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Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts

Monday, November 25, 2019

#1 The Tale of Tamar


2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

All Scripture is inspired by God.  Even the parts we tend to skip like the genealogies or the weird and disturbing stories in the Old Testament.  In this blog, I'm going to focus on a couple of those passages people tend to skip over.  I'm not going to skip these passages today, because they are inspired by God and they have much to teach us if we listen closely.


Matthew 1:1-16
This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham[a]:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Ram.[b]
4 Ram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asa.[c]
8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.[d]
Jehoram was the father[e] of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amon.[f]
Amon was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin[g] and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
12 After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

5 Christmas Maidens
Do you keep up with your own genealogy?  Some people are fascinated by their own ancestry.  There are even shows on television now where experts trace the ancestry of famous celebrities.  We tend to skip over the genealogy of Christ, though, the most famous person who ever lived.  And if you skip over Christ’s inspired genealogy, you will miss some important facts.  

Like this:  There are 40 men listed in Jesus genealogy, which makes sense because Jewish genealogies from the first century listed lineage through the male ancestors.  The people the Bible records were a mostly a male dominated, patriarchal culture.  You don’t have to like it.  God didn’t, but it is the reality and you must understand the role of patriarchy in the biblical text or you might miss some very important clues, like this:  There are 40 men listed in Jesus’ genealogy and only 5 women. 

But the fact that there are 5 women listed in a genealogy written in a male dominated, patriarchal society is huge!  Why did the men who kept track of all this stuff and write it down even care about these 5 women—the 5 Christmas maidens?   You might think they are some pretty special women who really deserved the recognition.  They are special, but maybe not in the way you think.  Their stories may challenge your preconceived notions of holiness.

Apparently, God inspired the writer of Matthew 1:1-16 to record the names of these 5 women, without whom Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of all would not have been born into the world that first Christmas day.  So, between now and Christmas, we are going to hear the stories of each of these 5 Christmas maidens between now and Christmas.

Tamar
The first Christmas maiden is Tamar and her tale comes from Genesis 38.  Tamar was a Canaanite woman.  The Canaanites—as a whole—were evil in God’s site.  They were evil because they had twisted religion so much that it had nothing to do with the One True God who made them anymore.  Canaanite religion was a way to make God into their own image through idolatry.  They worshiped through sexual orgies in order to arouse their gods so they would do favors for them.  They even hired temple prostitutes to have sex with the worshipers.  (I’m not making this stuff up. This was the Canaanite religion.)  Furthermore, the Canaanites even sacrificed their own children as part of their wicked religious ceremonies.  God rejected the Canaanites’ wicked religion and determined to drive them out of Canaan and give their land to Abraham’s descendants.  Tamar (the great, great… grandmother of Jesus) was a despised Canaanite.  (If you ever feel like there’s no hope for you, remember Tamar.)

The name Tamar means date palm.  The date palm is a tree in Israel that produces a most amazing fruit called a date that is dried to make something like a raisin, but a raisin the size of your thumb!  You can buy dates at Kroger, but they don’t even come close to the amazing Medjool dates you get in Israel, their native land.  I have been to Israel and enjoyed the dates their near Jericho and they are to die for.  Tamar means date.  And apparently, Tamar was to die for too.  Her story is found in Genesis 38.

Genesis 38:6-10
In the course of time, Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother.”

But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he spilled the semen on the ground. This prevented her from having a child who would belong to his brother. 10 But the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.

Levirate Marriage and Wickedness
Now here’s a weird passage (and a bit gross and explicit).  It’s no wonder you don’t hear this story that much in church.  But, it is part of the God’s inspired story of the redemption of all humanity so we’re not going to skip it today.  What’s going on here?

The ancient Israelites had a custom called Levirate marriage.  It seems strange to us, but it had an important purpose for them.  The people of the Old Testament lived in a patriarchal society.  Men dominated everything.  Women had very little status and no way to provide for or protect themselves without the men in their lives.  I don't think that's the way God intended life to be, but sin was part of the world and that's the way people lived.  Thankfully, we have grown to a place in the 21st century in America, where women are finally getting the respect they are due because women are equal with men and should be treated fairly.  But 4,000 years ago when Tamar lived in the middle east, women were not treated equally.  When they were young, their father protected and cared for them.  When they were married, their husband protected and cared for them.  When they were old, their grown male children protected and cared for them.  So it was devastating if a wife's husband died and she had no grown male children to care for her.  Levirate marriage provided for widows.  When Tamar's husband died, she became their dead brother's responsibility to protect and care for her.

Levirate marriage addressed another pressing problem for the Bible's patriarchal society.  The greatest curse for ancient Israelites was for your family name to die out.  Therefore, if a wife's husband died before he was able to produce a male child to carry on the family name, the dead husband's brother was obligated to produce a male child with his wife for him.  I know that seems really weird to us today, but that was very important to the ancient Israelites like Judah's family.  And it may not be as far fetched as you think.  Today, if a husband and wife can't conceive a child, they might go to a fertility clinic and pursue artificial insemination.  Levirate marriage was the way the ancients solved the problem long before fertility clinics were available.

Unfortunately, Judah and his sons were wicked. Judah’s first son, Ere, married Tamar, “But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life.” We don’t know why Er was wicked; the passage doesn't say. You might infer one reason though. This is reading into the text a bit, but maybe Er was more interested in the "tasty date" Tamar than he was in the Lord's plan for the Israelites.  You see, the Israelites were the people God chose to represent God to the whole world.  As such, they were to reject all other gods and false religions, like that of the Canaanites.  But Er seems to be more interested in tasty Tamar than the religion of the One True God.  Whatever the reason, Er was so wicked to God that he died. 

So, levirate marriage kicks in.  Er’s brother, Onan, is supposed to take Tamar as his own wife, protect her, care for her, and it was Onan's absolute obligation to make sure Tamar got pregnant and produced an heir to carry on his dead brother's name.  Now Onan, being a man, was perfectly willng to enjoy “pleasure” with Tamar, but he refused to produce children.  Sexual pleasure is great but children are a costly responsibility Onan didn't want, even though it was the law of his own people.  Verse 10 says, “the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.”

Genesis 38:11
11 Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Go back to your parents’ home and remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry you.” (But Judah didn’t really intend to do this because he was afraid Shelah would also die, like his two brothers.) So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home.

Used, Abused, and Forgotten
Tamar has now been used, abused, and forgotten.  Have you ever felt used, abused and forgotten?
Judah has a responsibility.  As the patriarch of the family, it is his responsibility to take care of everyone in his household; and this includes Tamar.  If his third son is too young to marry, then it is Judah's duty to take care of his daughter-in-law himself or until his youngest son is grown enough to do it.  Judah has no intention of doing the right thing.  His first two sons died because they were both wicked, but all Judah can think is it was Tamar fault.  Instead of seeing his son’s wickedness, send Tamar away.

God holds each of us accountable for our own sins.  It isn’t your lineage that makes you righteous or gains you favor in God’s eyes.  It is those who repent of their sins and turn to God through Jesus Christ His Son who enjoy the Lord’s favor.  In Tamar's story, we see taht Tamar hasn’t done anything wrong even though she is a Canaanite.  It is Judah and his sons--who are supposed to be God's chosen people--who are doing all the evil!  

Genesis 38:12-19
12 Some years later Judah’s wife died. After the time of mourning was over, Judah and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went up to Timnah to supervise the shearing of his sheep. 13 Someone told Tamar, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”
14 Tamar was aware that Shelah had grown up, but no arrangements had been made for her to come and marry him. [Judah has no intentions of doing the right thing for Tamar.]
So she changed out of her widow’s clothing and covered herself with a veil to disguise herself. Then she sat beside the road at the entrance to the village of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. 15 Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face. 
[Now notice, it doesn’t say Tamar dressed up like a prostitute.  It says Judah thought she was a prostitute.  What does that tell you was on Judah's mind?  It seems to me, Judah is not acting or thinking the way God wants His chosen people to act.]
16 So he stopped and propositioned her. “Let me have sex with you,” he said, not realizing that she was his own daughter-in-law.
“How much will you pay to have sex with me?” Tamar asked.
[Tamar is a smart woman.  She plays along to see where it might get her.  Tamar recognizes God’s purposes in Judah’s family.  Even though Judah’s family was not living the way they should, they were still the family God chose for His great plan to save the world.  Somehow, Tamar sensed God’s hand at work in Judah’s people--despite their wickedness--and she was determined to be part of it.  Are you determined to be part of God’s family even if His children—the people you see in Church on Sunday—don’t always live they way they should.  Can you recognize that God has a plan for everyone and that God is saving the whole world, even through a broken church?]
17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” Judah promised.
“But what will you give me to guarantee that you will send the goat?” she asked.
18 “What kind of guarantee do you want?” he replied.
She answered, “Leave me your identification seal and its cord and the walking stick you are carrying.” So Judah gave them to her. Then he had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant. 19 Afterward she went back home, took off her veil, and put on her widow’s clothing as usual.
Genesis 38:24-26
24 About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.”
“Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded. 
[This was the typical punishment.  It's definitely a double standard.  Men were obviously getting away with all kinds of sexual promiscuity and sleeping with prostitutes, but the women were being burned when they were unfaithful.  I don't think God was happy about it, but that's the broken world Tamar and Judah lived in.]
25 But as they were taking her out to kill her, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?”  [Busted!]
26 Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” And Judah never slept with Tamar again.

Closing Points
Tamar's story (and others like it) are one of the major reasons I believe the Bible is the reliable account of God's salvation work throughout history.  If I were going to make up a fictional story of God's people, I definitely would not include all this dirty laundry.  Would you?  The Bible doesn't try to sugar coat anything.  The story of how God saved humanity includes a lot of ugly, embarrassing stuff.  It's just to messy to be made up!  Do you have any skeletons in your family closet? So does Jesus.  

None of the people in Jesus family tree were there because they deserved it. They were only there because of God's grace and their faith to be a part of God's great plan—a plan that they didn’t even fully understand.  They just knew if it was God’s plan, it must be worth more than any thing else in the whole world!  God is looking for people like Tamar--people who have the faith to see that God is at work even when His people are not doing the right thing.  People who are willing to give up everything to be part of God's great Kingdom plan.  Are you willing to give up everything to be part of God’s Kingdom?  Do you have the faith to see it is worth it?

Next week, we will hear the story of Rahab the prostitute.
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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Jesus' Questions for You


My hope for this message series was to answer your questions about God and Christianity. 
But so far, I’ve only received on question (and I answered that one a couple weeks ago.
So even though I’ve offered you a chance to write your questions on the tear off in the bulletin and announced it from the pulpit each Sunday (and I’ve also sent out numerous emails and solicited questions on Facebook), I haven’t received any other questions.

But as I prayer about your lack of questions, Jesus laid something else on my heart.  Jesus said, “If they don’t have any questions for you, I’d like to ask them a few questions."  So that’s what I’m gonna do today for the sermon.  Since you haven’t asked any questions, Jesus has some questions for you.  The first question comes from Mark 8:27-29.

Mark 8:27-29
27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”
29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”

Who Do You Say I Am?
Jesus actually asks his disciples two questions in this passage: “Who do people say I am?”  And “Who do you say I am?”  Jesus asks you the same questions this morning.  Who do people say that I am and who do you say that I am?  These are critical questions.  Your answers will influence everything you do in this life and even eternity.


Almost everyone has some opinion about Jesus.  In America, you would have to live under a rock to have never heard something about Jesus. So, who do people say that Jesus is?  A prophet?  A revolutionary?  A truly gifted religious leader? A fictional character people made up?

Most people, unfortunately, have a very inaccurate idea of Jesus.  Their notion of Jesus is just what they've picked up from popular opinion or myth.  Perhaps they have some vague ideas that he is loving and nurturing or merciful and forgiving, but they aren't necessarily clear of what all this entails.  Unless people read and understand the Bible—both the Old and the New Testaments—they probably only know of the popular image of Jesus, an image that is woefully inadequate.

CS Lewis once wrote that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.  Lewis argued that when people claim Jesus was just a good man, they disregard what he said about himself.  Lewis claims we must listen to what Jesus said about himself in the Gospels.  Jesus claimed to be the Son of God who was going to die on the cross and rise from the dead to save humanity from sin and grant eternal life.  Now if Jesus was just a good man, he was lying when he claimed to be the Son of God, Lord, and Savior.  Furthermore, thousands of people in his day (including his closest friends) died because they believed him.  Therefore, if Jesus was lying, he was anything but a good man.  He was actually evil if he was lying.  Or another option was that he believed his own lies; which means he was a deluded lunatic, not a good man.  The other option left to us is that Jesus was really telling the truth and he is indeed Lord.

What Jesus really cares about is not what other people say about him.  What he really wants to know is: “Who do you say he is?”  That’s what really matters.  You can’t control what other people think and do.  But you can make up your own mind—and you must decide about Jesus.  Who is Jesus to you? 

I’ll tell you who Jesus is to me.  Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, the Messiah, my Savior!

The second question Jesus asks you today comes from Mark 4:35-40

Mark 4:35-40
35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.
38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”
39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?
Again, Jesus ask two questions; but this time the two questions are really the same thing asked two different ways.  Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?

Maybe we should cut the disciples a little slack.  We have the benefit of looking back on the story already knowing a lot more about Jesus than the disciples had figured out by the 4th chapter of Mark.  They were still getting to know Jesus.  We’ve already heard the end of the story.  We’ve heard about all his other miracles—healing the sick, driving out demons, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, raising the dead, and (most important) rising from the grave himself.  Also understand this: if you’ve been a Christians for more than three years, you’ve been walking with Jesus a lot longer than the disciples did.  Jesus was only on earth with His disciples for three years.  If you’ve been a Christian longer than that, you’ve already got more experience with Jesus than they did. 

And that’s why Jesus wants to ask you the same questions today. 
Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?
Storms come in all our lives.  They may not include wind and rain.  They may include: health problems, financial troubles, losing your job, grief over the death of a loved one.  Sometimes our fears aren’t even brought on by actual events.  More often, we worry about things that haven’t even happened yet, things that might never even happen.  What if my son/daughter gets hurt?  What if I get sick?  What if I never find someone to marry?  What if my marriage doesn’t work out?  What if I lose my job and can’t pay my bills? 

We worry because of sin.  It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.  Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.  For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”  I always thought the reference to "sweat of your brow" was talking about how hard work will be.  But a study of ancient middle eastern phrases shows that when they used the phrase "the sweat of your brow" they were almost always talking about worry and anxiety.  Think about how Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane was praying that God would take the cup of suffering from him if it was possible and he was sweating like drops of blood from his brow.  Because of Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden, ancient farmers would always worry that their crops would fail because of drought, or pestilence, or failure to thrive and so they and the people they loved would starve to death.  It was a a very real possibility in an agricultural society.  And though today, in America, few will starve to death because of a crop failure, we still worry that we will lose our jobs or something else terrible will happen.

Worry and anxiety was a curse humanity received because of Adam's sin in the garden.  Praise be to God, Jesus came to set us free from the curse.  That’s why the angels who announced Jesus birth said, “Do not fear!  I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:10-11)  That’s why Jesus could say, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  (Matthew 6:31-33)

Just a few minutes ago, Jesus asked each of you, “Who do you say I am?”  And many of you affirmed with me, “Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, the Messiah, my Savior!”  If Jesus is your Lord, the Son of God, the Messiah, your Savior, then:
Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?
If Jesus can calm a storm on the sea of Galilee, if He can rise from the grave, don't you trust Him to take care of you and your problems?

Jesus’ Questions
What has been bothering you lately?
Is Jesus asking you to do something?  (Forgive someone?  Answer a call to do something for Him?  Serve in some way?)
Are you worrying about something that might happen (but probably won’t)?  
Are you struggling with worry and anxiety?
Are you going though a very real and difficult storm in your life?

I want you to set aside your worries and concerns for just a moment and answer Jesus’ questions for you this morning. 
Answer His questions first and then pray about what’s bothering you.

Jesus’ questions for you this morning are:
Who do you say I am?
Why are you afraid? 
Do you still have no faith?


Monday, October 7, 2019

How Much Faith is Enough?


I'm writing a series of blogs based off your questions.  If you have a question, send me an email to ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com.  I will try to answer your questions over the next several weeks.

My question this week came from my church's Facebook page.  "How much faith is enough?"  That’s a great question and Jesus addressed it with his disciples.

Luke 17:3-6
“3 So watch yourselves!  If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”
The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you!

Forgiveness is Hard
My younger sister is only two years younger than me. We argued a lot when we were kids--mainly because she was a pesky little brat and I was perfect. (That's sarcastic humor. It's ok to laugh.)  Sometimes when we fought, my mom would make us apologize and forgive each other. Did your parents ever make you do that?  Well, my sister and I knew we had to obey our mom, even if we didn’t want to.  So, we would scrunch up our faces and say threw gritted teeth, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”

The disciples weren’t little kids, but Jesus told them to forgive and they knew it would be hard.  It’s one thing to forgive someone once, but Jesus said forgive them even if they wrong you seven times in one day and ask forgiveness.  (By the way, Jesus was using the number seven as a figure of speech.  He didn’t mean seven was the limit and you didn’t have to forgive a person on the eighth time.  Jesus meant you got to keep on forgiving people for as many times needed.)

The Disciples weren’t sure they had the faith to forgive people like that.  I mean it’s one thing to forgive something petty—like the childish things my sister and I argued about as kids.  However, Jesus didn’t say only forgive people the little things.  We’ve got to forgive them even when the offence is very serious and hurtful.  It takes a lot of faith to forgive like that and the Disciples weren’t sure they had enough faith for forgiveness like that.

Jesus answers their fear by saying it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to make a mulberry tree be uprooted and planted in the sea.  (At another time in Matthew 17:14-21, he was even more dramatic, saying faith the size of a mustard seed could move a whole mountain!)  Which do you think is harder:  moving a mulberry tree, a mountain, or saying “I forgive you?”

It takes faith.

What is Faith?
What is faith?  I really liked what Refroe Watson said in his sermon last Sunday about faith.  He said, “Faith is belief that you’re willing to act upon.  Belief is believing your child can drive.  Faith is being in [the car] while they drive.  That’s what faith is.”

Faith is when your trust exceeds your fear.  One time as a very small child, I climbed up in a tree and when I looked down, I got scared and froze up.  I couldn’t climb down.  Now, I was only three or four years old so I wasn’t really that high up; but for a small, frightened child it seemed way up!  So my Dad came out and grabbed hold of me (I was just barely above his shoulders) and he said, “I’ve got you.”  But I was scared and I was clinging to that tree with a death grip!  When my Dad said, “Let go.  I’ve got you,” I didn't let go.  So he’s trying to pull me off the tree and I’m hanging on with all my might!  It wasn’t until my faith in my Dad’s ability to hold me exceeded my fear of falling out of that tree that I was willing to let go and let him pick me up out of that tree and set my feet safely back on the ground again.

Faith makes you act.  Fear makes you freeze.  When your faith exceeds your fear—even by an amount as tiny as a mustard seed—you can move mountains.  Now unfortunately, some people treat faith as if we’re just supposed to sit back and trust God to do everything for us.  But that’s not what it says.  Faith doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing, waiting for God to do all the mountain moving by Himself.  Faith means we trust God can move that mountain—maybe even through us—and so we figure it out and get it done if that’s what God wants.  We raise some money, hire a construction crew, and we get to work moving that mountain because God told us to and we want to obey and we believe Him when He says it's possible.

How Much Faith is Enough?
So the question today is: “How much faith is enough?”  The short answer is, “Just a tiny bit more faith than your fears.”  When your faith outranks your fear even by the tiniest amount, you move.  You trust.  You act on your trust.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid or you don’t hurt; it only means your faith is stronger than your fear.  And even a little bit is enough to overcome.

Now, if your faith it starts to fade, you might give up.  Some battles we fight take a long time and your faith has to sustain you through the long battle.  So faith needs to be nurtured and grown.  You must fortify your spirit with more and more faith every day.  The battles you face today may be tiny compared to the ones that still lie ahead.  So now is the time to build your faith so it will be stronger than your fears tomorrow.  How do you build it?

5 Ways to Grow Your Faith:
  1. Ask God for more faith. God will answer this prayer.
  2. Fast and pray. Jesus told his disciples to do this (in so many words) when they lacked the necessary faith to cast a demon out of a child.  Fasting and prayer can increase your faith power.  Fasting doesn’t have to be some super discipline reserved for monks living in a monetary. Try this: Eat dinner tonight, then skip breakfast and lunch tomorrow while drinking lots of water and a few cups of juice,.  Then break your fast by eating dinner tomorrow evening. You will be hungry, but you shouldn’t be overwhelmed with hunger. During your fast, try to focus on praying for more faith. (Note: please don’t attempt this if you are sick or unhealthy or diabetic. Talk to your doctor.) 
  3. Read God’s Word. The Bible is full of faith inducing stories of real people who trusted God and experienced His faithfulness.  Reading their experiences can fortify your own faith.  However, we must read the Bible with faith, not cynicism.  Cynicism is like a leech that sucks our faith away.  Reading the Bible with a seed of faith can make the seed take root and flourish.
  4. Worship. Devoting time to adore God—especially surrounded by other people in the community of faith—is a powerful faith growing experience.  Their is something contagious about being together in a group to honor God and sing His praises.  Your faith builds up mine and my faith builds up yours as we forget our problems for a moment and focus more on the magnificence of God.
  5. And finally, act on the faith you have. As we step out in faith, we prove God’s trustworthiness. We start with small steps. As our faith increases, we can trust more and take bigger steps of faith. Faith starts out as a mustard seed, but then it grows into a very large plant.  The mustard plant that grew in Jesus country he said grew so large birds could make nests in its branches.  That's the way with faith.  When we step out and start with the faith we already have, we find our faith begins to grow and grow until it sustains our whole life.
May God give you enough faith to over come your fear.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Good Friday & Holy Saturday - Between Two Theives

Everybody Has Trash
            I had the privileged of visiting many unique places--Guatemala, El Salvador, and even Israel. When you travel, you usually want to visit the most interesting, notable places in a region--the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, etc. Nobody I know makes a point to visit the cities landfill. And yet, every place in the world--and this is true for people from all places and times--have a place where people take their trash. Even archaeologists studying pre-historic people often find the villages trash pile (which can be quite a find, with significant historic value). It doesn't matter who you are or where you live, we all have trash we just want to get rid of.
            And it is in just such a place that the religious leaders of Jesus' day, with the help of the Romans, took Jesus, the Son of God, the savior of the world, the Lord of lords and king of kings, to be crucified--discarded as unwanted, useless junk. They just wanted to get rid of him. And this was the ultimate insult. It was as if they said, you are no more to us than useless waste, trash to be thrown away on the garbage heap. And he was crucified between 2 criminals.

Luke 23:32-43
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


Joseph, the Old Testament Connection
            There is another story from way back in Genesis that has some striking parallels to the crucifixion of Christ. The whole story is in Genesis 40.  Let me summarize it.  There was a Hebrew man named Jacob who had twelve sons.  His favorite was named Joseph and his favoritism made all his other sons extremely jealous.  When he gave his son a very nice, multi-colored coat, it was the last straw for Joseph's brothers.  When they got the chance, they beat him up, stole his coat, and sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt.  Joseph became a slave in a man named Potiphar's house.  And since Joseph was a bright young man and had the favor of God, Joseph did well in Potiphar's house and soon earned his trust and a high position in the household.  But Potiphar's wife was very attracted to Joseph.  She kept hitting on him, even though Joseph--because of his integrity--never gave into her advances.  One day, frustrated yet again by Joseph's refusing to sleep with her, Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her.  Potiphar was livid and had Joseph thrown in the dungeon.
            In prison, Joseph lived with two criminals.  One was Pharaoh's former cupbearer.  The other was Pharaoh's former chief baker.  The baker and the cupbearer was very disturbed one morning because they'd both had weird dreams.  Since Joseph had the gift of God to interpret dreams he listened and then explained what they meant.  To the cupbearer he said, "In three days, you will be brought before Pharaoh and he will forgive you and restore you to your former position."  To the baker he said, "You will also be brought before Pharaoh on the third day, but he will condemn and execute you."  And it happened just as Joseph predicted.
            Is there some connection here between the bread and the wine of holy communion (Jesus body and blood) and these two figures from the Joseph story in Genesis chapter 40?  A cup bearer carries a cup of wine and the chief Baker makes bread?
            There are many similarities between these two stories.  Joseph lived in prison with these two criminals. Jesus hung on a cross between two criminals.  Joseph was to become the savior of Egypt saving them from a devastating famine.  Jesus was the Savior of the world. saving us from sin and death for eternal life.  Joseph is famous for his fabulous coat of many colors.  Jesus also had a famous robe that had no seams, but was one continues piece of fabric.  It was so precious, the soldiers didn't want to cut it in pieces, so they gambled to see who would win the whole thing in one piece.  Perhaps most striking:  both the cup bearer and the chief baker found out their fates on the third day.  Jesus also rose from the grave on the third day.            One of the criminals on the cross beside Jesus mocks him.  We never sense any remorse for his crimes.  On the contrary, he wants to make a bargain to manipulate the Son of God (if that is indeed what Jesus is) to get him out of facing the consequences of his sins.  Presumably, this unrepentant criminal reaped the eternal punishment he deserved--similar to the fate of the chief baker in Joseph's story.  The other criminal on a cross beside Jesus was remorseful.  He didn't try to get out of his fate--as terrible and painful as it was.  Instead, he simply said to Jesus in verse 42, “...remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  And Jesus replied (in verse 43), “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Will Jesus Really Remember?
            It is this last exchange that really caught my attention the most.  “Jesus, remember me…”  That’s exactly what Joseph said to the cup bearer when he was released from prison:  “Please remember me and mention me to Pharaoh…”  You will remember that the cupbearer in Joseph's story forgot all about Joseph.  For two years, he forgot about Joseph until Pharaoh had a strange dream and needed someone to interpret it.            Well, these are all fascinating connections, but I'm a pastor and I love studying God's Word. You can call me a Bible nerd or a church nerd.  Of course I love these neat little tidbits.  But do they make any difference at all to you, to your life? Is there any significance for practical life? Yes! I think there's quite a bit of significance.  You see, we are very much like the criminals on the cross!
            Some among us want to make a bargain with Jesus.   If he is who he really says he is, why doesn’t he do something? I mean there are things in this life that just plain suck. Please forgive my language.  There is suffering and death.  People get depressed and kill themselves (or they go crazy and shoot up some school full of kids).
            A good friend of mine, only 56, a United Methodist pastor, Gene Sheffield, got cancer four years ago.  He died last Sunday.  He leaves behind a wife, a daughter, a son, a mother, and many friends and people like me who loved him.  What's worse, I can't be at his funeral because it's at the exact same time as my church's Easter Egg hunt (of which I'm in charge).  And it's not that I don't want to be at the Easter Egg hunt; I do.  I love seeing all the kids have fun and learn about Jesus.  And I love that it's one of the big outreach events we do for our community.  But I'd also like to be at Gene's memorial service--to remember and honor him and be there for his family and my other friends who knew and loved Gene.  But I can't be in two places at once.  So I had to choose.  And I chose the Easter Egg hunt.  And I wish I didn't have to choose.  Really, I wish friends and fathers and husbands didn't have to die too early because of cancer.  But that's the messed up world we live in.
            In a figurative way, we're all hanging on a cross suffering.  And sometimes I want to look over at Jesus cry out, "So you're the Son of God right? You have the power to save us and yourself. Why don't you do something?"             Or maybe, with God's help, we realize it's not his fault.  All this mess is our fault.   Jesus is innocent.  It's not God's fault this mess we're in.  God created the world perfect and us in it.  And in the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us we walked and talked with God in perfect harmony.  And God gave us only one rule to prove our love was true--don't eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And Adam and Eve ate it.  And we are all guilty.  For if we're honest, we've all done things we should not do or we have not done things we should.  That is sin.  And that is what makes our world broken.  We’re the ones who sinned and Jesus is innocent.  And maybe, with God's help, were able to say, “Your innocent and we're guilty and just getting what we deserve…”  And maybe, with God's help, we fall on her knees before God and say, “Lord forgive me! Jesus please remember me when you come into your Kingdom!”            This is what the remorseful criminal did as he cried out to Jesus from his cross. “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  It wasn't long after that that Jesus died.   It doesn't tell us how much longer the thieves lived, but we know they lived on after Jesus died because the story says the soldiers cam to break the condemned legs so they would die faster.  They found Jesus was already dead.  They drove a spear in his side to make sure.  They found he was dead and they didn't need to break his legs.  But then they broke the other criminal's legs because they were still alive.  Breaking their legs prevented them from being able to push up on their nail pierced feet so as to pull more air into their lungs.  And so they would suffocate from the weight of their bodies hanging on the cross faster.  Death (mercifully, I suppose) would come faster.
            This is the situation we find ourselves in, most of us, if we believe in Jesus Christ. He promised he would remember us before his father, but we're still here hanging on a cross waiting… (OK, maybe that's a little dramatic, but do you see the figurative connection?)
            And we sometimes wonder, is Jesus like the cupbearer from Joseph's story?  Will he forget us when he comes into his Kingdom
 
There is Hope on Good Friday

            When you feel like you're in prison, alone and forgotten, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  When your sin makes you feel like you’re hanging on a cross and everyone’s mocking you, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  He is before the throne of God, pleading your case!  When you feel like all that’s left for you is a grave, remember: Jesus hasen't forgotten you.  Jesus rose on the Third Day, the first fruit of the resurrection.  He's the first fruit.  That means there's a second and a third and a fourth...  And we are the fruits yet to spring forth!
            Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Son of God, and he died on the cross for youHe’s not like the cup bearer who forgot Joseph in the Old Testament.  Jesus would never forget you.  He’s in his Kingdom right now, thinking of you, telling His father how much He loves you and forgives you.  

            Good Friday is for all of us who are still hanging on the cross dying and wondering if Jesus will indeed remember us. It's a test of our faith as we wait for Easter Sunday.  What situation, what problem, what agony are you suffering right now?  You've begged Jesus to remember you and you're trusting that he will, but in the meantime you still have to hang out here and wait. Will Easter Sunday indeed come? Will the tomb really open? Will you come up out of it into glory as Christ promised?
What do you think?

Yes. You. Will!
Yes!  It’s dark right now.  Yes! The light is fading.Yes!  We blow out the Christ candle at the end of our Good Friday service.
But that’s where faith kicks in! 
That’s where we begin to walk by faith and not by sight!
That’s where we find God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness!
That’s why we call this Friday “Good”!  Because Death cannot conquer our Savior!
“Where, O Death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting?”
Jesus is going into the grave this Friday, but He’s coming out on Sunday.

 
You’ll go into “graves” in this life too,
      you might hang on some crosses,
             you might even get locked in some prisons                    BUT LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING:
                        This very day, Jesus remembers you in His Kingdom!

And when the Day of the Lord comes,
        Just like Jesus,
                Your’re gonna get up out of that grave!
                       You’re gonna come down off of your cross!
                               You’re gonna walk right out of that prison!
                                        And you’re gonna be with the Lord in Paradise!
 
Amen?  Amen!