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Showing posts with label Sermon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sermon. Show all posts

Monday, August 3, 2020

Holy (COVID) Communion

Introduction
One of the most influential events in my life was the "Walk to Emmaus" spiritual retreat.  I attended in 1996 when I was only 21 years old.  This was before I was a preacher (or even knew I was going to be a preacher), back when I was still in college trying to figure things out.  I had heard of the Walk to Emmaus from others at church.  Then my friend asked if he could sponsor me to attend.  I agreed and it was so powerful it helped shape everything that's happened in my life since then.

After attending "the walk", I served on many teams--right up until this year.  Unfortunately, all future Walk to Emmaus retreats are on hold indefinitely because of COVID-19.  It's just not safe to gather a hundred people into a small conference center where social distancing is not possible.  So many of our usual activities are disrupted right now—school, church, sports, etc.  How do we find the inspiration, encouragement, and release that we need? 

I want to talk about that today.  But first, let's read the story of the original "Walk to Emmaus" together from the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 24:13-34

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,[d] he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”

Two Disciples Living in Dark Times
Often when I tell people about the spiritual retreat called “The Walk to Emmaus”, they think it is some kind of hike or walking trip.  It is not.  It is based off this passage from Luke.  Two disciples are walking on the road to a town called Emmaus when Jesus comes up along side them, but they don’t recognize him.  He walks with them and explains how the Old Testament Scriptures said that the Messiah would come and be crucified and rise from the grave.  Then, the two disciples recognize Jesus when he breaks bread for Holy Communion.  

One of the two disciples was a man named Cleopas.   The other disciple isn’t named.  If he was one of the 12 disciples, Luke probably would have told us his name.  So I think it’s safe to assume it wasn’t Peter, James, John, or any of the other “famous twelve” men we know as the Apostles.  I don’t know about you, but it encourages me to think Cleopas and the other disciple were a couple of the lesser known followers of Jesus. (You see Jesus had many followers and we only hear the names of a few of them.)  I like that, because I’ve never thought of myself as anyone special—not someone worthy of my name going down in history for people to remember thousands of years from now.  I’m just a regular guy trying to follow Jesus through this messed up world.  How about you?  And the fact that Jesus appears to these two obscure guys on the road to Emmaus speaks to me.  That’s my story.  Maybe that's your story too.

And why do we assume these two disciples are guys at all? I mean, as far as I can tell, it never says they were guys.  Does it?  We just assume they were men.  And whenever this story has been told for two thousand years, or whenever someone painted a picture of “The Walk to Emmaus”, they painted the two disciples as men.  I guess that says more about us and our preconceived notions than it does about the actual story.  There’s no reason I can see that this couldn’t have been two women walking along (or a man and a woman).  Cleopas was probably a man—it’s a man’s name.  But etymologists also speculate Cleopas could be the shortened form of Cleopatra (and as far as I can remember, Cleopatra was typically a girls name).  I don’t know, it can get confusing—kinda of like my name could be male or female.  (My wife and I once attended a party where know one knew us and we said we were "Chris and Kelly", but they didn't know which one of us was the husband and which was the wife, because both our names can be used for either gender).

It could have been a married couple—Cleopas and his wife.  A lot of scholars think that was the situation.  I guess that makes sense to me, but we can’t know for sure.  The truth is, we know one was Cleopas and one was unnamed.  We don’t know their genders.  We do know they were two of Jesus followers, and they were confused and probably frightened.  Their master had been arrested and crucified.  And know some of their fellow disciples were claiming Jesus alive again.

This is an important story for the dark times in which we live.  Many are wondering who they can trust. We feel like the world we know and love is coming to an end.  You may feel like society has changed so much that you no longer fit in.  Well, consider Cleopas and his companion in this story.  They were living in dark times too—much darker than ours.  While we’re arguing about whether we should wear masks or send our kids back to school, these disciples lived in a time when the government very clearly could not be trusted and had just definitively confirmed they were out to get Jesus and all his followers.  They arrested Jesus in the middle of the night, convicted him in a kangaroo court, and sentenced him to death.  The very next day, the nailed him to a cross and threw his dead body in a tomb.  You can’t make it more clear than that.  Now Cleopas and the other disciple are walking away from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  (I’m tempted to re-translate that “They were getting the heck outa dodge!” because their afraid the soldiers would be breaking down their doors next and dragging htem off to be nailed to a cross.) 

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were sad.  They were afraid.  They were on edge. They were amazed at the crazy story they’d heard that Jesus' body was missing from the tomb and he was alive.  I can’t blame them for not recognizing Jesus when he walked right up beside them.  We miss some pretty obvious stuff all the time—especially when we’re worn out, scared, and/or overwhelmed. One time I grew out a beard for the winter and then shaved it off on Easter morning.  Then my wife had a cup of coffee with me and didn't even notice until hours later when she saw my at church.  Haha!  I've done a similar thing to her after she came home from the hair salon with her hair colored and styled and, like an idiot, I said, "So what'd you do today?"  We miss stuff all the time.


Jesus Reveals Himself
Thankfully, Jesus revealed himself to the two disciples when he broke the bread.  They must have been present at the last supper when Jesus broke bread and said, “This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)  When the risen Jesus breaks bread with them on the way to Emmaus, they realize it's Jesus! He is alive!

Holy Communion is a very special sacrament Christ has given us as sacred way to know his presence with us.  It helps open our eyes.  As we break the bread and drink the juice, we see Christ with us.  We also remember how Jesus' love lead him to die on the cross for our sins.  We are called to repent of our sins and return to Christ so that His blood washes away our sins. Holy Communion also reminds us, in a special way, that Christ is with us, strengthening us to face whatever darkness surround us.  Jesus is the light of the world and His Holy Spirit lives inside all who believe; and the darkness shall not over come the Light.  Therefore, we can shine brightly for all the world to see.  The light of a candle is the most noticeable when it lights a dark room.  The light of Christ in our life is most noticeable when we shine in a dark world.

However, as special as Holy Communion is, don’t ever forget Jesus is always with you if He is your Lord.  He was walking with the two disciples the whole time they were on the road to Emmaus.  They didn’t recognize him, but he was there the whole time.  Don’t you know that—if you are a believer—Jesus is with you the whole time too?  Not just when you are taking Holy Communion, but all the time.  

We haven’t celebrated Holy Communion at Pleasant Grove since the beginning of March (for obvious reasons).  Four months.  Yet Jesus has been with us the whole time.  His presence is not the issue.  It’s our recognition of his presence.  Do you recognize he is walking beside you?  How can you remind yourself daily that he is there?

Let me summarize a short list of things—besides Holy Communion—that help Christians remain aware that Jesus is with us always. 


Habits to Help Remember Jesus is With Us 
Here are some things that have helped me and others see Christ's presence.  First there is prayer.  I'm not talking about the eloquent prayers of a church service that use fancy words.  I'm referring to the honest, straight-forward heart prayer that we can all pray.  Things like, "Lord, I don't know who to trust anymore.  Show me the way."  Prayer is essential to a real life relationship with Jesus.  Do you pray like that?

Then there is reading Scripture.  The Bible is the Word of God and we need a word of God right now in these crazy times.  Where else can we hear a word from God if not fromthe Pages of His Word?  Are you reading it?

You can also remember Jesus is with you by reading other material too.  I often hear a word from God while reading a good book.  Maybe you can too.  But please, pick good stuff.  What you read becomes part of your spirit.  If you read a lot of trash, soon you will be full of trash.  So read good stuff so you will be full of good thoughts and ideas.

Preaching has often reminded me of Jesus presence.  It was preaching that helped me hear God's call to repent of my sins and follow Jesus as my Lord.  It was in sermons of good preachers where I heard God calling me to be a pastor.  Preaching has inspired, challenged, convicted, and motivated me.  Make it a regular habit to listen to good, biblical based preaching.

Music can also be a special grace to help us recognize Jesus presence with us.  Does the music you listen to turn your eyes toward Jesus?  you don't have to listen exclusively to Gospel or Christian music.  (Everyone enjoys a piece of cake now and then, but it's not healthy to eat cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)  So be sure to listen to music that turns your heart to God, because what you consume with your ears can either build up or destroy your heart.

There is also contemplation.  What do you think about while you are going about your day or while you are out in the world.  When you are at the beach on vacation, do you see and hear the waves of the ocean as the majesty of God' creation or are you too busy looking at the pretty girls in bikinis?  What you think about habitually altars the shape of your mind.  So let your thoughts shape your mid positively.

There is one more thing I want to mention.  What were the two disciples doing on the road to Emmaus?  They were talking to each other about their thoughts and concerns and hopes and dreams about Jesus.  And it was as they were walking and talking that Jesus showed up.  Do you have a friend to talk to?  Do you always, only talk about sports or the latest TV shows or gossip?  Do you ever talk about more important things like your faith in Jesus?  I hope so. For when we talk with our friends about Christ, he appears and we begin to understand.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Have You Heard


Introduction
We’ve been following the story of the very first Christians for several weeks.  We are tremendously indebted to their faith and their faithfulness.  We might could understand if they’d just given up and thrown in the towel.  They were outnumbered and subjected to severe persecution.  They never knew from day to day what would happen next.  One day, they enjoyed the favor of the people.  The next, soldiers were coming to take away their property and arrest them or chase them out of town.  Through it all, they were dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit while praying that Jesus would come back soon.

I want to re-visit the story from the second chapter of Acts, verses 14-24.  This was the Apostle Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.  All the believers were gathered in one place (there were so few of them, they could still all fit in one place).  The Holy Spirit fell upon them in a mighty rush of wind and it appeared as if flaming tongues of fire danced above each person’s head.  And all the Christians began talking in different languages—languages they had not previously known—about he wonderful things God had done through Jesus Christ.  And all the Jews from around the world who were gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost came running to see the commotion and they heard the Good News about Jesus in their own languages.  Some of the people who listened were amazed, but others thought the Christians were drunk.

Acts 2:14-24
14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 Some of you are saying these people are drunk. It isn’t true! It’s much too early for that. People don’t get drunk by nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, what you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel:
18‘In the last days, God said,
I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
19In those days I will pour out my Spirit
upon all my servants, men and women alike,
and they will prophesy.
And I will cause wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below—
blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
20The sun will be turned into darkness,
and the moon will turn bloodred,
before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.
21And anyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved.’
22“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But you followed God’s prearranged plan. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to the cross and murdered him. 24 However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.

Reflect
These are the powerful words Peter preached to the people of Israel. The people who in their time, were supposed to be the true worshipers of the one true God. Yes, of all the people in the world, the Israelites were supposed to know God the best. Yet when God sent His one and only Son to redeem the world, they led the fight to have him murdered.

In our time, we Christians are supposed to be the true worshipers of the one true God—the ones who know Him and love Him the best.  Yet how many times do we nail him to the cross again and again by sinning and doing things we know we ought not.  Lying, stealing, cheating, bickering, gossiping, lusting, drunkenness, adultery, giving more priority to the things and people of this world than to the one true God who made them all.

Acts 2:22-24
22 “People of Israel [that’s you and me], listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But you followed God’s prearranged plan. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to the cross and murdered him. 24 However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.”

Have You Heard?
Have you heard about my Lord?  Have you heard about my Jesus?  He wasn’t born as some high and mighty king.  No!  He was born as poor peasant to a family who couldn’t even find him a room to be born in.  He ended up being born in a stable with a bunch of farm animals.

Have you heard the story of my Lord?  Have you heard the story of my Jesus?  He grew up poor, working with his hands.  His family couldn’t afford to send him college.  But he grew both in height and in wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew him.” [i]

His name is Jesus!  When he turned thirty, he was baptized by his cousin John and the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove.  And God spoke from heaven with a thundering voice of authority and said, ““You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” [ii]

His name is Jesus!  When He gathered together his disciples and followers, he didn’t choose people because of how much money they had.  He didn’t choose people because of their status.  He didn’t choose people because they were good enough or because they were well educated.  Instead he chose fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, outcasts, and ordinary people like you and me. 


Have you heard about Jesus my Lord? 
1.              He spoke to one man who was paralyzed and told him to get up and walk because he was healed, he said your sins are forgiven—and the man got up and walked! 
2.              Once he was sailing with his disciples across the Sea of Galilee when a fierce storm came up and huge waves began to crash against the boat, breaking over the bow until the boat was nearly full of water.  And though his disciples were frozen with fear, Jesus calmly commanded the wind and the water to “Quiet down!” and suddenly the wind stopped and the sea was calm. 
3.              One time, a wild eyed man, foaming at the mouth, possessed by a legion of demons came running out of a cemetery, falling before my Lord Jesus screaming, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”[iii]  And Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the poor retched man and he sent them into a heard of pigs and sent the pigs running down into the sea where they drowned. 
4.              He made the blind to see and the deaf to hear and the mute to speak and the lame to walk.
5.              He fed 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish. 
6.              He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. 
7.              He said You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do!” [iv]
8.              On top of the mountain, he was transfigured and his clothing became dazzling white, and he stood and talked with Moses and Elijah, even though they’d been dead for hundreds of years.  And even though Peter and James and John were so blown away by the whole experience that they wanted to build 3 shrines and stay on the mountaintop worshiping forever, Jesus wouldn’t allow it because he knew his place was back down in the valley suffering for the people.
9.              He stood in front of Lazarus’ tomb, and though the body’d already been dead and buried for so long it’d begun to smell, he commanded, “Lazarus, come out!”  And a dead man obeyed and came back to life so that they had to unwrap the grave clothes and let Lazarus go free.
10.          Speaking of his own body he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it again in 3 days!”

Have you heard about my Lord?  Have you heard about My Jesus?  He looked at me, a young man lost in sin, a adolescent who came from a broken home, a young teenager who wanted to have sex and get drunk and act stupid all the time, a kid who hated his father, a youth who thought it was cool to vandalize and destroy property, a 16 year old reckless driver who should’ve gotten himself or someone else killed—he looked at me and he saved me from the path to destruction down which I was heading.  And he snatched me up from the fires of hell over which I was dangling.  And he set my feet upon the rock and gave me a new life of abundance.

Have you heard about Jesus my Lord?  He looks at you, the man who is cheating on his wife.  He looks you, the kid who is getting high on drugs.  He looks you, the girl who is having sex with her boyfriend because she doesn’t want him to leave her all alone.  He looks at you, the workaholic who is neglecting your family, wasting your life climbing the corporate ladder while your family is going down the tubes.  He looks at you, the teenager who is so disillusioned with the vanity of life that you would contemplate going on a shooting spree or even taking your own life.  He looks at us all, who are dying of spiritual thirst in this dry and weary land where there’s no hope, and he says, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”[v]

Have you heard what they did to my Lord?  They arrested him in the middle of the night.  And they falsely accused him.  And they paid some worthless people to lie about the things he had said and done.  And they put him through a fraudulent trial in the middle of the night.  And they convicted him before the sun came up.  And they tricked a mob into trading the life of the sinless, spotless Son of God for the life of the murderous Barabbas.  And they spat on him, and they mocked him, and they beat him within an inch of his life, and they put a crown of thorns on his head, and then they nailed his hands and feet to a cross and hung him there until he died.  And then they chunked him in a cave and rolled a big, fat stone in front of it and thought they had seen the last of the Son of God. 

Oh, but have you heard the good news about Jesus my Lord?  Acts 2:24, However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.  After three days, the stone was rolled away and Jesus got up and walked out of that tomb.  And he appeared to many of his followers, both men and women, and he proved to them that he was really alive.  And he’s proven it to me too, time and time again, that he is indeed alive even today. 

Acts 2:36, “So let it be clearly known by everyone in Israel [and by you and me too] that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified to be both Lord and Messiah!”

“Brothers and sisters, what should we do?”

“Each of us must turn from our sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Then we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to us and to our children, and everyone in every part of the world.

Brothers and sisters, I urge you, as strongly as I know how, save yourselves from this generation that has gone astray!” 
           
Prayer of Repentance
Oh God, we have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Have mercy on us, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of our sins.  Wash us clean from our guilt.  Purify us of our sin.  For we recognize our shameful deeds—they haunt us day and night.  Against you, and you alone, have we sinned; we have done what is evil in your sight.

You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against us is just.  For we were born sinners—yes, from the moment we were conceived.  But You desire honesty from the heart, so You can teach us to be wise in our inmost being.  Purify us from our sins, and we will be clean; wash us, and we will be whiter than snow.  Oh, give us back our joy again; You have broken us—now let us rejoice.  Don’t keep looking at our sins.  Remove the stain of our guilt.  Create in us a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within us.  Do not banish us from Your presence, and don’t take Your Holy Spirit from us.  Restore to us again the joy of Your salvation, and make us willing to obey You.  Then we will teach Your ways to sinners, and they will return to You.  Forgive us for shedding the blood of your Son, O God who saves; then we will joyfully sing of Your forgiveness.  Unseal our lips, O Lord, that we may praise You.  You would not be pleased with anything we could try to do to earn your forgiveness, or we would do them.  Even if we spent our whole lives trying to earn Your acceptance, You would not accept us.  The only sacrifice You want from us is a broken spirit.  A broken and repentant heart, O God, You will not despise.  Look at us with favor and help us; reconstruct Your holy dwelling place within our hearts.  Then You will be pleased with the things we do and our whole way of living will be pleasant in Your sight.

In the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.


[i] Paraphrase Luke 2:52
[ii] Luke 3:22b
[iii] Paraphrase Mark 5:7
[iv] Paraphrase Matthew 15:11
[v] Paraphrase John 4:10

Monday, July 6, 2020

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends


Today, I'll finish studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS. 
So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things.
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope.
Jesus Power Helps Us Live Forever.  
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Helps Us Be Good Friends.

John 15:12 says, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.

Jesus also said that everyone would know we are Christians by our love.  He didn't say they would know we are Christians by the way we dress or how we speak or where we go to church or even by the stances we take on political issues.  He said, they will know we are Christians by the way we love each other.

It is essential that Christians love each other and stick together.  You cannot live out your faith in  People were created to be together.  One of the hardest things during this pandemic is the isolation.  We were not meant to be stuck at home all by ourselves.  We were not meant to be unable to hug or even shake hands. (That's why it is so awkward when we get together and we don't know whether we should or not.  We need some form of social greeting that doesn't require physical contact, but we also need physical contact.)  God designed us to be together.
Jesus all by yourself.

Think about it.  When Jesus came as the Son of God, filled with the power of God, he didn't need any help to fix the problems of the world.  He could have snapped his fingers and fixed them all by himself.  But he didn't.  Instead, he chose 12 disciples to work with him. It would have been easier to do it alone.  Why get 12 people together with all their problems and personality conflicts.  You know, James and John were brothers; you know how siblings can be.  One time I was driving with my two daughters when they were younger and the older one screams, "Dad!  She breathing!"  And I said, "Thank God!  That means she's alive!"  (What she meant was, she's breathing too loud and it's getting on my nerves!")  Don't you know James and John were probably always getting on each others nerves--not to mention the 10 other disciples.  Why would Jesus put himself through all that?  Why not save the world all by himself?  I guess it was essential for the work to be done together as a group effort.

Jesus established the Church to be a family of believers united to support one another with friendship as we tell the world about Jesus.  We see several pictures of the church working and living together in divine unity--especially in the book of Acts.   

Acts 2:42-47
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Acts 4:32-35
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

Light in the Darkness
The early Christians were vastly outnumbered.  Most of the people around them did not believe in Jesus or even care to show love, kindness, or goodness.  This small group of Christians—only about 5,000 people in a city of over 200,000 was a bright light in a dark, dark world.  “This small band of believers needed to stick together and support each other.”[i]

Maybe it was easier for there earliest Christians to stick together than it is for us.  There wasn’t a pandemic on the loose.  Or was there?  COVID-19 isn't the first pandemic the world has faced.  There have been many plagues that have ravaged the world in former times--bubonic plague, the black death, and others that we can't even name.  Many of these were far deadlier to humanity than COVID-19.  I was watching a documentary the other day and they said the black death killed as much as 80-90% of many of the community it struck.  Can you imagine?  That would be horrible!

The early Christians had deal with these devastation.  They stuck together through them.  In fact, many scholars believe that the way they stuck together through the various plagues contributed to the rise of Christianity throughout the world.  It contributed in two ways.  First of all, Christians survived the plagues at higher rates than non-Christians.  Think about it. when everyone around you is dying and people were frightened, they would hide in their homes and abandon their friends and family.  Christians didn't abandon each other.  And because they cared for one another--even being willing to die for each other--they had a better chance of surviving sickness than others who had no on to care for them.  A second reason plagues helped Christianity become more prominent is because non-believers saw how the CHristians love one another, and even how they reached out to care for and love non-Christians.  In the face of death, when everyone was abandoning each other, Christians stuck together and even cared for others who were not Christians.  And this showed non-believers the Christians faith was authentic; and many non-believer began to believe.

Today, Christians have many more tools to help us stick together.  Even though we have been told to isolate ourselves, we have phones.  We can so easily call one another to check on each other.  We also have text and email.  In a few seconds, we can send a message to someone.  We have programs like Zoom, where we can all gather in a virtual room for a video conference where we can see and hear each other.  And this is not even mention social media and how it can be used to help us stay connected.

Are we using our technology to stay connected?  Is sticking together as the family of Christ a top priority in our lives?  What are you doing to stay connected?  What will you do in the days ahead?

Alone, Christians are vulnerable.  When Christians stick together, we are unbreakable.

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends
Since Jesus wants us to be good friends, His Holy Spirit helps us to be good friends.  If we are willing to follow the Spirit’s guidance, we can make friends, be friends, and bring our friends to Jesus.  Let me give you 5 simple tips about how to make good Christian friends.[ii]

First of all, pray about it.   Pray for God to show you who should be your friends.  Yo never know whom God may place in your path today who needs a friend.  And you never know how that friendship may grow and bless you.  Pray that God would send you people to befriend.  And also pray about the depth of the friendship. Not all friends are created equal.  Some will be more casual and some will be deeper relationships.  And you need to know the difference and know that it's alright to have different kind of friends.  Pray for the wisdom to know what kind of friends you have.  And of course, pray for your friends.  Pray God will bless them and care for them.  And pray that your friendship will grow.

Second, be honest. Don't try to pretend to be someone you are not.  Just be yourself.  Your true friends will accept you for who you are.  Be authentic and have integrity.  And tell your friends the truth, even if it is a hard truth.  They might not like it at first, but--if they are a true friend--they will appreciate your honesty and see that you offer it in love.  My friendship with my best friend began 24 years ago when we worked together in a youth program.  He was the youth director and I was a volunteer in the program.  He asked for feedback from all his volunteers about his job performance.  I thought he was doing a terrific job, but also saw a few things he could do better.  I praised him, but also offered my constructive criticism.  Eddie really appreciated my honesty and told me some time later that it showed him I was a true friend.  That friendship grew from that point on and has lasted through many good times and hard times until we are now more like brothers than friends.  Honesty is the foundation of the best friendships.

Third, be selfless.  It’s not about you. We tend to befriend people we enjoy being around, but it would be self-centered if that were the only thing that made up our friendship.  Ultimately, friendship is about selflessly giving to your friends.  Jesus said, "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13)  Great friendships are build when both friends give selflessly expecting nothing in return.

Tip number four:  be vulnerable.  Vulnerability creates an instant connection. When we open up with our friends, we put ourselves in their hands and a true friend takes that responsibility seriously.  They appreciate that we have trusted them and they will also trust us.  Being vulnerable helps weave your life into your friend's life.  Now, it is important to remember tip number one when you begin to open up to your friends.  Remember, friendships come in different levels.  Friends must earn each other's trust to go to deeper levels of vulnerability.  Pray to know your friendships.  Don't be completely vulnerable with someone who hasn't earned your trust.  That isn't wise.  But then only way to earn trust is to be given a chance. So, start opening up slowly and move to deeper levels as a friend earns your rust.

Lastly, have fun!  Fun is more than entertainment.  We bond with our friends as we have fun together.  It helps to weave the chords of our lives together.  You don't have to be having fun all the time.  But having fund together has to be part of the equation.  It is something that makes friends truly friends.  That's one of the reasons why it is so essential that church members get together regularly for fun and fellowship.  It's not just something extra we do--like being in a social club.  Fun and fellowship weaves together our lives and bonds us as one body--the body of Christ.

Make a Friend.  Be a Friend.  Bring a Friend to Christ.
Now when it comes to making friends,  you must both reach in and reach out.  I suggest that most of your friends should be people who have the same deep core values as you.  Therefore, if you are a Christian, seek strong Christian friends; they will help encourage you to follow Christ and grow in His love (and you will do this for them too).  Your Christian friends will be the people you can count on the most.

However, we should also reach outward to non-believers.  Jesus gave us a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We can only do this as we reach out to be friends to non-Christians.  When we have a solid foundation of Christians friends to keep us strong and on the right path, we can be confident to be friends to even those who don't share our same values.  In doing so, we can grow and learn and we can help our new non-believing friend grow and learn too.  And perhaps our friends may see the special faith we have and desire to pursue it as well.  Then they will grow to a deeper level of friendship as they learn to share our faith.

So, make a friend. Be a friend.  And bring a friend to Christ.  How will you be a friend this week?




Monday, June 29, 2020

Jesus' Power Helps Us Live Forever


We are studying the daily themes and passages from the Rocky Railway VBS curriculum from Group Publishers.  The theme is “Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through!”  So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope 
Jesus Power Helps Us Be Bold
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Helps Us Live Forever! 

Romans 8:11 says, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Today’s message is the most important one of this whole series.  It is the very cornerstone of everything Christians believe and do.  It is the Good News that Jesus died, but that he also rose from the grave.  The full story of Jesus death and resurrection is found in the Gospel of Matthew in chapters 26-28.  I will highlight a few passages from those chaoters.

An Uncomfortable Truth
Does death make you uncomfortable?  Does it scare you?  Many people don’t like to talk about death.  I get it.  Death is scary.  Death is sad.  Death is something we all want to avoid, but none of us will be able to avoid it forever.  Death is part of life—at least it is part of life in a broken world. 

Romans 3:23, 3:10, & 6:23
You see, Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.”  There is no one alive who hasn’t sinned.  We are broken, corrupt, sinful people.  Name one person you know who never sinned.  You may name some really good people, maybe even a “saint”, but even they have done things they shouldn’t.  And the problem with labeling a person “good” or “saintly” is that we use human standards.  (Maybe someone says you are really good at basketball.  But if they put you on the court against Michael Jordan, they would see you are really terrible. Right?)  Well, when we view people next to the holiness of God, we see we are terribly flawed.  Romans 3:10 says, “No one is righteous—not even one.”


And Romans 6:23a says, “For the wages of sin is death…”  Death is the consequence of sin.  This was not God’s original plan.  However, humanity is consumed with the selfish desire to be independent of God and in control of our own destiny.  We don't want God's Kingdom to come.  We want our own personal kingdoms to persist.  Our selfish insistence to be independent of God leads to all kinds of hurt and pain and evil and suffering; and ultimately it leads to death.

Jesus' disciples didn’t want to talk about death either.  Every time he brought it up, they wanted to change the subject.  So he used the Jewish Passover celebration to illustrate it for them. 

Matthew 26:26-30
26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

30 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

The Old Rugged Cross
There’s an old hymn we sing called “The Old Rugged Cross”.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame

“You see, not everyone believed that Jesus was God’s Son.  Some people thought he was a liar.  They got so angry that they arrested Jesus.”[i]  They put him on trial, but it was not really a fair trial.  They tortured him and sentenced him to death. “They forced him to carry a rough wooden cross to a hill called Golgatha.  There, they nailed his hands and feet to that cross and left him to die.  In that time, only criminals were put to death on a cross.  But Jesus never sinned—he was God’s pure and perfect Son!”

The hymn “tells us the cross was an emblem—a picture—of suffering and shame.  Jesus suffered for our shame.  We may feel ashamed of the wrong things we do, the bad choices we all make.  Even though we do a lot of great things, we all have sin."

The old hymn goes on…
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain

“Slain means that someone was killed.  Jesus was the dearest and best.  1 Peter 2:22 says, “He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone.”  When we do something wrong, there’s usually a punishment, a consequence.  When we sin, the ultimate consequence is separation from God.  Forever.  Imagine being separated from God’s love, forgiveness, goodness, power, and joy forever.”

“Even though Jesus never sinned, he willingly dies for you.  He loves you so much that he took the punishment for your wrongs.  It was the only way to heal our friendship with God.  Jesus took your punishment.” 

So I'll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down

"Sometimes we value or treasure or cherish our accomplishments.  A thousand ribbons and awards or good deeds can’t wash away our wrongs.  We can never do enough good things to earn our way into heaven.  The Bible says it this way.  Ephesians 2:8, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”  We are powerless to save ourselves.  Only Jesus can save us.  So, we have to lay down all our pride, our treasures, everything at the foot of the cross  Because Jesus is the one who’s really important."

And I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

The Resurrection
Thankfully, “Jesus story didn’t end at the cross.  Remember, Jesus is God’s Son, with God’s power!  And that power is stronger than death!  Three days after Jesus died, something incredible happened."

Matthew 28:2-6
2 Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

5 Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.

"Jesus power beat death—on that day, for Jesus.  And today, for you and me.  The Bible promises this:  For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Because of Jesus, we can cling to the cross—the promise, hope, love, and power it represent.  The last line of the old hymn says we’ll exchange our trophies for a crown."


Revelation 21:3-4 give us a vision of the eternal life we’ll have when trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  It says, “3 Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

Conclusion
As we close, I ask you: do you trust Jesus?  Will you lay down all your trophies?  Will you cling to the old rugged cross and put all your hopes in the man who died f  If so, then he will raise you to new life too.
or you there and rose to new life?



[i] Rocky Railway Bible Adventures Leaders Manuel, page 30