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Showing posts with label Lent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lent. Show all posts

Monday, March 23, 2020

I AM the Good Shepherd

For 2,000 years, people have speculated about Jesus--who he was and why he became so important and influential in our world.  If we really want to know who Jesus was, maybe we should consider what he said about himself and why he came.  That's what I'm doing in this series.

We are studying the seven "I AM" statements of Jesus from the Gospel of John where Jesus told everyone who he is and why he came.  So far, we have seen that Jesus is:
I am the Bread of Life – Jesus is the only thing that satisfies the deep hunger in our souls.
I am the Light of the World – Jesus reveals the truth and lights our way out of darkness.
I am the Gate – Jesus is the way into the protective safety of God’s presence.
And I also want to remind you that when Jesus said, I AM, he used those words intentionally. Way back in Exodus, God told Moses His name from the burning bush, "I Am." Exodus 20:15, "This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations."  So everytime Jesus said I am... he was giving us a clue that he is God.

Today, I want to look at Jesus’ 4th I AM statement from John 10:11-16. 

John 10:11-16
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

A Shepherd Knows His Sheep
Jesus was a brilliant communicator.  He knew exactly how to get his message across in ways people would understand and always remember.  Shepherds and sheep were as common a sight in Jesus' time as cars and the internet are in ours.  I am not a shepherd, but I did own some Nigerian dwarf goats for a few years.  These were dairy goats; and yes, I did milk them. (Well, I milked one of them—Miranda.)  Miranda was the matriarch of the flock.  She was the first female goat I bought.  In order to get milk, you have to breed your goats.  After they have their babies (kids, in the case of goats), the mother produces milk.  Then, you have to milk the goat at the same time every morning and every evening.  You can't skip, because the animal will start to produces less milk.  So I got pretty close to my goats, and especially Miranda.  I was with her every day twice a day.  I was also watching over her throughout her pregnancy.  I was with her, cheering her on as she delivered her kids.  And let me tell you, there is nothing cuter or more hilarious than flock of playful baby goats!  So you sort of get attached to these animals and you really care about them when you spend so much time with them.

Milking a goat is not really that hard.  It only takes about 15 minutes, twice a day.  What makes it hard is the consistency of it.  You have to do it every day, twice a day and you can't skip--not for anything.  So if it is cold out, you have to milk the goat.  If it is raining, you have to milk the goat.  If it is snowing and 0 degrees outside, you have to milk the goat (ask me how I know).  And if you every go out of town--even for just a day--someone has to milk the goat.  Try finding someone in our day and age to milk a goat for you.  I was lucky to have a few friends who helped from time to time and an amazing pet sitter who actually knew how to do it (now that's going above and beyond).  And my wife, bless her heart, was terrible at it and hated it, but she still loved me enough to try a few times.  

Once, I was out of town and my wife had Miranda up on the milking stand and Miranda was being stubborn.  Miranda was acting like, "Hey! Who are you?  You're not the right person!  Why are you bothering me?  Leave me alone!"  And she was stomping and kicking and not letting Kelly milk her.  So Kelly calls me on the cell phone and says, "Will you talk to Miranda?  She's not letting me milk her." So I started talking to Miranda over the phone and she started bahing like she always did when I was at home with her.  It was hillarious!  But she knew my voice.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd
Jesus is the good shepherd.  He knows everything about his sheep.  He's been with us during the good times and the bad times, in the big moments and the little ones.  He was there when we were born, when we were learning to walk, going to school, graduating, getting married, getting divorced or whatever.  Jesus is bonded to us and cares deeply about us because he's been investing in our lives from the very beginning.

Now, there are others in our life that say they care about us, and sometimes they really do--at least to a degree.  But in one way or another, all these others are just "hired hands" (as Jesus says).  Think about the people who tell you they care about you.  There is the government.  They say they care.  And to a degree, it's true.  Their job is to keep our society running smoothly if possible (it's in their best interest if everyone is happy and mostly taken care of, that justice prevails and laws are made and followed and we're all safe).  And in a crisis like we're currently in with COVID 19, they are working hard to try to help.  However, officials have their own families and their own personal interest that are more important to them than we are.  And they will help as long as they can and they're able and it's in their own best interest, but there's a limit.  They're not going to sacrifice their life or their families for us.  And most aren't going to sacrifice their financial well-being for us.  They're hired hands.  And if a big enough wolf comes to attack us, their going to run away.

Or maybe the hired hand in your life was a romantic relationship.  Someone told you they loved you more than life itself and you thought they would always be there for you.  But now you look around and they're gone.  It hurts so bad when you find out the love of your life was only a hired hand.  We try to assure that people won't leave "in sickness or in health" through marriage vows.  We sign a marriage licence and make promises before God in a marriage ceremony to says we won't ever leave; but even this sometimes doesn't work and through divorce we find out our spouse was only a "hired hand" who abandoned us when the "wolf" came.

What other “hired hands” have let you down in this life when the "wolf" came to attack?  

Jesus is not like the hired hands.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He will never abandon you.  He will fight for you and protect you and provide for you.  He will even give his life for you if that's what it takes.

The Wolf in the illustration can be any evil or trouble that comes.  But ultimately, the Wolf is the Devil who comes to destroy you because of your sin.  The wolf is hungry and he hates you and he hates it when you draw closer to God.  And the wolf is scary and viscous with claws and fangs.  And alone we're defenseless against Satan.  Think about it, in Jesus' story, we're the sheep!  Sheep are domesticated animals with almost no defensive weapons.  They're best hope is to flock together (and that's only in hopes that the wolf will eat someone else and not me).  And sheep are so dumb, they usually scattered when the wolf attacks which only makes them even more vulnerable.  Sheep need a courageous, caring, and capable shepherd to protect them.  And that's what Jesus is. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He will not abandon us. He fights off the Wolf (the Devil) whenever the Wolf attacks--even if it costs his life.

Jesus Died for You
The Gospels tell us Jesus loves you so much He sacrificed his life to save you.  You see, everyone is corrupted by sin and sin leads to death.  Romans 3:23 tells us, "For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard."  And Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord."  And over 500 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold Jesus' purpose as the Good Shepherd--Isaiah 53:6, "All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him [Jesus] the sins of us all."

No one had the power to kill Jesus, but Jesus knew someone had to die to pay the penalty for our sin.  And though Jesus was the only person who ever lived who was perfect in every way and didn't deserve to die, Jesus sacrificed His life for you and me.  He allowed himself to be arrested, tortured, and crucified.  His death atones for our sin.  He literally laid down his life to save ours for all eternity.

Are You One of Jesus’ Sheep?
Are you one of the Good Shepherd's sheep?  This is a really important question for you to answer! Everyone wants to go to heaven. Nobody wants to go to hell.  And everyone wants to assume they will go to heaven when this life is over.  But I have to tell you the Truth, if Jesus is not your Good Shepherd in this life, it’s illogical to think He will be your Good Shepherd in the Afterlife.  And it's not out of spite.  It's just that you would never be happy living with and obeying Jesus for eternity if you don't want to do it for the few years you live on this earth in this life.  And so, in the end, God will grant you your wish.  Either He  will want to live in harmony with Him forever, or He let you have your way and live without Him for all eternity (which is really the definition of hell).  Which one will you be?  Do you want to be in the Good Shepherd's flock or not?  And how do you know?

Well, Jesus told us.  He said His sheep know and follow Jesus voice.  Do you know and are you you listening to His voice.  We listen to and get to know His voice through prayer, reading Scripture, and listening to people God appoints to speak to us for Him.  But the most important of these are prayer and Scripture.  Are you praying and reading the Bible and listening to God speak to you through them and the people He's appointed to preach His Word?
Jesus says His sheep will follow Him.  We do this by obeying what He says.  And so much of what Jesus said was about how we love others and serve and share our witness about what Jesus is doing for us.  Are you following Jesus in obedience to His Word?

Jesus Has Other Sheep Too
Jesus says something very interesting in verse 16 that's very relevant for us today. John 10:16, "I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd." There are still sheep that belong to Jesus out in the dangerous world. They are lost and vulnerable and Jesus, the Good Shepherd wants to gather them in. And Jesus gave us a mission to gather them in.

What are you doing to bring in Jesus’ other sheep? With so many worshiping online right now during the coronavirus pandemic, it's never been easier to invite people to come worship Jesus with you.  All you have to do is send them a message on Facebook and you can literally invite people from all over the world!  And it's easy for them to come.  They don't have to be nervous about visiting a church building where there will be people they don't know and worrying what it will be like and if they will be judged or unwelcome.  They can log into the worship experience from the comfort of their own home in the pajamas if they want to!  Are you inviting these sheep to come hear the Good News about Jesus?

Are you being a witness for Jesus yourself?  That doesn't have to be intimidating.  You don't have to have everything figured out to be a witness.  You don't have to teach a Bible lesson or preach a sermon.  You don't even have to know all the answers.  You just have to be willing to say how Jesus has made a difference in your own life.  Are you being a witness for the Good Shepherd?

So, as we close, I want to give a two-fold invitation:
First, I want to invite you, if you to become one of Jesus’ sheep. All you need to do to make this happen is pray to Jesus and say something like, "Jesus, forgive me for my sin.  I want to follow you from now on.  Save me and help me. Amen."

And second,  I want to invite you to follow Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world and make disciples…” There is no better time than this and you’ve never been more equipped to literally go into all the world and make disciples.  Invite someone to worship Jesus with you.  And tell people how Jesus is making a difference in your life.

Monday, March 2, 2020

I AM the Bread of Life

If you don’t count the Sundays, there are 40 days between Ash Wednesday (last Wednesday) and Easter Sunday.  Christians call this 40-day period the season of Lent.  For centuries, Lent has been a season when Christians devote themselves to prayer, fasting, reading Scripture, and spiritual growth.  It is inspired by the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.  Today is the first Sunday in Lent. By the way, we don’t count Sundays among the 40 days of Lent because Sundays are always considering a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.  We celebrate on Sundays.  So even if you are fasting, Sundays become a holiday, a break from the fast, as we celebrate that Jesus amazingly rose from the grave!

The Seven I AM Statements of Jesus
For this 40-day season of Lent, we begin a new message series that studies who Jesus said he was.  Jesus made seven famous statements about his identity in the Gospel of John.  These statements are famous because he began each statement with the phrase I AM.  He said:
I AM the bread of life
I AM the light of the world
I AM the door
I AM the true vine
I AM the good shepherd
I AM the resurrection and the life
I AM the way, the truth, and the life
I'm going to write about each of these statements one by one over the next several weeks.  However, there’s something very important about the phrase I AM that you could easily miss if you’re not paying close attention—something that would have been immediately obvious to Jesus' Jewish audience in the first century.  A Jewish audience knew that the phrase I AM is the proper name of God in the Old Testament.  Way back in Exodus 3:14 God told Moses to go tell Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go free.  Understandably, Moses was very overwhelmed by this prospect.  Pharaoh was the leader of the most powerful people on the planet.  So Moses asked God who he should say was sending him with such a bold command.  God said to tell them “I AM has sent me to you.”  It’s a strange name that is impossible to translate into English.  It means something like, “I am who I am.”  It calls to mind the total self-confidence, eternal nature, and unchanging character of God.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He existed before time and will exist forever and always.  He is the great I AM.

The name of God was so revered by the Jews of Jesus day, that they would not even say or write God’s name.  Instead, they referred to Him as “the Lord.”  Anyone who said God's proper name could be stoned to death--especially if you used it the wrong way.

So, when Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life.  I AM the light of the world.  I AM the good shepherd...",  He is intentionally saying God’s name and claiming it for himself—a dangerous act of tremendous importance.  Who is Jesus?  He claimed he was God and then he used seven images to illustrate his character.  We will look at one each week. 

John 6:35
Today, we consider John 6:35, where Jesus said: 
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The Context
It's important to know the context of when Jesus made this statement.  You may have heard about the miracle Jesus performed when he fed 5,000 people.  It was actually only 5,000 men; we can assume there were also women and children among the crowd who were counted.  So it could have been as many as 10,000 or 15,000.  We don't know, but it was a lot.  And the disciples only had five loaves of bread and two fish a boy in the crowd donated.  But somehow, miraculously, Jesus multiplied the bread and fish until it fed the entire crowd!  Everyone had their fill and there were actually twelve baskets full of leftovers.

So a few days later, Jesus is in the same area and the crowd sees him and they say to themselves, "Hey, there's that guy who fed us a few days ago.  Wasn't that amazing?  Maybe he'll feed us again!"  By now, the bread Jesus fed them a few days earlier has worn off and they're hungry again so they come crowding around Jesus.  And Jesus isn't stupid.  He knows what they want.  He knows they aren't interested in a learning about God through his preaching.  They just want some more food.  So Jesus says, "I am the bread of life.  Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry again.  Anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty."

Physical food satisfies you for a time, but then it fades and you are hungry again.  It doesn't matter how good the food is or how much you eat.  Have you ever noticed at Thanksgiving you can eat until you are so full you're almost sick, but a few hours later you are hungry again?
It’s not only food. Nothing physical ever satisfies you for long. When I was 15 years old, I couldn't wait to get a car and start driving.  So I went out looking for a job.  Winn-Dixie finally hired me to bag groceries and I saved enough money to buy an old truck so I could go out with my friends.  But the thing was old and it broke down a lot.  I spent a lot of time trying to fix it.  And I would get so frustrated as my hands were covered in grease and I was busting my knuckles trying to turn a wrench on it.  I used to say, "I can't wait till I can buy a new car that is reliable and I don't have to fix a brokedown car anymore."  And a few years later, I was able to do that; I got a brand new Toyota pickup and it was always reliable.  Funny thing is, a couple of years ago, I started thinking, "Man I wish I had an old truck again so I could go outside and tinker with it."  

We're never satisfied with the things we have.  We always want a newer car, a bigger house, or finer clothes.  Even relationships don’t fully satisfy you. You think, “If I could just find a friend that is faithful or a girlfriend or a boyfriend…"  And then you do, but it doesn't really satisfy.  Or you think, "If I could just get married… If I could just have kids…” And these things satisfy for a time, but never fully down deep in your bones.

Or we might seek fulfillment in a powerful spiritual/emotional experience.  We think, "If I could just feel God's presence and love for real.  If God would just speak to me in an audible voice."  Or, "If God would just heal my loved one from cancer..."  And many of us have had these deeply profound religious experiences.  And you would think it's enough, but these feelings too also fade.

We need something eternal, something that lasts.  And Jesus says, “That’s me. I am the one who will truly satisfy you, forever.  I am the bread of life.”

The other day, I was meeting some men from my church for lunch at a local restaurant.  I decided I was going to share Holy Communion with them right there in the restaurant during our meal.  SO I brought some bread and grape juice and a communion chalice.  The waitresses were fascinated and afterward started asking all kinds of questions about our ceremony.  And we ried to explain it to them saying the bread represents Jesus body and the wine is Jesus' blood.  And one of the waitresses, who wasn't that familiar with the Christian church seemed really concerned as she said, “So you eat his flesh and drink his blood?”  And we tried to explain to her how it was symbolic and why, but it was difficult.

Many people in the crowds who followed Jesus misunderstood Jesus in the same way.  For Jesus said in John 6:51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”  And people were appalled—this man claims to be God and says we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  He’s crazy!  And many people stopped following Jesus that day because they thought Jesus was a lunatic.

The flesh and the blood symbolizes Jesus' crucifixion.  Jesus gave his body and his blood on the cross.  And the only way to find true fulfillment is if you partake of the sacrifice he made.  We don’t literally eat his flesh and drink his blood.  The bread symbolically represents his body being broken on the cross.  The wine (which is actually Welches grape juice at my church) symbolically represents his blood being shed on the cross.  Jesus gave his body and his blood to pay the price for our sin so that we can be forgiven and have a restored relationship with the Great I AM—the One, True God who created us for a relationship with Him.  That relationship is the reason we exist and it is the only thing that will satisfy the deepest hunger of our soul.

It is a relationship with God that we need. It is the only thing that truly satisfies, forever.   For some, Holy Communion is a powerful, sacred ceremony that helps them feel God’s presence. But even Holy Communion isn't enough, because it only symbolizes the restored relationship that we really need. It’s the relationship Communion represents that satisfies, not the ceremony.

Two Closing Points
Let me close by briefly making two final points.  First, those who eat the Bread of Life and are satisfied are the ones who are hungry. Are you hungry? You know how it works with food.  Even if you are given the finest meal to eat, it won't be that great if you're already full because you just ate an hour before dinner.  However, if you haven't eaten in 24 hours, even a hotdog will be wonderful.  The same is true in your spiritual life.  If you already feel like your fine on your own and pretty much have what you need, you won't be that hungry for Jesus.  Maybe you can take him or leave him, but your won't be desperate for him.  On the other hand, when you realize how desperately you need Jesus to save you and fill you and satisfy you, he will.  So part of what we need in life is simply to realize our deep spiritual hunger.  All of us are hungry for God, but we often don't realize it because we've been busy stuffing ourselves with a lot of other things that don't really satisfy.

The second point is this.  Eating is something you can only do for yourself.  You can ask someone to come over and cook a meal for you, but you can't ask them to eat for you.  You are the only one who can eat for yourself (and enjoy the taste, nourishment, and fulfillment food offers).  The same is true of your relationship with God through Jesus.  You can't rely on your parent's relationship with God or your spouses' faith.  You are responsible for your own relationship with God.  Now one else can do it for you.  They can help and encourage, but in the end, it's up to you to open yourself to a relationship with God that's made possible through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.

The Good News is, Jesus is right there beside you now.  All you have to do is talk to Him.  Ask and you will receive the bread of life.

Monday, February 24, 2020

How to Pray for 30 Minutes

A couple weeks ago, Judy Forester came to me after church and said she was really concerned about so many things that are going on in our world--problems in our denomination, divisions in our nation.  It just seems there is so much darkness in our world.  And so Judy asked, "Is there some way we could have a day of prayer and just ask people to pray for all these things?"  I said, "Absolutely!"  And so, we have designated February 27 as a day of prayer and fasting.  This Wednesday at our , Ash Wednesday service, I will share a little about the spiritual discipline of fasting.  Today, I want to teach you how to pray for 30 minutes.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

Why Pray?
Before I begin teaching you how to pray for 30 minutes, I need to convince you that you must pray.  At its heart, prayer is communion with God. Prayer is the lifeblood of Christianity. Prayer is not just something Christian's do, it is the soul of who we are.  Christians believe we were created by God for a real, personal relationship with God.  If you’re not praying, you’re not communing in an active, real, and personal relationship with God. 
Can you be real friend if you never talk to or spend time with your best friends?
Can you be a good husband or wife if you never talk to or spend time with your spouse?
Can you be a real parent if you never spend time with or talk to your children?  (Sure, you can create life and give birth, but you cannot be a legitimate parent unless you have a real, personal relationship with your kids.)

Prayer is the way we spend time with God.  As with most vibrant relationships, our prayer relationship with God usually involves talking.  You don’t have to use fancy language or try to make a speech.  You don’t even have to talk like the preacher when he prays on Sunday morning (actually, please don’t!).  You have to realize, the kind of prayer a preacher prays on Sundays in church is different from the prayers we offer when we are all alone and talking to God.  Prayers said at a church service are public prayers; they're for everyone and it requires the worship leader to pray on behalf of everyone.  But when I’m all by myself and praying, I’m just talking to God like a kid talks to their mom or dad. 

Sometimes, prayer is not talking at all.  It’s just being with God—maybe sitting quietly or reading a book together, watching a movie, listening to music, or riding in the car.  Friday and Saturday, my wife and I took a trip to Ashville, NC just to get away for a couple days.  It was a three-and-a-half-hour drive.  Do you think we talked the entire time? (Some people might be able to do that, but not me or Kelly.  We are relatively quiet people and that would frankly drive us crazy.  I’m so glad I married someone with whom I can just be quiet.)  Sometimes, spending time with God through prayer is just being quiet together or listening to what He has to say as you prayerfully read your Bible or listen to some music or take a walk together. 

How to Pray for 30 Minutes
Alright, enough explanation about prayer.  How do you do it?  And how can you do it for 30 minutes?  The following is one way you can pray for 30 minutes.  It’s adapted from a formula offered online by Athens First United Methodist Church.  If you struggle to pray for extended periods of time, perhaps this could help you.  I encourage you to give it a try.  In your bulletin, you will find an outline to help you follow this 30-minute plan for prayer.  The formula is broken down into sections that include: Praise, Reading Scripture, Meditation, Confession, Intercession, Listening, Recording, Petitions, Praying for Family, Praying for the Church, Praying for Government Leaders, and Giving Thanks.  If you pray each section for 2 and a half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  You will need a few things to follow this formula:  A Bible, A Notebook and a pen or pencil, A quiet place where you can be a alone and uninterrupted for 30 minutes.

Start by praising God.  Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”  This is a great way to begin 30 minutes of prayer.  Call out to God. Praise Him for creation. Think about His love and wisdom and praise Him.  Think about the wonder of God’s creation and how they testify to the glory of God. And praise God for who He is.  Just revel in the wonder of the God of the universe.

Read Scripture
II Timothy 3:16–17 says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good.”  Read a psalm of praise to the Lord. Here are some suggestions:  Psalm 100, Psalm 23, Psalm 121, or Psalm 34 (or pick another one you like).  Pray through a Bible passage using the words as your prayer. Ask God to help you understanding as you read His Word. Let the Scriptures fill your mind and impact your heart. 

Meditate on God’s Word
Psalm 119:11 says, “I treasure your word in my heart.” Take a few minutes to meditate on the Scripture you have just read (or on other passages that come to mind).  Mull them over again and again in your mind.  What is God saying to you through them?

I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Take some time to evaluate specific attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions that God brings to mind as you pray. Confess your sins to God and humbly ask for His forgiveness and cleansing. 

I Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” Pray to the Lord on behalf of others. Pray for renewal in the hearts of believers. Pray diligently for the needs that come to mind.

Next, quiet your heart and be still before God. Psalm 29:2, 4 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; worship the Lord in holy splendor… the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”  Ask God to speak to you. Be quiet and listen.

Record your Prayers and Insights
Now, take out your notebook and something to write with.  Take a few minutes to write down some notes that come to mind.  Write down the insights and direction God gave you during your prayer time. You can even write out a prayer or something you think God wants you to do.  It takes a little bit longer to write words than to say or think them.  Writing forced you to slow down and dwell with God as He organizes your thoughts.

Petition for Daily Needs
Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So spend a few minutes sharing your personal requests with God.  What do you need?  What are you worrying about?  Talk to God about it.

Pray for Family
Psalm 133:1 says, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
We want our family to live together in unity.  So, pray for your family. Pray for families in general. Ask the Lord to strengthen marriages and uphold family relationships.

Pray for the Church
1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Pray for Pleasant Grove United Methodist church and all who seek to know the Lord there, and pray for our church leaders.  Go over the prayer list found in the bulletin.  Pray for the United Methodist Denomination as we prepare to tackle some very divisive issues at our next General Conference in May.  And pray for the universal Body of Christ, which is made up of believers all over the world of all different denominations.

Pray for Government Leaders
1 Timothy 2:2 says, “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”  Spend a few minutes to pray that God will give our government leaders wisdom and understanding. Pray for local, national, and international concerns. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  We need God to heal our land.  So pray for it.

Give Thanks
Now it’s time to finish your 30 minutes of prayer.  You may now find that 30 minutes is not enough time.  If your schedule allows it, you can keep praying.  God would love that!  But, when it’s time to finish praying, think about the good gifts God has given you and express your gratitude for His care and provision. Praise God for all He has done and for all He will do.  As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

If you follow this simple formula, praying each section for about two-and-a-half minutes, you will end up praying for 30 minutes.  It’s not that hard.  Perhaps the hardest part is making the time and committing to do it. 

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and it begins the 40-day season of Lent—a season for Christians to devote themselves to prayer in preparation for the Easter celebration coming up in April.  Perhaps you can use this formula to pray for 30 minutes each day throughout the 40-day season of Lent.  You might find you like it so much, you want to make it a regular part of your day even after Lent is over.  I challenge you to give it a try.

Prayer is the lifeblood of a person’s relationship with God.  You can know about God (just like you can know about a famous athlete or celebrity); but prayer is spending time with God.  It is essential for every Christian to be devoted to prayer.  Let’s begin today.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Jesus Takes a Vacation

Sharpen the Saw
            Do you ever feel like you are sawing away at life, but not getting anywhere?  The other day, we had a birthday party for my daughter Grace.  She wanted to have here friends over and wanted to have a camp fire to sit around.  I meant to by a bundle of firewood at the store, but forgot.  We only had about 15 minutes before dark, so I dragged a fallen tree from the woods behind my house.  I grabbed my chainsaw (which hasn't been used in about a year) and tried to cut the tree up into firewood.  The chain was so dull it would hardly cut.  I should have paused to sharpen the chain and it would have made quick work of the tree.  However, it was almost dark and I didn't want to be cutting wood in the dark so I just kept trying to cut that tree up with my dull saw.  It was loud and the chain was smoking as the dull blades grinding against the wood--more burning it than cutting it.  It took three times as long to cut the tree with the dull saw (and it was more dangerous too).
            It’s important to take time to sharpen your saw.  That's true of chainsaws and yourself.  We need to make sure we sharpen our mental, physical, and spiritual abilities.  Otherwise, we will just be loud but not very effective.  Lent is a great time to resharpen.  Lent is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday at Easter Sunday when Christians prepare for Easter through prayer, study, and service.  Our focus on prayer, study, and service helps draw us closer to Christ so we can be sharp again. 
            Jesus was a carpenter.  I’m sure he understood the importance of “sharpening his saw” so it would cut well.  Jesus certainly applied the principle to his ministry.  He took trips and celebrated religious holidays (Holy Communion was originally a Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples).  And we read time after time how Jesus took breaks from his work to rest and pray.  These “vacations” helped him stay physically, mentally, and spiritually sharp.
            Jesus took one such “vacation” near the end of his earthly ministry as he made his way to Jerusalem where he would be arrested and crucified.  I want to share that story with you today.

Slides – Luke 10:38-42
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 Jesus Takes a Vacation
Mary and Martha were Jesus good friends.  Spending time with friends can be a good way to relax and recharge.  Jesus—ever mindful of the cross looming before him—sought solace in the company his good friends.
You have probably known some people like Mary and some like Martha.  Martha was all wrapped up in the work that needed to be done.  Jesus came to relax and be with friends.  That was the main point of his visit.  Mary was doing just what Jesus wanted—resting and spending time with him.  Martha was distracted by the big dinner and all the work she felt needed to be done. 
There’s a time for work and a time for rest.  When you take a break or a vacation, take time to rest.  Yes, there are details that you must attend to, but if you spend your whole vacation or visit distracted by organizing and planning and logistics you might miss out on what’s really important.
I want to make three points today.  First, everyone should take a vacation now and then.  Second, I want to consider a Christian way to take a vacation that will make yours more fruitful. 

Vacations are Important
            Do you realize that vacations were originally God’s idea?  Think about it.  Go back to the beginning of the Bible, way back in Genesis at the creation story.  What did God do on the seventh day? … Genesis 2:2-3, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”  God establish the Sabbath to give His people time to rest and spend time with Him.  God gave us this special gift:  a little mini-vacation woven right into the fabric of our week.  And God declared it holy.
            In the Old Testament, the Law of Moses required certain vacations as religious obligations.  In addition to resting on the Sabbath to keep it holy, there were also regular holiday festivals to be celebrated throughout the year.  Furthermore, the Law encouraged faithful Jews to make travel to the Temple in Jerusalem often.  Some strict Jews interpreted the law to mean they should travel to the Temple 3 times a year.  The Gospel of Luke says Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover every year.
The word vacation literally means to vacate – to leave.  The word was first used to describe the long summer breaks taken by law courts and by wealthy Europeans who would “vacate” their regular home and move to their summer home.  Ultimately, a vacation is to take leave from your normal daily activity and go or do something different.  It can mean taking a trip to Florida; but technically, a business conference could be consider a vacation (in some sense) because you are taking a break from what you normally do (say sitting at a desk in your office) to do something different.  A changes of pace—even if it is still work—can be refreshing.
According to one article[i], “More than half of American workers left vacation time unused in 2015. This adds up to 658 million unused vacation days.”  Some of the reasons people say they don’t take vacations are: returning to a mountain of work (37%), fearing no one else can do the job while they’re gone (35%), and trouble affording a vacation (33%).  Does one of these reasons describe you?
Some people just feel guilty about taking a vacation.  They might feel vacations are indulgent, wasteful, or only the practice of lazy people.  Have you ever judged others because they took a vacation?  Have you ever felt judged yourself?  I hope not, because vacations are important.  They are a way we can “sharpen our saw.” 
Vacations make you happier.  Well, obviously, going on a vacation can be fun and relaxing and will most likely make you happy.  But it’s more than just that.  Research shows[ii], “People who come back from vacation are more satisfied with their lives in general when they return.”  Calmer, more satisfied, mentally healthy people are actually better workers and members of society in general.
Some may say, “Well, vacations just stress me out.  All the packing and stressing over leaving on time and finding a place to stay and all the details of the trip…”  Hmmm… that’s true if you’re acting like a Martha.  Remember Mary and Martha from our scripture?  Martha was all worked up about cooking the meal and all the work that needed to be done.  Be more like Mary than Martha and just enjoy!
Vacations make you healthier.  They reduce stress.  Vacations give your body time to recuperate and repair.  According to experts, “Research has shown that people on holiday immediately feel healthier, have less physical complaints and even have a reduction in cholesterol levels on their return.”[iii]  My summer vacation last year helped me establish a new healthy habit—a morning walk.  you see, I'm an early riser and everyone else in the vacation house decided to sleep late.  So what was I to do?  I decided I would go for a walk each morning while I waited for the rest of the household to wake up.  I took a walk on the beach and watched the sunrise while getting some healthy exercise.  Well, when I got back from our vacation, I decided, "Why not keep this up?"  So I started getting up a little earlier and taking a walk every morning.  It's gives me time to pray, listen to the Bible or an audiobook, and start the day off with a little exercise.  It's been almost a year now and I go for a 30-45 minute walk almost every morning.  I might not have developed this healthy habit if I hadn't gone on vacation last summer.
But there’s another benefit.
Vacations actually make you more productive.  Vacations decrease job stress, employee burnout, and reduce absenteeism.  Workers come who take vacations come back with a renewed vitality at their job and are actually more productive than before.  So, a vacation can make you a more effective worker.  I hope you will all consider the benefits of a periodic vacation.  I hope any employers or supervisors who read this will consider how a vacation could help your employees help you and will encourage them to take time off now and then. 

A Christian Vacation
            I am convinced the Christian way of life is the absolute best.  True Christians who follow Jesus whole-heartedly are the most joyful of all people on the planet, love life and live it to the fullest, and are also the very best employees and members of society.  Christianity is not some set of religious rules we follow.  It's a living relationship with Jesus that actually makes us better people when we apply our faith to every area of our life.  How can we apply our faith to our vacations?  Let me give you some tips.
            First, don’t take a vacation from your faith.  You are still a follower of Christ even if you are in a different town.  Don’t forget your values, your spiritual practices (prayer, devotions, worship time, etc.), and your purpose (to love God and your neighbor).  Take Jesus on vacation with you and it will be the best trip you ever took.
            Second, don’t be a Martha. In other words, don’t worry so much about all the details that you forget the main point—to rest and take a break from all the things you have to do in your regular life.  It’s supposed to be a change of pace.  Don’t let your own “Martha-like” tendencies keep you from the joy Jesus wants to give you during your vacation.
Third, forget the world’s views about the perfect vacation.  In the hilarious National Lampoon's vacation movies, Clark Griswold is always getting into trouble because of his unrealistic notions abut the perfect vacations.  Don't be like Clark Griswold.  Vacations aren't about making perfect memories for our kids.  Vacations aren't about over-indulging ourselves.  We can treat ourselves, but we don’t have to be selfish.  Being too self-indulgent will not make you healthier or happier.  Over indulging self-indulging actually feeds your selfish tendencies and makes you less happy and satisfied in the long run.  Don't try to "keep up with the Joneses" or fall for the world's ideas about the perfect vacation.  Keep it simple and remember what's really important in life is what's really important in a vacation too--love and relationships.
Fourth, think outside the box on your vacations.  Jesus was not a rich man.  He was basically homeless and he lived in a poor peasant society.  Yet Jesus somehow also managed to take regular trips and vacations.  If he can manage it, so can you.  Don’t fall for the world’s lie that every vacation has to be an elaborate, expensive, extravaganza.  Something as simple as a walk through the park on a pretty spring day can qualify as a vacation.  (Remember, Jesus would often retreat to a quiet place to pray).  Sunday rest can be a vacation—if you are intentional about it.  A religious festival—like an Easter egg hunt or a sunrise service or a Maundy Thursday service—can be a vacation.  (Remember, a vacation is doing something different than your normal daily routine.)  A spiritual retreat (like the Walk to Emmaus) can be a great vacation; it allows you to step away from the normal tasks of life and spend 3 days focusing on your spiritual life.  A trip to see family or friends qualifies as a vacation (and can be a lot cheaper since you may be able to stay with them and not have to pay for a hotel or food).  A short term mission trip can be an interesting and truly life-changing vacation.  Even a work conference or some extra training can be a nice break from your regular daily duties as an employee and might be covered by your employer.  The point is, your vacation doesn’t have to be a typical trip to the beach or a cruise to the Caribbean that costs thousands of dollars.  And those trips may not be the best way for you to "sharpen your saw" anyway.

An Invitation 
Take time to sharpen your saw.  People usually think of Christianity as a bunch of religious rules and obligations.  That's not true at all.  Christianity is an invitation to an ongoing vacation from the worries of a selfish life.  Perhaps this is expressed best in Jesus invitation from Matthew 11:28 where he said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."  Christianity is an invitation to walk away from doing things the way the world says you must and to live differently--the way Christ lives.  The Christian life is not always easy, but it is always good and wholesome and leaves you feeling refreshed and whole even when it is hard work that makes you tired.  So I invite you--as Christ does--to walk away from your weary ways and come find true rest in Jesus Christ.