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Showing posts with label Trials. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trials. Show all posts

Monday, June 8, 2020

Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things

You know, life can be hard sometimes.  It may seem like all your problems plus other people’s problems, added to all the problems of the world are just too heavy to bear.  I want you to imagine all your problems (all of them) for just a moment.  Place them all in a big railroad car.  Now, imagine the problems of your whole family are in another giant railroad car.  Then, your friends’ problems are filling up another car.  And you can just keep on going for as many railroad cars as you need.  Now, imagine all the problems of the whole world are linked together—car after car after car—on this long railroad train.  It stretches as far as you can see and includes everything—even the COVID 19 pandemic, the racism and injustice of our world, the violence and corruption.  Cars and cars of problems stretch as far as you can see.

But now imagine a powerful train engine backs up to this long line of cars and clanks into place.  This engine is the power of God’s love.  The whistle blows and the steam billows roll.  The engine chugs and chugs.  The wheels of the train begin to turn and turn.  And the massive weight of the whole world’s problems slowly begin to move.  Do you hear the train rumbling in the earth below your feet?  And the train slowly starts to me and it keeps on moving and picking up speed until it is barreling down the tracks to wherever God wants to take it!  This is the power of God’s love moving and changing our world!  Nothing can stop Him!

Today, I’m starting a new series based off our upcoming VBS curriculum at my church:  Rocky Railway – Jesus Power Pulls Us Through.  VBS at my church will be July 12-16.  We debated about whether we should host VBS considering the COVID 19 pandemic.  We felt we should do something as long as we could do it safely.  Kids are ready for a fun, organized activity with their friends. Their parents are ready too.  So, we ae looking at ways to limit risks of infection and virus transmission during our program.  We’re gonna need your prayers. We’re gonna need volunteers. But I believe God’s power will pull us through. 

Today, I begin a 5-part message series based off the five days of vacation Bible school. The message is so timely for us all right now, because many people are full of anxiety from the several months of this pandemic.  We've been told to stay home, there is a virus outside that lives on surfaces and floats in the air.  Going out in public risks an awful infection that could kill you or someone else.  Even as we start to see the virus subside, the fear remains.  Our VBS is an exercise in faith.  As we tell people to have faith and trust Jesus, we will also be literally trusting Jesus as we provide a safe fun, learning experience for the kids as we gather.

Our theme is “Jesus’ power pulls us through.” Jesus power pulls us through: And helps us do hard things, gives us hope, helps us be bold, let’s us live forever, and helps us be good friends.  We are all reeling from the last several months.  It will take bold faith to come out of this.  We have a chance to show our kids (and the world) that our faith is more than just words.  We believe Jesus is calling us to step out in faith with our VBS.  We are trusting Jesus with this.

Throughout the series, we will read the stories of the New Testament Church--primarily from the Book of Acts.  These early Christians also lived in uncertain, scary times.  It was hard for them to leave their homes and be witnesses for Jesus Christ.  The world around thought they were crazy for believing Jesus died and rose again, that he was the Son of God sent to save the world.  Their faith could get them arrested, tortured, or even killed.  Yet they were bold and faithful to do everything God called them to do.  We could learn a lot from their faith--and we will.

Today, we learn how one of those early, faithful Christians relied on Jesus power to help him do something very hard.  Jesus power helped him and Jesus power also helps us to do hard things.

Acts 9:1-19
1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

5 “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! 8 Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. 9 He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied.

11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”

15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

A very important Truth is: Jesus asks His followers to do hard things.
What do you think Christianity is? Do you think Christianity is the easy life? Do you think it is comfort and peace? Is it always getting what you want?

When we look at the early Christians (and Christians throughout the ages), we see that they lived very hard lives and overcame.  They lived through plagues, trials, tribulations, and persecutions all while boldly telling people about Jesus and sharing His love. 

Jesus asks His followers to do hard things.  He asked them to forgive--not just the little things, but the big things like betrayal and murder.  How many times?  Jesus said not just seven times, but seven times seventy (in other words, never stop forgiving). 

Jesus asks Christians to bear light in a broken world.  We are called to fight injustice, even when it’s unpopular, and seek freedom and equality for all people.  We are called to do the right thing even when the world around us thinks we’re crazy. 

Sometimes, when we are faced with hard things, we might want to skip it. We might try to back out. We might try to hide. Maybe we just hope and pray that someone else will do it, while we look the other way.   What if Ananias did that?  You know, Saul in this story eventually became St. Paul and wrote most of the New Testament.  His evangelistic efforts converted thousands and helped Christianity grow from a small minority to the largest religious faith in our world today.  If Ananias skipped the hard thing God asked him to do, we might not be Christians today.

What if the early Christians skipped the hard things God called them to do?  What if the patriots of the American Revolution skipped the hard things?  What if our forefathers, inspired by the belief that all men were endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, decided not to put their lives and property on the line to fight for freedom and independence?  What if Jesus decided to skipp the crucifixion because it was too hard?

Jesus asks his followers to do hard things because it changes the world.  We need to pray for each other so we can find the courage and power we need to do hard things.  Many times, we pray for God to take away our problems.  If we are sick, we ask God to heal.  If we have a hard problem, we ask God to solve it for us.  However, God didn’t take away Ananias’ hard problem. God gave Ananias the hard problem. God asked Ananias to do something hard, but God also helped Ananias to do it. So, instead of always asking God to give us an easy life, why don’t we start asking God more to help us do the hard things that are in our lives.  How about we pray for boldness and courage.  Maybe, that's what He wants us to do.

This requires trust. We have to trust Jesus will pull us through.

Do you believe Jesus has the power to pull you through the COVID 19 pandemic?

Do you believe Jesus has the power to pull you through unemployment?

Do you believe Jesus has the power to pull you through a threatening economy?

Do you believe Jesus has the power to pull you through racism? Violent protests? Injustice? Anxiety?

Do you believe Jesus has the power to pull you back out from behind closed doors into the world, which right now seems scary and threatening? 

What hard thing are you facing in your life right now? Do you believe Jesus has the power to pull you through?

What hared things is God asking you to do right now?  I invite you to pray about it.  Pray for the faith to trust that Jesus will pull you through.  And I invite you to share it with me so I can be praying for you too.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Proverbs Day 25

Read Proverbs 25
Wise people learn who to trust. Not everyone who claims to be your friend is really your friend. Kind words are sweet to hear and most will offer to help, but you find out who you can count on through experience.

Pastor Chris' Paraphrase of Proverbs 25:4, 14, 18, & 19
4 You have to remove the impurities from silver before it’s ready for the silversmith to make something useful.

14 Someone who makes a big deal about a gift they never really give is like rain clouds that never give any rain.

18 Telling lies about people is like assaulting them with a deadly weapon.

19 Relying on an untrustworthy person when you need them is like chewing with broken tooth or running on a sprained ankle.

Test people with small challenges to see what they're made of. Are they all talk and no action? Are they honest? Can they keep a confidence? If you can't trust someone with something small, you can't trust them with something big. However, if you've found someone who is faithful with small matters, they are more likely to handle something more important. Someone who walks through fiery trials with you is a true friend. Hold on to that friendship. It's worth more than silver or gold.

"Jesus, teach me who to trust. Help me be wise enough to look beyond the kind words and promises and discover who I can really count on. Help me to invest in those relationships. And help me every day to remember You are the one friend who will always be there. And may I be a true friend to You. Amen."

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lessons from the Fire

Isaiah 43:1b-3a

            We had a fire last Sunday at Pleasant Grove UMC.  Our church van was parked under the breezeway between our gym and the promise building and it caught on fire (or was set on fire--it's still under investigation).  The van was destroyed and the promise building sustained smoke and water damage and there is no power to the building.  It was a sad loss, but I am very thankful no one was hurt.  It could have been much worse.  I'm very thankful to God who watched over us and I'm thankful to everyone who has helped us work through the aftermath of our fire.
            It's been a hectic week, but I’ve still had time to think about what God would have me say this Sunday—the first Sunday after the fire.  There are some lessons we can glean from the experience I want to share, but before we get to that, hear the Word of God to us this morning from Isaiah 43:1b-3a.

Isaiah 43:1b-3a
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

The Meaning of the Passage
            These words of Isaiah were given to God's people in Judah, foretelling their future.  They were to face a terrible tragedy.  Their kingdom, their capital city, and the Temple were to be destroyed.  All the people of Judah would be sent away from their homeland into captivity.  Yet God promised to be with them through it all and to bring them back.
            However, this prophecy looks even farther into the future.  It also speaks about our time.  It tells us that God will be with people who follow Jesus faithfully.  Though we face persecutions, trials, and tribulations because of our faith in Jesus, God says, “I am with you.  Don’t be afraid.  I have called you, by name.  I will sustain you through whatever troubles you face for the sake of my Son, Jesus—whether it be a fire, social upheavals, friends that turn their backs on you because of your beliefs, persecutions, suffering, sickness, even death.  None of these can really harm you, because I—the Lord, Your God—am with you.”
            Let me share three lessons we can learn from the fire.

First of all, the fire teaches us the Church is not the building.  It is the people.
            I am as guilty as anyone of saying, “I’m going to the church.”   We all do it.  We talk about the “church” as if it were a building.  But the church is not a building.  The church is the people. 
            Whenever the New Testament talks about the church, it uses the word to refer to the followers of Jesus, not the building.  For instance:
  • Acts 8:3 – “But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church…”  See, it wasn’t a building he was trying to destroy; it was believers who were spread all over the place.
  • Acts 12:5 – “…while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.”  You see, a building can’t pray for someone.  Only people can.  The church was the people.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “You are God’s building.”
  • 1 Peter 2:5 says, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.”

            So, fire may destroy our van or our building, but it cannot destroy the church, because the church is the people.  We are God’s people—we who believe and follow Christ.  And God says in Isaiah 43:2, “When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
            I think seeing our beautiful van scorched and ruined, and seeing the Promise Building damaged and temporarily out of service—though painful—can be a helpful reminder that the church is not a building or a van.  The church is the people—you and me.  And if for some terrible reason these buildings were completely gone, we would still be the church.  I think of our ancestors who started this church over 150 years ago.  They had no building.  That is why the church is called Pleasant Grove, because all they had was the shade of a pleasant grove of trees under which to worship.  The church is not a building; it's the people.

The second lesson we learn is about spiritual warfare.
            This fire is a vivid reminder that we are in the midst of a spiritual war. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, “…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
            The fire was very suspicious.  The van had not been driven in two weeks.  Vans don’t just burst into flame all by themselves.  Was it arson or was it just a freak accident?  Investigators don’t have a definitive answer yet.  However, I can tell you—regardless of whether or not a person set the van on fire—it was a spiritual attack by Satan.  
            Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), but I am not afraid of the Devil.  For my God is mightier than the Devil.  My God is the “Holy One of Israel.  My Savior.”  And He has already defeated the Devil!  And yet, this attack reminds us how critical it is to, as Ephesians 6:13 says, “…put on every piece of God's armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.”
            Friends, don’t be blind.  There is a spiritual war going on all around you.  You can’t see it and Satan doesn’t want you to see it.  He would rather you be consumed by all the distractions of this world—entertainment, football games, food, travel, selfish gain.  You are an easy target when you are distracted.  Let this fire be a stark reminder of the stakes of this spiritual war.  Wake up!  Be vigilant!
            Ephesians 6:14-18 says,“Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God's righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  And Verse 18 (so critical) says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”
            Prayer is so critical!  It is the most powerful weapon in spiritual warfare.  Prayer helps us be vigilant so we aren't caught off guard by the Enemy.  Prayer puts us in the right frame of mind for the spiritual fight.  Prayer shows us the battle plan so we know what to do and when.  Prayer calls upon all of heaven's support so we don't get overwhelmed by the dark forces all around us.

The third lesson is what all this tells us about the future.
            I think our Youth Minister, Amy Harris, said it best.  Here’s what she told me.  She said she was with her kids last Sunday watching them load our burned up church van on a flatbed truck to haul it away.  She said, “God must be about to do something really big.”
            Church, I believe God is about to do something really big at Pleasant Grove.  A different kind of fire was started last Sunday.  I’m not talking about the one that burned up the van and damaged our building.  No sir.  I’m talking about a revival fire God is kindling in our hearts.  It’s a purifying fire that compels us to turn away from our sins and truly get our hearts right with God.  It consumes all that is unworthy in us until we are wholly committed to our Savior’s Church.  This fire is a burning desire to put Jesus Christ first and foremost in our lives.  It’s a fiery passion to serve Him by loving each other and our community like we never have before.  It’s an eternal fire the Devil and his minions can never put out.
            God is about to do something big at Pleasant Grove.  It’s a fire that can spread throughout our community.  Can you imagine it?  Can you imagine—not just our church—but all churches in our community on fire for God?  Can you imagine Christians who are so committed to Jesus that stand out so much from the crowd that everyone gives glory to our God—even those who don’t yet believe?  Can you imagine people becoming Christians because of your testimony?  Can you imagine marriages being saved, people being freed from addictions, finding true joy and peace and salvation?  
            I can see it; and I see the Devil trembling in fear at the thought  of it.  I believe it is why our Enemy is trying to disrupt and discourage us, but I won’t let him!  Will you?  Join with me in praying that God would fight our Enemy!  Join hands with me!  Let us be united together in our determination to follow Jesus with our whole hearts and discover what He is about to do!

Good Friday Leads to Easter
            I am reminded of another time when a terrible tragedy preceded God doing something really big.  In fact, it was the biggest tragedy ever and the biggest thing God ever did.  On a day we have come to call "Good Friday," humanity nailed the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to the cross. It was the darkest day in human history.  Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead to defeat the Devil forever and free all humanity from the power of sin!  It was the biggest event in all human history.
            If God can take an act as evil as the crucifixion and turn it into something good, I know He can take our fire and turn it into something good.  As Romans 8:28 says, "All things work together for those who love the Lord."  Church, I believe the fire only shows that God is up to something big at Pleasant Grove.  Get ready!  It's time to get on board with God!  Don't get left behind!