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Showing posts with label VBS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label VBS. Show all posts

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

Monday, June 22, 2020

Jesus Power Helps Us Be Bold


Introducion
Yesterday was Fathers Day and I am thankful for my dad, Jerry Mullis, and the relationship we've built.  I also thankful for many other men who have been father figures to me throughout my life.  One father figure was my Grandpa who fought in WWII in the battle of the bulge.  I asked him once if he  was ever shot at and he said yes.  Grandpa Wingo was an engineer in the army and his job was to build and repair things.  He told me a story of building a bridge while German soldiers were shooting at him.  He said, you could hear bullets whizzing by and ricocheting around you.  I have built things where you apply all you thoughts to taking measurements and making sure everything is level ans square.  It takes a lot of thought and concentration.  I can't imagine trying to build while also being shot at by people who want you dead!  He was a bold, brave man.

As we prepare for Vacation Bible School—July 12-16—we are studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS. The title of our VBS is the Rocky Railway. And our theme is “Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through!”

So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things and 
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope.
Today, we learn:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Be Bold!

Isaiah 40:29 says, “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.”

One of the things about the New Testament Church that always impresses me is their boldness.  There were only a small number of Christians when the New Testament was written.  People thought they were crazy outlaws who believed a dead man was alive.  The ruling powers wanted Christians silenced.  The world around them was dark and full of sin.

Those early Christians were not intimidated by an evil world, because Jesus power helped them be bold.  A perfect example is in the 3rd and 4th chapters of Acts.  Let me summarize the story.

Peter and John were on the way to the Temple for a prayer service.  This is a clue for you if you ever feel feel outnumbered by a world who rejects your values.  You need to pray fervently.

On the way to the prayer meeting, Peter and John see a crippled beggar asking for money.  Now, Peter and John are Christians so they don't have any money.  You see, at the time Christians had no power or influence and most everyone around them though they were crazy.  It's not like they were doing "well" in society.  They were just getting by.  But the crippled beggar thinks they are baout to give him some money when they say, "We don't have any silver or gold, but we will give you what we can offer."  And with that, they grabbed the man by the hands and lifted him to his feet and his crippled legs were immediately healed!  

Here's another clue for us.  The problem you see may not really be the problem.  So this guy's problem was he needed money.  That's why he was begging.  But that wasn't the real problem, right?  The real problem was his legs were crippled so he couldn't earn a living.  If Peter and John gave him some money, it might solve the problem for today, but tomorrow he'd have the same problem again.  So the surface problem wasn't the real problem.  And the power of God enabled Peter and John to reach beyond the surface issue and solve the main problem--the disability.  When you look at teh problems around you in your life and in the world, always remember, the problem you see may not be the real problem.

Well, this miracle got everyone's attention. The power of God had obviously healed the man.  And people starting gathering around in the Temple.  Peter see's the opportunity; he has everyone's attention.  So, he begins to preach. What did he preach?

Acts 3:17-19“Friends, I realize that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance. 18 But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had foretold about the Messiah—that he must suffer these things. 19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.”

Peter preached and called out everyone's sin. He didn’t call for riots or a revolution to overthrow the government. He called for repentance and offered God’s forgiveness to the very people who helped crucify his Lord.  This is the Christian message. It’s bold and it has changed the world for 2,000 years.  It addressed the core problem in the human heart--the problem that leads to all the other dysfunctions in our life and in society.

Change doesn't happen overnight. Sometimes one human heart can be changed overnight, but it usually takes time for the world’s systems to change. The Temple authorities arrested Peter and John and threw them in jail. The next day, they were taken before the council.

Acts 4:8-13 - Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,[a] the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,
‘The stone that you builders rejected
    has now become the cornerstone.’
12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.

Being Bold Made Us Great
These early Christians were bold and it made them great.  They were persecuted, had their property seized, were arrested, sometimes tortured, and even killed.  However, they would not back down.  They continued to preach the Truth—that Jesus was rejected and murdered by the authorities, but that God raised him from the dead.  They called people to repent of their sin, turn from rejecting Christ, and worship Jesus as Lord.  This is our heritage as Christians.  It is full of bold, brave people who spoke the Truth and live for Jesus.  It takes being bold to be great.

I believe America is the greatest nation on earth right now. I'm proud to be an American. America was made great by bold, brave people.  Our nation was settled by bold, brave people who left the old world behind to come start a new life in a new and unknown world.  Our founding Fathers boldly fought a war to win independence from the most power army in the world at the time.  Pioneers boldly traveled west to settle new lands—facing hardships and disease and danger and death.  The greatest generation storming the beaches of Normandy against a hail of bullets to help defeat the evil of Nazi Germany.  In the 1960s, astronauts risked their lives to take America to the moon—many lost their lives in the quest.  At the same time, people were fighting for civil rights for black people and the end to segregation. These were costly, dangerous battles. People lost were beaten, thrown into prison, and others lost life and limb in the fight for equality.

These struggles required people to be bold and brave. And as they were it changed our world and helped make us great. I'm so grateful because their boldness helped me be a better person today.
Being bold made us great!

Boldness In Our Time 
I see signs of boldness today as well.  I see it in my wife as she goes to the hospital every day.  I have known many people right now who are avoiding going to doctors and hospitals.  Even if they have an illness or injury, they say, "I'm not going to the hospital!  I might catch the virus!"  Meanwhile, my wife puts her scrubs on every day to go to work at the hospital as a nurse.  That's bold and brave.

I see boldness in in my daughter too when she goes to work at Taco bell. She comes into contact with hundreds (if not thousands) of different people each day.  And so many other young people, working mostly for minimum wage, are doing these jobs right now risking exposure at—grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail jobs because it's essential.  I'm so proud of them.  Aren't you glad our younger generation is being bold and brave?  I am.

I see boldness in police officers risking their lives every day to protect and serve.  99% of cops took their job because they care about our community and want to keep everyone safe.  They are there to protect and serve.  But they also must put themselves in harms way to do it.  They never know if they will encounter someone who will do something stupid and they won't be able to go home to their husband or wife and kids.  But they care and so the are bold and brave.  And this is especially tru right now because in our current climate because of what we saw happen to George Floyd, everyone is suspicious of the police.  However, these officers still go out and are bold and brave and work to keep our communities safe.

I can think of others too-firefighters, soldiers, and others that would be too many to list.  What about you?  Are you willing to be bold and brave?

We Need to Keep Being Bold and Brave
Unfortunately, right I also see a lot of fear in our community.  This virus has got us all on edge.  And the Word for you today is this:  Jesus Power Helps You Be Bold.  Jesus said in Luke 9:24, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  If you hide in your homes for the rest of your life trying to avoid COVID 19, is that really living anyway?  That’s a kind of living that’s not really living at all. 

Where would we be today if all our ancestors ever did was play it safe and stay at home?

Fear is a kind of thing that, if you’re not careful, will grow and grow and grow until it takes over your whole life.  Yes, there is risk.  There is risk in everything in life.  Just waking up and getting out of bed holds risks.  Staying in bed and hiding from everyone is even more risky.  When you worry and fret and let your fear control you, then you see a demon under every rock and death in every breath.  Fear paralyzes you and make you it's prisoner.

We've got to be bold and brave.

If my grandpa could build a bridge on a battlefield in WWII while German soldiers shot at him, then I guess I can manage to leave my house and face whatever dangers are out there today.  Peter and John faced the council after being arrested and told them boldly to their face, “You murdered the Son of God and you need to repent.”  I guess I can also be bold and tell people about Jesus today and say, “You aren’t living right and you need to repent.”  Perhaps we can all be bold enough to say things like:
If you are doing something the Word of God calls sin, you need to stop arguing and pretending it’s OK.  You need to repent.  

If you are judging someone by the color of their skin, you need to repent. There is no ifs, ands, or buts about this—all people are created equal and deserve to be treated fairly.  And if you find anything in your heart that makes you treat someone differently just because they don't look or sound like you, then you need to repent.

If you are a police officer that’s abusing your power, you need to repent and do better.  If you are a good cop, but you see something going on in your police department that isn't right, you need to step up and say something and work for change.

If you are angry because you saw George Floyd murdered by and police oficer while people stood by unwilling or unable to help, I get it.  But if you also are so angry that you want to pick up a rock and throw it through someone's window, or set a fire, or cause a riot you need to repent.  If your anger makes you hating the police or white people or anyone you need to repent.  Two wrongs will never ever make this thing right.

The love and grace and forgiveness Jesus is the answer to the real problem in the human heart.  And His power is more than enough to change us, heal us, and bring His mighty Kingdom on earth.  Is that what you really want?  I hope so.

Be bold and brave.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Jesus' Power Gives Us Hope


Introduction
Vacation Bible School is a fun time for kids (and adults) to learn about the Bible and Christian faith.  As my church prepares for Vacation Bible School, July 12-16, we are studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS.  The title of our VBS is the Rocky Railway.   We will pretend to be riding through VBS on a train.  Our theme is “Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through!” A train locomotive is a powerful engine that pulls a long train of cars filled with tons and tons of cargo or passengers.  Jesus is the powerful Son of God who can pull us through anything.

Last week, we learned:  Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things.
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Gives Us Hope!    

Background for the Story
Last week I shared the story of Saul and Ananias.  Saul was an enemy of Christians, going from town to town having them arrested, tortured, and even killed.  Jesus appeared to Saul and (with Ananias' help) Saul converted to Christianity.  Jesus changed Saul's life so drastically, he changed his name to Paul.

Paul went from town to town preaching the Gospel Truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross to pay the price for our sins so we can be reconciled to God through grace when we put our faith in Christ.  Paul was a great evangelist and so many people turned to Jesus because of his missionary work. 

However, many of Paul's former friends who opposed Christianity were very upset that Paul was now a Christian.  They feared his message would change their way of life in ways they did not want.  In Jerusalem, Paul's enemies started a riot destroying property and causing civil unrest.  They falsely accuse Paul of teaching lies and causing the trouble.  Paul was arrested and put in prison and endured a broken justice system.  If you think the American justice system has problems today, you can't imagine the way it was in Paul's day.  You couldn't get a fair trial.  You weren't presumed innocent until proven guilty.  And the authorities would often hold you until you paid bribes--so that inocent people were often punished while guilty people with money went free.

Finally, Paul was granted a hearing before Caesar in Rome (which would kind of be like going before the Supreme Court for us).  But in order to appear before Caesar, Paul has to travel on a ship from Israel to Rome, Italy.  It is a long and treacherous trip across the Mediterranean Sea.

Acts 27:20-44
20 The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.
21 No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. 22 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.”

27 About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm, as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near. 28 They dropped a weighted line and found that the water was 120 feet deep. But a little later they measured again and found it was only 90 feet deep. 29 At this rate they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight.
30 Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the front of the ship. 31 But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, “You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat and let it drift away.
33 Just as day was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. 34 “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” 35 Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. 36 Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat— 37 all 276 of us who were on board. 38 After eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard.
39 When morning dawned, they didn’t recognize the coastline, but they saw a bay with a beach and wondered if they could get to shore by running the ship aground. 40 So they cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Then they lowered the rudders, raised the foresail, and headed toward shore. 41 But they hit a shoal and ran the ship aground too soon. The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart.
42 The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn’t swim ashore and escape. 43 But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn’t let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land. 44 The others held on to planks or debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely to shore.

The Most Vulnerable People
I think this story is really going to resonate with the kids at VBS.  It’s a story that really resonates with the most vulnerable people.  You can’t get much more vulnerable than being on a boat in the middle of a terrible storm in the 1st century.  The used sail boats made out of wood and ropes that were at the mercy of the wind and were very fragile in rough seas.  (And there was no coast guard to come save you!)

How would you feel to be on a flimsy sailing vessel in the middle of a storm that lasted two weeks and the boat is about to sink?  How would you feel to be Paul—to be on that boat, but to also be in chains?  How would you feel to be surrounded by Roman soldiers who had orders not to let any prisoner escape.  It was said that if a prisoner escaped, the soldiers guarding them had to take the prisoner’s place!  So Paul is in chains on a boat that’s about to sink with frightened soldiers standing around him with swords debating whether they should kill him so he can’t escape!  He was totally helpless, but God was on Paul’s side and that gave Paul hope.  Paul shared that hope with everyone--even the ones who wanted to kill him.

Now, think about the kids that will be at our VBS.  They’re the most vulnerable people of all.  There’s a lot of dangerous, scary things happening in our world.  But they are also kids.  They are the most vulnerable people in the world.  They have very little choice in what happens to them.  Kind of like Paul, who was a prisoner who had to do whatever his captures told him, kids have to do what they’re told to do.  Their parents and teachers tell them what to do and they have to do it—even if it’s scary or hurts or they don’t want to do it.

Do you ever feel vulnerable like that?  Do you ever feel like everyone else is telling you what to do and you just feel like you have to do it even if you don’t like it or don’t agree?  Do you feel helpless and vulnerable?  If that's you, I hope you hear the message of this story from God's Word.

Jesus’ Power Gives Us Hope
Jesus had a purpose for Paul – to preach the Good News about Jesus everywhere and eventually in Rome.  If the Gospel could be preached in Rome, the hope of Christ could spread all over the world.  Nothing was going to stop this from happening. Jesus sent an angel to reassure Paul.

Jesus has a purpose for the kids who will attend our VBS. We have the privilege to help them discover their purpose as children of God--to know that God loves them, to learn that Jesus saves and they can have a life of meaning and purpose, and ultimately eternal life when this life is over.

Jesus has a purpose for your life too. Jesus is not going to let anything stop you from fulfilling your purpose. Take courage! Even when your purpose in this life is over, Jesus offers you eternal life with God the Father where there will be no more sickness or death or suffering or injustice.  Jesus loves you so much he died for you. If Jesus cared enough to die for you on the cross, he’s not going to abandon you now. Trust him and put your hope in Jesus!  Psalm 31:24 says, "So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord!"  Are you putting your hope in the Lord today?

Prayer from Philippians 1:9-11
Jesus, I pray for the kids who will be coming to our VBS.  Watch over them and prepare them for the blessings You have for them this summer.  And help us all to overflow with love more and more.  Help us to keep growing in knowledge and understanding. Lord, I want everyone reading this to understand what really matters, so that they may live pure and blameless lives until the day You return. I know you will return in our lifetimes--whether you come for us all at once in the clouds or whether you come for us individually when we die.  Help us to be ready.  Fill us with the fruit of salvation—the righteous character you want to produce in each of us—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.  Jesus, I also pray all the volunteers who will be helping with VBS this year.  Please guide us to teach them well, and help them to have eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart full of love.  Amen.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things


Introduction
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.


Trust
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?


Invitation
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.

Monday, July 1, 2019

When Life is Good, God is Good


Intro
As we get ready for vacation Bible school at my church on July 8-12, I have been sharing a series of messages based on the same themes. We've been studying the Exodus, when God delivered the Israelite out of slavery in Egypt. God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good. When life is unfair, scary, or when it changes, or is sad, God is good. And today, I want to say that when life is good, God is good.


Nehemiah 4:14b
“Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious…”
  

Remember…
God is good. And Nehemiah commands us to remember. God's plans are for our life, but also span over generations. We must make a point to remember all the good that God has done over the span of generations. Sometimes the good we experience today is built upon the work God was doing hundreds of years ago. And perhaps the good He will do in generations to come is built upon the things He is working in our life today (and we may never see the full fruit of it).

Remember what God did in the Exodus all started way back in Genesis with a man named Abraham. God told Abraham, "Leave your homeland and go to a country I will show you, a land flowing with milk and honey. And I will make you the father of many nations. Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky." This seemed impossible to Abraham because he and his wife were already very old. But they trusted God and God was faithful. They had a child named Isaac. And Isaac had Jacob. And Jacob had twelve sons. One son was named Joseph and his brothers were jealous and sold him into slavery down in Egypt. But when life was unfair to Joseph, God was good. Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh's nightmare about the future and thus saved Egypt from a terrible famine. He saved not only Egypt, but also the nations around Egypt who came and bought food from Egypt during the famine. Even Joseph's brothers came and bought food and were saved. And so the Jacob's descendants (the Israelite) came to live in Egypt for 430 years. They multiplied and became so many the Egyptians felt threatened by them and forced them to be slaves to try and wipe them out. However, God was good and the Israelites only grew stronger. And so God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from Slavery in Egypt. Through 10 scary plagues, God convinced the Egyptians to capitulate and let the Israelites go. God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk through on dry ground. God is good.

Then Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land to see if it was a good land and if the Israelites could take it. Two spies--Joshua and Caleb--returned to say it was a good land and that God would help the Israelites take it. But the other ten spies were afraid and said the Canaanites were like giants and would defeat them. So God was disappointed by the Israelites' lack of faith. He decided no one from that generation would enter the Promise Land except for Joshua and Caleb. So the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years until everyone from that generation had died, except Joshua and Caleb. The Joshua became the leader of the Israelites when Moses died and he was ready to lead the Israelites across the Jordan river into the Promised Land. Again, with mighty power, God parted the waters of the Jordan River so the Israelites could walk across on dry ground. And Joshua wanted the people to never forget the mighty power and goodness of, so they set up a memorial. Listen to the story.

Joshua 4:1-7
1 When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,2 “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. 3 Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’”

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5 He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”
How Can We Remember Not to Forget?
When Life is Good, God is Good. Unfortunately, when life is Good, we tend to forget God. And when we forget, life loses it’s joy. And when we forget God, we stray off course and head toward trouble. It is part of human nature that when life is good, we tend to forget God. It starts out small, maybe because we think we don't need God as much when life is good. Soon we start to question if God is even real or just a superstition. We may get irritated that God has so many rules to follow, etc. We forget that the good life we enjoy came about because of the goodness of God. And when we stray, we start to run into all kinds of trouble. So, how can we remember not to forget? What can we do to help us not forget God?
Celebrate
Who doesn’t like to celebrate? It's fun. But let your celebrations be memorials to remember the goodness of God. That way, you are less likely to forget the goodness of God and that the goodness in your life comes from God. It helps you guard against forgetting, which will steal your joy and ultimately lead you into trouble. The Israelites set up 12 stones so they would always remember how God had been good to them as they crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. Even generations who never lived through it could look at the memorial and remember.

We have our own memorials too. Don't forget what they mean. This week in America, we celebrate the fourth of July when our nation won its independence. We often celebrate with fireworks. Are they just loud, colorful displays? No. They are meant to remind us of the rockets and artillery used in the war of independence when so many gave their life in the struggle for our nations freedom. America was just a bunch of backwater colonies with no army. How did we stand up against England, which was the most powerful military at the time? Could it be that God helped us win our independence against overwhelming odds. Shouldn't we remember this every time see fireworks, so that we never take our freedom or the goodness of God for granted? Celebrate in such a way that you never forget.

Worship
Worship is a verb. Through worship we adore and honor God. It’s what we were made for. And it helps us keep God at the center of our focus so we don’t forget. We worship on Sunday and then all throughout the week we meditate on the Word from worship. It helps keep us centered so we don't forget. Then when the week is over, we return to worship again. This spiritual discipline of weekly worship helps keep us focused. When our worship becomes sporadic, we lose our focus and begin to drift. Soon, we find we are headed towards all kinds of trouble because we forgot that following God faithfully is what brought us blessings to start with. So be faithful to worship the Lord regularly each week. Even during the summer, when you are away on vacation, consider how you can be faithful to worship. It will make your vacation even more meaningful.

Tithe
Tithing helps us to trust God and remember that all we have belongs to Him. It puts our faith in God’s providence and Lordship into practice. Tithing is giving 10% of your income to the Lord through His Church. So, if you earn $200 on your paycheck this week, you would give $20 to the church. That would be your tithe. If you earned $500, $50 would be your tithe. If you earned $1,000, $100 would be the tithe you give to God at church. BUt most people struggle to give a tithe. They think, I don't want to give God 10% of my money. And their we see their error in thinking. You see, it all belongs to God. It is not that God is asking you to give Him 10% of your money. He is letting you keep 90% of His money. Tithing is a challenging discipline that reminds you very vividly that God is good and you owe all your blessings to Him so you won't forget.


Serve 
Serving helps us remember it’s not all about us. God loves everyone and wants to help everyone. God chose the Israelites as His special people to be a royal priesthood. That's why he saved them from slavery. He wanted them to be a light to the gentles; in other words, He wanted them to help all people find a relationship with God. Unfortunately, the Israelites corrupted this original purpose to think they were better than everyone else. They thought God loved them and hated everyone else. But we know this is not true, because as John 3:16 says, "For God so love the world that he sent His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life."

America is the greatest nation in the world. Miraculously, through God's providence, we gained our independence from England and grew from nothing to the most powerful country in the world. Is this because God loves us more than He loves the rest of the world? Some people in America think so; others live as if this is the case. But the Truth is, God loves the whole world. He doesn't love Americans more than anyone else and we aren't better than anyone else. God blessed America so that it could be a blessing to the whole world. I you were born or live in this great nation, it is not so you can just indulge your selfish desires. God wants you to use your freedom and privileges to help others grow closer to God.

Serving others help you remember that this life is not all about you. God loves everyone and serving helps us refocus our attention away from ourselves on the people around us that God loves.
Make a Commitment 
When Life is Good, God is good. Now is the time to make a commitment to remember the goodness of God:

Commit to Celebrate – in ways that recall all the good God has done in your life

Commit to Worship – summer is a time when many slip away from worship. Reinforce your commitment to worship each week, even while on vacation.

Commit to Tithe – give 10% of your income to the Lord through His Church

Commit to Serve – how can you serve God and the people around you?

The most important commitment of all – Commit to follow Jesus as your Savior and Lord. I hope you will make that commitment today.