Tag Archives: Jesus

Pentecost’s purposes to ignite God’s people, church

given on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

 

Scripture connection:

 Opening scripture: Acts 2:1-4, NLT

On the day of Pentecost[a] all the believers were meeting together in one place.Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages,[b] as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

 

Scripture connection:

John 7:37-39, NLT

37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”[a]39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given,[b] because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)

 

John 20:19-23, NLT

19 That Sunday evening[a] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 104:31-34, NLT

31 May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
32 The earth trembles at his glance;
the mountains smoke at his touch.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.

 

Reflection: Pentecost’s purposes to ignite God’s people, church

Summertime is grilling time. Good food takes some work and it takes a good fire to get just the right flavor for summer meals. Personally, I prefer a charcoal grill even though it is somewhat unpredictable and difficult to control. But does that flavor ever make the meat that much better!

The fire that cooks the meat is critical; and without it, the meat never reaches the dinner table. The fire can flame and then be tempered to perfection; or the fire can flame and left unattended, it simply dies out. The cook must be alert and learn how to temper the flame, how hot to keep the coals, and how to manage the meat throughout the grilling process to reach the perfect rare, medium rare, medium well done or well done but certainly not burnt to a crisp.

Flames symbolize the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Baptism through the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-21):

 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

God sent the Holy Spirit to ignite the disciples and the church.

The events of that day were life altering for the disciples, but Pentecost also altered the world’s culture. Pentecost had two purposes. First, each of those disciples gathered in that room were frozen with uncertainty even fear. They had no vision as to what they should do or even whether they should venture out the door. The culture was against them, or at least it seemed that way. The Jewish leaders were after them. The secular world did not want their message. And even the political arena did not provide any protection for this new lifestyle.

Jesus was gone. Certainly there were the Apostles who were suppose to take over the leadership, but they did not seem to know what to do. God stepped in. God baptized each of the Apostles and the other disciples gathered together with the Holy Spirit. God was not only with them, but now within them. The Holy Spirit is God in us, not just above, beside or with us, but in us.

Pentecost surprised the disciples. Suddenly there was an entirely new ability to communicate, a new level of consciousness of God’s presence, all the cultural barriers between the diverse group disappeared. In the midst of the event, the baptism of the Holy Spirit empowered, ignited the disciples to move into action to establish the second purpose of Pentecost—build the church.

The Jewish people practiced worship in the temple. The sacrifices, the prayers, and the hymns were part of the faith practices that in effect led to Jesus’ crucifixion. The followers of Jesus did not have an identifiable worship center, nor did it have the hymns. Jesus had changed all the rules and even the non-Jewish, the Gentiles, were now part of the faith group following Jesus and he was gone.

God needed a church. He needed the disciples to establish faith communities so The Word could continue to be taught, to share God’s teachings and expectations, and to grow the ministry beyond the immediate region along the Mediterranean Sea. Now it was time to send the disciples out to carry out Jesus’ work.

Pentecost ignited God’s people into action. The earliest disciples spread out from that room and began sharing the message with others in as many different ways as they could. The baptism of the Holy Spirit empowered the followers to use their own skills and talents to do all that they could in any way that they could to teach about God: to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to protect the children and others who unable to care for themselves, and also to live their own productive lives as citizens of the world.

The new faithful demonstrated how Christianity worked in a world challenged by the political and business world around them. They faced the challenges of hate crimes, of greed, of political turmoil, and held on to the promises Jesus made that those who confessed their sins, were baptized by water and the Spirit, and lived by the Golden Rule would receive eternal life.

Without the Holy Spirit’s presence within the lives of these disciples, the second purpose of Pentecost would not have developed. The Church is the result of Pentecost. Remember the definition of Pentecost:

Pentecost is the day on which the Christian church commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and others assembled in Jerusalem. It marks the beginning of the Christian church and the proclamation of its message throughout the world and is often referred to as the birthday of the church. (Glossary: Pentecost n.d.)

 

The Holy Spirit ignited the Church. Since that fiftieth day after Jesus arose from the grave, the Church began growing.

Today the Christian faith circles the globe. The history is not easy to follow, but the work of the disciples has continued to carry God’s message forward—along the paths and the routes around the globe. The message continues with little regard to the thousands of years the calendar records. The work of the faithful continues to teach, to heal, to feed, to clothe, and to befriend men and women who are neighbors, friends, co-workers, strangers, and yes, family.

The fire of the Holy Spirit has ignited each one of God’s disciples. The newest disciples work right alongside the oldest ones to continue God’s work. The Holy Spirit knows no exhaustion. The Holy Spirit equips each and every follower with skills that can be used to serve one another in love. The Holy Spirit connects faithful Christians around this world and even with those who have been and are yet to come. This group of followers makes up the body of the church yet today.

Is our church alive with the Holy Spirit?

Is the flame being well tended in our small community?

When guests arrive at the table, does the meal feed them?

Today we join at God’s table to share in the bread and the cup and it is always open to anybody and everybody who confesses their sins and accepts Jesus as their savior. That openness is what God asks from each of us in all that we do. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we do so that God can reach all children in one way or another.

Today, at the table, look at the world with God’s eyes and know that you are to tend the fire so that everybody is ready to be with God throughout eternity. You are filled with skills and talents by the power of the Holy Spirit, so use them in any way that you can to share God’s love with all you can. Do not let the fire snuff out.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, our Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit,

 

Today we join together in worship

Remembering those earliest disciples

Frightened and uncertain without Jesus.

 

Today we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit

That ignited those disciples to carry the Word

Outside the closed doors so others heard the story.

 

Today we stop to reflect on how the Holy Spirit

Continues to work in our own lives

And through the church to which we belong.

 

Today we confess that we fail to keep the fire

Of the Holy Spirit burning brightly

In our lives and in the life of our church.

 

Today we ask you to reignite us

As we share in the bread and the cup

So that we can continue to grow in faith.

 

Today we ask you to speak to us

With how to tend your fire personally

And as a community of your faithful.

 

Today, God, fill us up.

Today, Jesus, teach us.

Today, Holy Spirit, ignite us. –Amen

 

Works Cited

Glossary: Pentecost. United Methodist Communicaiton. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/glossary-pentecost (accessed June 2, 2017).

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989.

 

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Jesus assures us, prays for us

given on Sunday, May 28, 2017–Memorial Weekend

Scripture connections: scriptures are from the NLT

 

John 16:20, 22-24

20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy.  . . . 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

John 17:5—prayer for self

Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began. . . .

John 17: 10-17—prayer for Disciples

10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name;[c] now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me.[d] I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.

John 17:20-26—for future believers

20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

Reflection: Jesus assures us, prays for us. We must follow.

How many of you grew up with the traditional visits to the cemeteries on Memorial Day? For our family, the tradition began with preparations that included a picnic lunch and the coffee cans wrapped in aluminum foil and filled with freshly picked iris and peonies. Once we got done, the whole family (the four of us in our case) loaded up the car and off we drove.

We even had a route—first Wellsville, then Millersburg, and there we had the picnic lunch. From there we drove back to Montgomery and went to the cemetery there. Some years we would even drive to Bellflower or Truxton to visit graves of the generations beyond our immediate families.

Today, that tradition has disappeared. Why? Well, primarily I have lost my parents and the distance over the past 30 years has separated me physically from those cemeteries. I suspect that my memory of the Wellsville cemetery would be too rusty to locate the graves there. But I know I can locate the ones at Millersburg and Montgomery easily.

Honestly, though, I would have to say I do not need to make that journey either. Memorial Day is created to focus us on remembering those who have given their lives in service to our country, and we have added to that purpose remembering all those in our own lives who have guided us to the place we are now. Today, I can look back over the years and know that those in my lives that I honor are ones who I anticipate seeing again.

In today’s scripture, I find a promise that confirms my hope to see my life teachers—Mom, Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and so many other significant people in my life. How do I know? Jesus’ words are recorded in John, especially in the closing prayer he said before his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection. Verse after verse provides me such insight, promise, and assurance that I can hardly wait to share it with you. (That is why I have printed a special version of the readings for you that include my notes and space for yours, too.)

To begin, Jesus uses every teaching technique possible to make sure that his followers understood God’s Word. He modeled the behaviors, taught the Word, healed the sick, forgave the sinners, and loved the unloved. He demonstrated the behaviors even following his own mother’s request to turn water into wine at a wedding knowing that he was really not ready to show others who he was.

Yet, at the end of the three years, as his earthly life was drawing to a close, he had to be very direct with his disciples about who he was and what they were to know as outlined in these two chapters of the gospel John. In these verses, Jesus answers those who still found that who he was impossible to believe. He confirmed what everybody was checking out in order to believe. And those in the audience certainly had a personal encounter with him as a man in their immediate world.

Looking at the scripture in chapter 17:5, I find one of the most difficult realities of Jesus addressed–Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began. . . . These few words, in Jesus’ prayer to God concerning himself, he identifies his personal relationship with God as timeless. Time is irrelevant in relationship with God.   The human body of Jesus is just a vessel, nothing more.

That same verse also clearly states that Jesus and God are one. They shared the same glory always. Even the fact that John, the author of the book, had to use human language to share that knowledge limits the human reader, too.

And then there is that word “glory”:

glory (n.): c. 1200, gloire “the splendor of God or Christ; praise offered to God, worship,” from Old French glorie “glory (of God); worldly honor, renown; splendor, magnificence, pomp” (11c., Modern French gloire), from Latin gloria “fame, renown, great praise or honor,” a word of uncertain origin.

 

The etymology as *gnoria “knowledge, fame” to gnarus “known” and i-gnorare has been acknowledged by some scholars, and rejected by others. In its favour speak the semantics of words for “glory”, which in Indo-European societies mostly have to do with “spoken praise”, “reputation by hearsay”. Against the assumed etymology speak the phonetics. [de Vaan]

 

Meaning “one who is a source of glory” is from mid-14c. Also in Middle English “thirst for glory, vainglory, pride, boasting, vanity” (late 14c.), Sense of “magnificence” is late 14c. in English. Meaning “worldly honor, fame, renown.” Latin also had gloriola “a little fame.” Glory days was in use by 1970. Old Glory for “the American flag” is first attested 1862.

 

The Christian sense are from the Latin word’s use in the Bible to translate Greek doxa “expectation” (Homer), later “an opinion, judgment,” and later still “opinion others have of one (good or bad), fame; glory,” which was used in Biblical writing to translate a Hebrew word which had a sense of “brightness, splendor, magnificence, majesty of outward appearance.” The religious use has colored that word’s meaning in most European tongues. Wuldor was an Old English word used in this sense. (Harpter n.d.)

 

The historical study of this one word that is found throughout the Bible adds a deeper understanding of the little we do know about God’s glory. From this detailed explanation of the word glory, we can only imagine how wonderful it will be to join in God’s glory.

Memorial Day Weekend is the right timing to reach an understanding of what a tremendous reward God’s glory is for those who believe. As we spend time this weekend remembering all those who have served in the name of God whether through military service or whether through God’s service teaching and demonstrating God’s love for all those possible, we can only anticipate the experience of joining in God’s glory.

What is God’s glory? Answering that with confidence can only be done through Jesus’ words:

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

The descriptors of God’s glory are not as concrete as we want to know, but I really feel Jesus is praying aloud so we hear his promise to all who hear his words. We all have the same opportunities to join in God’s glory as believers in Jesus Christ who died to take away our sins. We all will join in God’s glory when we have done whatever we can to share the Word with others so they too may be transformed by God’s love.

Take confidence in Jesus’ words as they are the truth. Take confidence that God has forgiven you of your sins—and will always forgive you as long as you turn to him and admit that you have sinned and ask for his forgiveness. Once you have accepted Jesus and asked for forgiveness, then move forward and look towards the day when you, too, will join in God’s glory.

Jesus has promised us that we are forgiven when we ask in his name. Jesus has promised us that we will receive life eternal because we believe in him as the son of God and the son of man. Jesus has promised that he will be with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has promised to return to us personally, too.

The one thing that we seem to need is to know when all these promises will happen. This is the one human question that cannot be answered. Yet, this Memorial Day weekend, we must trust in God that what he said through the life and the words of Jesus Christ will be revealed to us personally and we will experience God’s glory as so many of our family and friends have already done.

Our Memorial Day weekend should be a time of rejoicing and remembering. We rejoice that those who died are already with God. We remember all that their lives have taught us about God and our own faith practices. And together, we pray some of the same things that Jesus prayer in those final moments of his human life:

Closing prayer (in the model of Jesus’ words):

Dear Father in Heaven,

 

We pray for you to be with us

And to guide us in our lives.

We give thanks for sending your son

To demonstrate and teach us

How to live life by your plan.

 

We pray for the disciples

Who walked with Jesus personally

And for the disciples

Who have followed the Word

Since those first believers.

 

We pray for those yet

To meet you personally

And for us who continue

To grow in our own faith

and to serve in unconditional love.

 

Be with us now and forever

Through our faith in you,

The father, the son and the Holy Spirit.–Amen

 

Works Cited

Harpter, Douglas. Definition of Glory. Edited by Don McCormack. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=glory (accessed May 26, 20107).

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

 

 

 

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Stage 3 in Faith: Grow & Multiply

given on Mothers Day Sunday, May 14, 2017:  Part 3 in mini-series on Stages of Faith

Scripture connections:

Psalm 31:1-5, 14-16
1O Lord, I have come to you for protection;
don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me, for you do what is right.
Turn your ear to listen to me;
rescue me quickly.
Be my rock of protection,
a fortress where I will be safe.
You are my rock and my fortress.
For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
for I find protection in you alone.
I entrust my spirit into your hand.
Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. . . .

14 But I am trusting you, O Lord,
saying, “You are my God!”
15 My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
16 Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.

I Peter 2:1-10

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

     4 You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

     5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem

chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
will never be disgraced.”

     7 Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.”

     8 And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,
the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

     9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.”

John 20:14-18

     14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

     16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

     17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

     18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

 

Reflection: Stage 3: Grow and multiply . . .

Do you know someone who knows Jesus personally?

Or maybe the question is have you met Jesus personally?

While studying the stages of faith development, the third stage is identified as that point in one’s life that they encounter Jesus on a very personal level. That encounter confirms what one suspects to be true but cannot completely say it is true. A personal encounter erases uncertainty. Yet, is a personal encounter required?

Are we like Mary Magdalene walking around feeling lost and alone without her friend Jesus? Are we like the apostles who were frightened and uncertain what to do without Jesus to guide them? These earliest disciples of Jesus did have a personal encounter with him, and even they were unsure. At least they were unsure until the encounter after the crucifixion when Jesus was with them in person again.

A personal encounter with Jesus may not seem possible; yet, in the history of the human experience, the evidence of encounters with Jesus continues to be shared. Still, how does one know that they have indeed encountered Jesus?

Example after example of encounters fill bookshelves. The NBC final segment every evening is about people making differences in the lives of others. Stories of survivors from the Holocaust tell of the faithful who survived due to the intercession of others serving as God’s servants. Even in our classrooms, Jesus is present in the kindness of kids reaching out to other kids who are hurting in one way or another.

Here it is Mothers Day 2017, and many of us might say we have met Jesus in the presence of our own mothers. Sadly, this is not true for all as we have listened to the horror story of childhood abuse. Yet, many of us can say that we have had an encounter with Jesus through the form of a mother in our own lives.

An encounter with Jesus is possible in so many different ways. Today is may seem easy to see Jesus in the face of our mothers, but there are other experiences in which Jesus is present with us:

  • Consider horrific car accidents when no one should have survived, yet the passengers and the driver walk away. Even their stories sometimes include the presence of a rescuer that is never located again.
  • The doctor working with the patient loses a pulse and is forced to turn away from the patient when amazingly the patient’s breath and pulse return. No explanation other than a miracle, and later the patient reports seeing the bright light.
  • A school bus careens off the road, but the driver keeps the bus upright and the kids are safe.
  • A tornado destroys a home, but the husband and wife are alive in the open where once a hallway surrounded them.
  • A refugee washes up on the coast near death, but is rescued by tourists who rush to its side disregarding anything other than this is a child of God.

The list grows and grows, and God’s story is carried on. God’s unconditional love is delivered in unique and surprising ways. Each time someone reaches out to others in any way that they can in all the ways that they can at anytime that they can, there is an encounter with Jesus.

As mothers are honored today, the risk is to say that in our mothers we can see the face of Jesus. Many of us can share a testimony that our mothers were instrumental in our own faith development, but that is not a guarantee. For some of us, the best mothers we knew were really friends, neighbors, teachers, or even strangers who did something that changed our lives for the better.

In my generation, our mothers often were the reason we got up on Sunday morning and headed to church. We did not ask a lot of questions and never even considered that we could do something different. My encounters with Jesus may have started with my mother and my father, but I can include a variety of Sunday school teachers, a choir director, a youth minister, and an array of friends who also guided my faith development.

And then there are the times, when all alone, we confront a hurdle in our lives and Jesus is there with us. No parent. No friend. No teacher. All alone, we face a life challenge when, from outside of our own being, comes an answer or an act that makes all the difference in the world. The voice I hear is recognizable, even though no body is present. At those times, I encounter Jesus and my faith grows even stronger.

The third stage of faith development confirms all that one checks out. The personal encounter is a demonstration of God in our lives and we take ownership of that encounter and then do all we can to make sure that we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. John Wesley kept living the practices of his faith still questioning whether or not he fully believed he was saved by Jesus Christ. His encounter was through the words shared from the Bible and by those in the small group he was attending. He knew because his “heart was strangely warmed.”

Wesley’s personal encounter “ignited” his ministry. He grew in ministry. He multiplied his efforts and proclaimed the Word. His efforts to do all that he could for all he could all the time he could in as many ways as he could made it possible for others to encounter Jesus themselves. He, as well as other theologians, ministers and servants, all become the face of Jesus in our world.

The Word invites each of us to grow in our faith. The scripture from I Peter 2 teaches us that as we learn more about Jesus and practice his commandments, we ‘hunger’ for more in our relationship with the triune God. Peter refers to it as ‘spiritual milk:’

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

The Word continues to nourish us and we can even meet Jesus in the Word, personally, too. The Word calls us to serve in God’s name as shared in Mark 16:20:

20 And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.

Our encounter with Jesus leads us to follow in all types of ways. In the study note for Mark 16:20, the ways to meet Jesus are listed in the very way he served:

. . . . . . But Jesus . . . chose to serve others. He held children in his arms, healed the sick, washed the disciples’ feet and died for the sins of the world. Jesus’ followers today receive the same power to serve. As believers, we are called to be servants of God. As Christ served, so we are to serve. (The Life Application Bible 1991)

By growing in your own faith, you will be multiplying the opportunities for others to experience Jesus personally, too. What began as an impossible to believe story in your life, you have checked out, and you continue to check out as you discover the Jesus encounters in your own life. Your faith is growing and will continue to grow as you follow God’s call in your life.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

We listen to the Word seeking to understand

How Jesus died for our sins.

We want to believe in the stories

And study to check them out for ourselves.

As we learn, we begin to practice

The new laws Jesus taught and practiced.

Slowly our disbelief begins to change

And we are open to meeting you personally.

Open our hearts, our minds and our ears

So we can hear you calling us to serve. –Amen.

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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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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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Curling Up with The Good Book: Lessons from the Beatitudes

given on Sunday, January 8, 2017

Scripture base: Matthew 5:1-9 (NLT)

The Sermon on the Mount

5 One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.

 

Reflection:

 

January: New Year. Resolutions. Reorganizing. Cold. How in the world does a person move from one of the busiest times in the year to the deep winter ushered in afterwards?

This week we have hit that winter wall that turns us into recluses. Oh I know that we still have to get out and about when we need groceries or run to the Post Office or keep appointments, but when the temperatures plummet and the forecast starts including words like ICE, SNOW, WIND CHILL, and FRIGID, only the hardiest venture out.

As a winter recluse, the activity of choice might include curling up with a good book and a hot drink as the winter-clad world marches on by. What better book to chose than The Bible. The range of topics is so broad that it can cover one’s favorite type of reading. There is romance, war, history, poetry, irony, political controversy, self-help, and mystery. There is something for everybody’s personal interest.

Of course reading the Bible does take some effort on the reader’s part. The language can create problems, the setting may be difficult to understand, and even the physical product might be a challenge with the tiny print and thin pages. But curling up with The Good Book is an answer to the winter doldrums.

Since it is so early in January, why not consider reading for self-improvement. The Beatitudes located in Matthew 5 is the first portion of the Sermon on the Mount. The setting itself might help us escape the cold, snowy images that surround us.

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the first images of Jesus as a dramatic figure walking around the region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea fed by the Jordan River. The region was arid and mountainous—more like the coastal mountains located along the Pacific Ocean between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The region was a shipping and trading hub, so the towns along the Mediterranean Sea was filled with people of all cultures. Walking the streets one could hear different languages and see all types of diverse cultures. And in the rural area, the images shift to shepherds and the flocks of sheep, the grain fields being hand tilled and harvested.

And in the midst of daily life, Jesus emerges walking along the road with a group of followers. Even though Jesus seems to be focused on the twelve men, he cannot ignore the crowds that keep growing around him. The side of the mountain became a convenient amphitheater to stop and deliver the Good News.

Undoubtedly these cold winter days do not match the setting of Jesus delivering the messages, but the message is no different today than it was when it was first delivered. One of the advantages of reading The Bible today is that we can locate a translation that we enjoy reading and can understand on our own. So when curling up to read, make sure that the translation you read is one that fits you.

Reading a study Bible is helpful for me because it helps me to understand the setting, the audience, the author, and the language. The Life Application Bible adds in a wide range of aids to help understand the deeper meanings and the interrelationships with other passages in the Bible.

The Beatitudes seemed like a good place to begin this week. It was not part of the lectionary, which is a three-year sequence of readings that covers the entire Bible. Instead, I found myself thinking about how resolutions are made each January and it occurred to me that the Beatitudes themselves could be resolutions.

So, I curled up with my Bible and re-read them. Then I read the study notes. Then I read through them again. They sound good, almost like a poem when you hear them read aloud. But some of the words make them sound like riddles. Thank goodness the study notes were available.

Curling up with a Bible like the Life Application Study Bible, easily takes one away from the wintery view outside the window, but the reading opens up the mind. The Beatitudes were delivered to teach the new followers a lifestyle that was life changing just as much today as it was for the first listeners on the mountainside.

Today we need to read and to renew our determination to live the lifestyle outlined in the Beatitudes. The result brings peace to our own lives but can also radiate outward to others who acknowledge what a difference God makes in our lives and decide they, too, want to find the same peace in their lives.

Look back over these eight Beatitudes and consider the impact the lifestyle can make on your own life, but also on the others who come into contact with you. In each verse, there are words that refocus priorities:

  1. . . . realize their need for him:
  2. . . . who mourn . . . will be comforted
  3. . . . humble . . . inherit the whole earth
  4. . . . hunger and thirst for justice
  5. . . . merciful . . . shown mercy
  6. . . . pure hearts . . . see God
  7. . . . peace [workers] . . . will be children of God
  8. . . . doing right [earns] Kingdom of Heaven

[Refer to chart from Life Application Study Bible.]

Not once in these Beatitudes does Jesus mention money or stuff. It is a lifestyle of living for the good of others that receives the reward of eternal life.

The wonder of Christmas found in God’s promise to us is recorded in the words of the New Testament. God’s promise that accepting Jesus as our savior and living the lifestyle outlined in the Beatitudes results in a life filled with peace, joy, harmony and love. Even more importantly God’s promise is that he is with us now and forever.

Curling up with the Good Book may be ideal for this wintery season, but it is always a good activity to include in your daily life. Whether you read a small devotional like the Upper Room or Daily Word or Guideposts, or you simply pick up the Bible and open it randomly, the stories and the lessons inside those pages will make a difference in your life.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for keeping us warm these cold winter days,

Let us find extra warmth in the words of The Good Book.

Let it fuel our lives with purpose and encouragement.

Let examples of the ancient faithful followers

Teach us more about living life’s challenges.

Let Jesus’ words open our minds and hearts

About how to serve one another in love.

Let the letters of the apostles guide us

In living daily as members of God’s family

Blessing us in all that we do. –Amen

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