Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.PleasantGrove.cc Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts

Monday, June 27, 2022

God is Great. God is Good.

Introduction
When I was a kid, we would all sit around the table and eat dinner together.  We took turns saying a blessing before each meal.  So even as a young kid, I would often say the prayer.  Most often, it was the simple prayer we had memorized: “God is great.  God is good.  Let us thank Him for our food.  By His hands, we all are fed.  Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.”


Preview Of Our VBS
That prayer so many learned as children will be the theme of Vacation Bible School here at Pleasant Grove this week.
We will pretend we’re having a Food Truck Party
and each day we will consider a statement from the old, traditional meal blessing.
Monday is “God is Great” – Ex. 18 – God sends Manna and Quail for the Hebrews…
Tuesday is “God is Good” – 1 Kings 17 – Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath
Wednesday is “Let us thank Him for our food” – Daniel 1 – Daniel and the exiles’ special diet
Thursday is “By His hands we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread – Matthew 14 – Jesus Feeding the 5,000

Today, I want to talk about the Elijah story.  If you read 1 Kings chapter 16, it tells a long list of kings of Israel and it says each king was a bad king.  The last king mentioned is King Ahab and it says Ahab was the worst one of all.  King Ahab led Israel to worship false god’s and even allowed child sacrifice.
Therefore, in 1 Kings 17, it tells how God punished Israel, but it also shows how God provided for Elijah and a widow and her son.

1 Kings 17:1-16
1
Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.”

So Elijah did as the Lord told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.”  [Zarephath was not an Israelite town. They were pagan Phoenicians who worshiped Baal and other false god's.]

10 So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”

12 But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”  [Notice the widow swear by Elijah's god.  She recognizes he is a foreigner and she swears by his god, not her own.]

13 But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”

15 So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. 16 There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

Drought and Famine
We need rain.  I haven’t had a drop of rain on my garden in three weeks.  In Elijah’s day, it hadn’t rained in 3.5 years!  Now, ancient Israel was well adapted to long periods without rain.  The ancients would dig huge cisterns in the bedrock of the land and channel rainwater into them.  Some of those cisterns are up to an acre in size--they can hold a lot of water.  And one good rain can fill up their cisterns and provide water for a long time--both for drinking and irrigation.  I've been to Israel and have seen some of those ancient cisterns.  They're quite impressive and they helped the ancient Israelites deal with the sporadic rain that is a normal part of their climate.

However, even with these cisterns, a really long drought could be deadly.  In Luke 4, Jesus said the Elijah's drought lasted three and a half years.  Let's consider how that would effect the people of ancient Israel.

The ancients had to grow all the food they ate.  If they couldn't grow enough, they went without.  So it was important to have a good harvest and to store up the surplus to get them through to the next harvest.

Drought Year 1
Let's assume the Israelites under King Ahab had a good harvest the year before Elijah's drought.  So they've got some food in storage from last year when the drought begins.  In the first year of the drought, they will have little to know harvest.  However, they still have some food stored from last year.  They could make those stores last longer by reducing their reduce daily rations.  When times are tough, you tighten your belt.

Drought Year 2
After a second year of drought, there would again be no harvest.  Plus, the remaining food stores would start to runs out. People might be able to barter and trade with neighbors and foreign countries to get get somethings to help them survive, but it would not be pretty.  No one is eating well.  They are in survival mode.  People are getting weaker and are more susceptible to other illnesses.  The elderly and infirm are most susceptible of all.  People are certainly starting to die.

Drought Year 3
There is no harvest again this year.  There are only scraps of food left.  WHat people are eating are the dregs of their food stores.  This is food that is rotting, full of bugs and worms and mold.  It's not even fit for animals to eat, bit people are eating because it's all they have left, otherwise they will starve.  No one in 
neighboring towns and villages has any food left to trade either..  Everyone is starving and surviving on tiny rations.  Bread is worth more than gold.  What little water is left in the wells and cisterns is dirty and contaminated.  People have to drink this disgusting water and they are suffering from water born diseases and parasites.  Many die from these illnesses alone.  others are dying of starvation.

After 3.5 Years of Drought
At this point, everyone is about to eat their last meal and dying of starvation.  That's where we find the widow of Zarephath when Elijah finds come to her town.  However, the Bible tells us God took care of the Elijah & the widow who lived in Zarephath with her son.

The widow has a surprising amount of faith and compassion.  Even though I'm sure no one in Zarephath had much water to spare at this point, the widow doesn't argue with Elijah when he asks for some water.  I don't many people who would have been so kind to a man who was a stranger and a foreigner.  Yet, she's on the way to get Elijah that cup of water when he makes a truly absurd request:  "Can I get  a piece of bread too?"  It is at this point the widow tells Elijah she doesn't have any food to spare.

Now this widow and her son were not Israelites.  They were not “The Chosen People” (by Old Testament standards).  They were Gentiles, foreigners, outsiders.  Some in Israel at the time would have said God despised this widow and her son. Ironically, many in the town of Zarephath would have said the same thing about Elijah--he was a foreigner who didn't worship their gods.  He was not worthy to receive any compassion from the people of Zarephath; he was despised by their gods.

However, the One true God of the Bible, Yahweh, doesn’t think the way people think.  God loves all people--even those who reject Him.  God sent Elijah to be a save this foreign widow and her son and to take care of Elijah at the same time.  And while the so called “Chosen People” people in Israel were turning their back on God, worshipping idols, and sacrificing children, God had compassion on a foreigner, a gentile, because she had enough faith and compassion to give her last cup of water and piece of bread to a stranger no one else cared about.

In the New Testament, Jesus mentioned this story of the widow of Zarephath in a homecoming sermon Jesus preached in Nazareth in Luke 4.  Jesus pointed out that God loves everyone—even foreigners and social outcasts that religious people look down on.  Furthermore, Jesus taught again and again that God’s real “Chosen People” are not defined by a religion, or race, or where they or their ancestors were born.  God’s chosen people are people who choose to rely on God for every blessing while living faithfully for Him.

We have to be careful not to look down on or reject anyone.  We must love the sinner, even if we hate the sin.  This is what we do for ourselves, isn't it?  No one truly hates themselves.  I may hate the things I do sometimes.  I may say, "Why did I do or say that? I hate that I did or said that!"  But at the same time, I don't hate myself.  I love myself.  We must be sure to extend the same grace we give ourselves to others.  We may hate their bad words or bad behavior, but we must love them because they are made in the image of God and are sacred to God.  All human life is sacred.  So we must love all people--even sinners; we love the sinners and hate their sin.  This is how Jesus loves us all.  It is how he was able to eat with sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes and all kids of immoral people, but also call each of these sinners to repentance and to transform them into new creations more able to glorify God with their words and actions.

God’s Chosen People
God’s chosen people live by a simple creed expressed surprisingly well in the simple meal blessing many learned as kids.

God is great. We believe God is all powerful.  He is great enough to do anything.  He made the world.  He can control it.  He can do whatever He wants.  Now an all powerful God who is malevolent could be a ver scary, very dangerous and appalling thing.  But thankfully…

God is good.  God is not just all powerful.  He’s also a good God who does the right thing.  He cares for people—not just the good looking, strong people everybody likes. No.  God even cares for the weak, the lost, the foreigner, the outcast.  He cares for the widow who’s starving to death with her only son--even when she lives in a foreign land that worship's idols and false gods.  God cares for the orphan everyone has abandoned. So…

Let us thank Him for our food.  God’s chosen people depend on God and are thankful for every blessing He gives.  We believe, and are eternally grateful, that God provides for us.  We recognize that we rise or fall by the grace of God, not by our own efforts and abilities.  Rather…

By His hands, we all are fed.  Some people in this world think they deserve good things.  They think they deserve to be rewarded because they work hard, or live right, or they’re better than other people.  They believe they deserve a higher standard of living than the rest of the world.  They may even go so far as to believe God owes them.  After all, they think, they have earned their blessings.  However, God’s people realize they aren’t fed by their own hands.  Nope.  It is “By His hands, we all are fed.”  And so they humbly ask…

Give us, Lord, our daily bread.  God’s people realize we are completely and utterly dependent upon the Lord.  The very bread we eat is a gift from God.  God’s people willing submit to God and wish to enjoy only the blessings He provides and will decline any blessings that don’t come from God’s hand. 

When the world says, “You deserve to enjoy this or that pleasure.  Why not indulge yourself?”  God’s people say, “I don’t deserve anything.  But God is good and takes care of me anyway.  And I will only enjoy the blessings God gives me and I will abstain from anything God does not allow.”

When the world says, “Your crazy!  Why would you hold to such old-fashioned ideas?”  I will say:

God is great.  God is good.  
I will trust Jesus.  Am I understood?
I turn my back on worldly gain. 
This world won’t last.  Let me explain.
You think wealth, and pleasure are great. 
It all turns to dust at Heaven’s eternal gate.
You can’t take it with you, not a thing whatsoever. 
I have something that lasts forever.
I live for Jesus, because He died for me. 
Heaven’s my Kingdom. And Jesus is my King.

I invite you to chose Jesus today.
Choose to rely on Christ for every blessing
and live faithfully for Him every day.
He will take care of you
And you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Amen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The Spiritual Power We Need Today - Pentecost 2022

Introduction
I’ve been looking forward to Pentecost Sunday for many months.  The Story of Pentecost comes from Acts chapter 2.  Jews celebrate a harvest festival seven weeks and one day (50 days) after Passover.  In Jesus’ day, this religious festival drew thousands of people from all over the world to the Temple in Jerusalem for a time of celebration and religious devotion.  Pentecost is also the 50th Day after Easter.  For Christians, it commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to fill Jesus’ followers and marks the official birth of the Christian Church.  Let’s read the story.


Acts 2:1-3
1
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 

Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 

This traditional picture of Christian saints from antiquity often shows a halo around their head (like the example of saint Thomas pictured here).  This halo was an artistic representation of the Holy Spirit's radiance shining around the believer.  It hails back to this Pentecost story from Acts 2.  It might seem out of place for us to picture Christians today with halos around their heads.  However, it would not be off base.  All believers of Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:4-13
And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”


What is the Holy Spirit?
The Scripture says is verse 4, “Everyone Present was filled with the Holy Spirit…”

People might ask:  "What is the Holy Spirit?"  However, the Holy Spirit is not a What, but a Who.  The Holy Spirit is not a thing but a person.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God.  In Christianity, we believe there is One God, revealed in Three Persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  It is easy enough for us to think of Jesus (the God the Son) as a person because Jesus lived on earth in a body.  We might also be able to think of God the Father as a person, because God often spoke to people in the Bible (and speaking is something a person does).  Unfortunately, God the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, is harder for many peole to think of as a person.  But the Holy Spirit is a person too.  This is a mystery of the Trinitarian God is too complex to tackle in this blog.  However, lets start with the concept of the Holy Spirit as being a personhood of God.  

The Holy Spirit is God's Spirit.

The Holy Spirit of God descended upon and filled the Christians at Pentecost.

Furthermore, every Christian who believes in Jesus Christ and follows Him as Lord is filled with the same Holy Spirit.  So, Christians today are the same in this respect as the Christians we read about in Acts.  We all have access to the wisdom, guidance, and power of God's Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit empowers Christians to be witnesses for Christ.  What evidence of of the Holy Spirit’s power do we see in the believers in Acts 2:4?  The Holy Spirit empowered them to speak in other languages. 

Why did the Holy Spirit empower Christians in Acts 2 to speak in other languages?  Was it just a fancy parlor trick to show off?  No.  It had an important purpose.  The Holy Spirit empowered Christians in Acts 2 to speak other languages because there were people in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival from all over the world—people who spoke all these different languages.  God wanted these Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to share the Good News about Jesus Christ in their languages.  This was the miraculous power of God.

Now, if you've ever tried to communicate with someone who doesn't speak the same language, you know how difficult it can be.  Even if you now a few words of their language and they know some of yours, you end up using broken language and playing a game of charades to try to get them to understand.  It's exhausting.  And even if they understand your language as a second language, they may not truly hear the full heart of your message--especially if you are talking about something as deep and heartfelt as spirituality.  That's why God wanted the people gathered from all over the world in Jerusalem for Pentecost 2,000 years ago to hear the Good News that Jesus came to save the world from sin in their own native tongue.  He wanted them to here the story with their heart as well as their heads.

Speaking in Tongues
Some denominations make a whole thing out of speaking in tongues.  It is often even a regulars element of weekly worship for many Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God.  It may seem weird if you've never heard someone speak in tongues in church.  It sounds like gibberish, but it relies on a tradition that sprang up early in the New Testament.

There are two different kinds of speaking in tongues that we read about in the New Testament.  The first is what we read about in Acts 2.  It is where the Holy Spirit supernaturally enabled some Christians to speak in other earthly languages they had never known before for the purpose of communicating with people who needed to understand.

God Empowers You!
There is also another form of speaking in tongues in the New Testament--speaking in heavenly or angelic languages (a language that is not understood or spoken by people on earth).  Paul refers to this kind of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.  He says that sometimes the Holy Spirit enables people to speak in tongues like this and that the same Holy Spirit will enable another person to supernaturally interpret the language so the rest of the church may be edified by it.  That is why it is customary for denominations today who practice the gift of speaking in tongues during worship will also include an interpreter who will translate what has been spoken in tongues.

I would add that there is another sense in which God's Holy Spirit can enable Christians today to speak in tongues.  God empowers you to speak to the people in your sphere of influence.  You see there are people in our world who only you can reach.  Because of the relationship you've formed with them--whether they are your friends, your relatives, your neighbors, your coworkers--they will listen to what you have to say about Jesus.  They won't listen to me--even though I am a preacher.  They don't know me.  They don't attend my church.  They may not even be a Christian and don't care what a Christian preacher says.  However, they know and trust you.  They will listen and understand what you say.

Furthermore, there are many different professions that have their own way of speaking.  Teachers have their own lingo.  So do medical professionals and construction workers and many other professions.  So if you are a teach or nurse or construction worker, etc., you know the language that may reach people in those professions.  You can speak to their hearts in ways a preacher like me may not be able to.  God has empowered you by His Holy Spirit to be a witness for Christ.

God’s Holy Spirit empowers every Christian to be a faithful witness.  You may not feel able.  You may think, "I'm not a speaker.  I'm too shy.  It's too uncomfortable to talk about my faith."  Or you may worry you might not know the Bible well enough or have concerns that you won't know the answers to people's spiritual questions.  

You know, you sound a lot like other people in the Bible who were reluctant to answer God's call.  I think about Moses when God told Moses to go tell the Egyptian Pharaoh to let the Hebrew slaves go free.  Moses complained, "I'm not a good speaker.  My tongue get's twisted.  I think You've chosen the wrong guy."

God's response to Moses is much the same as it is for us today.  He says, "Who formed the tongue in your mouth and taught it how to speak?"  If God can empower Moses speak to Pharaoh and David to defeat Goliath and Peter to preach at Pentecost, God can certainly empower you to speak about your faith to your friends, your family, or your coworkers.

God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips those He calls. 
God doesn’t need you to be able.  He just needs you to be available.
God can enable anyone to serve.  He can even make a dumb man speak. 
In one place in the Bible, God even made a donkey speak.
He can surely empower you to be His witness & to make a difference in this world for His glory!
The real question is:  Are you available?

Apathy in Our World
There's a serious problem with apathy in post-COVID America.  People just don't want to work.  How many o fyou work for a business that just can't find enough people to work?  Every restaurant and business in town has help wanted signs up in the window.  And even though employers are raising wages to new record levels, they still can't find enough labor.

And churches are struggling too.  Not only is there trouble hiring staff, we can't find enough volunteers either.  In my own local congregation, it's like pulling teeth sometimes to get people to volunteer in the nursery, or teach Sunday school, or serve dinner on Wednesday nights.  And the harsh truth is, the Church's influence will either grow or shrink based on the number and faithfulness of the volunteers we can recruit to serve.  And right  now, my church's ability to minister to people in need is shrinking because we do not have the volunteers we desperately need.

The world needs Jesus now more than ever.  Turn on your TV and what do you see?  Crazy people walking into schools and shooting innocent children and their teachers, shooting up hospitals, doctors, nurses...  It doesn't matter what gun laws you try to pass or what new politician you elect to office, this is not the real answer.  The world needs Jesus and Christians are called to share Jesus with the world.

This is no time for Christians to apathetically stay home and be silent. 
This is no time for us to shirk our responsibilities to serve wholeheartedly.  
This is no time to forget the greatest commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.  And to love our neighbor as yourself.
The world needs Jesus NOW more than ever. 
Kids need Jesus NOW more than ever. 
Youth need Jesus NOW more than ever. 
Adults need Jesus NOW more than ever.
And Romans 10:14 says, “How can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”
Will you be the person who tells people about Jesus by what you say and what you do?

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Why Didn't Jesus Teach About Germs & Atoms?

Have you ever wondered:  
“Why didn't Jesus teach us about germs and atoms?”

I recently had a conversation with someone who wanted to know.  I thought is was an interesting question with the potential to reveal some really great insights about God and our own spiritual needs.

It’s quite a reasonable question.  I mean, if Jesus was God and presumably knew everything, why didn’t he enlighten the world on all the scientific information that took us 2,000 years to learn?

This could have been very useful information.  Knowing about germs could have brought better health and welfare to millions of people in Jesus' own time and over the course of the next 2 millennia.  Also, how might knowing about atoms, chemistry, physics and the like have improved humanity’s wellbeing?

Well, if we believe Jesus is omniscient (a fancy way to say he is all-knowing), then He must have had a good reason to tell us what He did and did not tell us.

First of all, I think it is an error to assume knowing all this information would have automatically made the world a better place.  

“How could it not make the world better?” you ask.

Well consider, knowing about atoms and applying this knowledge led to the creation of nuclear weapons that nations now stockpile and have the potential to destroy all life on our planet.  This capability was not developed in the barbaric 1st century, but in the supposedly enlightened 20th century.  The jury is still out about whether this modern scientific discovery will ultimately prove to be a blessing or a deadly curse.  How catastrophic might nuclear information and capability have been in the hands of the brutal Roman empire of 30 AD?  Thankfully, we will never know.

We do know, however, that the human heart is incredibly evil.  The evil human heart is not healed just because it becomes enlightened with new scientific information.  Quite often, the exact opposite is true:  New information only gives humanity more effective tools to bring death and destruction upon God’s earth.  

(Isn’t it interesting that forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden it was the “fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”?)

Perhaps Jesus knew humanity was not ready for the kind of power and responsibility that knowledge would bring.  Maybe there were some things He knew we needed to learn on our own first.

Rather than being disappointed about what information Jesus did not share or taking it as a sign he didn’t know, perhaps it would be more fruitful to let what He did say challenge some of our own preconceived notions in the 21st century.

We assume knowledge will solve all our problems.  We assume science has the greatest potential to solve human misery.  Are these assumptions really true?  Why do you believe so?

Apparently, Jesus didn’t think so or He might have been a science teacher instead of a spiritual leader.

When the God of the universe took the form of a human and came to earth to save us from ourselves the lessons He shared in the Bible are the ones He knew we needed most.  That should make quite an impression on us.

Apparently, the truths we need to know are things like:
We were created in the image of God.
God loves us unconditionally.
We are to love God and love our neighbor.
We must forgive one another and be forgiven ourselves.
Jesus is Lord of all.

These lessons are far more important than we suspect.  If we don’t grasp these spiritual lessons and get our hearts right with God and each other, then it could actually be a very bad thing for humanity to have more advanced medicine and technology.

Maybe trying to solve all the world’s problems without God is the root of all our problems.  Maybe we need to get right with Him first so we can fix these other things in the right way, for the right reasons, at the right time.  Maybe, if we truly got our hearts right with God and each other, there wouldn’t be any other problems.

That’s what I believe.  How about you?
Post your thoughts in the comments.
And ask any other questions you have about the God, the Bible, or the Christian faith.

Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Monday, November 1, 2021

Biblical Ghost Stories

Introduction
For Halloween, I want to share some ghost stories from the Bible.  Halloween is the abbreviated word for what was originally All Hallows Eve.  Halloween is the night before All Hallows Day, what we call All Saints Day.  Therefore, tomorrow is All Saint’s Day.  And next Sunday, we will celebrate Homecoming and All Saints Sunday (the first Sunday in November).  I hope you will come.  All Saints Day is the day Christians remember and celebrate the lives of the saints who have died and gone to be with the Lord.  Since Methodists believe all Christians, believers are saints, “the saints” includes your friends and loved one’s who have “died”.  I use the word “died”, because it is the customary word people use to describe what happens when our earthly body stops living.  However, Christians do not believe people really die when our heart stops beating.  We believe Christians have eternal life through Jesus.  Therefore, we believe when the body dies, the spirit leaves the body and goes to be with Jesus.  2 Corinthians 5:8 says, “…to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

All the saints—Christians who’s earthly bodies have died—are now with Jesus, cheering us on as we live this life (Hebrews 12:1).  One Day, Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead and give us all a new, perfect body.  We will not be spirits or ghosts.  We will be real people, with a physical body, only it will be perfect—without sin or sickness or suffering or death.  It will be an eternally living body, just like Jesus had.  We will be like the resurrected Jesus.  Listen to this story about the resurrected Jesus and his physical body.  After Jesus had died on the cross, he rose from the grave and appeared to his disciples in a physical body.

Luke 24:36-40
And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 37 But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!

38 “Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? 39 Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” 40 As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.

The Resurrected Jesus Was Not A Ghost
So we see in this, that the resurrected Jesus is not a ghost.  He has a body.  They can touch him.  He can walk.  He can even eat.  Verse 42-43 say, “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.”

Aren’t you glad to know that we will not be ghosts in eternal life?  We will be living people with a perfect body.  We are incredibly blessed indeed by what Jesus did for us on the cross.  His death and ressurection changed everything.  He truly defeated death.  For all who put their faith in Jesus have eternal life.

We are so incredibly blessed by what Jesus did for us on the cross.  Because of His death and resurrection, we can have eternal life.  And we can know this directly from God.  God speaks His unchanging truth to us in His Holy Bible.  Not only that, but God also came to us personally in the flesh as Jesus Christ to live on earth and teach the way to life.  Jesus left the glory of Heaven and came to earth to call everyone to repentance and salvation.  Everything we need to know God and how to be saved is written in the Bible.  But if that wasn’t enough, Jesus even died and came back to life and showed himself to His disciples to prove He is the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the father, but by Him. (John 14:6)

In ancient times, people tried to hear the voice of God through witchcraft and sorcery.  They used black magic to try and conjure up the dead. God told His people, “Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:31).  God didn’t want His people to rely on witchcraft and frauds who take money, put on a spooky show, and pretend to hear ghosts.  If some spirit did speak to the living from the dead, how would you know if you could trust it?

God said, “I am the Lord Your God.”  God speaks to His people directly through the prophets and priest He has authorized to speak for Him.  They don't speak for money; they serve the Lord.  In the Bible, we see that if ever these priest or prophets were unfaithful, they were punished by God.  Therefore, we can depend upon the Word of God.

1 Samuel 28:5-7
In 1 Samuel 28, King Saul broke God’s command and consulted a medium to conjure up the ghost of Samuel.  Saul was desperate because God rejected him and was tearing the Kingdom from Saul to give it to his rival, David.  1 Samuel 28:5-7 says, “When Saul saw the vast Philistine army, he became frantic with fear. He asked the Lord what he should do, but the Lord refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets. Saul then said to his advisers, “Find a woman who is a medium, so I can go and ask her what to do.”

So God played along and allowed Samuel’s ghost to speak to Saul and the ghost said, “The Lord has done just as he said he would. He has torn the kingdom from you and given it to your rival, David.” (1 Samuel 28:17).  God had already told this to Saul when the Samuel was alive.  God already spoke, but Saul didn’t like the message.  Isn’t that just like people?  When we hear a truth we don’t like, we go looking for someone else to tell us something different.

Well, you don’t have to consult a ghost to tell you what you need to know.  God has already told you in the Bible.  And if there’s anything else you need to know, God gives us His own Holy Spirit to be our guide.  However, it requires you to put your faith in Christ, that you follow Him as Lord, and give Him your full allegience.

Jesus told a parable to teach that everything we need to know the truth about God and the way to eternal life is written in the Bible, but many people still will not listen. 

Luke 16:19-26
19 
Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. 20 At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.

22 “Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and he went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.

24 “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’

25 “But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’

“There Is A Great Chasm Separating Us”
We see in this a description of the afterlife.  Those who are faithful find grace, forgiveness, and salvation in Jesus Christ and are rewarded with peace and comfort in the presence of God.  These are the saints we remember and celebrate on All Saints Day.  Those who reject God in this life suffer eternal torment and separation from God.  And there is a great chasm in the afterlife that cannot be traversed that separates the faithful from the unfaithful.

Luke 16:27-29
27 
“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28 For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’

29 “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’

The Bible is Sufficient
Here we see an important truth.  Everything we need to know to find eternal life with God in Heaven is already written in the Bible.  “Moses and the prophets” are the books of the Old Testament.  Are you reading and studying this Book? Are you listening and living accordingly?

Luke 16:30-31
30 “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’

31 “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Jesus Rose From the Grave
“If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

And yet, just in case, as an extra measure of abundant mercy and grace, God did indeed send someone back from the dead in order to make sure we get the message.  What did Jesus say?  What was His message?  He said, repent of your sins and be forgiven.  “Unless you repent, you will perish.” (Luke 13:5).  And He said, “Follow me and be my disciple.” (Luke 5:27).  And He also said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19).

In the parable, rich man was concerned after he died and was in torment about his five brothers who were still alive.  He wanted someone to warn them.  Who do you have in your life you want to be saved?  You better tell them about Jesus now while you still can.

Closing
So, in closing, what do you need to do today?
Do you need to hear Jesus message, while you are still alive, saying, “Repent of your sins and return to God”?  Do not delay.  Get your heart right with God today.

Do you need to make a commitment to Read God’s Word, the Bible, more faithfully?  If you want to hear God speaking to you, if you want to know what you should do and how you should live, it is all written here.  You don’t have to consult a ghost from the past.  You don’t need a fortune teller to tell you the future.  You need to read and listen to the Word of God in the Bible and obey.  God will be your guide and you can trust Him and Him alone.

The saints are in glory with God cheering you on (Hebrews 12:1).  They want you to succeed.  But you must decide how you will live your life today.  Only you can choose. 
So make your choice.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

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?