so much but just don’t really fully understand your life and the new times we live in!
            Can we all just pause for a moment, just to praise God for being with all of us every step of the way!  Just close your eyes (or keep them open and look up to the heavens) and shout "Thank You God!  You have been so good to me!"

You Know What to Do
            And if you’ve been walking with the Lord, if you’ve let Him be with you through it all, He's now incorporated into your heart—into everything you are, the way you think, the way you act.  You don’t even have to think about it, any more than you have to think about breathing or making your heart beat.  Have you ever noticed that when you go to sleep, you don't have to remember to breathe?  It's just keeps happening.  And you heart keeps right on beating.  And the Psalmist says, “Even at night while I sleep, my heart instructs me.”  If you've let Jesus into your heart, his Holy Spirit instructs you every step of the way, and you don't even have to think about it.
            Graduates, as you go off to your next adventure, you take with you all you have learned from school, from your parents and teachers and friends and your church.  It’s part of who you are now.  You need not worry about the unknown that may await you.  You’ve prepared.  Our thoughts and prayers go with you, but not only that.  A part of all that has loved you and nurtured you and cared for you goes with you. It is now part of who you are.
            Parents and family, friends and loved ones, church, you have invested in your young ones so faithfully.  Your wisdom and experience goes with them, as does the Lord.  So take heart and have faith.  Do not worry or be anxious (it wouldn’t do any good anyway).  But in everything give thanks and praise to God for what He has done and give your cares and concerns to the Lord in prayer.
            We can all go forth with confidence, thanking the Lord for all we have shared with one another, trusting that each graduate has the wisdom and character to make the right choices in the days to come. 

Verse 8-9 – Keep your eyes on the Lord. 
            Keep your eyes on the Lord.  Remember what you have learned.  Remember the Lord and His ways and what He has done for you.  For you!  And so walk with Him.  You will grow and mature.  Your faith may change as you gain more knowledge and wisdom, but faith need not be shaken.  Only let your childish ideas grow up and change if needs be, but never lose your childlike faith and trust in Jesus.

Verse 10 – For God will never abandon you. 
            God will never leave you or forsake you.  Never.  “For God loved you so much, He sent His one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save it.”  And Jesus went so far to save you as to lay down his life for you on the cross.  And so, Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.  He goes with you!
            This is a promise that gives hope and assurances to graduates and parents and to all who truly trust in the Lord!  For nothing—not even death—can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.  So take courage and rejoice!  All of you!  For if God is for us, who can ever be against us?

Verse 11 – “You make known to me the path of life…”
            We had five high school students from my church graduate this year.  I’ve known each of them for many years.  I met Rachel Ward when she was only 10-years-old (one year younger than my youngest daughter is now).  She has worked in the church nursery for several years, loving kids and serving the Church.  I'm so proud of the caring and thoughtful young woman she's become. 
            JC McDonald was also about ten when I first met her.  I will always remember how she invited me to come to her elementary school to for a special program to show pastors what they were learning.  She is also a fine young lady. 
            Twins, Meredith and Ward Barber, started coming to my church when they were in middle school.  They wanted to join the church along with their mother and older sister.  So we had a crash course in what it means to be a Christian and they made their professions of faith and joined and then came back a few months later to go through our formal confirmation classes.  I was a chaplain for Ward's middle school football team.  I was at many of the Beta Club and Honor Society meetings with Meredith because two of my children were also in those programs.  I'm so proud she is now graduating as valedictorian of her high school. 
            I had the privilege to help sponsor Will Maddox to attend a Chrysalis weekend spiritual retreat.  Two years ago, Will's family lost their home to a fire in the middle of the night.  Will's sister had to leap to safety from the second story window.  She survived, but with a broken pelvis.  And Will was such a caring big brother to her while she was in the hospital and as she recovered through physical therapy. 
            I have been a small part of each graduates' life, and part of their family, to some degree for many years.  Everything I’ve taught in my sermons and in our conversations and what our church has offered them was founded on God’s Word, the Bible, and intended to steer them safely down the path of life.  (Not just this life, but True Life, Eternal Life.) 
            These graduates' parents, who brought them to church each Sunday, wanted the same for them as I have--that they would know the love of God and trust Jesus and have eternal life.   I hope they have listened to us and taken to heart what we’ve offered.  If so, it is part of who they are and will steer them down the path of life, if they obey.
            The Word of God, the Bible, is readily available to each graduate and to us all.  Most people have many copies of the Bible (if you need a Bible contact me and I will give you one).  The Bible it is readily available on the internet at biblegateway.com, on your smart phones, you can even listen to the Bible on an app while you are driving in your car
            And these words of Scripture are the Living Word of God—the Word of Life.  They are a conversation with your Creator.  They can continue to steer you down the path of life if you will listen to them.  But will you?
            I started reading my Bible every day when I was a senior in high school.  Each night, before I went to bed, I would read one chapter.  However, when I went to college, I faced a dilemma.  My first year in the college, I lived in a dorm with a room mate.  And my first night there, I found my self laying in the bed thinking, "Am I gonna pick up my Bible and start reading?  My roommate's gonna think I'm some sort of Bible-thumping, religious fanatic."  And then I saw my roommate reach over and grab his Bible and start reading!  So my dilemma was solved and I continue my habit of reading a chapter of scripture from the Bible every night until I read through the entire thing.

Challenge
            Graduating from school is a momentous transition.  It is a great time for graduates to start a new and healthy spiritual habit.  It's also a great time for their parents to do the same.  Actually, anytime is a great time to start a new and helpful spiritual practice.  So I would like to issue a challenge--to parents, to graduates, to everyone--why not start reading a chapter from your Bible each night.  And cut yourself some slack.  You're probably not going to understand everything you read and that's OK.  Reading the Bible is not about getting and understanding more information.  It's about spending time with your Creator--the one who designed you and breathed life into you and Who loves you and desires more than anything to spend time with you and be loved by you.  When you pick up your Bible and read, you are in the presence of God and His words pour into your heart and become part of who you are without you even knowing it.  Then, no matter where you go or what you do, as the Psalmist says, God will counsel you in your heart, make known the path of life, and fill you with the joy of His presence and the eternal pleasures of His right hand.
             Will you take the challenge to read one chapter of your Bible each night before you go to bed?