Easter: Take off Your Grave Clothes

John 11.1-44
John 20.1-23

The story behind “He Lives”
Did you notice the hymn we just sang, closes with a question and answer, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” This was a real question, asked of the author and composer, Alfred Ackley, except not so positively phrased. Ackley was preaching a series of evangelistic meetings and a young Jewish student came and asked him, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?”

According to George Sanville, Ackley responded:
"He lives! I tell you, He is not dead, but lives here and now! Jesus Christ is more alive today than ever before. I can prove it by my own experience, as well as the testimony of countless thousands."

Ackley went on to personally study the Resurrection accounts in Scripture and to share with this young man from the Scriptures, from his own experience and from history- the testimony of others- eventually this young man came to believe in Christ. This study and conversation eventually led him to the writing of this hymn, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”

Today, how do you know “He lives”? What brings you here to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

John 20 – The first Easter
When we come to service on Easter morning, we come expecting certain things. We come expecting upbeat, exuberant singing. We come expecting to hear, “He lives! Christ lives! He has risen from the dead!” We come expecting to celebrate. And this morning our first words were words of praise: the Liturgist greeted you with “Praise the Lord!” And you responded in turn.

But it was not like that the first Easter morning. The disciples were not enthusiastically proclaiming, “Christ lives!” The only lips that are recorded uttering those words with confidence, are those of the angels at the tomb. But the disciples …  in the Gospel of John, they are met with fraught with dismay – “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” The disciples are met with disbelief – Luke reports that the women returned from the tomb to tell the Eleven and all the others, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Luke 24.11) Only in Matthew, is there a bit of joy expressed. The scripture reads, “The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy …”

That first Easter morning, the disciples did not know what to think. The women had gone early to the tomb expecting to place more spices on the body. And they find no body. Two of the Eleven, Peter and John, are the next to arrive. And John’s words are interesting, “He saw and believed.” But the scripture continues, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” If they didn’t know he rose from the dead, what did John believe?
~Did he believe the tomb was empty?
~Was there some inkling of belief, but yet he could not fully understand what was happening.
~Maybe he still believed Jesus was the Christ, the son of God, but still just couldn’t put all the pieces together.

Thomas, nicknamed Doubting Thomas, always takes a hard knock, because he said he would not believe until he put his finger where the nails were and his hand in Jesus’ side. And it is one week later that Jesus appears to Thomas and he believes. But the truth is, all of the disciples were slow to believe.

John 20.19 says that it wasn’t until evening that the disciples believed. The women had told them that they had seen Jesus. But the disciples were locked away in a room because they were fearful of the Jews because of all that happened. But the evening of the Resurrection, they finally believed, because “Jesus came and stood among them” and “he showed them his hands and side.” Then, the disciples were overjoyed! Then they celebrated! Then they believed!

Grave clothes
The Gospel of John, actually gives us one of the clues that should have told the disciples that Jesus body just wasn’t moved to another place or that the body wasn’t stolen.

Or even as Matthew’s account says that when the guards reported these things back to the chief priests, the chief priests and elders met together and devised a plan. They gave the soldiers a large sum of money (bribed them) and told them what to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.”

The problem with this story is that the burial cloth was still in the tomb! There could have been pieces of clothe or one large piece of linen that was wrapped around the body, this was laying in the tomb. And John says that even the separate cloth that was used to wrap around the head was laying separate from the linen and it was folded up. There was no haste in Jesus’ departure. There was a calmness in that time was taken to fold up this head clothe. The body clothe usually had wrapped with it 75 pounds of spices, and those probably remained with this piece of clothe and would have been why it was not folded. If one were to steal a body, one would have taken the clothes with it!

Let me jump back to the other resurrection story that was read this morning – that of Lazarus. After Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come out.” And the scripture says that the dead man came out, still wearing his grave clothes. The same pieces of clothe are listed, that which wrapped his body, and that which around his face. He would have had to shuffle, or perhaps hopped from the tomb. Jesus next instructions were to those who witnessed the event, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Lazarus was risen from the dead, but he still was wearing his grave clothes. Lazarus was alive, but he was still encumbered by his grave clothes. Lazarus had been given life, but he could not experience it fully until his grave clothes were removed. And it was the responsibility of the community to unwrap him. This is another beautiful example of how God works in our lives, but there is still the necessity of the community.

Our place in the journey
When we gather together to worship, we come together and we are at many different stages of our Christian journey. But we are all on a journey. We are like the disciples, on a journey to discover the living Christ.
~Some of you have come and like the women who come in the dark and all they can see is that the stone is rolled away.
~Some of you are like John, you believe, but you don’t understand – you just don’t have the big picture yet.
~And some of you have been in the room and Jesus has appeared to you, you have seen him and rejoiced.

And we are all like Lazarus … we are dead, spiritually dead, and we need God to breathe new life into us. Some of you have experienced that new life, that calling forth, but you have come forth and you still are wearing your grave clothes!!! Truth be told, underneath our Sunday best, we all are wearing some grave clothes. Grave clothes come in all shapes, sizes and fashions.

Remember the butterfly I talked about with the children. You all should have gotten a butterfly when you came in today. Take it out and look at it. The cocoon or chrysalis is shed. It is free and ready to fly. The transformation is complete. It is God’s desire to make us into a new creature. To transform our sinful, self-centered desires into something beautiful.

And just like Lazarus we need the community of believers to help us in the transformation.
~We need the community to model what it means to have new life in Christ.
~We need to learn and grow together as a community.
~We need to love and encourage one another along our journey.
~We need to hold one another accountable to live this new life we are called to.

When Jesus appears to the disciples where they are gathered in the locked room, his first words to them are, “Peace be with you!”

We are called to be a community of peace. We talked about peace, God’s shalom, a couple of weeks ago. Peace is the wholeness he wants to bring; the fullness of life; the life that he originally intended for us before sin entered this world; a life that is no longer inhibited by grave clothes, or in the case of the butterfly the chrysalis. Keep that butterfly somewhere to remind you of the transformation God is working in your life.

And so, I invite you to take a closer look inside the tomb. Draw a little closer today. If you really want to see Jesus, if you really want to know if he is who he says he is, he will reveal himself to you. It may be early in the day, it may be late in the day (and I use those terms relatively), but keep looking, he will appear.

And as you draw a little closer, what grave clothes are you still wearing? What are you still holding on to that is blocking your vision of Christ, that is encumbering your walk, that is not allowing you to be fully alive in Christ?

Easter People

John 20.1-23

Why is this night different from all other nights?
That’s what a young child asks at Passover during the Jewish Passover
meal. And the answer is, This is the night that God delivered his
people from slavery in Egypt.

Why is this day different from all other days?
This is the day God delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and has
given us new life! (although every Sunday is resurrection day).

Jesus prepared his disciples in advance …
On at least three occasions, Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples
for what was going to happen to him. (See Mark 8.31; Mark 9.30-31; Mark
10.33-34
). But there was no way for them to really be prepared for what
was about to happen to Jesus. They had to experience it all – the
betrayal, the torture, the grieving, and then there was the missing
body report. What did it all mean?

On the day following the Sabbath, people began to discover that the
tomb is empty. Either Jesus’ body has been removed, or he has risen
from the dead, just as he said he would.

Women first …
A group of women were the first to the tomb, the first to discover the
resurrection Christ, and arguably the first evangelists (those who tell
good news). And you’ve got to love the response of the disciples in Luke’s account:
"They told the apostles what had happened, but the story sounded like
nonsense, so they didn’t believe it" (Luke 24.10-11).

Those who hear the women dismiss their news as "nonsense." The Greek word is laros,
a term used only this once in the New Testament. It’s derived from a
technical medical term describing the delirium caused by high fever.
The way Luke (the physician) uses it here is in a familiar, even
sarcastic way. In other words, those who first heard the women’s
account of the empty tomb and Jesus’ rising responded by exclaiming,
“They’re nuts!”

It’s a Process
Notice that Jesus did not appear to everyone all at once. He appeared to many over the course
of time. First, to the women at the tomb, then to the ten disciples who
were gathered together, then to Thomas a week later, and then he was
seen by hundreds of others over the course of his 40 days on earth
after the resurrection.

I believe it’s always been that way. God reveals himself to us through
a process. This means that we, like the early disciples, are at
different stages in the process. Where are you? Have you seen the
resurrected Jesus? Are you ready to embrace him?

New Birth
One of the ways to describe salvation is "new birth." People who have
received new birth in Christ have gone from spiritual death to
spiritual life.

“I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised
him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him,
sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the
resurrection from the dead!” (Philippians 3.10-11)

Easter people not only believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again, but have experienced Christ’s resurrection firsthand.

Seeing Jesus
Notice that Christ’s followers believed in the resurrection after they
saw Jesus — the women, the disciples, and finally many others. While
Jesus did say that those who do not see, but still believe, are
blessed, I believe that the same is true today. In order for people to
believe in Jesus, to believe that Jesus lives, they must see Jesus. And
one of the primary ways that God intends for them to see Jesus is in and through us!

I love what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4.7-12: "this precious treasure
[…] is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So
everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our
own. […] Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in
the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our
bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve
Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be obvious in our dying bodies.
So we live in the face of death, but it has resulted in eternal life
for you."

People catch a glimpse of Jesus through you and me!

Valley of Dry Bones
There’s a great story in Ezekiel that shows what can happen for people who are spiritually dead: Ezekiel 37.1-14

Easter people have had new life breathed into them!

God is still breathing new life …
And the good news is, God is still breathing new life into all who will
let him. The gathering of Easter people is not a closed group. If you
have not experienced new life in Christ, we invite you to open up your
life to him today. Let God breathe new life into you!

Cassie Bernall’s story
“…Cassie Bernall, the 17-year-old student at Columbine High School
who died of a gunshot wound confessing her faith, had been adrift for
awhile in school, played around with drugs, was interested in
witchcraft, and worried her parents so much that they moved her from a
public school to a Christian school. She hated the new place, but when
a friend invited her to a Christian camp, she went, and it changed her
life.

She asked to be put back in public school, where she talked with
classmates who were willing to listen about her belief in Christ. She
began to go with her youth group to an inner city storefront church in
Denver which ministered to street people, prostitutes, and drug
addicts. But on April 20, in the Columbine library, she was confronted
by a young gunman who asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’ A friend who
watched this happen says that she paused, knowing what the answer would
probably mean, and then said, ‘Yes, I believe in God.’ The gunman
asked, ‘Why?’ and then without waiting for an answer, shot her.”

Some days later her brother found something Cassie had written: “Now I
have given up everything else — I have found it to be the only way to
really know Christ and to experience the mighty power that brought him
back to life again, and to find out what it really means to suffer and
to die with him. So, whatever it takes, I will be one who lives in the
fresh newness of life of those who are alive from the dead.”

Easter people have died to themselves and this life, so that they can have the life that only God can give.

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the Persecuted

Matthew 5.1-12 – Beatitudes
 
We sometimes talk about the last hurrah! – squeezing in that last bit of something good. Like when Indian Summer comes in the fall, that last bit of warm weather before winter settles in on us – that is the last hurrah of summer.

What we have come to know as Palm Sunday is a last hurrah. Except the followers of Jesus were not looking for what came next. Jesus tried to prepare them. Even moments later, following the people’s praises, the Gospel of Luke reports that as Jesus “approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ”If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

The last hurrah … or in this case the last “Hosanna!” quickly turns to “Crucify him!” “Crucify him!”

The last “Hosanna” meaning “Lord save!” These cries of hope soon turned from seeking salvation to seeking death, the death of the one they hailed King.

Where did all his supporters go? Now they were no where to be seen. There was no one to stand up and defend him – no visible supporters; no audible praises are to be heard now.

Peter promises to never deny Christ, to never disown him. He says, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Peter promises to be persecuted for righteousness sake.

But even though Jesus says he has prayed for Peter that his faith may not fail, Peter cannot stay awake to pray with Jesus. And just as Jesus foretells, as Jesus is arrested, Peter follows at a distance. He enters the courtyard where a servant girl recognizes him, “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about, Peter says. And Peter skittishly retreats out into the entryway.

The servant girl sees Peter again, she tells those standing around, ‘This fellow is one of them.” Again Peter denies.

Then others say, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” And Peter calls down curses upon himself, and swears to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

And the rooster crows …

Have you ever heard the rooster crow? How many times have we denied our association with Christ or kingdom belief? Maybe we are not even threatened with persecution, with physical harm; but just the threat of people’s disapproval, just the threat of stating what is not the popular choice, maybe what is not politically correct or socially acceptable.

I remember as a high school student, in a psychology class being the student picked out in the room to respond to a question, because the teacher knew what church I went to and he knew the response he was looking for.

I remember as a college student, sitting in a sociology class, listening to a disgruntled former Christian/church go-er, shared his mystic spiritual experiences and then gave his tainted definition of what Christianity is. Do you sit there and let him influence this entire class of students who are at an impressionable age … or do you risk speaking up?

What do you remember? Who has asked you questions? Who has asked for your opinion, because they know you are a Christian? Did you arise to the occasion… or did you here the rooster crow?

Kirbyjohn Caldwell, a UMC pastor praying at the inaugeration of Pres. Bush prays, “respecting all other religions this prayer is humbly submitted in the name of Jesus Christ.” Rev. Caldwell dared to be politically incorrect!

In a recent Minnesota shooting a member of a church opens fire upon other church members because he is disgruntled with the direction the church is headed. Will the church risk standing up for the mission to which God has called us, even when those who are a part of us deny that call? Or will we hear the rooster crow?

Martin and Gracia Burnham, missionaries in the Philippines, were taken as hostages by a terrorist group. Martin explained the Gospel to the rebels. The Burnhams were cooperative and gracious as prisoners. Still they knew they may be killed; another American hostage had been beheaded shortly after their own abduction. Martin, age 42, had experienced a forewarning of his own death; he comforted and encouraged his wife:

“The Bible says to serve the Lord with gladness,” “Let’s go out all the way. Let’s serve him all the way with gladness.” The couple prayed together, recited Scripture verses they could remember, and sang. Then, taking advantage of one of the rare times Martin wasn’t chained to an soldier or to a tree, they rested in each other’s arms.

Later that same day the group was discovered by military ranger and Martin was killed in the crossfire. Gracie lived to tell the story.

“Let’s serve him all the way with gladness.” As the worldview around us shifts; as Christianity is questioned, labeled, misunderstood … we have a choice:

to serve Christ all the way with gladness OR
will we hear the rooster crow?

Prayer:
~Christians persecuted around the world
~Christians who are put in key positions/influential places
~all Christians wherever we may work or play

The Habits of Growing Disciples 6: Swimming Upstream

Our closing hymn last week, Where He Leads Me, impacted me in an unexpected way. I shared a little bit about that during the benediction, saying that I can’t think of a more dangerous prayer, or statement of commitment: “Wherever he leads me, I will follow.”

This idea leads us right into this week’s talk, because when I look at Scripture, I can’t think of any time when God asked someone to do something that was easy. But I think of so many times when God asked men and women to do things that involved incredible leaps of faith, and required great courage! I believe the same is true today.

Jesus promised those who would follow him only three things … that they would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in trouble. (Gregg Lavoy)

Genesis 6.5-22; Hebrews 11.7; Matthew 24.37-29

Resistance builds strength

This is true physically; it’s also true spiritually. When we’re tested, when we go against the current, and we have to rely on God’s strength, it builds strength of character in us!

When I think about swimming upstream, I think of salmon. Salmon begin their life in freshwater, but within the couple years of life, the fish travels downstream to the sea, where it grows to its full size. After reaching maturity it returns to its hatching site to spawn. The Pacific salmon are famed for their grueling journeys of hundreds of miles to their breeding grounds. When they begin this trip they are in prime condition, but they stop eating when they leave the sea and arrive months later, exhausted and battered by their fight upstream against swift currents and over falls. Those that survive the journey and escape fishermen and predatory animals spawn with their last strength and then die.

Like the journey we are on: we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. We give our lives for others – to give birth! It reminds me of what Jesus said about his own death, and what it meant for us (compare with John 12.23-28).

3 currents we battle against …
Self (Mark 8.34; 14.36)

Culture (Romans 12.2; John 15.18-19; Matthew 5.10)

The kingdom of God is counter-cultural. God’s kingdom is different than the kingdoms of this world. In fact, our culture is becoming more and more hostile to the kingdom of God.

Church (Mark 12.15-18; Luke 15.1-2)

Songs of the Lukewarm Church

  1. Blest be the Tie That Doesn’t Cramp my Style
  2. Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me
  3. I Surrender Some
  4. I’m Fairly Certain That My Redeemer Lives
  5. Sit Up, Sit Up for Jesus
  6. Take My Life and Let Me Be
  7. What an Acquaintance We Have In Jesus
  8. Where He Leads Me, I Will Consider Following
  9. He’s Quite a Bit to Me
  10. Oh, How I Like Jesus
  11. Fill My Spoon, Lord
  12. It is My Secret What God Can Do

There’s not much worse than being lukewarm. According to Revelation, Jesus said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3.15-16)

Ways I’m Swimming Upstream
I have been here more than 2.5 years now, and sometimes I feel like a broken record. I feel like the pastor who went to a new congregation and preached the same sermon several weeks in a row. Finally the church confronted him about it, and he said when you get this one, then I’ll move on to something else.

It reminds me of what Walter Spencer, one-time leader of Sherwin-Williams once said: “When you take a 100 year old company and change the culture of the organization … it takes time. You have to keep hammering away at everybody.”

My goal is pretty simple really (but not easy!): to lead and transition us from a club to a mission. This process begins with me, as pastor. I view my role in ministry as a lead missionary; that is, a leader of missionaries. That means that means I am first a missionary myself. It also means I strive to equip every Christ-follower to be a missionaries.

Shaping my thinking these days is a statement I read recently in The Present Future

Member values clash with missionary values. Member values are all about church real estate, church programming, who’s in and who’s out, member services, member issues (translated: am I getting what I want out of this church?). Missionary values are about the street, people’s needs, breaking down barriers, community issues (translated: am I partnering with God’s work in people?). One of these value sets will triumph over the other. They do not coexist peacefully.” (Reggie McNeal)

When I think of “member values” in Scripture, particularly the New Testament, I think of the Pharisees. And when I think of “missionary values,” I think of Jesus, who went out into the world and loved people, out there. And Jesus sends you and I out into the world with the very same mission: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20.21)

A few weeks ago, I shared what I felt is our critical need, the need for spiritual renewal. I believe that a crucial component toward our spiritual renewal is this whole transition from member values to missionary values!

Things I didn’t say
Reggie McNeal concludes his book (mentioned above) with a chapter on “Things I didn’t say.” Let me wrap this up with some things I did not say. I did not say that we need to ignore members. In fact, we need to do better at “doing life together.” However, I am saying that we need to give priority (even in our community-building) to mission that God gives us, the mission of reaching people for Christ!

Neither did I say that those who currently embrace member values are bad people, but I am saying that you need to exchange your member values for missionary values.

A phrase from a song has been going through my head this week: “I want to go against the grain.” I want to leave you with the words from the song …

“Set Me On Fire” (by Ryan Delmore)
I am so tired of compromising / I am so tired of lukewarm living / So here I am with arms wide open / Lord here I am my heart wide open / Set me on fire / Set me on fire / Set me on fire / Set me on fire / Take this heart of mine / Place Your love inside / I want to go against the grain / I want to go against the grain.

The Beatitudes: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

Matthew 5.1-12 – Beatitudes

Commercial for Cholesterol Lowering Medicine
A set of twins at the gym are walking down the hallway. They both look in good physical condition, but one walks right into the glass partition. Both look alike on the outside, but one has high cholesterol.

The commercial points out that we cannot tell what our physical health is just by looking at the outside.

Jesus points out that what is inside is most important. And the outside is not always an accurate gauge of what is on the inside.

Would you buy a used car by it’s outward appearance? Would you buy a used car without first popping the hood and at least pretending you know what your are looking for?

In this Beatitude, Jesus pops our hood, he takes an x-ray of our heart: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Andy Stanley wrote a book entitled Since nobody’s perfect … How Good is Good Enough? Good people go to heaven … don’t they? The whole thought behind the book is our utter dependence upon God to cleanse and purify our hearts. Good works alone are not enough. Those works must flow from a heart that is right before God.

The Heart of the Pharisees
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." (Matthew 6)
Don’t give to be seen. Don’t pray to be seen. Don’t fast to be seen.

Jesus was constantly looking at the Pharisees as a negative example of heart purity. They did the opposite of Jesus’ teaching. They did all the right things, but for the wrong reasons. They appeared righteous on the outside, but they were far from God on the inside. The woes of Matthew 23 is evident of this. (Woes are a kind of opposite of Blessed.) The Pharisees did things to be seen by others. They took joy in putting heavy outward demands upon others – they set people up to fail.

Jesus, too, has high expectations, but he comes in mercy. He comes saying I want you to succeed. I don’t expect you to do good out of pure determination; let me change your heart.

The double standards of the Pharisees is evident in the trial of Jesus Christ. As we are in the Lenten season, I’d like us to look at the following passages as our example.

Matthew 26.57-67
John 18.28-29

The chief priests and religious people trumped up charges against Jesus and gave him the death sentence. Becuase they were unable to actually sentence him to death, they arranged for him to go before the Romans. Even though these religious people misrepresented justice and conspired by finding false witnesses, they were still concerned about remaining ceremonially clean for the Passover, so they would not go in to the Governor. Pilate had to come out to them.

The Heart of Jesus
Jesus lived out a different example. During his ministry, he would heal people and tell them not to tell anyone. His mother was the first to come to him and ask for a miracle and he said, “It is not my time yet.” Jesus said that he did not do or say anything except that which was agreeable to his Father. The good that Jesus did came out of a pure heart, a heart whose sole intent was to be obedient to the Father.

On a Journey
One theologian said:
“The truth is that one of the most conclusive evidences that we do possess a pure heart is the discovery and consciousness of the remaining impurity that continues to plague our hearts.

Who can say, "I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”? (Prov 20.9)

"If we say that we have [present tense] no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8).

John Wesley’s definition of sanctification is that we are always growing in our salvation. He strived for entire sanctification (a complete purity before God) but never achieved it.

1 Corinthians 1
18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Seeing God
Purity of heart is a heart that relies upon God, that is focused on God, that is in pursuit of God … and to the one who is pure in heart, Jesus promises the blessing of “seeing God.” As you know your dependence upon him for a pure heart, you will enjoy a rich relationship with God, a fulfillling intimacy with God.

1 Cor 13.9-12
9For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.  11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

The Habits of Growing Disciples 5: People of the Book

One of the vital habits of growing disciples involves the process of becoming immersed in God’s Word. I believe that if we’re going to be devoted followers of Jesus, we must be people of the book! And if we’re going to be a missional community after God’s own heart, we must be people of the book!

John Wesley was known as the “man of one book.” I love that! Now, if you know John Wesley, you know that he read widely, so how could be called a “man of one book”? Wesley was person who immersed himself in the Scriptures, so that it served as the foundation for his entire life. I too read as much as I can. But, like Wesley, I want to be known as a person of one book, a person of the Scriptures!

Notice the king’s response, when he discovered God’s Word in 2 Kings 22.10-13. (See also Deuteronomy 6.4-9, which we’ve been reading a lot during this series. God’s Word was obviously to be a vital part of the life of faith!)

Hebrews 4.12
For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.

Ezekiel 3.1-11

When the rabbis would begin teaching children the Torah, they would put a drop of honey (the sweetest substance in their day) on the child’s finger. The child would taste the honey, and the rabbi would say, “God’s Word is like honey!”

However, the statistics reveal that we are not “people of the book.” I read recently that 92% of households in America own at least one Bible. Of those households that own a Bible, the average number of Bibles is three. But, according to Gorge Barna, 37% read the Bible at least once a week.

Becoming people of the book …
So, if we’re going to become “people of the book” we have a lot of work to do! But we must do what do it. Our relationship with Christ depends on us being people of the book …

Colossians 3.16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

2 Timothy 2.15 in KJV, NKJV, and NLT

Disciplines related to the scriptures

  • Reading/Listening (systematic)
  • Meditation/Reflection
  • Study
  • Memorization
  • Guidance
  • Praying the Scriptures

Wrong Question: Are you being spiritually fed?
It may be because I’m a pastor that this questions bothers me. But it really is the wrong question to be asking.

Right Question: Are you spiritually feeding yourself?
Too many people have confused the role of the church. People think it’s simply the church’s responsibility to spiritually feed people, particularly children. While it is the church’s responsibility to feed and to equip, spiritual development is the 7-day-a-week job of the family in the home. That’s true for your kids. It’s also true for you.

Yes, we want you to be fed while you’re here. But the reality is, if you’re only “eating” once a week, you are starving to death, spiritually! As a teacher, leader, a shepherd, I can only lead you to the feeding trough; but once there, you will always have to feed yourself! That’s your responsibility! I can’t grow you. I can only teach you how to grow yourself!

We must get God’s Word into our Head, Heart, and Hands and Feet!

Head (orthodoxy)

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10.17)

Heart (orthopathy)

“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119.11)

When we put God’s Word in our heart, God becomes our passion. And when God is our passion, we don’t want to sin against God! The best antidote for sin is passion for God!

Hand & Feet (orthopraxy)
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”(Ephesians 2.10)

May God help us to become people of the Book. In doing so, may we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures so much that we not only know right doctrine, but that we live out God’s commands with passion!

The Habits of Growing Disciples 4: Doing Life Together

Acts 2.42-47

Words to describe the missional community

Assembly/Congregation
This was the word was commonly used to describe God’s people in the Old Testament.

One of the great “doing life together” stories in the Old Testament is
the story of Achan. When Joshua led the Israelites into Jericho, the
people were instructed not to take any spoils. Achan disobeyed that
instruction, and it cost Israel the second battle. As a result, Achan
and his entire family paid the price with their life. (Compare this
with 1 Corinthians 12 in the NT, which indicates that Christ-followers
are connected. What one of us does, affects the rest of us!)

Synagogue
This word means, a “gathering.”

Ecclesia
This is the Greek word for church, used in the New Testament. It’s a gathering of people who are “called out” for mission.

Fellowship/Community
This word is used in the New Testament to describe the life that Christ-followers lived with one another.

One Another
This is a highly common phrase in the New Testament, demonstrating the
importance of relationships in the body of Christ. We truly need to
think of others more than we think of ourselves, and remember, “it’s
not about me!”

Symphony
This word is not in Scripture, but I think it’s a great metaphor for
what we are about. Symphony means, “sounding together.” I love that! We
are about sounding together. When we do a better job of sounding
together, we will be more healthy spiritually, and we will truly be
missional community!

Missional Community
As you read the book of Acts, it’s obvious that “church” for the
earliest Christ-followers was not an exclusive club; it was clearly a
missional community, a community driven by a mission to extend God’s
invitation to the world!

Doing Life Together
So, let’s talk about becoming God’s symphony. How can we learn to do life together? How can we become a missional community?

Relationships
Doing life together is about relationships! Following Christ with
others in community is what it’s all about. We do life together. We
learn together; we worship God together; we discern God’s will
together; we bear one another’s burdens; we laugh together, and
sometimes we weep together.

And, there are right ways of relating and there are wrong ways of
relating. Right ways of relating are always motivated by love. If it’s
motivated by love for people and it honors God, do it! But if it
doesn’t honor God, and if it isn’t motivated by love for people, don’t
do it.

Gossip in the Valley
An example of how not to do life together took place this past week. A
woman prayed for Joleen last Sunday in her worship gathering. She
prayed for five things, including our marriage. Joleen was moved by the
whole experience, and shed a few tears. Someone asked her on the way
out if she was okay; she said they were tears of joy.

Well, we learned on Friday that there’s a rumor making its rounds here
in our rural valley — Joleen and I are having marriage problems!

Spiritual Renewal
We must experience spiritual renewal and spiritual growth! Not only
does our mission depend on it, but so does our very existence.

My tendency (maybe even weakness) is to focus on the “silver lining” in
any given situation. And I can usually see a “silver lining” in just
about any situation. That’s great, but that also means I have to work
at seeing and dealing with reality as well. That’s what I want to try
to do today.

As some of you know, I sent out an e-mail Thursday evening encouraging
you, and the people you would be in touch with, to make every effort be
here today.

I said I wanted to address our current spiritual condition from my
perspective as well as what our future looks like from my vantage
point. I wanted as many of you to be here as possible because I know
how the grapevine works – not very well!

The Silver Lining
First, the silver lining: I believe that there is so much potential
here. I believe that God can turn anything around, when God’s people
surrender themselves to God and make themselves available to God!

Reality Check: Answer those questions for yourself …

  • Are we growing or declining?
  • Are we making disciples? That is, are people making professions of faith among us?
  • Are our members becoming missionaries to their neighborhoods?
  • Are we helping people find Jesus in their own way and timing?
  • Are we practicing our faith in community?
  • Are we doing life together?

The Cause of Death is Always Spiritual
I want to make something clear: the cause of death in a church is
always spiritual. Churches don’t die because of declining attendance,
membership, and finances. Churches die because they lose their
spiritual vitality. Financial bankruptcy is always preceded by
spiritual bankruptcy.

Again, I believe there is so much potential for missional success here.
But we will only be successful in our mission when we experience
spiritual renewal!

Merger?
That’s true whether we exist as three churches or as one! Merger isn’t
a quick fix – without spiritual renewal and a commitment to be a
missional community (a community engaged in mission in its
neighborhoods), merging will only prolong the death of our church(es)!

If you decide to merge, it’s okay to merge in order to survive. But,
that cannot be the only reason. If the only reason you merge is to
survive, again you are only prolonging the death! There has to be more
than simply surviving. There has to be a cause, a mission. You have to
be motivated by the belief that we are better together than we are
apart!

Seeking Spiritual Renewal

Surrender to God
Salvation is a gift offered to us without price. But,
discipleship (our response to the free gift of salvation) is costly.
Spiritual growth and renewal come at a great cost – our life! Salvation
is receiving Christ’s life; discipleship is giving our life to Christ. I believe spiritual renewal begins with surrender!

“We work together as God’s partners who belong to God.” (1 Corinthians 3.9a)

The Beatitudes: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Matthew 5.1-12 – The Beatitudes
Matthew 26.47-56 – Jesus’ Arrest

Bill Cosby, “Kid’s Say”
Cosby tries to explain to nine-year-old Peter what Jesus meant by “turning other cheek.” “If somebody hits you, you don’t hit him back,” Cosby begins.
    Confused, Peter replies “Jesus said be a wimp?”
    “No, not a wimp, a lover of  peace.”
    “It don’t sound too smart. Why don’t the guy who hits me love peace first.”
    Cosby continues. He explains that Jesus was teaching that “You have to be bigger than the other person.”
    After a moment’s thought, the boy responded, “If you’re bigger, you should definitely hit back.”

These words are humorous coming from a child, but unfortunately they reflect an attitude that can lead to tragic results in the lives of adults.

Massachusettes Father’s Fight to Death
You may remember a story from the news just a couple of years of go. In Massachusetts, two fathers were attending a hockey game in which their young sons were playing on opposite teams. The fathers got into an argument. The smaller of two men provoked a fight which ended in his death. The other father beat him to death. One father killed another father because he was encouraging his son to be too rough. Two broken families: one father dead; the other sentenced to prison.

Unfortunately violence is too often promoted by Hollywood. And is  too often commonly promoted because in our culture, we don’t want to be perceived as wimps.

Joe Somebody
There is one Hollywood movie that tells a different tale, Joe Somebody. Joe is played by Tim Allen. A co-worker takes Joe’s parking spot. Joe, standing up for his rights, sets a date and place for a fight. This co-worker is a bully, so Joe becomes the corporate hero – and he is basking in the attention, the women at work are giving him the look over, he gets an invitation to the gym on the executive floor, even his x-wife is taking notice! But, Joe is scared silly, so he seeks out some fighting lessons. Everyone makes Joe the hero, accept his daughter, who is maybe 10 years old. She sees through the whole charade. Jump to the end of the movie. Everyone is at the sight of the fight. Joe is the last one to arrive. His daughter secretly rides her bike to the spot and stands aloof. The crowd is pumped, they’ve been waiting the whole movie for this moment. You can tell the other guy, the bully, is a little nervous over this whole thing. Joe struts in. But he can’t do it. His daughter has gotten to him. He knows its not the right thing to do. He knows its not going to settle anything. Joe walks up to the “bully” and they shake hands. It’s a triumphant time. As you watch the movie you are cheering them on. But even as you are cheering, the co-workers are booing and hissing. They were up for a good fight and they walk away disappointed. They go away thinking that Joe is a loser. As a viewer, your emotions are played with: first your soaring, cheering Joe on for doing the right thing, the next moment you plummet to the depths of almost anger at these people for not getting it.

Fight or Flee
Peter, at the time of Jesus arrest, didn’t get it either. Peter stands up and is the big man. “You are not going to take my Christ” as he takes out his sword and slices off the ear of the high priest’s servant, one of the men in the crowd who has come to take Jesus away. Again this is  wonderfully portrayed in The Passion of the Christ, as the sound of the movie puts this terrible ringing sound in your own ears, as if your ear had just been affected.

But in the scriptures Peter is corrected by Jesus, even reprimanded

52“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.

And Jesus explains that he could call on a host of angels to save him, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. The scriptures must be fulfilled.

And the Gospel of Luke records that Jesus heals the ear of the man, picks up the ear and restores it. As Jesus, peaceably, without resistance, goes with the mob, the disciples do the only other thing they know to do: if they cannot fight they flee. This passage ends with the words:

Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Fight or Flee – those were the disciples choices. Those are our first responses to unpleasant threatening situations. But Jesus taught a different way: Be peacemakers.

The Way of a Peacemaker: The way of the cross
In order to be a peacemaker, Jesus went the way of the cross. It may not always feel good to be a peacemaker. The cross is ultimately the symbol of victory; but it is also the symbol of the struggle to live a Gospel of Peace in a world of violence.

Now we all know that there are injustices in the world. We have all been treated with unfairness, at the very least. To be a peacemaker does not invalidate your emotions. One may experience disappointment, hurt and even anger in the midst of some situations. It is not healthy to ignore these emotions. One can’t just shove them under the carpet and expect them to go away.

The Psalms are filled with anger. The Psalms are people like you and me expressing how they feel to God. But yet at the same time the Psalms say
“In your anger do not sin.” Ps 4.4 (Eph 4.26)

Don’t ignore your anger, but do not let it have free rein. Bring your anger to God in prayer. And ask God for the strength to be a maker of peace.
Psalm 34.14 instructs us to seek peace to pursue peace. Peace is something we actively pursue. We don’t just sit back and hope it happens. Go make peace.

Shalom
When we define peace we tend to think in opposites. Peace is the opposite of war. For a country to be at peace it is not at war. For a household to be at peace, it is the absence of bickering and nagging.

The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. The definition of Shalom is more complete and full in meaning that what we usually think of with peace. It is more than just an opposite of something. Shalom is more than just an absence of something, but a presence of something. Shalom is wholeness. It is to be flourishing. It is delight. It is blessing.

A nation may not be at war, but there is other division or unrest or economic conditions that prevent it from being truly at peace. It is not in a flourishing state of wholeness.

In a family to have shalom is the presence of good things: love, care, concern, encouragement, enjoying one another’s presence. Again it is not just the absence of some things, but the presence of the positives. It is the fullness of the possibilities. It is what God intended. The state of things before the fall, before sin entered the world.

This is the peace we are to bring to the world. It is a kingdom peace. The second part of our verse today, the blessing is that we will be children of God. If we are God’s children we are a part of his kingdom and we live out our lives, not by living the way the world does, but as God intended.

How will you be an agent of God’s peace in this world?
How will you be an agent of God’s peace in your home, in your place of work, in your church, in your neighborhood, with your enemies?

It’s not peace by ignoring people, or staying away from those you disagree with or don’t get along with. Purse peace.

It’s not painting a smile on our face, being polite with one another. It’s seeking shalom, wholeness in our relationships.

Romans 14.19 “Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Community Lenten Service: The Road to Jerusalem

Our Lenten Journey

The earliest followers of Jesus were often called “followers of the
Way.” In Greek (the NT language), the word “way” also means “road.”
This Lenten season, we’ve been looking at some of the roads Jesus
walked during his life on earth. Tonight, we’ll take a look at “The
Road to Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem was a vitally important city in the life of the Jews. It was
the city where David set up his capital, which known as “the City of
David.” Jerusalem became the center of the Hebrew religious life. A few
times a year, Hebrews made their way to Jerusalem for the Jewish
festivals.

One of those special festivals was Passover. Every year at Passover,
Jerusalem was filled with people coming to worship God, and to
celebrate God’s salvation and deliverance.

Psalms of Ascent
In fact, there’s an entire section of the Psalms (120-134) called,
“Psalms of Ascent,” that the Hebrews may have used on their journey to
Jerusalem.

“Next year in Jerusalem!”
At the conclusion of a couple of the Jewish festivals, including
Passover, Jewish liturgy includes the hopeful expectation, “Next year
in Jerusalem!”

Jesus was born for the road to Jerusalem
I believe Jesus was born for the road to Jerusalem. He was born with an
internal compass which guided him toward Jerusalem. In fact, in the
gospels, one of the earliest glimpses of Jesus that we get is an
eventful trip to Jerusalem, where Jesus at the age of 12, was lost in
Jerusalem. (Of course, Jesus wasn’t really lost in Jerusalem, but to
his parents, he was!) [Luke 2.41-50]

Guided by a compass
So, from an early age, Jesus was guided by an internal compass; he knew his purpose was to do God’s work. And, during Jesus’ life and ministry, he touched many people, healed many diseases,forced out many demons, invited and equipped many disciples to join himon the greatest adventure!

The Home Stretch
Ever notice that when you travel and you’re heading home, you have a
sense that you’re nearing the end, the final leg, the home stretch.

Jesus must have sensed that, too, because toward the end of his journey
on earth, as he began making his final approach toward Jerusalem, Jesus
began to prepare his disciples for the events in Jerusalem.

Jesus’ Predictions
Mark’s gospel records three conversations Jesus had with his disciples …

Then Jesus began to tell them that he, the Son of Man, would suffer
many terrible things and be rejected by the leaders, the leading
priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, and
three days later he would rise again.

Whenever you travel, you sometimes have to watch out for detours or
what look like short cuts. For example, early on at the beginning of
Jesus’ ministry, Satan tempted Jesus, and offered him a short cut. Like
most shortcuts in life, that one would have been a huge mistake.

And here, as Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for what is about
the happen in Jerusalem, Jesus is confronted with another distraction:
see Mark 8.32-33

Thankfully, though, Jesus never gave up on his disciples! And Jesus offers a second Prediction …

Mark 9.30-32
Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus tried to
avoid all publicity in order to spend more time with his disciples and
teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed.
He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.”
But they didn’t understand what he was saying, and they were afraid to
ask him what he meant.

The disciples don’t get it! After hearing this dreadful (but hopeful) news, they argue about which disciple is the greatest. (Mark 9.33-37)

Jesus offers a third and final Prediction …

Mark 10.32-34
They were now on the way to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of
them. The disciples were filled with dread and the people following
behind were overwhelmed with fear. Taking the twelve disciples aside,
Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen
to him in Jerusalem. “When we get to Jerusalem,” he told them, “the Son
of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of
religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the
Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with their whips, and
kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”

But the disciples still don’t get it! Now, James and John ask Jesus for the honor of sitting on his right and left! (Mark 10.35-45)

Jesus was committed to the mission!
Jesus’ predictions about his suffering, death, and resurrection show us
that Jesus not only knew what his mission was, but that he was also
committed to his mission.

Last Friday night, Joleen and I were on our way home, but because of a
flight delay in Fort Lauderdale, we missed a connection and ended up
spending the night in the Philadelphia airport. We decided then that we
would go ahead and watch one of the movies that’s been on our list of
movies to watch – “The Terminal.” And I’m glad we did!

It’s about a guy named Viktor Navorski from Eastern Europe. Viktor
travels to the US from his home in Krakozhia to fulfill a promise he
made to his father. But while he was in the air, Krakozhia’s government
was overthrown. When he arrives at the airport, his discovers that his
visa has been revoked and his passport is no longer valid. He can’t
leave the terminal and enter the US, but neither can he return home to
Krakozhia. He’s stuck in the terminal – for at least 9 months as it
turned out.

The movie really deals with the attitudes and prejudices Americans have
toward people from other cultures, which might explain why the movie
didn’t do very well at the box office, in spite of being a Stephen
Spielberg movie, starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

“Unacceptable”
When the director of the airport (Dixon) was explaining the situation
to Viktor Navorski. As a result of the revolution, Dixon said, “All
flights in and out of your country have been suspended. The new
government has sealed all borders, so your visa no longer valid. So,
currently you are a citizen of nowhere.”

Viktor was told it would take some time to handle his situation. Dixon
went on to say, “You don’t qualify for asylum, refugee status,
temporary protective status, humanitarian parole, or non-immigration
work travel. You don’t qualify for any of these. You are simply …
unacceptable.”

I thought of Jesus. To the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was “unacceptable.”

In one scene, Viktor began applying for jobs at the airport mall, but
no employer wanted him. He was “unacceptable.” Viktor waited an entire
day outside of one store, by a payphone. Finally, the manager called
him, turned him down, and said, “Yeah, so could you go sit someplace
else.”

That reminds me that Jesus was simply too much trouble for some people.
After serving people in some villages, some of the people asked him to
leave.

In the movie, Viktor started out with no fiends. But on one occasion,
Viktor was needed as a translator in a tense situation. He ended up
helping the guy who was getting no help from the American authorities.
The guy was trying to take medication to his dying father but didn’t
have the right paperwork. Viktor changed the guy’s story and said the
medication was for his goat (which didn’t require paperwork).

One of the workers in the airport, a man named Gupta, who had escaped
from a legal situation in India, a man who was suspicious of Viktor at
first, became something of an evangelist, spreading the story of
Viktor’s heroism: “There was a 20 man. Immigration gun was drawn. The
Dixon was ready to fire. To kill the little man with the pills. But
then someone walks into the room and stand in front of this little man.
‘Put the guns away.’ The man say. ‘Nobody will die today.’” One of the
listeners asked, “Who? Who was it that saved him?” Others joined in,
“Yeah, tell us. Who was it? Who was this man?” Gupta replied,
“Navorski. Viktor ‘The Goat’ Navorski.”

Because of sin, you and I were utterly helpless. We need a Savior. And
the good news is that Jesus followed the road to Jerusalem, went to the
cross, so that we could be saved!

John 3.16-17
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone
who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not
send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.

It was this kind of love that broke Jesus’ heart on one of his trips to
Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets
and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your
children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but
you wouldn’t let me. And now look, your house is left to you, empty and
desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you
say, ‘Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (Matthew
23.37-39)

Our road to Jerusalem!
I believe the road to Jerusalem wasn’t just Jesus’ road; it’s our road,
too! Jesus invites us to follow him on the journey! After Jesus’ first
conversation with his disciples about what was going to happen in
Jerusalem, he began spelling out what it looked like to follow Jesus on
the Road to Jerusalem (see Mark 8.34-38).

Life is a journey!
Earlier I mentioned that some of the Psalms were called “Psalms of
Ascent,” because they were used while traveling, or ascending, to
Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festivals.

I love the imagery of the ascent. Paul Stoltz wrote a book called, The Adversity Quotient, which uses mountain climbing as a metaphor for life. He refers to this journey through life as “the Ascent.”

Stoltz says there are three kinds of people …

  • Quitters simply quit climbing at some point along the journey.
  • Campers may start out okay, but somewhere along the way, they’re
    wore out, and they take a much-needed break (which we all need from
    time to time). They enjoy resting and camping out so much, they decide
    to stay right where they are. They’ve gone far enough.
  • Climbers are people who keep climbing no matter what obstacles
    get in their way, no matter what kinds of temptations or distractions
    come along. They take regular breaks and camp out for a while, but they
    don’t stop there, their eyes are on the destination, and they keep
    climbing!

Are you a climber?
Are you on the Ascent? What encourages you along the journey? What guides you? What keeps you on track?

There’s no map. All of our journeys are different, even though we’re
all on the same journey. There’s no map, but there is a compass. What’s
your compass? My compass is Scripture, the Holy Spirit, my wife, and
the community of Christ-followers.

Scriptures for the Journey

O God, I pray that you will encourage and equip every Christ-follower
who’s on the journey. I pray for those who have quit and for those who
are on the verge of quitting – please strengthen and restore them! I
pray for those who have gotten tired, camped out, become complacent,
and have stopped climbing. Renew their passion for Christ and the
journey he’s called us to! And I pray for climbers. May the climbers be
role models for us, spurring us on, encouraging us to continue on the
journey!

“Next year in Jerusalem!”