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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Jesus and the 5,000

            March Madness falls right in the middle of the Christian season of Lent this year.  Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  It is a time when Christians prepare for Easter by focusing on spiritual growth through prayer, study, and focus.  Will take the challenge to make a 3-pointer for March Madness/Lent by focusing on prayer, study, and service?  Jesus was committed to all three.  Today, let's look at one story about how he served. 

Slides – Matthew 14:13-21

13 As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. 14 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

16 But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

17 “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. 21 About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!

We Want to Withdraw

            Serving is not just something we do on Sunday or every now and then.  We are called to live a life of service.  Jesus is our Lord, our Savior, and our example.  He lived his life as a living sacrifice—serving people everywhere he went. 
            You might think, “Well sure, he was Jesus.  It was easy for him.”  Jesus was God, but he was also human.  He got tired.  He got frustrated.  He dealt with feelings of depression and sadness and loneliness just like everyone does.  I think this story is a perfect example and it’s the reason I decided to read the story from the Gospel of Matthew today instead of Luke.  Matthew really emphasizes something important that’s going on in Jesus’ life.  You see, we usually focus on the miracle of how Jesus fed 5,000 people and skip right over something very personal going on in Jesus’ life.
The story begins in verse 13, where it says, “As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.”  What was the news Jesus heard?  He’d just heard the news of his cousin John’s gruesome death by beheading. 
There are a lot of cousins at the church I serve.  I’ve been here 7 years and it took me a long time to figure out who all is related to who.  So many cousins and aunts and uncles…  There’s a lot more distant relations I probably still haven’t figured out, but I know there are some cousins in my church that are very close—maybe more like sisters and brothers than cousins.  Perhaps you have a cousin you've been close to.  Well, how would you feel if you got the news Jesus did about your cousin?  You would be devastated.
When Jesus heard his cousin was dead, it says he got in a boat and went away “to a remote area to be alone.”  I don’t know what Jesus was doing out there in the middle of a deserted lake and the scriptures don’t say, but I think I can imagine because I’ve done it before.  You get out there on the lake and it’s peaceful and still.  You pray.  You listen.  You reflect.
Maybe Jesus was out there on the lake in the quiet remembering what life was like for him and his cousin before the Spirit of God had led them both into the perilous lime light of public ministry—a time before crowds pressed them for leadership and healing and deliverance, a time before politics mattered so much and speaking the truth could get you beheaded or crucified. 
Don’t we all get tired of “adulting” sometimes?  Isn’t it nice when we can just run away to a quiet place. Who couldn’t use a little more quiet time to refresh the soul and reconnect with God?  That’s what Jesus was doing. 

We’re Moved to Compassion

No matter how you get away or how far you go, when you come back, you find that life has not taken a break with you.  There are still bills to be paid and checkbooks to balance and houses to clean and weddings to plan and people who need help.  But with your mind clear and your own spirit at peace you can rise above the fray and view the pressing needs of the world from outside of yourself. 
And thus it was for Jesus as he returned to the shore.  He saw a great crowd, full of needs.  And out of compassion for them, he cured their sick.  Can’t you see him there: passing among the great crowd, no longer burdened by his own troubles?  How does he pass so quickly from group to group, here bringing sight to the blind, there bringing hearing to the deaf?  Matthew makes no mention of any teaching taking place.  Didn’t Jesus at least once stand in righteous indignation and say to a drunken father, “If you wouldn’t drink so much you’re son wouldn’t be struggling with this demon and he wouldn’t go into fits of rage in the first place…” No, it simply says in verse 14, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Ah, yes, I can see his kind hands stretching out to heal.  And the day wears on and soon the sun begins to set and you can hear babies beginning to cry—first over here, next over there.  It is that distinctive, imploring cry of a child that says to those who are accustomed to hearing it, “Mommy, Daddy, I’m hungry…” 
Can you put yourselves in the disciple’s shoes for a minute?  Walking with Jesus as he ministers, assisting him as he directs you, patiently working your way through the seemingly endless crowds of needy people, seeing the hungry expressions growing on each needy face as your own stomach begins to grind and complain.  You know that there is food waiting for you, but what about this crowd?  Are you going eat right there in front of them while they have nothing? 

We Face Impossible Challenges

            So the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to go buy their own food.  And then Jesus gives the disciples this impossible challenge, “you feed them.”  Did he really mean the disciples were supposed to feed this massive crowd?  They didn't plan for that.  It wasn't on their agenda.  They hadn't secured the supplies.  They couldn't afford that kind of outreach.
Have things changed that much in 2,000 years?  Have we not ever felt ashamed to see a hungry person holding a sign saying “Need food”?  And a voice inside us says, “you feed them.”  They weren't part of our agenda that day.  We didn't plan for a way to help them.  We don't know how to help them or have the resources to really do it. 
Or maybe we see that angry teenage girl at school; you know the one—dressed all in black with pale white skin, black lips, black nails, weird hair, and a chain strung from her ear to her nose and tangled all around her heart.  Or what about the family that lives across the street; what’s their names again?  Or maybe it’s our brother or sister, our husband or wife, our son or daughter, or our cousin.  Or maybe it's the people we work with that need leadership and guidance so they can truly serve the way God wants them to in the workplace.  Or maybe it’s the shut-in that's growing old and feeble and can’t leave the house anymore.  Or maybe it’s the congregation or Sunday school class that looks to us each Sabbath to fill them with words from the mouth of God.  And a still, small voice says inside us, “you feed them.”
The cardboard signs all read something different, “Need food,” “Need love,”  “Need hope,” but they all say, “I need help.”  And when we turn to Jesus and ask him to do something, he says, “you feed them.” 
I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to run off and hide, because I have so little to give.  Who am I?  What have I to give?  How am I to feed this hungry crowd when I barley have enough to feed my own soul?  But there is no running away.  The crowds follow you wherever you go and they are there waiting for you when at last you come ashore.  And the voice still whispers, “you feed them.” 

God Provides
            The disciples said to Jesus, “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.  18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers.”
            Can you see them all sitting together, eating, drinking, laughing, and sharing?  What started as a meager 5 loaves ended in 12 baskets full of leftovers and a crowd full of satisfied people.  Even the disciples were filled.  How extraordinary that by giving away the little you do have—not to the crowd, but to God—you could be filled and have an abundance left over.
            I don’t know how God does it, but He has this amazing way of taking the meager things we have to offer and multiplying them into an abundance of good.  It still amazes me, every time I preach, that God would use my humble ability.  I can’t remember a time when I stood in the pulpit and was satisfied with the message I had prepared.  I always feel like there is room for improvement.  Maybe the ending seems too loose or the illustrations seem too vague or the message is not insightful or instructive or nourishing enough.  Yet God takes this humble gift I bring and multiplies it and the Word of God touches people. 
            Thank God we are not operating on our own power.  We are drawing on the miraculous power of Christ who takes the ordinary things we offer and turns them into the extraordinary things people need.   

         So then, we must serve.  We must follow Jesus’ command:  “You feed them.”  Even when we are tired, God gives us new strength.  Even when we have very little to give, Jesus takes what we have and multiplies it.  So we can listen.  We can obey.  We can serve.  We can feed the hungry, heal the sick, give to the needy, and bind up the broken-hearted.  With God’s help, we can give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.  And in the process, we find that we ourselves are the ones who receive the biggest blessings, and the blessings overflow.  

God grant us the extraordinary peace, assurance, compassion, and abundance that comes when we rest in Your amazing grace and draw on the miraculous power You offer as we face life’s impossible challenges.  Amen.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Jesus in the Wilderness

             I am encouraging everyone at my church to focus on three things during the 40 days of Lent--prayer, study, and service.  Today, I want to talk about prayer. 
            Prayer is communicating with God. You don’t have to use fancy language or try to impress God (or anyone else) with your eloquent speech. The best prayer is simply you talking to God like you would talk to a trusted friend.
            However, we often forget prayer is also listening. Many times, our prayers are just us talking, but never listening. There’s a cliché that says God gave us two ears and only one mouth so we ought to listen twice as much as we speak. That’s even truer when we come into the presence of God. Do you presume to teach God something He doesn’t already know or impress Him with your clever speech? We should tell God about our day and our struggles and our joys and present Him with our petitions. And we should thank Him and praise Him and glorify His holy name. Yet it is even better and far more beneficial to just be still and quiet and know that He is God and to listen for His holy voice that we might know His thoughts and His purposes for our life. That would be a worthy practice for the 40 days of Lent.
            I want to share a story takes place right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus goes into the wilderness on a pilgrimage to fast. And fasting always goes with prayer. Jesus is listening for the voice of God to prepare him for the next 3 years of his life—a ministry that will be powerful but face many challenges, require great spiritual fortitude, wisdom, and grace, and that will culminate in his arrest, torture, and crucifixion. Ultimately, there will be the final victory of the resurrection and defeat of death, but only if Jesus is completely faithful to God’s plan. So Jesus begins his ministry with an intense period of fasting and prayer.

Slides – Luke 4:1-13
1Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,

He will order his angels to protect and guard you.

11 And they will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.

The Voice of God vs. the Voice of Satan            In this passage, Jesus communes with God as he fasts in the wilderness, but he also encounters Satan. It is often the case that we encounter Satan when we are looking for God. Why? I will tell you. Satan does not want us to commune with God. His ultimate purpose is to disrupt just such encounters. People may think of Satan’s wants to scare us, or hurt us, or deceive us, or make bad things happen to us. In part, all of these are true. Satan hates us and wants only bad to befall us. However, the greatest and darkest goal Satan has is to keep us from a true relationship with God. For if he accomplishes this, he will ultimately achieve the greatest evil of all which will also include all the other lesser evils.
            If all Satan wants to do is scare us or cause us pain, he could simply show his ugly face and shred our bodies with his evil hands. However, doing so would be the surest way to make us turn to God. (If you saw Satan face to face, you would cry out to God—and He would come running to save you. You would never forget it; you would cling to God forever lest you fall back into the hands of the Devil.) It is much better for Satan that we never know he is the one who torments us. 
           Satan’s goal is to turn our hearts away from God, to make us forget about God. Then Satan will have our souls and can make sport of us forever, torturing us and causing pain, having already accomplish the greatest wound of all—eternal separation from our Creator.
            So when we go looking for God—as Jesus did while fasting in the wilderness—Satan comes along to tempt, to disrupt, to deceive, and destroy.  Satan doesn’t usually come and tell you “I am Satan.” We would never listen to him if he did. Nor does Satan look as you would expect—with red skin, horns on his head, and a pointy tale. Who would take advice from a monster? Satan’s usually comes to us in the same way God does—as a voice in our head as we contemplate the world around us, as we think about our life, as we meditate on the worries we have, as we ponder how we should react and what we should do.
            So you must learn to know the difference between Satan's whispers and the voice of God. And I want to give you some clues to how you tell which is which.

God’s voice stills you; Satan rushes you.
            Satan will push you to always do more and more and more.  He will keep you so busy you don’t have time to look for God or consider if all you’re doing has any real meaning.  But God calls us to slow down.  He gave us a whole day to rest—the Sabbath—so that we can be still and know that He is God.  For when we are still, we become calm.  And when we are calm, we listen with our heart.  And when we listen with our heart, we hear God’s voice.  And when we hear God’s voice, we know Him. 

God’s voice leads you; Satan pushes you.             Jesus said, “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of me.”  He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heaven burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Satan pushes us to do more and more and more.  He literally told Jesus to go jump off the highest point of the temple.  What do you think Satan would do to you?
Sometimes Jesus asks does ask us to do difficult things.  He said his followers must take up a cross and follow him.  But he has already lead the way.  Jesus also carried a cross—a heavier one than you will ever bear.  Jesus is our leader.  Satan is a pusher who has never done anything for us or anyone else.  Listen to Jesus, not Satan.

God’s voice reassures you; Satan frightens you.
We all have doubts.  We all have worries.  We fret over our relationships.  “What did so-and-so mean by that?”  “Can I really trust her?”   “Why is he staring at me all the time?”  “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”  “Maybe I should have done more.”  We worry about our children growing up and making good decisions.  We fear we have messed the whole thing up.
Satan loves our inner turmoil.  He directs to the unholy choir of voices singing our perceived failures.  If you listen to Satan, he will rip you apart with fear.  Don’t listen to Satan.  Listen to God.  God reassures you.  He says, “You have done much better than you give yourself credit for.  You are a loved; you are good; you are special; you are doing well.”  He says, “Even your failure are not as bad as you think.”  He says, “We can fix this together.”  He says, “Don’t give up.  Keep on the path.  We will get there together.”  Listen to God not Satan. 

God’s voice enlightens you; Satan confuses you.
Do you realize, you don’t have to know everything about everything?  You only need to know what God teaches you to be truly wise.  Wisdom is more about trusting God than knowing information. 
Satan will try to confuse you.  He will cloud your mind to the obvious truths and lead you chasing after knowledge that is irrelevant.  Listen to his dark voice and you will know a bucnhc of stuff about nothing.  But if you listen to God, you will be clear about what really matters and you won’t care about things that mean nothing.  You will be truly enlightened.

Slide – God voice encourages you; Satan discourages you.
            God is our Father.  He encourages he children to do their very best.  Satan makes us want to give up and settle for less than our best.
            A while back, I had a daddy/daughter date night with my youngest child, Abigail.  We decided to go out eat dinner.  As we drove to her Red Lobster and passed our church, she asked, "What's up inside that steeple?"  I told her how I had been up in the steeple once to help fix a broken window.  As we ate dinner, I asked her what she wanted to do afterwards.  She replied, "I want to go up in that steeple!"
            I thought that was pretty cool; my daughter wanted to go on an adventure.  And since I'm the pastor and have access and permission to do such things, I could make it happen.  To get to the steeple, you have to go into the attic above the sanctuary.  It's a lot like most attics--dark, dusty, and full of insulation.  You have to be careful to step on the studs, but as long as you are careful it is safe.  It made my young daughter a little nervous, but I was there to make sure she stayed safe and to reassure her.  We climbed the ladder inside the steeple and she completed the challenge--safely under the supervision of her protective father.
            That story reminds me of our relationship with God.  God helps us overcome great challenges and accomplish great things.  We may be nervous or even a afraid of the things we must face.  However, God is there with us to guide us and keep us safe and encourage us so that we can do anything He leads us to do.  Satan discourages us, but God encourages us.

God’s voice comforts you; Satan worries you.
Worry is thinking about the same problem over and over again.  It’s like spinning your tires—it makes a screeching and a lot of smoke and it ruins your tires, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.  Satan loves it when you worry.  It makes you restless.  It fixates your mind on a useless thoughts.  Worry doesn’t leads to anything productive and it keeps you from resting in God’s loving arms.
            God’s voice comforts you, letting you know it’s all going to be OK.  It allows you to rest your mind until your thoughts are clear.  Then you will see the answer is probably so simple or that God has already worked it out for you.  Let God comfort you and don't listen to Satan.

God voice convicts you; Satan condemns you.
            God loves us.  And love is more than a sentimental feeling.  Love is far deeper than that.  Love, true love, warns us when we have gone astray.  Jesus’ core message was: Repent of your sins for the Kingdom of God is near! (Mark 1:15).  In Luke 13:3, he warned, “…you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.” 
            We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.  We are guilty and God convicts us.  But he does not condemn us.  Satan condemns us.  Satan tells us our sins are unforgiveable.  Satan lies and says, “There is no hope for you.  God does not love you anymore.  You might as well give up.  You are not worthy.  You will spend eternity in my hell!”  Do not listen to Satan.  Listen to God.  God says, “You have sinned, but you can be forgiven.”  The Bible says:
·       If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9)
·       For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 3:23)
·       For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans10:13)
·       God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 2:4)
·       Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)
·       Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
·       He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. (Ephesians 1:7)
·       This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  (Matthew 26:28)
·       Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. (Acts 3:19)

            If you want to know how much God loves you, look at the cross.  He loved you enough to die on the cross to forgive you of your sins.  The cross is clearest statement about the depth of God's love and the forgiveness He offers.  Listen to God's voice in prayer and ignore Satan.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


Luke 3:7-9
7 When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said,
“You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 9 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

Mark 1:14-15
14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News.
15 “The time promised by God has come at last!”
he announced.
“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

Understanding the Scriptures
            John the Baptist is the speaker in the Luke passage.  You may have heard of him.  John the Baptist was a fire and brimstone preacher. He didn’t cut people any slack. He’s known for preaching harsh, judgmental messages that pointed out people’s sins and called them to repent.  A lot of people in John’s day thought they were safe from God’s wrath because they were Jews—descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people.  John thought differently. He called even the most righteous of them--the Pharisees--a brood of vipers! The fact that someone was a descendant of Abraham meant nothing to John.
            If John were here today, he would bluntly proclaim it doesn’t matter what your parents and grandparents believed or did. All that matters is what you believe and do.   And John would look at you with his fiery eyes of judgment and boldly preach: “You need to repent! You need to turn away from your sins and turn to God!”
            Most people today don’t like to hear that message. We’d much rather listen to Jesus—who was kind and healed the sick and ate with sinners and turned water into wine.  Our popular image of Jesus is a forgiving man who carries sweet little baby lambs around all day.  However, the Bible tells us Jesus preached the same message as John.  The “Good News” Jesus preached was this: “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)  Repentance was as much a part of Jesus' message as John's. 

Repentance - The Pivot
            Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent. For
Christians, Lent is a 40-day period of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter. During Lent, we turn away from more worldly pursuits and focus on spiritual growth through prayer, study, and service.  This year, Lent runs from March 1 – April 15.  (By the way, if you look at a calendar and count up the days, you’ll find it’s actually 46 days. That’s because we don’t count the 6 Sundays in Lent. On Sunday’s, we always celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. And it just doesn’t seem right to mourn and fast and be somber when you are celebrating Christ victory of sin and death. So we get a break from Lent on the Sundays. That leaves 40 days.)
            This year, Lent coincides with the NCAA Men’s College basketball tournament, popularly known as March Madness. So I will draw some parallels between the Christian faith and basketball.  In basketball, you cannot walk or run without bouncing the ball (known as dribbling).  If you stop dribbling, you cannot move anymore. You must stay in place. The only thing you can do is pass the ball to another player, shoot at the basket, or pivot.  Here’s how you pivot. You keep one foot firmly planted and you pivot (or turn) around on that one foot. With a pivot, you can legally turn all the way around without moving forward or backward.
            The pivot is a good illustration for repentance.  Repentance 180 degrees pivot.  It is pivoting (or turning) away from sin and bad behavior toward God.  When we think about repentance, we usually emphasis the bad things we’re going to stop doing. “I’m gonna stop being so selfish…” That’s good! However, don’t forget you are pivoting away from sin toward God, which ought to lead you to do other things, good things. Here’s some examples:
  • Pivot away from being selfish and judgmental and learn to serve others.
  • Pivot away doing everything your own way and pray more to ask what God wants.
  • Pivot away from just entertaining yourself and focus more on studying God’s Word. 
            The pivot—repentance—is the key to key to success in the Christian faith. You can’t be a Christian without it. 

The 3-Point Shot
            The key to success in a basketball game is often the 3-point shot. The 3-pointer was not always part of the game.  It was introduced in either the 1960s or 70s and it has changed the game.  Normally you get two points for making a basket.  However, if you are farther away—past the 3-point line—you get three points.  The 3-pointer has made teams with shorter players more competitive against taller teams.  The shorter players may be less effective driving to the basket for a lay up, but they may still hang back from farther away and score more points if they are accurate shooters.  This has changed the way many teams play the game.  Coaches need different game plans.  The 3-pointer has also made it possible for teams who fall behind in the score to catch up more quickly.
            But that's basketball.  I’d like to challenge you to attempt a different kind of 3-point shot during Lent. This 3-point shot will help you pivot away from sin toward God.  For the 40 days of Lent, I challenge you to focus on three things:  prayer, study, and service.
            1 - Prayer.  I challenge you to pray more during March Madness.  Pray at least five times every day.  That might seem like a lot for some people, but it's not as hard as you think.  Say a prayer when you wake up; it will help set the tone for your whole day.  Then pray again before you go to bed; it will help you have a more restful sleep.  Add to this a blessing before every meal (most people eat three meals each day) and you have a total of five prayers for the day.  You can also pray at other times during the day: while you are driving (keep your eyes open!), before a test at school or important meeting at work, as you think of something for which you're thankful, or whenever you think about praying.  Focusing on prayer will help you grow closer to God during the 40 days of Lent.
            2 - Study.  I challenge you to study God's Word more during March Madness.  Perhaps you could read one chapter of your Bible each day; you could start with the Gospel of Matthew.  Another idea is to spend a set amount of time--10 or 15 minutes--hand copying the scripture.  This can be a very effective method for those who struggle to focus while they read (and it will let you practice yor handwriting).  Maybe you could join a Sunday school class or Bible study if you are not already part of one.  I invite you to come to my church on Wednesday nights or Thursday mornings for our study "The Story"   We have classes for kids, teens, and adults.
            3 - Service.  Do something selfless every day to help someone else. It cold be a kinds word or offering a prayer for someone on Facebook.  We will have some opportunities at my church you can pug in to serve.  On Sunday, March 19, we will offer several outreach projects in or for our community.  On March 26, we will have a spring cleaning day at my church.  People will serve by cleaning up and making repairs to the church facilities.  We have other opportunities to serve as well.  I invite you to join us for one or more or all of these service opportunities.  It will help you grow closer to God as you serve.
I challenge you to make 3-point shot for March Madness.  Focus on prayer, study, service.  Try it for 40 days and see if it doesn't help you grow closer to God.  I pray you have a meaningful and holy Lent.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Funeral for "Old Self" - Ash Wednesday Message

Goodbye Self

1 Peter 2:21-25
21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
22 He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today for the funeral of “Old Self.”  One of the core beliefs of the Christian faith is that we let our “Old Self” die.  I know, it sounds sort of depressing—all this talk about death.  But hold on, we’re talking about the death of things that we want to die—things that should die.  We’re talking about letting sin and selfishness die.  And this type of death is joyous, because it means getting rid of the very things that keep us from being truly alive.  This “Old Self” steals our joy and wrecks our relationships with God and the people around us.
            Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  So as I was thinking about this verse and the meaning and purpose of the Lenten season, I had an idea: “Let’s have a funeral for our “Old Self.””   

            Normally when you have a funeral, you have a eulogy.  That means you praise the person’s character and recall the best of who they were.  I have never been to a funeral where they said the deceased person was a lousy bum and never did any good and we’re glad to see him go.  No, at most funerals they make the deceased sound like a saint (even if they weren’t).  On a few occasions, I left the funeral service wondering if I accidentally slipped into a service for the wrong person.  As I left I kept asking myself, “Who were they talking about? Not the person I knew!”  Since this isn’t a real funeral, we can just be perfectly honest. 
What can we say about “Old Self?”  “Old Self” wasn’t the kind of person we’re very proud of.  Sure, we had some fun together.  Old Self liked to have fun.  In fact, he put his own selfish desire for fun ahead of God and everything else.  He didn’t care who he hurt or who he disappointed as long as he made himself “happy.”  We went along with him for a little while.  However, the “happiness” we found with Old Self was hollow.  It never lasted.  It never satisfied.  It was like the immature antics of adolescence; it seemed fun at the time, but now it just seems foolish.  We grew up, but Old Self never did.  How sad.  Old Self always thought he was the center of the universe and everyone else was put here to please him.  He never outgrew it.
            I remember one time, someone told Old Self how selfish he was being.  Well, Old Self couldn’t stand for that.  No sir.  He retaliated with a verbal assault that would make a drill sergeant proud.  Then he stormed out of the room and gave the person the cold shoulder for a week.  They were only being honest and trying to help.  But Old Self didn’t want to hear it. 
Old Self did worse things than that.  One time, he betrayed his best friend in order to improve his own social standing.  Another time he stole something from a store.  He ruined people’s reputations and broke people’s hearts.  Old Self was a reckless piece of work.
Most people didn’t know it, but Old Self was a really good liar.  People didn’t know, because he was so good at it.  He would lie if it served his purposes.  And he did it often.
            You never wanted to cross Old Self.  He was the type who would get revenge.  ‘Don’t get mad, get even’ was his motto.  Forgiveness was as foreign concept to Old Self.  
            Thankfully, Old Self never murdered anyone, but he thought about it a time or two.  Jesus said, “If you hate someone, it is like committing murder in your heart.”  He also said “if you look at a woman with lust you have already committed adultery in your heart.”[i]  Old Self did all of these.  He had a lying, murderous, adulterous heart.  And if he’d had his own way, who knows what would’ve happened. 
            So what can I say?  Normally, we are pretty sad at a funeral.  But I’m just not sad to see Old Self go.  “So long Self.  We don’t need you anymore.  We don’t want you anymore.  We are better off without you.  Hopefully, we won’t miss you.” 

Final Viewing
            I invite you to come take a final viewing of your “Old Self.”  As you do, write down a bad characteristic in your life you would like to let die.  Place in the box and burry it or, better yet, cremate it by burning it in a fire.  Take a moment to reflect on that selfish part of you would like to die.

Get Back in that Coffin!
As you can see, the death of Old Self is a lot different from a normal funeral.  And there’s a problem with burying poor Old Self.  Old Self didn’t go willingly.  You and I wanted him to go, but Old Self didn’t want to go.  He was fighting right up to the end, scratching and clawing to keep from being cast out of our hearts.  In fact, he still doesn’t want to go.  Sometimes we can still hear him begging to come back inside our heart.  The real problem with burying Old Self is he keeps trying to rise up out of the casket.  It would be kind of funny if you were looking at the scene from outside.  Old Self keeps trying to pop up out of the coffin, and we keep trying to push him back in—holding him down in there so he can’t get out. 
May the almighty and merciful God,
    who desires not the death of a sinner
         but that we turn from wickedness and live,
accept your repentance, forgive your sins,
    and restore you by the Holy Spirit to newness of life.  Amen.

[i] Matthew 5:22, 28

Monday, March 23, 2015

3. Get Rid of Distractions

Copyright March 16, 2015 by Chris Mullis
John 2:13-16

            Life is hectic.  There are so many demands on our attention.  Work demands our attention.  Telephones ring.  Kids need to be fed and shuttled to and from school and practice.  The church and PTA need volunteers.  We have appointments to make and deadlines to meet.  All these distractions make it difficult to focus on what’s really important.
            God knew our lives would be hectic.  That’s why He gave us a special day to rest and worship—the Sabbath Day.  In the beginning, the Sabbath was on the seventh day—Saturday—for on the seventh day of creation in Genesis, God rested.  But Jesus rose from the grave on a Sunday, which came to be called “The Lord’s Day.”  And it didn’t take long for almost all Christians to choose Sunday as their primary day for worship.
            So we come here to the “Sanctuary,” a place that is safe and holy, a place designated to worship God.  We seek to forget the cares and concerns of the world for a time and focus on Christ.  And as we do, we hope to find some clarity about what’s really important in life so we go back out into the hectic world centered and balanced once more.
            Many things distract us—things that aren’t really important, things that lead us astray, things that might be good, but just are not right for us at this time.  Most of us don’t take time to examine our lives close enough to determine what our priorities are.  So today I want to focus on getting rid of distractions in your life and focusing on the priorities God has set for you.  Let’s go to the Bible and look at a time when Jesus got rid of the distractions in the Temple.

John 2:13-16
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.
  • Jews all over the world in Jesus day dreamed of going to the Passover celebration in the Jerusalem Temple.  People came from all over the world.  It was not uncommon to have over 2 million people in the holy city for the Passover.  Throngs of people hoping to worship God on this sacred occasion.  Yet when they arrived,  they found a ruthless system designed to exploit them.  Every man 20 years and older had to pay a Temple tax, which was about a day and a half’s wages for the average man (roughly $150 by today’s standards) [i].  The money was used for the upkeep of the Temple and ongoing construction projects.  That’s not so bad.  It did take money to maintain the Temple.  But it got worse, because the tax couldn’t be paid in foreign money. The Roman, Greek, and Egyptian coins most people carried had to be converted to Temple money—the Shekel.  There were money changers stationed all over the Temple for this purpose and each one charged for their services.  What it all boiled down to is it could cost you an additional $100 just to change your money to the right currency!  It angered Jesus that such a heavy burden was laid upon these already poor, working class people.
15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
  • As if the exorbitant fees of the money changers weren’t bad enough, it got even worse.  You see, most people visiting the Temple would need to sacrifice an animal during worship.  If you were poor, you could buy a pair of doves to sacrifice for about $100 if you bought them outside the Temple (or you could bring your own).  But all animals had to be inspected by the Temple authorities to make sure there weren’t any blemishes (and it cost $25 to get the inspection).  And (who would’ve guessed) almost all animals bought or brought from outside the Temple would inevitably fail inspection.  Not to worry though.  You could buy a replacement inside the Temple—at an additional cost.  The same pair of doves that cost $100 outside the Temple cost $1,875 inside the Temple[ii]! (And you thought the markup on movie theater popcorn was bad!)
  • And of course all this buying and selling and the inevitable arguments and angry people being ripped off was an unbearable distraction to worship.  And it took place in the Temple in the court of the Gentiles—which was the only place Gentiles were allowed to worship God.  Jewish people had other places to worship, but Gentiles only had this raucous outer courtyard in which to pray.  Jesus was filled with righteous anger and he chased everyone out.
Distractions and Purpose
            Our world is full of distractions and if we’re not careful, our lives can become consumed with things that have little or nothing to do with why God put us here.  Like the noisy, busy money changers and livestock sellers in the Temple, these distractions rob us of our time and money—something of which we already have too little.  Perhaps it’s time to purify our lives just as Jesus cleansed the Temple.  You have to decide:  Do you want to waste your precious resources on things that ultimately aren’t important or do you want to spend your time and money on things that really matter?
In 2002, Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in California, wrote an amazing book called The Purpose Driven Life that lays out the 5 main purposes for your life.  If you aim for these, you will do things that matter and you will find great fulfillment as you live out God’s purposes for your life: [iii]     
1.     You were made to worship God.  You weren’t put here for your own pleasure.  You were  How much of your time and money do you spend worshipping God? put here to glorify God, to love Him, and to be amazed by Him.

2.     You weren’t meant to be alone.  You were made to be part of God’s family, where you are loved, accepted, encouraged, and held accountable.  You need good people in your life and they need you.  How much of our resources are devoted to relationships with the family of God, the Church?

3.     You were created to become like Christ.  You are here to learn and improve your character.  This life is an incredible training program to prepare your soul to be the image of God.  Don’t pretend to be perfect.  Be real about your shortcomings and be willing to work on them.  How hard do you train to become more like Christ?

4.     You are here to serve.  Even Jesus said he came into the world to serve and not to be served.  How much more true it is for you!  It might seem counter-intuitive to find happiness by serving others, but you were designed to serve; and in doing so you will find great fulfillment.  How much of your life is devoted to serving other?

5.     You were made for a mission—to tell people what Jesus has done for you.  Jesus commanded us to do this and promised to help.  You don’t have to be a preacher or Sunday school teacher to do it.  You just have to be honest and share your experience.  If Jesus has changed your life, tell people.  If he hasn’t changed your life (or if you don’t think he will), why are you even here? 

Examine Your Life
            I think Rick Warren nailed it with these five purposes.  Maybe you don’t agree, but have you ever really examined your life to see what it’s all about?  What on earth are you here for?  You have a purpose.  What is it?  And are you doing things that move you closer to your goals or distract you from them?
Most people never take the time to consider these things.  They just float along the river of life, going wherever the current leads.  It’s sad to think of all that could be accomplished if people would just wake up from their slumber and start living out their purpose.  If only people would come alive and choose to live for a higher purpose, the world would be forever changed.

            The violence Jesus demonstrated as he cleansed the Temple often disturbs people.  It upsets our image of Jesus as a meek, peaceful holy man.  We like the Jesus who gently welcomed children and carried lambs in his arms.  Who is this Jesus who angrily chased the money changers from the Temple while cracking a whip? 
            When it comes to things that distract us from God and thus do damage to our soul, we need to be more like the Jesus carrying the whip than the Jesus carrying the lamb.  The story conveys the seriousness of distractions.  They need to be dealt with now.  Chase away those things that rob your life of significance.  Turn over the tables of anything that keeps you from God’s purposes.  Drive away the animals that cannot help you fulfill God’s plan.  Reject a fallen world that tells you to get in line with everyone else that’s wasting their life.  Turn instead to the Lord who created you who wants to free you to live a life full of meaning.  For if you don’t you will surely spend your whole life doing things that don’t really matter and will have no lasting value.  You will come to your end full of regrets, wondering how time slipped away so fast, and lamenting that your life didn’t really matter much.
            Thus far in this series, I have given you 2 challenges:  1) Start in the Gospel of Matthew and read one chapter every day and finish Matthew by Easter.  2) Last week, I challenged you to make a list of all the things you typically do and your motives. 
            Today, I give you a new challenge to help you purify your life.  This week, I want you to prayerfully consider your priorities.  What are you trying to accomplish in life?  What’s your purpose?  Write down the 5 most important purposes of your life.  (A form is included at the bottom of the blog to help you.)  And then for each one, write down things you can do that will help you fulfill those purposes.  Then pray and ask God to help you make these top priorities in your life—the things to which you devote the majority of your time, money, and resources.  Then zealously get rid of anythings that distract you so you will have enough time to do more important things.

            The most important thing you can do to start is ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.  If you haven't done that already, why don't you do that today?  Pray to Jesus and ask Him to forgive you for your sin and for trying to do things you won way.  Ask Jesus to come be the Lord of your life--to be in charge.  And ask Him to lead you and help you follow Him from this day forward.

I Challenge You!
Step One.  List the 5 Most Important Purposes of Your Life:
Purpose 1 _____________________________________________________________________
Purpose 2 _____________________________________________________________________
Purpose 3 _____________________________________________________________________
Purpose 4 _____________________________________________________________________
Purpose 5_____________________________________________________________________
Step 2.  Now, go back and under each purpose list some things you can do to help you fulfill each purpose.
Step 3.  Pray and ask God to help you make these top priorities in your life—the things to which you devote the majority of your time, money, and resources.

[i] William Barclay – The Daily Study Bible Series, the Gospel of John Colume 1 revised edition; page 109
[ii] William Barclay – The Daily Study Bible Series, the Gospel of John Colume 1 revised edition; page 109
[iii] Based on Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life