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Showing posts with label Hope. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hope. Show all posts

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!


Monday, December 4, 2017

Real Hope

            It's never easy to wait, but waiting implies you have hope.  Over the Thanksgiving break, I found I was waiting with hopeful anticipation for my son to make it home from college in Huntsville.  I was looking forward to seeing and spending time with him.  It was a similar feeling we had with each of our children as we waited for them to be born.  The pregnancies were a long wait--nine months--but they were full of an expectant hope.  We knew they would result in great joy when the waiting is over.
            Advent--the four weeks leading up to Christmas--are a season of waiting as we prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth.  However, Advent is also a reminder that we are waiting for Christ's second coming and that we are to prepare so we will be ready when he comes.  As we wait, as we prepare, let's consider if our waiting includes real hope.
 Luke 2:25-35 25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
    as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
    and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” 

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory
            As I read that passage about Simeon meeting the baby Jesus, a song comes to mind that we often sing--not at Christmas--but at patriotic times.  It goes, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”  The song is the Battle Hymn of the Republic and it speaks of the second coming of the Lord, but it also echoes Simeon's sentiments as he held baby Jesus in the Temple.
            Simeon was a man of hope.  When he looked around, he saw a broken world.  However, Simeon believed God would not leave the world a broken mess.  Simeon hoped for a Savior and the Holy Spirit ensured Simeon he would not die until the Messiah came. Simeon believed.  His hopeful words to Mary and Joseph reveal the kind of Savior Messiah Jesus is.
            Simeon said the Savior Messiah was "...prepared for all people" and "a light to reveal God to all nations."  Simeon was a Jew, a child of Abraham, God's chosen people.  However, Simeon testified that the Messiah was not just for the Jews; He came to give light to all people from every nation and race.
            Simeon said the Messiah Savior was "the glory of Israel".  Many religious people today like to say the Israelites are "God's chosen people."  But what were they chose for?  Was it simply to enjoy God's special treatment at the expense of others?  Were they chosen to get a pass to do whatever they like?  No.  Israel was chosen to be a light that reveals God to all nations.  Jesus is the glory of Israel because he is the fulfillment of their purpose.  Jesus is THE LIGHT that reveals God perfectly to all nations.
            Jesus was born and lived a perfect life to show us the way.  Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins.  Jesus rose from the grave to conquer the power of sin and death.  Jesus ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God to rule in glory.  However, the story doesn't end there.  We believe Jesus will come again. 
            As the Disciples watched Jesus ascend to Heaven in the first chapter of Acts, a man robed in white appeared before them and proclaimed they would see Jesus return in the clouds just as they had seen him ascend.  Christians profess our faith in this second coming even in the 21st century as we recite the Apostles' Creed.  We say: "...He will come again to judge the living and the dead."
           The second coming of Christ will occur in two senses.  First, Jesus will come in a communal sense.  As he ascended in the clouds, so he will descend again for the whole world to see.  This will be his final second coming and it will be for the whole world all at once.  We don't know when Jesus will come again in this way.  We wait with expectant hope for Jesus to come and finally fix all that is broken in our world, but we don't know if it will happen in our lifetime.  We have been already been waiting some 2,000 years and it has not happened yet.  It could be another 2,000 years before he comes; however, it could also be within the next few moments.  "No one knows," as Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, "the day or hour these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows."
            However, we can also think of Jesus coming in another sense, in a personal sense.  Jesus also comes for each of us personally.  His personal coming happens many times and each of us can be sure he will come for us individually in our lifetime--for no one lives forever.  Every person is going to have to face Jesus at some point.  Again, we don't know if this will be today, tomorrow, or years from now, but you can be sure you will not escape it any more than you can escape physical death.  Jesus is coming.  Is your heart full of hope as you wait or are you filled with dread at the thought?  Your answer depends greatly on how you prepare.

Real Hope Brings Peace
            Real hope in Jesus Christ brings peace.  Simeon's greatest hope was to see the Christ child before he died.  His hope was fulfilled and he was able to die in peace.  What a blessing!  Oh that we could all find a peace like Simeon’s because we place our hope in Christ.  Christ came to bring the Good News that all who trust and follow him as Lord and Savior shall not die, but have eternal life.  Jesus didn't come to condemn us, but to save us.  Everyone who has faith in him shall be saved, but those who reject Jesus have already judged themselves to be unworthy of God's grace.
            How awful it would be to achieve your life's ambition only to find it was empty and worthless and unfulfilling.  Perhaps that is the definition of hell.  There are many in our world who place their hope in all the wrong things:  money, careers, power, or people.  They strive, sacrificing their time, their families, their health, their lives, working their fingers to the bone all in the hope that their idols--their little gods--will bring them real satisfaction and fulfillment.  Some work their whole life chasing these false hopes.  Others release their dreams only to find them empty and so start to chase something else in hope that it will do the trick.  Nothing will bring real peace except a relationship with Christ.  He is the only real hope we have. 
            My hope as a minister of Jesus Christ is that everyone will realize their misdirected hope before it is too late, before they waste even one more ounce of time and effort on them.  My hope is that we will all come to Jesus and lay down your dead hopes before him.  Place your hope in Jesus and you will find peace.  Even when you come to the end of your life, you will be able to say with Simeon, "Now I can die in peace."

Real Hope Can Be Painful
            Our hope in Christ does not exclude trouble and suffering.  We still live in a broken world and Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  Sometimes we face resistance and trouble because we trust in Christ; the world opposes Christ and those who follow him.  Sometimes we have pain simply because life in a broken world can be hard.
            Simeon’s words to Mary are very telling.  He said at the end of verse 35:  “And a sword will pierce your very soul.”  Mary, as the mother of the Messiah Savior, was not spared suffering.  She faced perhaps the worst suffering a mother can ever face.  Even though her son was perfect in every way and did nothing but love and help people, she watched him despised, rejected, denied, betrayed, arrested, disrespected, tortured, and ultimately murdered on a cross.  No parent should ever have to witness the death of their child, let alone in such a cruel and unfair manner.  Yet Mary's greatest pain turned out to be her greatest glory--the salvation of the whole world.  Death was defeated!  Eternal life opened to all!  Jesus rose in glory!
            Sometimes real hope also includes the promise of real pain, but our hope is God will redeem all our pain and not an ounce of it will be wasted.  Our hope is that our most painful wounds will—like Mary’s—turn out to be the source of our greatest victories in the end.  So we join with the Apostle Paul's hopeful proclamation of faith, "Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later." (Romans 8:18)

Real Hope is Always With Us
            Our hope in Christ insures that any pain and suffering we experience in this life is infused with a sense of expectant hope.  It is like the pain of child birth.  It is said that giving birth is the most painful experience the human body can endure.  I was with my wife at the birth of each of our children and I can testify that what I saw looked intensely painful indeed!  However, the pain of giving birth is also infused with hope.  You know it will end in great joy as you meet your child for the first time face to face.  So the greatest pain of life culminates in its greatest joy.  So it is with the greatest sufferings we face in this life.  Have faith that our great suffering will culminate in the great joy of seeing Christ face to face.
             Also, have faith you do not go through any of it alone.  For Jesus said, "It is good that I go to be with the Father in Heaven.  For if I go, the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) will come and live inside you."  So the Holy Spirit of God lives inside every person who truly trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  You do not walk through this life alone.  When you are facing your toughest battles, understand that Jesus is right their with you--living inside you--giving you strength to press on with real hope.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Is Your Faith For Real or For Looks?

            I'm so thankful to Frank and Kaye Fetzer, Jean Coker, and Amy Harris and the youth of Pleasant Grove UMC who came out last week to decorate our sanctuary to get it ready for Christmas.  After they got all the decorations out and on the tree, the youth made their own Christmas decorations for the youth room.  They had some clear Christmas ball ornaments that they were painting or filling with colored sand or glitter.  They made some very creative and colorful ornaments.  However, it struck me how the ornaments are so fragile and really aren't useful for anything other than decorations.  As you read this blog, I would like you to think about your faith in Jesus and ask the question:  is my faith for real or for looks? 

John 16:1-4
1 “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.

The Persecution of the Early Church
            Jesus didn't want his disciples (or us) to be caught of guard when trouble and persecution came; so he warned them.  A day was coming when his followers would be expelled from the synagogues.  This also meant they would be excluded from their social connections.  Buying and selling and getting along in the world would be very difficult.  In addition, Christ's early followers could find their property being seized without cause and they would have no recourse to fight it.  Jesus never said being his disciple would make life in this world easy.  To the countrary, the early Christians faced arrest, torture, and even death simply because they claimed Jesus was the Messiah who died and rose again.  As early as the seventh chapter of Acts, we see the first Christian martyred for his faith.  Stephen was stoned to death for simply bearing testimony about Jesus death and resurrection.  Immediately after, all the Christians in (except the Apostles) were driven out of Jerusalem.  Can you imagine having your property seized and people telling you to leave town or die?

Real Faith Sustains
            Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith.”  Christ wants his followers to have real faith, not merely faith that looks good.  So I want to share some characteristics of real faith.  First off, real faith sustains you when troubles come.  Stephen’s real faith gave him peace and courage.  Even as he was stoned to death, he showed real faith and courage.  He looked into heaven and saw Jesus and asked God to forgive the ones who were murdering him.  Stephen's faith can encourage us even today when we face troubles.            The early Christians who were driven out of Jerusalem were not silenced; they spread Christianity everywhere they went.  Instead of whining and complaining about how they were mistreated, they were faithful to Jesus' Great Commission; they made new disciples of Christ wherever they were driven.  So the very trials they faced spurred them to grow God's Kingdom because they had a real faith that sustained them.
            Not all trouble comes from people.  American Christians do not usually face the same persecution as the early New Testament Church.  however, we face sickness and hardships and grief and other troubles.  Do you have the kind of faith that will sustain you when the troubles of life come or is it as fragile as a Christmas ornament hanging on a tree?

Real Faith Isn’t Always Pretty
            Christmas decorations bring back some sweet memories.  I remember how my family decorated the Christmas tree when I was a child.  My poor parents had four children so their were lots of raggedy homemade Christmas ornaments on our tree.  The first year they might look decent, but as years went my our paper snowmen and macaroni creations became more and more ragged.  Yet, to throw them away would be sacrilegious!
            There are a lot of sweet sentiments we associate with Christmas time.  The secular world has embraced Christmas for some of its prettier values.  They especially like the idea of Christmas miracles, notions of peace for all mankind, and love.  However, the world's understandings of these concepts is often quite shallow.  Real faith is so much more than a sweet sentiment. 
            Consider what Christmas really commemorates.  Christmas celebrates God coming into our world to save us from our sin.  "Of course, preacher!  Everyone knows that!"  But dig a little deeper into the ramifications of that statement.  God (the Almighty who made the universe and everything that is) came into our world.  That alone is amazing.  But why did He come?  To save us.  That's great too!  But if the God of the universe had to come to save us, that means we needed saving from something very terrible.  Yes, terrible indeed.  It is sin that threatens to destroy us and our world and it lives inside our very soul. 
            So you see, this is incredibly serious stuff--so much deeper than the secular world wants to talk about.  the Good News Jesus brought includes convicting us of our sin and calling us to repent.  The world today loves the idea of the sweet baby Jesus in a manager, but most don't want to think of Jesus (or his followers) preaching about conviction of sin and repentance.  The world's ideal is to just let people be who they are and do what feels good; you know, follow your heart.  But real faith recognizes Jesus is Lord.  His way is the right way.  We need to repent of the sin of following our own heart; instead, we need to give our heart to Christ and follow Him.
            The secular world also likes the idea of peace that Christmas brings to might.  But the peace Jesus offers in not the kind of peace the world thinks of.  So often to the world, peace means just keeping everything the way it is and not upsetting anything or anyone; worldly peace avoids conflict at all costs.  That is not the same peace Jesus offers.  Jesus came to turn the whole world order on it's head.  He came to bring down the high and mighty and proud and powerful; and he came to lift up the humble, the poor, the forgotten, and the oppressed.  You see, there are many things that are not right in this world.  Jesus came to rock the boat, to tip the boat completely over, and to make everything that is wrong right.  Jesus' kind of peace is not too appealing to our broken world that wants to stay the same.  That's why they crucified him. 

Real Faith is Rooted in Christ
            Something many people asked themselves this time of year: are we going to have a real Christmas tree or a fake one. The fake trees are easier and last longer. You have to water a real tree and it might shed needles all over your floor, but a real tree looks so nice and smells so good.
            Of course, it's not really accurate to call any tree you cut down out of the forest and drag inside your a home a "real tree.  A “real” real tree is rooted in the earth and draws nourishment through its roots to stay alive.  Real faith is rooted firmly in a real relationship with Jesus Christ from which it draws nourishment to sustain it. John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
            Is your faith firmly rooted in Christ?  Do you worship him regularly in church? Do you talk to him everyday through prayer?  Do you listen to him by reading scripture? Do you walk with him through service? Do you commune with him often though the Lord's Supper? These are the ways to have a living relationship with Christ that will nourish real faith.

Real Faith Challenges You
            Sentimental Christmas images on our Christmas cards imagine us sitting by a cozy fire, beautifully decorated for Christmas with stockings hanging on the mantle.  We sit and sing carols and a doze on our comfortable couch.
            However, real faith starts as soon as we step outside our comfort zone.  It’s hard to grow your faith from inside your own safe bubble.  Jesus said, “Go make disciple of all nations..."  Go is more an attitude for believers than a geographical location. Some will go to Vietnam, the Philippines, Africa, or El Salvador. Others will simply go next door to their neighbor or coworker or relative.  Bit we all must go, even if it is uncomfortable or awkward or scary. Going is not optional, it's a command.  How does your faith challenge you to get outside your comfort zone?

So, Is Your Faith For Looks or For Real?
            My sanctuary is all decorated.  Your homes are or will be decorated soon.  Decorations are for looks.  They are fragile and that’s ok; they don’t have to be very durable.  They’re just for looks. 
            But what about your faith?  Is your faith in Jesus just for looks or is it for real?  Will it sustain you when the troubles of life come?  Will it hold fast when people oppose you or persecute you?  Is your faith in Christ alone—even if the whole world abandons his teachings?  Is your faith rooted deeply in a real, daily, intimate relationship with the living Savior, or are you only following a dead man you’ve heard about from a book or in church.  Does your faith challenge you to step outside your comfort zone to GO where Jesus sends you and do what he asks of you—even if it’s hard?  Does your faith give you strength to obey? 
            These are the thing I challenge you to contemplate as you prepare for Christmas over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

5 God's Heroes Have Hope

            There is a wonderful hymn we like to sing at church that goes:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness!
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name!
            These are great lyrics and it's a wonderful tune people love to sing, but I wonder if our attitudes and actions really live up to these beautiful sentiments.  I think they often do not.  Unfortunately, we put our hope in all the wrong things.  If we are honest, we would admit our actions sing a different tune.  Something like: 
My hope is in the game I play, my big high scores will make a way!
My hope is in the girl I love! She makes me feel so high above!
My hope is in my cool boyfriend, he says his love will never end!
My hope is my bank account! I have such a large amount!
My hope is in the grade I make! I will succeed for goodness sake!
My hope is in my the work I do!  It shows that I am worthy too!
My hope is in the way I look! If people stare, then I am good!

            We must never forget, Our only hope is in Christ!!  God's heroes have heart, courage, power, wisdom and God’s Heroes Have Hope.  Jesus teaches that we can have hope because good things are coming.  Let's look at one of Jesus' most famous sermons, The Sermon on the Mount.  In it, Jesus teaches how we have hope, not despite the troubles we face, but because of them.  I want to read the passage and share some comments as we go through it together.

Matthew 4:23 – 5:12
23 Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 24 News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—he healed them all. 25 Large crowds followed him wherever he went—people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River.

·       The people of Jesus’ day were filled with despair.  Most lived impoverished, lives and struggled to make it through each day. In addition to these, many struggled with health problems (as we often do today, but without the benefit of modern healthcare).  Jesus fame as someone who could offer hope spread far and wide and people came to Jesus desperate for help.  It is often that our greatest hope is revealed when we realize we are in desperate need.
5 One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.
·        Jesus decides to teach what real hope is.  The greatest hope comes not from the miraculous healings and feedings and exorcisms. The greatest hope is found in some unlikely blessings we call "beatitudes."  Beatitudes is just a fancy word that means "supreme blessings."  These supreme blessings or beatitudes are admired by people the world over--even by non-Christians.  Let's examine each beatitude very briefly, one by one.
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,  
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.        
·       This is the key to understanding all of the beatitudes.  Each Beatitude trades current troubles for a future blessings, but it all starts with the idea of poverty.  Traditional translations render this poor in spirit, but I think the NLT makes it more clear (even if it is more wordy).  It's not talking about poverty in the sense of not having enough money.  What we are saying is those who realize how spiritually impoverished they are are blessed.  Do you realize how desperately you need?  Do you realize that without God you are absolutely lost?  I had a friend who served as a missionary for 3 years in a third world country where they didn't have adequate food safety and refrigeration.  It helped her realize that when she said the blessing for her food, she was literally asking God to bless it so it didn't kill her, but would nourish her.  Do you realize that we are the same?  Yes, we have adequate food safety and refrigeration in the USA.  However, all of that means noting unless God blesses the food to nourish us and not harm us.  We are blessed when we realize that we are utterly at the mercy of God.  It is the beginning of all other blessings.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
·       This is not about mounring for those who have died.  God blesses those who mourn for their sin.  Are you broken hearted for your sin?  Do you realize that all the evil that has occurred since Genesis is in part a result of your sin?  Does it break your heart to think of how you have wasted the beautiful gift of life God granted us?  If so, you are blessed, because it may lead you to the next blessing:
God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
·       When we realize our utter desperation for God's mercy and mourn for our sin, we are blessed when we humble ourself and repent.  This is what it means to become a Christian believer.   We fall down on our knees and humble ourselves before God and ask for mercy.  "Lord," we cry out, "Forgive me!  I have sinned against you!  And my sin and selfishness have damaged, destroyed, and brought evil into the world.  Forgive me!"  And those who truly repent like this in their heart will begin--with the help of the Holy Spirit--to live a righteous life.  And then a new blessing is available as verse 6 explains.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
·       Once you are a Christian, you truly hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Now many may try to do good--even non-Christians.  But Christian righteousness is more than philanthropy.  It is hunger and thirst for righteousness that is deeper than the way we hunger and thirst for food.  It it is a hopeful yearning, because we know it will be fulfilled when God makes all things right in the end.
·       We often dream about heaven and what it will be like.  We like to dream of how wonderful it will be.  But what kind of reward will eternal life really be if you do not hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Maybe you are thinking heaven will be a place where all your selfish desires are finally fulfilled.  But if that is your deepest dream, you will be greatly disappointed.  Eternal life will be where God's plans for righteousness are completely fulfilled.  And then,all those who now hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.  And those who hungered and thirsted for something else...  well, they just might find that heaven is a lot more like hell than they expected…
God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
·       We are so thankful God forgives us our Great Sin.  Yet we also must remember what Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord's Prayer:  "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”  And we remember he also said those who refuse to forgive others will not be forgiven.  So we are blessed when we show mercy to others, for then we shall also receive mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
·       Christ has saved us by his blood shed on the cross, but that's not the end of it.  Now we must grow towards perfection.  Christian perfection is something we strive for--not just in the afterlife, but--now!  Christian perfection doesn't mean we will never make a mistake.  However, as we enable the Holy Spirit to work with us and as we grow and mature in our faith, we hope to come to a place where every thing  we do is purely motivated by love.  And God blesses us to the degree that our actions are motivated by love.  For the more we love, the more we see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
·       So often when we think of peace, we think just of everyone getting along.  Maybe, in our world, peace means everyone gets along because everything stays the way it is--the status quo.  But it most certainly is God's will to take things as they are right now and shake them up quite a bit in order to get us to a place where true peace is possible.  No, God's peace is not the status quo.  God’s peace equals inner peace, assurance, and resolve; it is an unshakable state that persistence within us despite the storms and trials and troubles that rage around us.  I think of the disciple named Stephen who was martyred in the 7th chapter of Acts.  He was at peace--even when the Jews stoned him to death for sharing his testimony about Jesus Christ.  As the stoned were crashing down upon him, he looked up and saw Jesus and in heaven and commended his spirit to him, even as he prayed for God to forgive his murderers.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
·      Jesus promises the more you are persecuted, the more blessed you will be.  When we truly follow Jesus with our whole heart, we will face resistance--perhaps even down right persecution.  If you are not facing any persecution, resistance, trouble, you may not really be living as a Christian or are not pushing hard enough.   Jesus said in John 16:33 – “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  If you are not having trouble, it may be that you are not pushing hard enough.
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

Where Do You Find Hope?
            In superhero stories, the superhero always seems shows just when all is lost.  Perhaps a bus full of school children is about to fall off the bridge and then it falls, but at the last minute Superman catches it and flies it to safety.  You may feel like you’re about to fall off a bridge (or you are already falling).  Do you believe and are you certain Jesus will save you?
            Jesus gives us hope.  And the hope we have is more than wishful thinking; it is the assurance that Jesus Christ will save the day.  We sing a great hymn that reminds us of the certainty of our hope.  We sing:

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home!
Under the shadow of thy throne, still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure

            God made the heavens and the earth.  When you look up at the night sky and see the stars, do you realize they are thousands of light-years away?  (In other words, it would take you thousands of years to travel to them if you could travel at 186,000 miles per second).  And there are morse stars in the sky than we can even count.  God made all of that and more!
            Has this incredible God not been our help in the past?  can you not think of ways He has helped you?  I you cannot, I can tell you that you would not even be able to read these words if it had not been for God.  He formed you in your mother's womb and put breathe in your lungs and sustained you all your life.  You are here today because of Him; every breath you take is a gift.  And my God gives you hope for the future through Jesus Christ.  Even the difficulties of life are turned into reasons for hope.   

            I invite you to put your hope in Christ today.  Start by recognizing how spiritually poor you are and in desperate need of God's help through Jesus.  Mourn because of the ways you have turned your back on God and sinned.  And humble yourself before God.  Fall on your knees ask God to forgive you and save you.  And then cooperate with the Holy Spirit so that you may grow in Christ--seeking righteousness, offering mercy, living and serving with a pure heart, working for peace, and enduring whatever hardships come your way while always hoping in Christ Jesus our Lord.