Don’t go on the Journey Alone

In yesterday’s sermon we talked about the rich young ruler and the challenge that Jesus gave him. The challenge to let go of the things that we are holding on to the most tightly that are crowding out room for God in our hearts. I knew in my life there have been several times where I have had to let things go at the feet of Jesus so that I could be made free to follow after Him. I knew in the abstract yesterday that we all have these things in our lives, we all have people, situations, and things that we are holding on to desperately with white knuckles. Then people started talking to me afterwards and I heard that concretely we all have these things we need to let go of, to turn over to God.

But we rarely talk about them with each other.

For good reason too. It’s hard to drop “I’m really desiring to control my kids life” or “Money has too much power over my heart” into casual conversation.  Talk about a wet blanket. These types of statements aren’t out of the ordinary though in the conversation of people who are trying to encourage each other to take their walks with Jesus to deeper and more exciting places. When we place ourselves in intentional relationships with each other where we build trust and are able to talk honestly about our inner lives, it can really become a HUGE catalyst for spiritual growth. It is hard to explain in words, but there is tremendous truth in Jesus’ statement “whenever two or three are gathered together I am there with you with you” (Matt. 18:20). When we get together, not to gossip, vent, or complain but to have meaningful conversation about what is going on in our lives, we often walk away strengthened, renewed, and encouraged. It isn’t explainable, but it happens! When we open our hearts and our lives up to others , growth happens as we challenge and encourage each other.  Can you imagine how much easier it would be to let the things in life that are clogging our hearts go if we could have open and honest conversations with each other about what is going on in our lives!? Isn’t it always so much easier once you realize you are not alone? That others are going through the same  or similar things that you are?

The Christian life is a journey, we shouldn’t try to be on this journey alone.

Sometimes these relationships take time to develop, sometimes they take a little work to get started, but these types of relationships and communities are how God moves and works amongst us. Just look at Jesus and his disciples and the early churches in the book of Acts. None of them where trying to follow Jesus on their own, and we shouldn’t either.

So don’t be discouraged if you don’t have any of these relationships in your life at this moment, but do get started on forming them. Sometimes, it’s as easy as calling a friend and arranging a regular lunch or breakfast meeting with the purpose of spiritual discussion. Sometimes joining a bible study , Sunday school class, or other group is the best way to start. No matter what, pray about it  and ask God to help you find these relationships in your life and trust that he will help you out.

The crisis in the classroom

 

The Church is very exciting. When Jesus ascended into heaven he left his disciples here on the earth with the challenge to go into all the world and make disciples. We see in the book of Acts that they did this by proclaiming the good news of Jesus and building communities of believers that loved and supported each other in such radical ways that it literally changed the world. That is what we are a part of today, a community of people who are following Jesus together changing this world for Him and through Him.

If you read the words of Jesus closely in the gospels, you will find that he spent most of his time talking about the “Kingdom of God”. By this he does not just mean “heaven” as an eternal desitnation, he is talking about his followers transforming the world through God’s love. God’s plan from the begining has always been to restore creation, to make all things new. We (the church) are the light of the world, it is our job live our lives in a way that show every one around us that when God redeems us, it transforms everything around us. We are called to go out into society, roll up our sleeves, and show how God has brought us new life by putting love into action.

My point to this is connected to the “back to school season” that we are in right now. Many kids across the country have headed back to school, and children are living through a crisis that will haunt them the rest of their life. That crisis is that because of external factors outside their control, they will never learn to read or read well enough to fully funciton in society. As a former teacher both in public and private schools I can tell you that this crisis is real and the annecdotes that you hear from teachers are not exceptions, but the standard day-to-day experience.

Some times it is easier for the church (and by this I mean the global body of believers) to respond to tangible crisis like famine, war, and destruction from natural disasters. We know how to roll up our sleeves, get dirty, and rebuild a building or dig wells in the desert. It helps that the results are immediate and the sense of accomplishment is tangible.

The crisis that affects impoverished children in schools isn’t as easy to see and thhe path to renewal is not clearly laid out, but the church has a very big role to play if we are willing to accept it.  At Sparta United Methodist Church we are answering the call to help children and be a light to them in their time of crisis, even if they do not realize that they are in the middle of one. Our new reading buddies program is designed to place willing volunteers in classrooms to help by reading to children and aiding the development of their reading comprehension. While reading books and going through flash cards with 6 and 7 year olds might not feel as immediately productive as other forms of missions work, I promise you that the impact is felt accross eternity.

If this type of outreach sounds exciting to you, please read this article that Christianity Today posted earlier this morning from a teacher who articulates this crisis well and demonstrates the need that exists in communities all across this country. The church can be there to stand with children and their families to show them light in the darkness and that the perfect love of God erases fear, even fear in the classroom.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/august/americas-reading-crisis-is-much-worse-than-you-think.html?start=1

Why was Jesus writing in the Sand?

 

The story of the woman accused of adultery is such a beautiful story about God’s grace. This story has some interesting points in it as well that have had people’s curiosity engaged for centuries.  The story tells us that in the middle of all of the accusations and drama, Jesus stoops down to write in the sand.  I have heard lots of speculation and conjecture over the years as people tried to guess what he was writing. A much more interesting question though, in my opinion, is “WHY was Jesus writing in the sand?”.

I read an interesting answer to this question the other day from author Ty Saltzgiver that put my curiosity to rest, Jesus was  possibly writing to divert attention away from the woman being accused.  From the outset, she is Jesus’ primary concern in this story. This is really important because powerful religious leaders are trying to publically ruin Jesus’ reputation with this entire series of events. Jesus isn’t worried about his reputation though, his first concern is for the most marginalized person at the scene, the person with the least amount of value in the eyes of everyone else there.  The story tells us that this woman was “caught in the act of adultery” so it is pretty safe to assume that she was not given time to put her clothes back on. She was naked, ashamed, and without a speck of dignity.  Imagine people in a large crowd suddenly craning their necks, pushing and shoving, to catch a glimpse at  what Jesus is writing instead of gawking at a woman who had lost all of her rights.

While this is by no means the main point of this story, I think there is a lot to learn here about how much Jesus cared for this woman. It was her own fault that she was there and she was receiving her just, legitimate, and legal punishment for her actions according to the law at the time. And that is who Jesus cares the most about, more than this own reputation.  It’s kind of scandalous isn’t it?

We need to put this into practice ourselves as followers  of Jesus. Too often I hear Christians write off those who have made bad choices, broken the law, lost the trust of others with phrases like:  “Now maybe they will learn their lesson” or “Maybe NOW they get will straighten up and get a job” or even “Now they are getting what they deserve”.  We need to be more like Jesus, offering love instead of a lecture, grace instead of condemnation, dignity instead of shame, and the hope to carry on and leave a life of sin. Are there people today that we can actively show grace to even though they don’t deserve it? Isn’t that what grace is all about?

We still have the choice today, throw stones or show grace.

Pray for the strength to be like Jesus.

Jesus in the middle of the storm

 

In our weekly FUSION meetings on Wednesday nights we have been having discussions about discovering who Jesus really was. Our culture has created a lot of “noise” about Christianity, and the power of who Jesus actually was can easily be drowned out by the debates and arguments that we have.

So we have been going back to the basics of our faith. Reading stories about Jesus from the gospels and discovering the many ways that Jesus’ actions and teachings are incredibly relevant in our lives today. One of the stories that we discussed recently was the story of Jesus walking on the water and we actually spent alot of time on one of the short introductory verses from the begining of that story in Matthew chapter 14.

“Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home”.  As you may know, after they got in the boat a terrible storm with incredibly strong winds came along. The wind was so strong it had these professional fisherman pretty scared for their lives. They were in crisis, a real life or death situation.

And they got there by doing what Jesus asked them to do.

This is important because teenagers are starting to have really big decisions for the first time, decisions that might dramatically impact the direction of their lives. Many of them want to make sure that their decisions are in “God’s will” for their lives. Those of us who are adults often have big decisions to make and I hear many of us talk about finding “God’s will” for our lives too. I think the unspoken hope here is that if you manage to make a decision that lands us in God’s will, we will be fine and have smooth sailing.

But the disciples did what Jesus asked, they were following God’s will, and they still had to sail through a storm.

Jesus dosen’t want us  going through life hoping to please God so that we can avoid the storms. Jesus wants us to follow Him and take courage in life because we belong to to him, no matter what comes our way.  Jesus ended up meeting those disciples in the middle of their storm. He came to them in a strange and unexpected way, walking out to them on the water in the middle of the lake.

I am convinced that Jesus still comes to us in suprising ways.

Are you looking for him?

A story about Grace

 

The story that Bob preached on yesterday is one of my favorites from Acts. Today I want to focus on the jailer in the story. We know from Peter’s escape from Prision in Acts 12, that the jailer in this story faced certain death for allowing the prisoners to escape on his watch. He was not being overly dramatic when he nearly killed himself, most likely he rightfully feared the way his superiors executed him would not be pleasant.  The Philippian jailer in this story is a desparate man who knows that he has run out of time and options. We hear his desparate cry after realizing that Paul and Silas are still there, “What must I do to be saved!?”.

Notice Paul and Silas’ reaction. They simply tell him to believe in Jesus and he will be saved. They don’t tell him to change any of his behaviors, they don’t ask him to turn away from any vices, they don’t ask him to clean up his life. In fact, they do not ask him to do anything but put trusting faith in Jesus. He is not asked to bring anything else to the table. A man who deserved death found new life in Christ. What a picture of grace!

I would be willing to bet that this jailer was not a sqeaky clean guy. In fact, he was probably the type of person that you wouldn’t expect to be so dramatically open to the gospel.

But he was.

Like everyone else in the jail, he heard Paul and Silas singing and prasing God in the midst of unjust treament and bodily harm. He had witnessed the power of God in their lives, and he was ready for God’s grace. Remember this jailer when you are about to write someone off as being to far gone to accept the truth of the gospel. Remember this jailer and pray for people in your life that you think might be unreachable, and pray that they will have a powerful encounter with God’s grace.

Who Jesus said he was

The other day we took a look at the passage where Jesus asked his followers “Who do you say that I am?” There are many names, images, and titles that the writers of the Bible give Jesus to describe for us who he is. As we discussed in the last post, many of those titles are deeply rich and contain beautiful and astounding theological truths. These titles  however, were all given to Jesus, how did he describe himself?  Who did HE say he was?

One of my favorite passages where Jesus describes what he came to earth to do comes from Luke chapter 4. You could ask 10 people why Jesus came to earth and probably get 10 different answers. In Luke chapter 4 we get to hear why Jesus came to this earth straight from his lips. It is almost like his mission statement. In the story Jesus gets up in front of a community of Jewish believers and reads an old prophesy about the Messiah from the book of Isaiah (found in chapter 61 in our modern Bibles).  This is what he read:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

Because he has anointed me

To proclaim good news to the poor,

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

And recovery of sight for the blind,

To set the oppressed free,

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

(Luke 4:18-19 NIV)

When he finished reading this he said to the people, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus claimed for himself the role and title of Messiah and he was not vague about his mission. He came to bring good news, set us free, end oppression, and heal us. We see in his ministry that he accomplished his mission both physically among the poor and sick and spiritually by giving his life to set us free from our bondage to sin and suffering.

Here is the exciting thing about Jesus’ mission statement: If we are followers of Jesus, it is our mission statement too since we are called to live like him on this earth. So read those words in the bold above again and think about what your life would look like if Jesus’ mission statement became your own.

Who is the “Messiah”?

In Matthew chapter 16 Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say I am?”. This is a question that we must all answer. Who do we believe Jesus is? One of Jesus’ close disciples named Peter tells Jesus that he believes he is the Messiah. Jesus reveals to Peter (and his other disciples) that He is the Messiah and that they could not have figured this out on their own, but that the Father revealed it to them.

At this point you can feel free to ask the quesiton, “What is the Messiah?”.

Even if you have been studying the Bible for years, the title “Messiah” is one of those theologically jam-packed words that everyone can always learn new things about. The title of Messiah meant a whole lot to the original Jewish readers of the book of Matthew. To them It would have been a title steeped in prophecy, metaphor, imagery, hope, and promise for any first century Jew. It can be a word that we talk about occasionally today as well without tracing the roots of this powerful title that belongs only to Jesus. It is a title that finds it’s roots all the way back in Genesis and then continues to grow and develop throughout the entire Old Testament. To truly understand who Jesus is and why he came to earth, you should truly strive to grasp what it mean that he was called “Messiah”.

There is a group of pastors, theologians, and animators who have started to put together a series of videos on youtube that take very complex and complicated theological themes from the Bible and explain them in a very accessable way. Check out this video that I have embeded in today’s blog post for a great explanation of what the title “Messiah” means.

“I will make you into what you were created to be”

 

Yesterday’s  sermon about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus  reminded me of another conversation that Jesus had early on in his ministry, his first encounter with Simon (who would later be called Peter). If you read at the beginning of Luke chapter 5 you will read about this first encounter and how after a display of Jesus’ power and authority Peter falls down at his feet and proclaims ” Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” At that moment, I think Peter felt how many of us do. When he realized the goodness and righteousness of Jesus, he became very aware of his failings and couldn’t imagine that Jesus would want anything to do with Him.

Haven’t you felt that way before? Like you’ve messed up so much that you can’t even start a conversation with God. Like you’ve drifted so far that God couldn’t possibly want anything to do with you.

Here is what I love about this story. Jesus doesn’t respond to Peter’s sin with judgment or condemnation.  He doesn’t demean Peter or make him feel awful for all of the evil things he has done up to that point. He looks at Peter and says “Don’t be afraid“.  The beginning of Peter’s new life begins with Jesus removing his fear of God. Remember, perfect love casts out fear!

Then Jesus tells him, I will make you a fisher of men. I think we can expect Jesus to do the same for us too. I think Jesus longs for us to come to Him so he can make us into what we were created to be. He wants to transform our lives and remove our fear of God, use us for His kingdom, and empower us to live more abundantly (John 10:10).

God is not in heaven looking down on you with a notepad writing down all of the things you have done wrong and shaking his head in disappointment.  Do not run away from New Life because of fear. Listen to what God is actually saying in this passage: “Do not be afraid….follow me… and I will make you into what you were created to be”