Stage 2 of Faith Development: Checking it out

given on Sunday, May 7, 2017:  Mini-series on the Four Stages of Faith Development

Scripture Connections:

Luke 10:38-42, NLT

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

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

John 2:23-John 3, NLT

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,[a]you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.[b] Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.[c] So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony.12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man[e] has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.[f]

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.[h]

John 10:1-10, NLT (from the Lectionary)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me[a] were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.[b] They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

John 20:24-29, NLT

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[a] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Reflection: Stage 2 of Faith: Checking it out. . .

Who would have ever believed we could have seven inches of rain in just three days! We are so fortunate not to have the long-lasting effects that so many are experiencing along the small rivers and tributaries in the southern areas of our state. Yet, in the middle of the mind-numbing videos of flooding pops up surprising and unbelievable are stories of survival. What seems impossible to believe is real and God has to be present through it all.

Faith is believing what you do not see. The floodwaters are what we see; but even as the water recedes, we watch to see the reality of what remains. In the middle of last weekend’s storm, we drove past a garden that we knew had been planted, was growing well and was well-tended.

The muddy, floodwater so completely covered the garden that there was not even a clue that the rows of seedlings were even there. I wondered if there was any chance that the garden would survive. Yet nature is resilient, and as I drove past that garden just three days later, the seedlings were once again standing up and reaching for the sunlight.

Checking out something that seems impossible to believe for one’s self is part of faith development. I could not believe that the force of the floodwaters would leave that garden in tact, but when I checked it out, I confirmed what I thought I knew. The same need to check out Jesus’ story is the second stage of faith development.

The story continues to be shared and preserved. Yet, the story of Jesus’ resurrection left so many and still leaves so many with questions. How do you believe something that goes against everything we know. When the body dies, there is no way that three days later it can be missing, much less alive. Even the closest disciples had to run to the tomb and see it with their very own eyes.

And even then, the reaction was of disbelief and fear. There was no rational explanation. Jesus’ appearance as recorded in the gospels provided the disciples proof. Now two thousand years later, we must depend on the words preserved in the Bible to assure us of the truth.

To continue developing one’s faith, checking it out and learning about Jesus is simply part of the process of becoming Christ-like. Look at the stories of all Jesus’ contemporaries and how they had to check out The Story:

  1. Mary and Martha knew Jesus personally and valued that friendship. Yet even Martha struggled to follow the cultures custom of hospitality while Mary ignored those expectations and sat at his feet to learn more of his teachings (Luke 10:38-42)
  2. Consider, too, Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader. Something about Jesus and his message/ministry seemed impossible to believe, so he went under the cover of night to talk directly to Jesus. He had to check it out for himself. (John 12:23-3:21)
  3. Finally, Thomas the Apostle had questions. Even after the crucifixion and the resurrection, Thomas struggled to believe what seemed impossible. Jesus understood that uncertainty and stood before him with the open wounds in his hands, side and feet so Thomas could touch them and believe. (John 20:24-29)

Story after story in the Gospels show how people, whether faithful Jews, Gentiles, Roman citizens, or pagans, heard about Jesus and his message/ministry and still struggled to believe.

Change is difficult and then to have this man say he was the Son of God defied, and continues to defy, what humans know to be true. There is no guilt is questioning the reality of The Story, and checking it out is part of learning the truth. Reading the Bible, studying it in community, researching more about the story, and even testing the New Covenant in today’s world is part of faith development.

Whether we are Mary, Martha, Nicodemus or Thomas, we have heard The Story and believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We continue to seek for better understanding so we can grow in our faith. As modern disciples, we do the best we can to live our faith so others may see faith in action.

John Wesley, the son of a preacher, followed his father into the ministry. He was raised knowing the Story, and even he struggled to understand. He continued preaching and searching for answers; and on May 24, 1738, he reported to his brother Charles that “his heart was strangely warmed” (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999) which is referred to as Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience:

About a quarter before nine, while he [a Moravian, reading from Martin Luther’s work] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. 

The brazier’s house was but a few steps away, and John Wesley hastened thither to hail his brother with the rapturous words, “I believe,” and to join him in singing the new hymn, Where shall my wondering soul begin. . . (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999)

Today we continue our own practices in faith. We attend Sunday worship, we read the Bible, we meet with small groups, we worship, and we serve. Or do we? The impossible-to-believe story may be something we have learned, but are we checking it out and learning the reality of the story?

Wesley’s own experience ignited his own ministry and we follow his methods today to continue in our own faith development. Through his work, we have two sets of guidelines that we can follow to continue developing our own faith: the acts of piety and the acts of mercy. Have we used these tools to grow in our faith?

Personally and communally, Wesley recommends that we follow the practices to grow in our faith as well as to share our faith:

  • Works of Piety
    • Individual Practices– reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
    • Communal Practices– regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study
  • Works of Mercy
    • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
    • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

Accepting what seems impossible to believe, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation, is the first stage in faith. The second stage is to check out, to learn as much as one can about Jesus Christ and his ministry. As Wesley did, so do we, and in that process we may experience “a heart strangely warmed” too. Wesley’s ministry became inspired, ignited by the Holy Spirit:

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment. (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

As our faith develops, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our faith practices can ignite our own lives and only God knows what seeds of faith grow into.

Today, we join in the service of the cup and the bread. Wesley called communion, or Eucharist, one of the works of piety. As we join together to share the elements, we are joining in the community of believers. The Story continues because we have checked out the story and believe. We join in sharing the bread and the cup because we are part of the Christian community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, almighty,

We know the story. We struggle to believe.

Even Wesley struggled, but he prayed these words:

O, thou Saviour of men, save us from trusting in anything but thee! Draw us after thee. Let us be emptied of ourselves, and then fill us with all peace and joy in believing, and let nothing separate us from thy love in time or eternity.” (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

And we join in his words,

Seeking to follow Jesus and all the disciples before us.

Lead us in faith so that we may, too,

Have hearts strangely warmed.

 

As we grow in our faith,

May we follow the examples of your faithful

As we serve one another in love.

In the name of God the creator,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

Works Cited

An Account of John Wesley’s Life. General Board of Ministries. 2017. http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/Account-of-the-Life-of-John-Wesley (accessed May 4, 2017).

Chapter VII: The New Birth. The Wesley Center for Applied Theology. 1999. http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/chapter-vii-the-new-birth/ (accessed May 4, 2017).

The Wesleyan Means of Grace. United Methodist. http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace (accessed May 4, 2017).

 

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Stages of Faith: Impossible to Believe

given on Sunday, April 30, 2017:  Stage 1 of the 4 stages of faith 

Scripture connection: Luke 24:13-35 (NLT)

The Walk to Emmaus

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles[a] 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,[b] 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.[c]

35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.

Reflection:  Impossible to believe

Easter is over. Or is it?

The Story continues beyond one annual holiday celebration. The Story never ends. The Story is about life eternal and that is impossible to believe. Or is it?

Turn to John 20:1 and just think about the story:

Early on Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.

 

Jesus’ life ended on a cross. Everybody saw it with his or her own eyes; they could not deny that Jesus was dead. But on that Sunday morning, reality changed. The Story continued and continues yet today. Only one problem, the empty tomb simply seemed impossible to believe. Or is it?

Look at the calendar and you know that right now, right here The Story is well over 2,000 years old. Any study of history or even a geological or archeological study can methodically and scientifically explain the experiences     of humanity. Very little remains mysterious, yet The Story hinges on the empty tomb, and explaining that is a problem for those who need concrete evidence to believe.

Faith is believing what you cannot see. Faith is knowing The Story of Jesus Christ and believing it to be true. But what happens when the belief in the story is filled with uncertainty and questions?

Think about this statement:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like Mary and the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief. (1) At first, they may think the story is a fabrication, impossible to believe [John 20:2]. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened [John 20:6]. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally are they able to accept the fact of the Resurrection [John 20:16]. (4) Then as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them [John 20:28]. (19912346-2347)

 

Reading that study note answers some of my own questions, but not completely. This week the lectionary includes the reading from Luke 24 and I discovered an almost identical study note:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like the disciples, they may pass through four states of belief: (1) At first, they may think it is a fairy tale, impossible to believe. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally will they be able to accept the fact of the Resurrection. (4) Then as they commit themselves to Jesus and devote their lives to serving him, they will begin fully to understand the reality of his presence with them. (19912270)

 

The scriptures throughout the four gospels all include the story of Jesus’ walk to Emmaus, but the Mark version only covers two verses, Mark 16:12-13:

12 Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. 13 They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them.

 

The reference to the walk is not nearly as specific in Matthew 28:16-17:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

 

All four books mention Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road, but two accounts provide more details and that may be due to the audience that the writers were addressing. John was written to the newest Christians and those looking for answers, Luke was written to the Gentiles who did not know the prophecies. Mark was written for the Roman citizens who were now Christians while Matthew was written for the Jewish people who were familiar the prophecies and were anticipating the complete story of Jesus.

Who are you? Are you one of the faithful long waiting to have Jesus come and save your people? Are you one of the Roman citizens who is learning the story for the first time? Are you a Gentile, someone who knew nothing about the Jewish faith but were neighbors? Are you looking for answers and you have heard about Jesus and are curious, wanting to know more?

Sometimes placing one’s self into the story is difficult, so consider who you are in today’s culture:

  • Are you one of the many who was born into a Christian family and have always attended church in the traditional way—baptized as an infant or child, went to Sunday school, always attended church, got married in the church, and then raised your family in the same manner? You are reading Matthew with a historical understanding and are expecting Jesus to save you in this world.
  • Are you an American citizen who has learned that Christianity is a faith system that matches your understanding of how laws work to make a society that is productive and nurturing of freedoms? You are reading Mark and seeing how Jesus’ one commandment makes sense in today’s world.
  • Are you a non-believer who is just learning about this Christian faith and need to be convinced that it is a lifestyle that makes a difference and will ‘save’ you providing you eternal life? If so, then you are reading Luke to academically learn and understand what Christianity is and how it works in your life right now.
  • Are you a new Christian, born again, or someone who is seeking to find answers about how to live a happy, productive, even successful life in today’s world? Reading John makes sense to you. It is not overly wordy and it is to the point. No nonsense in telling this story of how Jesus was born and lived.

 

Yet, the story is impossible. Or is it?

What is the rest of the story? As a child of God and the rest of The Story is your story. You are writing The Story with your life, so learning what you believe and what you do is important as you keep Christ alive.

The concern is how to take a story that seems so impossible and follow the message today. How can one live and believe something so old in today’s world? How can something that sounds like a fairy tale make any sense today?

First, remember that literature has a timeless message for all of humanity. Good writing shares ideas that apply in any setting, among any peoples, and at any time in history. Themes in literature never become outdated. The theme of the Bible really boils down to Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees question in Matthew 22:36, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Remember, Matthew was written for the Jewish people who knew God’s prophecies and were historically prepared for Jesus’ coming. The question demonstrates the skepticism even the faithful had concerning the reality of Jesus. The Pharisees’ interrogation shows how they could not believe what they were witnessing in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ answer combined the Jewish faithful relation with God to a much simpler, inclusive commandment:

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[f] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

 

The Story continued in Matthew’s gospel. The answer seemingly addressed the Pharisees’ own disbelief, yet change for those people was difficult if not impossible. The threat to the Jewish way of life lead to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

But The Story did not end with a human death. The Story continues as Jesus left the tomb—resurrected from death. Impossible to believe? Even to those who were eyewitnesses to the three days the resurrection was not real.   If even the eyewitnesses struggled to believe, so do so many in today’s world struggle to believe.

Stage 1 in faith is to hear the story, want to believe, and then accept the story as real. Beginning to believe has to hear the message of the gospel and then start practicing the commandments to love God and to love one another. As Christians, disbelief in The Story is just part of developing one’s faith. What sounds impossible to believe yet appealing, too, opens the door to discipleship.

Discipleship calls us to follow Jesus’ commandments. As we shift our lives into a Christian lifestyle, the impossible becomes believable. When we test God’s lifestyle against those lifestyles existing around us, we discover the reality of God’s grace not only for ourselves but also for others. The impossible to believe story leads to answers in living the challenging lives we live today. Discipleship includes study of the scriptures as well as application of the lessons shared in those words. The Story that seems impossible to believe comes alive as the words turn into actions. Now the impossible is possible.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Forgive us for our disbelief in The Story.

Help us hear you speak to us

In the words shared by your earliest disciples.

 

Forgive us for our uncertainty of The Story.

Help us to practice the simple law

Jesus taught and the disciples preserved.

 

Forgive us for our skepticism about The Story.

Help us test the commandments daily

As The Story becomes real even today.

 

Guide us in our discipleship,

So we may discover the truth

And find the joy of living

In the ‘Sonshine’ of Easter morning

When the impossible became real.

 

In the name of God,

Creator, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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God so loved us

given on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017:  I finished Easter Sunday service and began a week’s vacation.  I apologize for not posting sooner.  May you know that God loves you so much he gave his only son for your salvation.

Scripture connection

 John 3:13-17

13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

16 “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. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 John 20:1-10

1Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.

Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

John study notes from the Life Application Bible (NLT):

“Nicodemus Visits Jesus at Night”

3:14,15—When Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God sent plague of snakes to punish rebellious attitudes. If snake bit, looking up to Moses holding the bronze snake and believing that God could save them, did save them.

3:16–. . . When we share the Good News with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.

3:16–. . . eternal life is not an extension of a person’s miserable, mortal life; eternal life is God’s life embodied in Christ given to all believers now as a guarantee that they will live forever. In eternal life there is no death, sickness, enemy, evil, or sin. When we don’t know Christ, we make choices as though this life is all we have. In reality, this life is just the introduction to eternity. . . .

3:16—To “believe” is more than intellectual agreement that Jesus is God. It means to put our trust and confidence in him that he alone can save us. It is to Christ in charge of our present plans and eternal destiny. Believing is both trusting his words as reliable, and relying on him for the power to change. If you have never trusted Christ, let this promise of everlasting life be yours—and believe.

3:18—People often try to protect themselves from their fears by putting their faith in something they do or have: good deeds, skill or intelligence, money or possessions. But only God can save us from the one thing that we really need to fear—eternal condemnation. We believe in God by recognizing the insufficiency of our own efforts to find salvation and by asking him to do his work in us. When Jesus talks about unbelievers, he means those who reject or ignore him completely, not those who have momentary doubts. (emphasis added)

“Jesus Rises from the Dead”

20:9—Jesus’ resurrection is the key to the Christian faith. Why?

  1. Just as he said, Jesus rose from the dead. We can be confident, therefore, that he will accomplish all he has promised.
  2. Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ, not a false prophet or imposter, is ruler of God’s eternal Kingdom.
  3. We can be certain of our resurrection because Jesus was resurrected.   Death is not the end—there is future life.
  4. The divine power that brought Jesus back to life is now available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life.
  5. The Resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world.

Reflection: God so loved us

[Sing Morning Has Broken, UMH 145]

Today is the third day after Jesus was crucified. Today is Easter and morning has broken, as the hymn reminds us, like the first morning. The earth continues to revolve around the son, the birds still sing, and after the rain, everything is like new. Yet, today is Easter 2017, over 2,000 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and we awake to a new morning.

Do you sense the awesomeness of the new morning?

Do you sense the renewal of our world after a spring rain?

Do you sense the love of God?

Hear these words from John:

1Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

[Sing Lift High the Cross, UMH 159]

Mary and the other women greeted that Sunday morning with a tremendous sense of loss. Certainly they did not see the awesomeness of Easter morning, they were beginning the new week with a tradition of honoring the death of a loved one.   At the moment, their steps were slow and their shoulders were sagging. They were simply following the tradition of mourning, carrying the spices to the tomb. The mood was anything but joyful.

Yet, the story in all four of the gospels reveal the same shift in emotions when the women discover the stone rolled away from the tomb’s opening. Can you not see the change in the women’s posture and expressions when they reach the tomb, look up from the path and see the open tomb?

The Sunday morning suddenly turned from grief to joy. These women experienced the glory of God as they see, first hand, the promise of God revealed by an empty tomb. The glory of God evidenced as the figures in dazzling white robes, white as snow, tell them Jesus is risen from the dead, as Luke tells the story (Luke 24:5-7):

5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

[Sing Up from the Grave, UMH 322]

How awesome it is to realize the prophecy shared for thousands of years has come to fulfillment! Mary, the other women, and now the Apostles are learning firsthand the revelation that Jesus, a man with whom they had walked and talked was indeed God. Do you sense the renewal of hope that the gospels share with us today, this Easter Sunday 2017?

Jesus arose! He is alive! Jesus is the Son of God. The women ran to tell the Apostles, the other disciples, and surely all their friends even who still did not believe. This news was a personal witness so how could anyone still doubt the truth of these eyewitnesses to God’s amazing love of us.

John, the apostle that Jesus loved most, wrote the gospel for us. We are Christians so far removed from the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry that we are still seeking to understand God’s love (John 3:16-17):

16 “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. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 

John had to learn firsthand that Jesus, someone he was deeply devoted to, a friend so close to him that as he was dying on the cross told him that he was to take care of his mother as though she was his own mother and that his mother was to accept John as her own son. This is love.

[Sing What Wondrous Love is This, UMH 292]

God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that we might be forgiven of our sins and have eternal life. Do you sense the enormity of that love? In our earthly world, the full meaning of God’s love is beyond our human understanding. We get glimpses of it in our lifetimes, but full understanding seems just beyond our reach.

True knowledge typically comes from first hand experience and we have yet to experience our own death and resurrection. We depend on the words of the gospel, the letters of Paul and the others books in the New Testament to provide us the guidelines for living as Christ’s disciples; yet, first hand knowledge of the Easter experience continues to be a promise made by God in the Old Testament stories, by Jesus as revealed in the gospels, and by the Apostles and disciples who were there.

[Sing Where you there? UMH 288—used during Maundy Thursday]

Today, Easter 2017, we continue to share the story and live with the expectation that we, too, will remain in relationship with our loving God, until the time we, too, will experience life everlasting. As we read the resurrection story and hear the promises of the hymns, again consider:

Do you sense the awesomeness of the new morning?

Do you sense the renewal of our world after a spring rain?

Do you sense the love of God?

Where are you in the story?

Where are you in your relationship with God?

Where are you in living the life God has given you?

This Easter morning, consider then what John has shared in his gospel:

17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Find the awesomeness of living in this world today, but remember the story and sense the full love of God as you walk out the doors to enter into our real life world today. You have a story to share and it is amazing. Live with the knowledge that life is a gift but the promise is that eternal life with God is even more wonderful than we can imagine.

[Sing Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, UMH 302, &/or He Lives, UMH 310.]

Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

Be excited about God’s love as you step out today. Feel a sense of renewal because Christ did arise from the grave. But remember that as much as God loved us, we have been tasked to carry the story forward and to live as Christ has taught us to live: Love one another as you want to be loved!

Closing prayer:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, God!

 

You have lifted Christ from the grave

And you promise to life us, too.

 

You have refreshed the world with new life

As we witness in Spring’s glory.

 

You have demonstrated love in the worst of times

So we may learn that love wins every time.

 

Thank you, God, for sharing life with us.

Thank you, Jesus, for teaching us to love.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being with us always.

 

May we, with the help of you, God,

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Live today knowing that you loved us so much

That you died for us. –Amen

 

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Who is this?

given on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017–6th Sunday in Lent 2017:  A season of mindfulness

 

Scripture connection:

Zechariah 9:9-10, NLT

Rejoice, O people of Zion!

Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!

Look, your king is coming to you.

He is righteous and victorious,

yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.

I will remove the battle chariots from Israel

and the warhorses from Jerusalem.

I will destroy all the weapons used in battle,

and your king will bring peace to the nations.

His realm will stretch from sea to sea

and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.

 

Matthew 21:1-11, NLT

As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me.

If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

   This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,

‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

     Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

     And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

 

Mark 11:1-11, NLT

     As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will return it soon.’”

     The two disciples left and found the colt standing in the street, tied outside the front door.  As they were untying it, some bystanders demanded, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”  They said what Jesus had told them to say, and they were permitted to take it.  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it.

     Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

     So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.

 

Luke 19:28-40, NLT

     After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

     So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

     And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

     As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

     But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

     He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

 

John 12:12-19, NLT

     The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hail to the King of Israel!”

     Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.

Look, your King is coming,

riding on a donkey’s colt.”

     His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

     Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it.

     That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

 

Weekly memory verse: Who is this? (Matthew 21:10, NLT)

 

Weekly challenge: Step outside and study a flower. Look at the buds and see the promise of the bloom. Look back at your life. See the promise and know how much God loves you.

 

Reflection: Who is this? How do you know?

 

Has not the rain and the sunshine transformed our world these past couple of weeks? Looking out the windows this morning is very different than just a week ago as the trees are leafing out, the lilacs are budding, and the spring flowers are opening up. The earth is celebrating new life.

Today is Palm Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. The celebration starting today darkens as the week relives the final days of Jesus. Thursday is the day for Jesus’ final supper with his disciples. Friday is the darkest day as Jesus is nailed on the cross and dies. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, so the day is simply empty as no work could be done after sunset on Friday through sunset on Saturday.

The Passion Story unfolds as Christians review the Christ story from the joyful entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey through the events of his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. The week connects the generations of Christians throughout time and the world. The Passion Story connects us to our own belief and we should know the answer to the question: Who is this?

Can you answer that question with confidence? Can you walk into the sanctuary this morning and quickly identify the purpose of the palms and the procession of the kids around the room? Can you share the story with others who may not even know what Palm Sunday, Passion Week, or Easter is? Learning this one small verse, Matthew 21:10, becomes the key to mystery of faith which we share during communion: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. (198914)

The answer for the question “Who is this?” begins with the scripture from Zechariah. The prophet had said that the Messiah or the King of the Jews would arrive on a donkey. And that is what Jesus did by riding into Jerusalem for Passover on the back of the donkey. The procession was a message to all the people, including the Pharisees, that Jesus was indeed who people were saying he was. The public display was out of character for Jesus, but the method was a way to affirm the answer to the Jews that he was indeed the promised Messiah, the Savior, the king they had long anticipated.

Each of the gospels includes a version of the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. Each one includes the palms and the donkey, but only Matthew includes the question, “Who is this?” Why?

The key is remembering to whom the different gospels are written. Matthew with the question, was written specifically for the Jewish people. The question is asked to make a point that the readers would know how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in Zachariah. Mark was written for Roman Christians, Luke was written to Theophilus and the Gentiles, while John was written to new Christians and those seeking to know more.

All the gospels describe the procession in basically the same manner. Palms were waved to show respect for high-ranking officials even throwing the palms and coats on the ground on which to walk. Even the donkey was chosen because of its significance. The donkey represents one coming in peace. If a horse had been chosen, that would have symbolized war or a military leader.

The gospel of Matthew included the description of the palm procession to make sure that the Jewish people could identify who Jesus was and that he fulfilled the prophecy that was almost 500 years old. The non-Jewish people in the Greco-Roman culture, though, also recognized the same symbolism. Mark, Luke and John all include a description of the procession with palms and the donkey. Everybody in the crowd would know the meaning, and the ensuing generations would also know that the man riding the donkey was Jesus, the man who was dramatically changing the belief system of so many in the area whether Jew or Gentile.

Why is this important today? Why are we waving palms here in our community 2,000 years later? Why do we need to answer the question “Who is this?”

God wants a personal relationship with us; and if we cannot answer who Jesus was, then we risk having no relationship with God. We can attend church every Sunday. We can read all we want about Jesus. Yet, to experience God in our life, we must be able to answer that we know Jesus. We must wave our palms and honor him, respect him, revere him, and yes, fear him. Experiencing God on a personal level comes by listening to God and obeying Him, said O.S. Hawkins (Hawkins 2015, 441).

Palm Sunday gives us the opportunity to openly express our knowledge of who Jesus is. We have the palm branches, we can sing out our praises, and we can answer the question that Jesus is the son of Man and the son of God.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Jesus’ final Passover (remember he was Jewish) as the human incarnation of God. Jesus announced to the ancient world that he was the Son of God by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with all his followers/disciples waving palms and shouts of acclamation. Palm Sunday is much like a flower popping up in the garden getting ready to bloom.

We anticipate the joy of Easter this morning, but first we must relive the full experience of Passover with the final days of Jesus and his disciples. We may be excited to extol (Hawkins word) or proclaim Jesus today, but we know the story continues through the horrors of a betrayal, a trial, and a crucifixion.

As we wait for the full bloom of the flower, we wait for Easter morning when Christ was resurrected. We know that God’s desire to be in a relationship with us was so important that he could no longer wait for us to figure it out on our own. Instead, he was born as a man in order to bring us into a real life experience with him.

We can answer the question “Who is this?” because we have the relationship with God. We see our lives unfold into a thing of beauty just like the spring flowers bursting forth around us. We have learned that God’s way of living in a loving relationship with one another is the very purpose God sent Jesus to walk with us in this life.

As Holy Week moves forward, keep the image of the flower opening from the bud to a full bloom present in your mind. You are a flower in God’s garden, and because you know God’s love and you have chosen to live according to his commandments, you will continue to bloom.

[Share the video of tulip opening.]

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious Father,

 

We lift up our palms to you

Showing that we know you personally,

Because we experience your love

And believe in your promise.

 

We lift up our palms to you

Thanking you for sending Jesus

To teach us,

To heal us,

To forgive us

And to grant us eternal life.

 

We lift up our voices

Answering others who ask,

“Who is this?”

So we can share the story

Of our relationship with you,

God, the father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

 

 

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Lent 2017: Who do you say I am?

 

given on Sunday, April 2, 2017 as the 5th in a series for Lent 2017:  A season of mindfulness. . . 

Lent, a season of mindfulness: Each Sunday of Lent a memory verse and a challenge will be given as an exercise in mindfulness. The memory verses are selected from O. S. Hawkins’s book, The Joshua Code and the Jesus Code. This book has 52 verses from the Joshua Codes and 52 verses from the Jesus Code recommended to commit to memory. In Hawkins’s introduction, he states, “Scripture memorization enables us to take God’s Word with us anywhere and everywhere without carrying our Bibles. It enables us to receive the Word into our hearts, retain it in our minds, and recite it with our mouths that we might speak it with power.” (p.11)

Review of the memory verses for Lent 2017

  • Week 1: Did God really say that? (Genesis 3:1)
  • Week 2: Who am I? (Exodus 3:11)
  • Week 3: If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened?   (Judges 6:13)
  • Week 4: Who among you fears/reveres the Lord? (Isaiah 50:10)
  • Week 5: Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15)

Scripture connection:

John 1:35-39, NLT

35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.

John 1:40-50, NLT

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.

45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.

47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”

49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”

Matthew 16:13-18, NLT

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

Matthew 16:19, NLT

And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

Reflection: Who do you say I am?

Week’s memory verse:  Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15, NLT)

Week’s challenge: Check you license to see when it needs renewing. Then check to see if you need to renew your relationship with God either through communion or a renewal of baptism. (Baptism review/class begins Tuesday, 4-5 pm)

 

Just in case you might wonder, I do have a drivers’ license. You have to believe me that it is valid, even though I have to renew it this month. The drivers’ license is one document that explains who I am. There are a variety of ways to identify who I am, but sometimes I do not carry them and others must depend on my word or the word of someone who can vouch for me.

In ancient times, identification may not have been as simple as producing a drivers’ license to verify who you were. Word of mouth or the personal knowledge of someone else might help identify you.

Today’s memory verse is included in the story of Jesus’ calling of the disciples. These men were the first chosen by Jesus to learn the new covenant, how to live under the new law, and how to spread the good news. Jesus had to know whether or not they honestly could state that he was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God or, as Peter states, the Son of the Living God. Answering the question correctly served as the final test to become a member of the inner circle of disciples, the chosen apostles.

The scripture in Matthew includes two references to the question: (1) Who do they/the people say I am? (2) Who do you say I am? The first question refers to what the Pharisees and other people are saying while the second question is directed to the disciple himself. The second question calls for a personal response. Jesus is checking that Peter has realized that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, not John the Baptist, not Elijah, or some other prophet.

Imagine Peter’s nervousness as Jesus asks him to identify who he was? Jesus did not tell Peter that he was being tested, nor did Peter anticipate the challenge.   The conversation among those around Jesus probably started when someone said something they had overheard in town or along the roadside. Jesus was part of this conversation and was asking about others when he turned to Peter and focused just on him.

Do you remember how nervous you were when you got your drivers’ license? Growing up on the farm, I knew how to drive. I had driven tractors, the pickups, the cars, and even the stock truck. I was not worried that I could actually drive a car, and I even took drivers ed; so when I walked up to take the written test, I was confident I knew what I was doing. And I did pass the written test. Then I immediately asked to take the road test. Again, I was confident that I could do it. But when the driver instructor got out of the car, he had a surprise for me: Come back in two weeks and then take the road test again.

Final test questions are scary even if you know what the right answer is. I expect Simon Peter was surprised when Jesus turned to him and asked that final question, “Who do you say I am?” I suspect there was a bit of shock on his face wondering just why Jesus was asking him because he was one of those hand picked to follow him. Wasn’t he sitting right there and going with him wherever Jesus went?

The scuttlebutt was running rapid and now Jesus is asking what he personally believed. The pressure was on him to answer quickly and correctly. And Peter did answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Whew! Jesus approved the answer and even renamed Simon as Peter, the Rock. Jesus not only approved, he identified Peter as the foundation of the entire movement—the church. Peter was given a license to drive the movement forward.

“Who do you say I am?” is a question each Christian must answer. Regardless of how we were introduced to Jesus, the question is how personally convinced we are that Jesus is the Son of God, our Messiah, our Savior. Answering that question honestly can be difficult. Living in our culture, we are taught not to trust our gut instincts or word of mouth or hear say. We are taught that reality or truth is something that can be scientifically, concretely proven. Personally knowing God just because we “think” he is real probably is not going to win many arguments.

Hal Knight, a Wesleyan theologian, has focused on discipleship in his monthly column in The Missouri Methodist. He first explains that (1) discipleship is not simply attending church, and (2) discipleship is not just learning information. Being a disciple means knowing and following Jesus and that comes through establishing “. . . a relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. . . . not just know about him (Knight 2017).” (emphasis added.)

In Matthew, Jesus responds to Peter’s answer as a truth revealed to Peter by God. In John, even though Peter’s brother is attributed as the one who tells Peter and Nathanial who Jesus is, Jesus does not ask if they know who he is; instead, he tells them what they were thinking even before they came to find him. The disciples knew who Jesus was through the Holy Spirit.

Today we join together at the table to partake of the bread and the cup, a tradition established by the early church as a means to renew the relationship we have with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, we also can answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”

As disciples of Jesus, we are commissioned just like the first disciples were. We are to do more than just attend church on Sunday morning. We are to do more than just learn. Like getting a drivers’ license, one cannot pass the driving test until one does drive. When I walked into the testing site two weeks later, the examiner looked up as I started out the door with a different examiner he said, “She is ready for her license today. She just needed two weeks of experience.”

Each time we walk to the table for the bread and the cup, we are reminded that we are equipped to be disciples. We know that Jesus was born as the son of man and woman. We know that Jesus grew up being trained in the Jewish faith. We know that his ministry lasted about three years before he was arrested, tried, and crucified on a wooden cross, died and buried in a stone tomb, and then three days later arose from the dead.

When Jesus asked Simon Peter “Who do you say I am?” we are tested, too. Through the sacrament of word and table, we answer by affirming our understanding of the mystery of faith:

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Today, you are answering the question personally. You are coming to the table stepping forward in faith that you are equipped by the Holy Spirit to be a disciple sharing the good news by word and deed. You may be sitting in the drivers seat, but God is doing the driving through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

As the disciples gathered around Jesus,

They were asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

Today, we gather at the table,

And are asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

 

         May you reveal the answer

So we may answer with confidence,

“You are Jesus Christ,

our Redeemer,

our Savior,

the Messiah.”

 

As we share the bread and the cup,

Fill us with the Holy Spirit

Renewing our relationship with you

The Father,

The Son, and

The Holy Spirit. –Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lent Week 4: Who among you fears, reveres, honors, respects?

given on Sunday, March 26, 2017 as the fourth sermon in the series, Lent:  A season of mindfulness. 

Scripture connections:

Revelation 19:5, NLT

“Praise our God,

all his servants,

all who fear him,

from the least to the greatest.”

Luke 1:48a-51, NLT

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation

to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

Isaiah 50:10, NLT

         Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys his servant?

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

Proverbs 2:1-5, NLT

My child,[a] listen to what I say,

and treasure my commands. 

Tune your ears to wisdom,

and concentrate on understanding.

Cry out for insight,

and ask for understanding.

Search for them as you would for silver;

seek them like hidden treasures.

Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,

and you will gain knowledge of God.

Acts 2:40-43, NLT

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

Ephesians 5:21, NLT

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

Week’s memory verse:  Isaiah 50:10a

                  Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?

Week’s challenge: Rewrite the verse into your own words and post around the house: bathroom mirror, refrigerator, above the screens—tv, computer, etc.

 

Reflection: Who among you fears, reveres, honors, respects?

Everybody knows that words trigger strong emotions, reactions and even actions. Words can soothe a crying child, trigger a riot, start a stream of tears, or elicit a belly laugh. The words we use in our lives provide first impressions either positive or negative, and have the power to establish lasting bonds of friendship or to permanently severe relationships. Words hold power.

Today’s memory verse causes me problems because of one word—fear. For as long as I can remember, I have heard this verse in church services and have struggled because of that one word! Fear. That word has sent me on a journey this week, one that went back to scriptures, to an entomological dictionary and even to a traditional dictionary. I had to understand that word, fear, and figure out how that verse has values for me in today’s world.

The memory verse is Isaiah 50:11:

Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys his servant?

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

 

The key to memorizing the verse is that first line, Who among you fears the Lord. . . but that is only part of the full sentence. The second phrase hints at the prophecy of the Messiah, here referred to as “his servant.” The full verse is more applicable to Christians: Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?

Yet even understanding the context of the verse does not help understanding the value of that verse when it hinges on that one word, fear.   Fear is not a positive word in our culture now: instead, fear is a word of alarm, caution, and pain. Fearing the Lord creates almost a complete opposite image than what Christians proclaim in phrases such as “God is love.”

Taking a reading journey through the Bible helps understand why the word fear continues to be used. In ancient language, the word fear held a different value than it does today. Using a Biblical dictionary, fear is only listed in a phrase, fear of the Lord, and is not listed as a simple one-word entry:

fear of the Lord, the awe that a person ought to have before God (Prov. 5:7; Eccles. 12:13). As such it can be said to constitute a “true religion” (Ps. 34:11). This “fear of the Lord” is represented by the “fear and trembling” with which Paul exhorts the Philippians to work out their salvation (Phil. 2:12). It describes the piety of the growing church in Acts 9:31. However it also carry overtones of judgment (2 Cor. 5:11; 1 Pet. 1:17) (Achtemeier 1996, 333)

 

Today’s Oxford On-Line dictionary lists the first verb definition as: Be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful. The meaning of this one word has changed and we do not hear the scripture in the same mind set as it was written.

The challenge this week is to find the meaning in the scripture and make it a mental trigger for us today. Look back at the memory verses for the past three weeks:

  1. Did God really say that? (Genesis 3:1)
  2. Who am I (to do as you ask)? (Exodus 3:11)
  3. If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us (. . . who can be against us)? (Exodus 6:13)

 

And now add in today’s:

  1. Who among you fears the Lord? (Isaiah 50:13)

These memory verses continue developing the relationship God established with his creation. Even though human choice tests relationships with God, God continues to remain in hopes that the relationship with his faithful can be maintained.

Here is the challenge today, figure out how the Old Testament understanding of fear of the Lord is a guiding axiom for us today. What is a better word for us to use than fear if we want to make sure that we are doing what God wants us to do? Remember how Jesus answered the Pharisees when asked what was the greatest law of Moses:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38, NLT)

 

In Jesus’ answer, the key word is love not fear. Personally, I believe that is a major key to figuring out what the Isaiah verse really means in today’s culture.

Reading through O.S. Hawkins’s explanation about this verse, set off the proverbial light bulb in my head—an enlightenment. In answering the questions “What does it mean to live in the fear of God?” Hawkins states:

Does fearing the Lord mean living in a constant state of fright or concern that if we say something or do something wrong, God will zap us with some big bolt of retribution? Nothing could be further from biblical trust. The most common biblical word for fear means to stand in awe before God with such reverence and respect that that reverence becomes the controlling motivation of our lives. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Hawkins continues to share how in his teenage years his own pastor explained fear of God to him:

. . . walking in the fear of God meant living so that He will not take his hand of blessing off me. Fearing God is to live with the conscious awareness of His presence, and wanting to do nothing that might cause God to remove His hand of blessing and anointing from us. Living with that awareness makes an incredible difference in what we do, what we say, where we go, and how we live. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Suddenly, I understood what fear of the Lord meant. I realized that I needed to make this verse real to me, in words that I understood. I need to live my life in such a disciplined manner that what I do, what I say, where I go, and how I live gives God no reason to doubt that I am in a lasting relationship with him.

The challenge for each of us then is to take this verse from Isaiah and make it a verse that sticks in our own minds much like the advertising slogans that bombard us through the media. We need the verse to be our own advertising slogan that even others around us can witness and follow.

The key to finding the right words appeared in the explanation from Hawkins. In that quote, I added the emphasis to the words ‘awe,’ ‘reverence,’ and ‘respect.’ These words all hold positive images in my mind. The contemporary use of them is almost opposite of the current use for fear. I need a word that calls me to follow God in a positive mindset. I want to grow in a loving relationship with God and not be afraid of God.

The memory verse is “Who among you fears the Lord. . . ” but that is just half of the verse. The remainder is “. . .and obeys his servant?” God promised the Israelites that he was sending someone to help us understand how to live in relationship with God. Jesus Christ is that servant and he has taught us how to live so we may remain in relationship with God. He even continued to answer the Pharisees with a second commandment:

A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:39-40, NLT)

 

Tracing the term “fear” through the Bible, the Israelite understanding continues to be used, but remember the first Christians were Jewish and that term was part of their understanding of the relationship they were to maintain with God.

  • Luke 1:50—Mary uses the term fear in her “Song of Praise”: He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear
  • Acts 2:40-43—Luke quotes Peter:

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

 

The scriptures do carry the theme of “fearing the Lord” throughout the old and the new testament, but in trying to clarify what that means today, the meaning of fear must be translated into words that have the same meaning as fear did when the scriptures were first preserved. The word revere is what I chose to use but I cannot separate it from respect.

To take that original verse from Isaiah and make it into a slogan, I must reword it: Revere God; respect Jesus. That is a billboard campaign for my life. Following those four words allows me to live in a life of challenges filled with awe of the power of God. I see God in all that is around me. I see the pain of those suffering. I see the joy of living. I see the faith of the farmers as the dormant seeds spring alive. God is in all of life. Jesus has shown us how to live so we know God in all that surrounds us.

Looking forward into the rest of Isaiah 50:10:

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

 

The promise of life with God is awesome. For those walking in darkness, be a ray of light. Help them to see that trusting in the Lord makes life amazing. Help them to find ways to love God, to follow Jesus’ example; and you will discover that the ray of light you see, lights up others’ lives, too.

Each step you take is an opportunity to revere God. Whether you are living a life cleaning your house with no one around or whether you are part of a team serving food to the kiddos at school or at the movies, you are living the life of God’s servant. You are living a life that respects and reveres God and his son Jesus Christ.

For every fleeting thought that crosses your mind, you are revealing your fear of the Lord. He knows what you think, he knows what you do, and he knows what is in your deepest recesses of your heart. Living in reverence of God and respecting Jesus’ teachings determines the depth of your relationship with God. As Hawkins’s pastor told him:

Fearing God is to live with the conscious awareness of His presence, and wanting to do nothing that might cause God to remove His hand of blessing and anointing from us. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Do you “want to do nothing” to take you out of a loving relationship with God? Life with God is awesome. Why risk anything that might severe that relationship or even severe someone else’s relationship with God? Be mindful of all that you do, in all that you say, in all the places you go, and in how you live so that you may maintain a loving and lasting relationship with God. Be mindful that God loved us so much that he joined us as the servant Jesus Christ, son of Mary and Joseph, so that we who believe in him might continue our awesome relationship with God throughout eternity.

Revere God. Respect Jesus. Life with God is awesome.

Closing prayer:

Dear Awesome God,

Today we hear the words of scripture

Seeking full understanding.

Use those words and words of others

Encouraging us to put words into actions.

 

As we daily live in relationship

With family, friends, and others,

Keep Jesus’ teachings forever

In our thoughts and actions.

 

May we reflect the awesomeness

Of a relationship with you

That attracts others to Your Light.

May us respect and revere you,

God, the Father,

The Son, Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit. –Amen

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Lent 2017: f God is for us, who can be against us?

given on Sunday, March 19, 2017:  Week 3 of Lent 2017:  A Season of Mindfulness

Scripture Connections:

Judges 6:6-16, NLT

So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.

When they cried out to the Lord because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites. He said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. 10 I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

13 “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”

15 “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

16 The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

 

2 Corinthians 1:3-11. NLT

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.

 

Romans 5:6-11, NLT

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 

Week’s memory verse:  . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?

Week’s challenge: Remember. Record. Reorder. Spend time writing down the tough times in your life that you felt discouraged. Then write down what God did in your life as a result of the tough times.

 

Reflection: If God is for us, who can be against us?

Glory be! Two days ago we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and now we are just two days away from the first day of Spring—so much green, and it truly is green. A few days ago a deep freeze attacked the spring flowers, the Bradford pear blossoms and the tender green wheat, but that cold snap was just a momentary lapse in an extraordinarily mild winter.

A cold snap like that easily discourages gardeners and farmers watching the young plants they so carefully planted and nourish. Once the wheat or any seed/seedling is planted, human control is relinquished and God, through the forces of nature, assumes control. Trusting God is tough.

In Judges 6, Gideon is doing his best to harvest the wheat. Even the harvest has to be done as secretively as possible, but the Midianites along with other tribes keep attacking and taking all the harvest. The Israelites become discouraged and turn away from God returning to idol worship. For seven years, the Israelites battle to survive under these difficult conditions, and God’s angel shows up and talks to Gideon:

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

 

Imagine the surprise Gideon experienced. Here is inside a winepress, a hole in the earth, trying to clean his wheat in hiding. The conditions were not good and the task extremely difficult in that setting. He hardly felt like a hero much less that the Lord was with him at that moment. He had to be discouraged, frustrated, and exhausted after seven years of failure.

Undoubtedly we can all think of similar experiences. I know that Dad used to say that a drought year would occur about every seven years. Living on a small farm during the 1960s and 1970s, the challenges left my parents discouraged over and over. But farming was their life. The land, the cattle, and the crops provided the structure of life itself. Those years of drought were tough, but I never saw their faith in God fail, either.

The stories in the Old Testament and the New Testament are filled with examples of how the faithful are tested over and over with challenges. The problems cover the very basic needs of humans—food, clothing and shelter, first; but also the next level of human needs as identified by Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs, that includes security and safety. (McLeod 2016) Gideon and the Israelites were struggling with all these human needs when the angel showed up. Certainly, Gideon doubted what the angel was saying so he replied:

 

13 . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

 

Three weeks ago the first memory verse was introduced from Genesis 3:1—“Did God really say that?” The challenge then was to consider the 5 Ds that the Devil can use to tempt us into following him rather than God: doubt, discouragement, divisiveness, defeat, and delay. Gideon and the Israelites were being tempted by the Devil just as we are tempted when life challenges bombard us over and over again.

How many times in your own lives have you become discouraged because life kept knocking you down over and over again? No where in the Bible does God promise an easy life, rather he gives us the laws or commandments and the people to guide us in our life so we can manage the Devil’s temptations along with the simple challenges of managing to meet the basic needs in our life of food, clothing, shelter, security and safety. And still we become discouraged.

Meeting with a few friends recently, I heard testimony that reminded me how difficult seeing God at work in our lives really becomes. I cannot imagine any single person hearing this today not having a life filled with challenges, but my friend spoke through tears as she testified how God had worked in her life. This woman lost a son during his elementary years. Then her husband was diagnosed with cancer and died while she still had twin sons living at home. All the time she was a teacher, working full time.

As she spoke, she reminded us that at the time she was angry and scared; but as she continued getting up each morning and going to work, she could see God working in her life in unexpected ways. She added in pieces about professional decisions and her sense of discouragement. Yet, she remained faithful and today she can see how God worked even in her most painful days.

  1. S. Hawkins shares in The Jesus Code an interesting explanation of how God reaches out using a comparison to professional lifeguards:

When [professional lifeguards] spotted someone in trouble in the ocean, the guards swam out to them but did not immediately lay hold of them. Instead the guards would tread water just beyond arm’s length. Why? The drowning swimmer’s kicking and thrashing and struggling could well take them both down and under. But when the struggling swimmers neared the end of their strength—when, in essence, they said, “I give out. . .I give in . . . I give up;” when they realized they were unable to save themselves—then the rescue began, and they were pulled safely to shore. (Hawkins 2015, 307)

 

The logic of the lifesaving technique seems to go against everything we might think, but only when the fight is gone can the lifeguards succeed.

God is our lifeguard. We must not ever forget that he is always just an arm’s length away waiting for us. He waits for us to “give out, to give in, and to give up” as Hawkins explains. Only when we have given up and turned our lives over to God, can God move in and save us.

My friend learned this. My mom learned this. And from knowing you, you have learned this. Today’s memory verse may be from the Old Testament, but it is a theme carried throughout the Bible. Jesus himself had to experience life challenges throughout his ministry, even dying on the cross in order to save us today. Paul, too, had to go through blindness in order to see God working to save him.

In Gideon’s question to God, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” sounds familiar, then so should God’s answer: “I will be with you.” God never abandons us. God reached out to us through the arms of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ saves us because he died on the cross for us.

How do we demonstrate our faith so we can serve as God’s arms? The answer is provided in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

 

Look back over the words in today’s reading and notice how many times Paul repeats that idea: He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. By my count, I see it listed five times in the verses 4-7.

My friend said almost the same thing. She did not know that losing a husband would push her to work with other widows trying to deal with their grief. She did not know that losing a son would open doors to comfort others who lost their child as an instructor taught her in her grief. In her reflection on God’s work in her life, she realizes that when life shuts a door one way, God opens the door in great and wonderful new ways.

Living in today’s culture, the temptation (or the Devil) can cloud our vision. When we are handed one more life challenge that seems overwhelming and we feel like we are drowning, God is only an arm’s length away. That arm may be a friend who understands the struggle from a personal experience. The arm may be a stranger waiting in line behind you offering you a simple smile or more. The arm may be a song’s lyrics that you hear on the radio. The arm may be a lifeguard waiting for you to give out, to give in or to give up so they can safely bring you to shore.

Life is one challenge after another, and no one is exempt from the challenges. Stop, listen to the life stories of others, and examine the quality of their lives. The life challenges come in so many forms—death, disability, health issues, financial problems, abuse, divorce, fire, natural disasters, job crisis, and so much more.

This week memorize Gideon’s question and remember God’s answer: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? . . .I will be with you.” Then I challenge you to review your own list of life’s challenges, even record them in a journal (and continue on with the practice), and then reorder your thinking to know that God is with you always. Life wears us out, but only when you give out, give in, and give up to God are you saved.

Paul explained it to the Romans:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Take courage, do not be discouraged, but rely on God to be there for you at even the most trying of times. Once you discover you are not drowning, you will then become God’s arms in the lives of others seeking to find answers.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, our heavenly lifeguard,

 

Day after day, I feel the weight of the world

Pushing down on my shoulders.

I struggle to look up for the Son’s light

And find your arms waiting for me.

 

Day after day, I battle temptations

Making my life seem so discouraging.

Keep my eyes looking up to you

And find your arms holding me up.

 

Day after day, I feel like I am giving out

Or giving in or giving up.

Speak to me the life-saving words of grace

Through the mouths of your faithful.

 

Then, Lord, open my heart to others

Feeling discouraged and drowning

So I can share your grace and your love

To comfort and encourage them.

 

In the your name,

the Father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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