Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2019

The Bible: The Inspired Word of God – June 16, 2019

This story appeared in the Fall 1993 Reader’s Digest; When the preacher’s car broke down on a country road, he walked to a nearby roadside bar to use the phone. After calling for a tow truck, he spotted his old friend, Frank, drunk and shabbily dressed at the bar.

“What happened to you, Frank?” asked the good reverend, “You used to be happy and well off.” Frank told a sad tale of bad investments that had led to his downfall.

“Go home,” the preacher said. “Open your Bible at random, stick your finger on the page and there will be God’s answer.”

Some time later, the preacher bumped into Frank, who was wearing a Gucci suit, sporting a Rolex watch and had just stepped out of a Mercedes. “Frank.” said the preacher, “I am glad to see things ‘really turned around for you’.”

“Yes, preacher, and I owe it all to you,” said Frank. “I did just what you said. I opened my Bible, put my finger down on the page – and there was the answer — Chapter 11.” 

Now, I am pretty sure that is not what the pastor had in mind. This Sunday, I thought we might take a look at the complexity, authority and reliability of the Bible. The Bible was written over a 1,600 year period by 40 different men.

The time of the writing was approximately from 1,500BC to 400BC for the Old Testament- and 30AD to 100AD for the New Testament. While the Bible is one book, it is actually an accumulation of 66 smaller books. There are 39 books in the Old Testament – and 27 in the New.

The word Bible means Book (in Latin) or Books (in Greek). And the word ‘Gospel’ means Good News.

The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew with some Aramaic. The first 5 books of the Bible are referred to as the Torah, the Pentateuch or the 5 books of Moses. (which includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Old Testament is divided into the Law, the Prophets and the Writings – sometimes called the wisdom writings. 

The Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek and we call that the Septuagint. In Latin it is called the Vulgate. Over time, the full Bible has been translated into over 683 languages. The New Testament has been translated into 1,534 Languages. And there are at least 450 different English translations.

The New Testament was written primarily in Common Greek. The first Followers called it ‘The New Covenant’. In its earliest form; we have over 5,000 Greek copies, 8,000 Latin Copies and over 1,000 copies in other languages. We also have historical proof outside the Gospel for the life of Jesus.

There are at least 9 (some say 11) major non-biblical ‘hostile to the gospel’ authors who write about Jesus. The were Jews, Romans and even writers from other religions. Besides that, there are many other references ‘in history’ about the life of Jesus. He is mentioned and acknowledged in several opposing religious sacred texts.

Historians, archeologists and scholars have repeatedly affirmed the authenticity and accuracy of the Bible.

The discovery of the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ in the spring of 1947, confirmed their original text. Unlike other religious writings, the Bible reads as a factual news account – of real events, places, people, and dialogue – that can and have often be proven and confirmed.

The Roman Catholic Church also includes 14 or 15 (depending on how you count them) other writings in their Old Testament called the Apocrypha (which means ‘hidden books’).

We call the Catholic Bible the Common Bible. They actually added back in these 15 books that were left out, about 500 years after the Council of Trent closed the original 39 books of the Old Testament.

The closed Bible is referred to as ‘the closed canon’. A canon means a measuring rod. They final books were approved as measuring up to meet God’s high standards of truth.

There are deuteroncanonical or Apocryphal books that are sacred historical texts and even pseudopigrapha (questionable Jewish books) about the Bible. While the first set have important historical information (like the life of the Maccabees) they did not contain information about God. The later books have inaccurate information, locations or conflicting stories.

The New Testament was officially closed and canonized between 375 and 397AD by most Christian traditions. But many theologians believe it was set in stone by 100AD. The earliest document declaring a possible closed canon was an Easter document in 367AD.

The Old Testament deals with the early faith journey of the Hebrews, Israelites, or Jewish nation. It begins with God’s creation, deals with his relationship to a fallen world and calls us to put our hope and trust in God, alone.

The New Testament primary deals with the life of Jesus, his earthly experiences, his ministry, his revelations (healings, miracles and teaching), his sacrifice for us and his triumphant resurrection. The New Testament ushers in the time of the Holy Spirit and lays down a vision of the end times when Jesus returns and God reigns.

While the Bible was written over a great period of time by 40 different authors, it has an amazing flow and constancy. 300 recorded prophecies have already been fulfilled but there are still more than 700 we are watching and waiting to see come alive.

The Bible is the most unique book in history, for many reasons. It is inter-connected and actually proofs itself. Despite having been written from many points of view. There is an unprecedented overlap of ideas, facts and truth. Historians, scholars and theologians are perplexed, to be honest. The chances of all these authors writing a book over 1,600 years and have it still mesh so perfectly is astronomical.

The Bible reveals the works and personhood of God to us. It inspires us, explains life to us, defines us, and shows us how to live with purpose, peace and in love. It strengthens us and builds us up. We believe that the Bible is a living word; that means it is ‘an ongoing revelation of God’s truth’. In that way, it is a bit of a mystery.

The Bible is a mixture of history, poetry, humor, prophecy, law, letters (Epistles), biographies, songs, laments (complaints), – advise, romance, parables and a story of a faith awakening.    It is experiential, thought provoking and cerebral.

You can read it like a novel or contemplate its amazing intricacies. That is why we can study it in groups and will always see something new.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said, “This book had to be written by one of three people: good men, bad men or God. It couldn’t have been written by good men because they said it was inspired by the revelation of God; and good men don’t lie and deceive. It couldn’t have been written by bad men because bad men would not write something that would condemn themselves. It leaves only one conclusion. It was given by divine inspiration of God. That is why I am a man of one book, the Bible.”

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, wrote, “I am busily engaged in the study of the Bible. I believe it is God’s word because; it finds me where I am. I believe the Bible is ‘the best gift God has ever given to man’. He finishes with these words, “All the good of the Savior of the world, is communicated to us, through this Book.”

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down – and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”

Radio host Paul Harvey once said, “Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them.”

2 Timothy 3:16 gives us deeper truths about scripture. It says that all scripture is God-breathed. What does that mean?  In Genesis, we find God-breathing in the Spirit of life into Adam. God-breathed means inspired or brought into life or to awaken.

We know that God did not write the Bible with his own hands, although some believe that. Instead, his spirit interpreted his hopes, his plans, his story and his truth in others to dictate the Bible. Reading it is a spiritual journey that compels us to live differently.

2 Timothy also tells us that the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training us in ways of righteousness. So that not only do we know God’s word but that we live it out. God has a standard for us and a mission. When we engage God in prayer and study the Bible, it changes us for the better. It revives us. It comes alive ‘in us’.

Revelation chapter 10:9 tells us to eat the word. We are to ingest it, make it part of our being – and allow it to live in us and give us strength and direction.

One study of Americans suggests that the active Christian home (those 24% of us that are faithful) have at least 3 Bibles at home. (It used to be 5) Yet we rarely pick it up – other than on Sunday Morning. I think we can do better than that!

One final note: you need to know the difference between a translation and a paraphrase.

A translation is the closest thing you will find to the original text (unless you learn to read Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic.) But the process of translating a book from one language to another is painstaking.

Because words or ideas sometimes do not ‘cross over well between languages’, alternative words are chosen. We call that transliteration.

That is why one Bible translation may look different from another. Most of the time, the choice of words has little effect. But reading multiple translations can narrow down the true meaning.

Good translations include; The NIV – New International Version, The King James and New King James version. Today’s English Version. The American or New American Standard Version. The contemporary English Version or the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). 

While the NIV is probably the easiest to read, the NRSV is said to be one of the most accurate in relation to the original, as a translation. It does not try to match each word but the original intent instead.

While the King James Version is good, it speaks in the king’s language. So, if you are good with Shakespeare and old English, or you grew up with it, you are probably fine but many cannot read and understand it. But it is poetic and has a rhythm and rhyme that some have lost.

A Paraphrase is closer to our modern language. While it is not an exact translation, it takes some liberties to make the text as understandable as possible. They are less reliable than translations but still useful for beginning readers. That is because God’s message always comes through.

Paraphrases include; The Message, the Living Bible and the New Life translation.

The important thing is to read a Bible, no matter the wording.

If you need a bible, we will get you one. But be patient with yourself. Some people think simply owning a Bible is enough, but it is not. In some countries they give their lives to be able to read one.

It has been said that the worst kind of believer is one who only knows a little about the faith but thinks they know everything. Your Bible is your lifeline!

So, start reading in the New Testament; pick Matthew, Mark or Luke first. Take time to pray and ask God to open your mind, heart and soul to his spirit. Then, when you do, I believe he will honor that.

That is your assignment…read your Bible this week. Take the Challenge – spend thirty days reading God’s word – and I know you will be blessed. Be inspired!

Amen.

Is it Time – June 9, 2019

An avid hunter named Bob, who had just lost his dog, was reading the classifieds in the newspaper when he came upon this notice, “Hunting dog for sale, $2,500, but well worth it.” So he called the number and the seller told him that he had to see the dog in action.

The next morning, they met very early and went hunting. The dog moved quickly flushing two birds from a clump of bushes. The two men opened fire and two birds fell dead into a lake. Then, to the hunter’s surprise, the dog walked on top of the water, grabbed the two birds, and walked back to the men. Bob was amazed, and he bought the dog immediately.

The next day Bob persuaded his brother to go hunting with him. Again, the dog flushed a couple of birds out and after they were shot, the dog walked out on top of the water, retrieved the birds, and walked back to the men. Smiling, bob asked his brother, “So, what do you think of my new dog?” His brother replied, “Why would you buy a dog who can’t swim?”

It all comes down to a matter of perspective; it’s not only what we identify but also, sometimes what we miss.

I love the story of pre-teen David stepping up to fight Goliath. Goliath was a monster of a man who crushed his enemies. No one, including Saul was willing to stand up against this him in battle. Into the scene walks young David and he saw things very differently.

Chuck Swindoll writes, ‘When Goliath came against the Israelites, the soldiers all thought, “He’s so big we can never kill him.” David looked at the same giant and though, “He’s so big I can’t miss.”’  Likewise, when the disciples met with Jesus the last time, their vision and expectations were a bit skewed.

Acts, we believe, is a continuation of Luke’s Gospel. After a brief intro, he writes, “After his suffering, Jesus presented himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

Many scholars believe that Acts was shared in the oral tradition by Luke but later written down by his disciples. That would explain why the written word says Jesus appeared to them instead of us. But the wording I want you to remember here is, Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God.

The writer continues, “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

The 16th Chapter of John’s Gospel gives us a deeper insight into the coming of the Holy Spirit. Vs 5-7 reads, “Now, I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 

“But I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

The disciples had lost Jesus once to death on the cross but now he was back with them and he was talking about leaving again. It was only natural that they would ask Jesus about the fulfilment of his mission; which was, they believed, to restore God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

Our scripture continues at Acts 1:6, “Then they gathered around Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, are you ‘at this time’ going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’”

Ever since Isaiah predicted the coming of the Messiah, some 700 years before Jesus was born, the Israelites had longed for a return to the kingdom of David. The Messiah was to be in the line of David. So, if Jesus was leaving for good, wouldn’t this be the right time to unite the 2 kingdoms; Israel and Judah and make Jerusalem the center of the world again? And wouldn’t this be the perfect time to throw off the shackles of Rome?

“Then Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

These were Jesus’ last words before he ascended. Was he rebuking them? Was he refusing to ask answer their question? While some scholars have suggested that, I see a different explanation. Jesus was saying, ‘The timing is not your concern. Trust God and me and focus on the things at hand.’

God is playing a long game. The arrival and leaving of Jesus was not the end of the game, only half time. Israel will be restored but only when God has redeemed the entire creation. And that will only be complete when Christ returns.

The Kingdom of God was initiated through Jesus and the Holy Spirit but will not be complete for some time. It illuminated our world and provides peace but has yet to be fully realized. We are currently in a place of transformation.

Let me just say, this was not the answer the disciples or all of us want to hear. We want justice, healing, answers, and everything to be set right NOW. We have waited long enough, we have suffered long enough. Our constant cry is ‘Why’?

Proverbs 16:9 reads, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

All the disciples wanted to do, like Mary, was to hang onto Jesus and to have everything back the way ‘it was before’.

I remember one man telling me, “I hate that passage from Isaiah 55:8-9 where God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

At the beginning of the movie ‘The God Father part III’ Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, thinks he has left the mob behind, but he has not. And he utters those famous words, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

The Messiah was supposed to come and redeem Israel and all its people and instead, he gave them a new mission. Essentially, they had failed to interpret the times. Their work for the kingdom was not over, it was just the beginning!

The truth is,…we do that all the time in churches today. Many believe that when we give their lives to Jesus, we have completed the task but that is just when the journey and the adventure begins.

We have this light, not to be hidden but to shine for all the world to see (read Matt. 5:15). Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” We are here to live, to feel and to move the world closer to Jesus and his kingdom. Because, this world is not our home.

By the way, it is easy to look at the world and see everything this is wrong with it, but can you also see God’s hand at work? Do you take time to witness the miracles? It is really a matter of perspective; we often see what we are looking for.

Mark 13 reminds us to be alert and on guard. It is a passage in part, on protection. Be ready, so when the master comes home he does not find you sleeping. Watch! But we should never forget that there are two sides to that coin. We think, don’t be taken by surprise, right?

But just imagine if you are watching and ready when the master comes home. Then you can run out to greet him, just like the father ran out to greet the prodigal son! He was watching and anticipating his return. He was ready.

Jesus’ final words to his disciples and to each of us highlights his divine purpose for leaving us on this earth. Our job is not to worry about those things that are out of our hands, instead, our job is to live in the moment. We are to share the Good News, follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to keep watch ‘in anticipation’ to see all that God is doing.

Receive the power and go be my witnesses, do it now. Serve, love, forgive, testify, show grace and mercy and be reconciled to one another. Then, they will know we are Christians by our love.

Through each of us, when we are faithful and following the ways of Jesus, that is when God’s Kingdom is slowly restored here on earth. Each of us has 24 hours to a day, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds and we are called to use them well. You see, God’s plan of redemption works its way through each of our lives.

After his final words; Acts 1:9 reads, ‘Jesus was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” The disciples just stared up in amazement. They were rubber-necking; eyes wide open, also with their mouths wide open.

That is when 2 angels appeared and said, “Why do you stand there looking at the sky?” In other words, get a move on, you’ve got things to do. Then they added, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back ‘in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’.”

At that point, the disciples left the Mount of Olives and returned to Jerusalem. And then, they prayed and went back to work. They picked up where they left off. They bought the field were Judas died and many believe they cared for his remains.

Then they took a vote to fill Judas’ vacancy. They cast lots, it is a lot like having people draw straws or roll dice. And then the 12 waiting until the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended like fire upon them and they began to change the world.

Notice, they went about their business, but it was only through the life of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit that they were transformed. We, like them, must be faithful but the power to change the world is bigger than us.

They did not give up. They moved forward and prepared the way for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives. For them, the change came quickly. For others, like Abraham and Moses, the changes came later in life. We must stay on alert and watch, because we never know when God will call us.

But it is not worldly or military power we are called to;

It is the power to love; even our enemies,

It is the power to be humble and sacrifice for others,

It is the power to serve; and not to expect to be served,

It is the power to live great lives for Jesus,

It is the power to offer ourselves to be transformed,

And it is the power to be present at each moment – and open to all the possibilities.

When we do that, we live like Christ.

There is a true story about a soldier who came home from Vietnam. Rev. Rick Ezell shared this story, A university professor tells of being invited to speak at a military base in December and while there, meeting an unforgettable soldier named Ralph. Ralph had been sent to meet him at the airport; and after they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim.

As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing — once to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open. Once to lift two toddlers up ‘to where they could see Santa Claus’, – and again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a big smile on his face.

“Where did you learn to do that?” The professor asked. 
 “‘Do what?’ Ralph said.

“To be so helpful and considerate to others.”

“Oh,’ Ralph said, ‘during the war, I guess.”

Then he told the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam, about how it was his job to clear minefields, – and how he watched many of his friends die before his eyes, one after another.

‘I learned to live between steps,’ he said. ‘I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment – between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took, was a whole new world, and I guess I’ve just been that way ever since.’

English author Margaret Storm Jameson once wrote, “The only way to live,” she said, “is to accept each minute as an unrepeatable miracle . . . Work at your work. Play at your play. Shed your tears. Enjoy your laughter. Give God your best. And remember, now is the time of your life.”

Your assignment is…to seize the day, and ‘each moment’ to live more fully for Jesus Christ. Call on the Holy Spirit for guidance and do not be afraid to live fully, serve and love. When we all do that, the Kingdom of God moves a little bit closer. May it be so,

Amen.

Go: The Great Commission – June 2, 2019

 On Tuesday July 30, 1985, the New Orleans Recreation Dept. was throwing an end of season pool party for its lifeguards. This was a practice that they had observed for many seasons but this year, was particularly special. It was the first season without a drowning at any New Orleans city pool.

In honor of the occasion, there were over well over 200 people present; including four lifeguards on duty and around 100 certified lifeguards attending. As the party was breaking up and they began to clear the pool, that’s when the four lifeguards found a young man, fully dressed, at the bottom of the deep end of the pool.

They quickly went into action, they pulled the young man out of the pool and began to administer CPR; but it was too late. It was clear that the man had not intended on swimming, since he was not in a swimsuit, but no one knew when he had entered the pool or how he had drowned.

Jerome Moody, 31, was not a lifeguard, he was a guest to the party. He did not know how to swim. An autopsy later confirmed that he had drowned – and been under water for some time. Director Madlyn Richards explained that obviously, the 4 on duty took this the worst but that all the lifeguards present were upset because of the tragedy. How could everyone miss this?

One young lifeguard shared with a friend, “I wish I had paid more attention, but I wasn’t really on duty.” The question is, ‘Whose job is it to look out for others?’

In 2005, the band ‘The Fray’ came out with a cd called, “How to save a life”. In the Title song, Isaac Slade sings, “I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life.”

That, you see, was Jesus’ entire plan; to save lives. He would go to great lengths, even at the expense of his own life, to give us an opportunity to escape our sin and gain eternal life and peace.

Once he ascended to heaven, his plan was to send the Holy Spirit as a guide or counselor to assist us. But there was another part of his plan, we shouldn’t miss. He was leaving ‘the mission he had started’ with his followers and future followers.

Matthew 28:19-20 reads, “Go in my name and do all I have taught you; make disciples, baptize and teach others to obey everything you have learned from me. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We call this ‘The Great Commission’. The words ‘The Great Commission’ first appeared in the Bible in 1909 with the publishing of the Scofield Bible. Some have asked, ‘why is this passage so important? Why focus so much attention on it?”

Because all 4 gospels, not just Matthew reflect this same command. Mark 16:15-16 reads, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Luke 24:46-48 reads, “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Finally, in John 20:21 we read, “Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” How did he send them? John 13:34-35 made it perfectly clear, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Throughout Jesus’ teaching, there was a clear path between love and action; about serving and sacrificing.

John 3:16-18 reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Now, I know we have probably all heard these things before, but the problem is… something has gotten lost in translation.

Dallas Willard writes about this in his 2006 book, “The Great Omission.” He writes, “There is an obvious Great Disparity between, on the one hand, the hope for life expressed in Jesus – found real in the Bible and in many shining examples from among his followers – and on the other hand, the actual day-to-day behavior, inner life, and social presence of most of those who now profess adherence to him.”

Willard’s conclusion is, we have forgotten or not actually been taught what it means to be a disciple.

Wanting to find out if there was any truth to this assertion, 10 years later, the Barna research group conducted a study of active Christians. The study was called ‘Translating the Great Commission’ and it came out in October of 2017.

When he asked Christians “have you heard of the Great Commission?” only 51% said that they heard of it. Many others knew the scripture when spoken but only about 1/4th could say where to find it in the Bible. And, with each generation, the phrase is clearly less known.

So, let’s go back and look at what is written and to try to get a better understanding of what Jesus was saying.  The word disciple occurs 269 times in the New Testament. In the Greek, a disciple is translated as a committed student of faithful follower.

It is also closely tied to the word discipline. As one who understands the law, follows the standards and understands the purpose or the direction set. A coach will tell you that all good players understand the rules and follow them carefully. They know what is expected of them.

Jesus’ followers lived with him 24/7; 7 days a week. They watched, they learned, and they lived out his way of life. Except then they didn’t! That, obviously is the goal, but seldom the reality. That is because we are imperfect people, take for example…

In Matthew 28:16-17 we read, “Then the 11 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain, where Jesus had told them to go. When the saw him, they worshiped him: (That would be a real convenient place to stop, but there is more, it reads) but some doubted.

Think about this for one moment; these disciples witnessed ‘from afar’ the death of Jesus. Some had been to the tomb. All had seen the risen Christ, some ate with him and some had touched him. He was present to them and yet some still doubted.

You can be sure this is NOT made up, because who in their right mind would include that? That just adds more doubt, right? But here is the thing, it also attests to the amazing power of The Holy Spirit. Because after The Holy Spirt came to them, they were all mysteriously transformed and ‘went to their deaths’ proclaiming the truth of the risen Lord.

            First, let me just say, the Bible never tells us to make converts – but instead disciples. A convert can be convinced, forced or brain washed into believing. A disciple is one who lives with, watches, learns and becomes like the teacher. I think that is what happens in most healthy homes with our children.

The best way to remain a disciple is to be a life-long learner yourself. You can only teach what you know, what you believe and what you have leaned for yourself. And here is the simple truth, you never really know who you are or what you will do, until you are tested or challenged. Maybe that is why we struggle as Christians. If we never talk about our faith, it is impossible to be challenged.

Jesus said that all authority was given to him, not us. We do not save people, he does! It is our job to walk along beside others, to teach them and to love them. One older pastor put it well, he was talking to a revved up new seminary graduate, he said, “Son, take my advice: your job is not to make them drink. Your job is to make them thirsty.”

We are not going out in the world to take Jesus to the people, he’s already there. Our job is to point to him and tell about how he has impacted our lives for the better.

Second, we are called to see that others are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and The Holy Spirit. Just to be clear, these are Jesus’ words – not mine. We are all called to make a public profession of our faith; that is what baptism is about. It means we are including ourselves into God’s grand family.

On a small scale, it means we are part of this church. But it doesn’t end there; it means we are part of a greater nationwide and worldwide Christian Family. It also means we are a part of God’s heavenly family; part of the saints who have gone before.

And here comes the mystery, we are baptized into God’s complete work for creation; into the work of the Father, Son and The Holy Spirit. God is much bigger than we can think or imagine. He can be seen many ways and function under many headings and still be One. Our responsibility is to believe.

Now, maybe we can understand why this is a life-long process. It often takes baby steps that become fully walking and finally leaps of faith. People like the easy button but there are no shortcuts to a deep and abiding faith! It must be lived out.

Finally, we are called to teach others everything we have learned about Jesus and the faith. Much like fathers used to apprentice their own sons. Like mothers taught their girls to sew and to cook. We sometimes call these basic skills for life. But let’s be honest, many of the things passed down have ‘become lost or forgotten’.

Sometimes we must ask ourselves, what is it that is too important to let go of? Jesus speaks of love, service, sacrifice, forgiveness, faithfulness, kindness, honesty, truth, mercy and grace. Just think for a moment, are these things we should not pass on or take time to better cultivate?

Pete Wilson is the founding and senior pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee. His focus has always been on outreach and living like a disciple in the world. People kept asking him, “How do I get involved in the church? How do I find my passion? How do I move past the fear that people won’t listen or reject me?”

He answered that question in his book, “What keeps you awake at night?” He writes, “The paradox of faith is that you cannot activate it until you act on it.” Faith is an action, just like love, mercy, grace or service. We see the results when we live it out.

You don’t need to have all the right words or to live perfectly. All you need is Jesus in your heart and life and the willingness to follow where the Holy Spirit calls you. Remember, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

If we trust in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we will understand that if we want to live and love like God, we must recognize that we are all called to live out the Great Commission.

So, model the life of Christ for others, don’t be afraid to speak about your faith – and teach others what you have come to know about God. As we serve, sacrifice and witness, others will know we are followers of Jesus, by our love.

Your assignment is…to mentor someone who needs a deeper understanding of the faith. You do not need all the answers, the truth is, we often learn more from one another. I trust that God has already begun a good work in you – and he will bring it to fruition. So, step out in faith. May it be so.

Amen.  

(‘Mentor Like Jesus’ by Regi Campbell)

“Friends, haven’t you any fish?” – May 26, 2019

On January 1, 1929, the California Golden Bears faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. It was a game that would showcase one of the most famous plays in college football history.

Midway through the second quarter, one of Georgia Tech’s players who was running the ball, took a hard hit and he fumbled the ball. California Center Roy Riegels quickly scooped up the ball, stumbled and got turned around. Instead of running the ball forward for a touchdown, he ran backwards 69 yards towards his own goal post.

The California Quarterback, Benny Lom, chased Riegels yelling for him to stop. Lom finally caught him on the 3-yard line. As he turned to run back in the right direction, the opposing team tackled him back to the 1-yard line. To avoid a safety, the Bears attempted to punt the ball, but the kick was blocked, and the opposing team scored 2 points. From that day, until the day he died in March of 1993, Roy was known as ‘Wrong Way’ Riegels.

Knowing where you are going in life is really important. As one old saying goes,

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will lead you there.”

The Bible tells us, in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Have you ever found yourself at a place in life where the way forward looks hard, so you want to turn around and go back to where you were? You’ve tried to move forward in your career or a relationship, yet in the process things have gotten harder rather than easier. And then you realize, that to continue moving forward, it’s going to require more out of you than you want to give. Or have you ever started out headed in one direction and later stopped and asked yourself, how did I get here?

In the wilderness, the Israelites found the journey to be more difficult than they expected and so they asked, “Wouldn’t it be better if we just went back to Egypt?” At least there they had regular meals and shelter. They had conveniently forgotten how hard it was to be in slavery. (Numbers 14:3)

Similarly, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians 4:9, he writes, “Now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by Him, how could you turn back to those weak and worthless things of the world? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?”

Now, to be fair, any path we take in life will have its dangers. Jesus never promised us an easy life. But there is one road to new life and many roads to destruction. The question is, which road are you on?

That was a question, I think, the disciples must have been asking themselves after Jesus’ resurrection. If they stayed hidden, maybe the Jews (and the Roman soldiers) wouldn’t hunt them down. And I am sure they were wondering, where do we go from here?

Yet three days after his death on the cross, Jesus began appearing to his disciples. He was alive! How could this be? It was too good to be true. Every-time they slept, they woke up believing it was all a dream. And here’s the thing, Jesus was clearly different.

He was back but he was distant. “Don’t hold onto me”, he said. While he allowed them to touch him and he ate with them, he was clearly transformed. He had a resurrected body and he just seemed to fade in and out, before their very eyes. One minute he was there and the next minute he was not.

Scripture says he appeared and disappeared to all of his followers. He wasn’t staying in any place very long. In many situations, they did not, at first, even recognize him. This was their new normal. Jesus’ new mission was to prove that he was alive and to set the scene for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was no longer their teacher and traveling companion, and they did not know how to relate to him. It was awkward and kind of confusing. John’s Gospel explains that Jesus appeared to the disciples twice as they were locked away in an upper room; but over 40 days, he would only see them 3 times.

By all indicators, it seems that the disciples had not walked or talked to Jesus in several weeks. Not sure what to make of all this, Peter made an announcement to the other disciples with him.

John 21 says that Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee (which are: James and John) and 2 unnamed disciples were all together. Peter said, “I’m going out to fish”, and they said, “We’ll go with you.”

So, they all went down to the Sea of Galilee, got into a boat and rowed out with their nets to fish. It wasn’t their tradition to fish in the hottest part of the day, so they probably went out in the evening and fished all night long. The thing was, they caught nothing.

That’s the way it goes. Some days they bite, and some days they don’t. If you ever have gone fishing, then You Know what it’s like to go out for hours and catch absolutely nothing. But here is the thing, these men fish professionally. For them, this is embarrassing, humiliation and down right shameful.

This was the one thing they did well – and they were failing in the worst possible way. They had nothing to show for their efforts. Early that morning, hungry, weary, perhaps cold and wet, they struggled to pull in their empty nets the final time.

That is when a man appeared on the shore and called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” Great, they must have thought, it is bad enough this happened, but now ‘there is a witness’.

Have you ever walked down a sidewalk and stumbled? After regaining your footing and yelling at the sidewalk, what do you do next? You look to see if anyone noticed, right? Everyone knows it is always worse if someone sees you stumble.

Sheepishly, the disciples call back, “No, we haven’t caught anything.”

Then this stranger said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some fish.” I wonder how long they sat and contemplated this. This had to be the craziest thing they ever heard. Yet, with nothing to loss, they complied.

When the net when down, there was a strong tug and the net was filled ‘with so many fish’, they couldn’t even pull it into the boat. At that moment John’s eyes were opened and he cried out, “It’s the Lord!”

Immediately, Peter stood up in the boat, put on his outer cloak and he jumped into the water. What is going on here? Did he think he could walk on water to see Jesus? Surely not! One commentator writes, “At this point, Peter must have realized his error in judgment and decided to take a cleansing dip. How could he have gone against his masters wishes and tried to return to fishing?”

You see, when Jesus first called them he said, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” They had given up the life of fishing for lives as disciples. There was no going back.   That path was gone, that is why they could not catch any fish.

As Peter swam to shore, the other disciples followed in their boat. While Peter arrived first, he probably lingered on the sand, to ashamed to approach Jesus.

When the boat landed, Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Note the wording here,…Peter, alone, climbed aboard the boat and dragged the net to shore. It was full of 153 large fish and the net was not torn.

What is the importance of knowing that there were 153 large fish? Who cares? Who counted them? The answer was, Peter did, it was probably used as an attempt to stall having to face Jesus.

Then Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” The same way Jesus broke the bread and passed the wine, he broke the bread and fish and passed it to the disciples. John said this was the 3rd time that Jesus had appeared to the disciples. 

When they had fished eating, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Do you love me more than these?” the question is, to whom was he referring? To the other disciples? It was not like Jesus to pit one against the others. No, he was referring to the fish!

In other words, would you rather be a fisherman for fish or my follower?  Which is your first love? Peter answers, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs”. He was saying, ‘Look after the lost, the least and the little ones’.

 Again Jesus said to Peter, “Do you truly love me?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” He was saying, “Help lead my disciples and look after my mission here.”

A third time, Jesus said to him, “Do you love me?” This must have hit Peter like a hammer, Jesus was asking him three times, the same number of times he had denied Jesus. Until now, he had not really had to face Jesus and he had not really decided to continue following him.

I think Peter’s heart broke and tears slid down his cheeks when he said, “Lord, YOU KNOW all things; YOU KNOW that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” In other words, tend to my followers, all believers; teach them and disciple them.

Finally, Jesus ended with these words, “Follow Me!”

I do not know what road you are on this morning. You may be on that narrow path, but an honest look may remind you that you have strayed. Maybe you’re going the wrong way and you may be asking yourself, “How did I get here?”

In my opening story, Roy Riegels found that he was headed the wrong way on the football field. After that play, Riegels was so distraught that he had to be talked into returning to the game by his coach for the second half. Roy said “Coach, I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined myself, I’ve ruined the University of California. I couldn’t face ‘that crowd to save my life’.” Coach Price responded by saying, “Roy, get up and go back out there — the game is only half over.”

Roy did play, and he turned in a stellar second half performance, including blocking a Tech punt. But in the end, his team lost, due to his error.

But errors are forgiven – and people can return to the right path again. They can continue to play the game.

So, this morning, Jesus has 2 things to say to you;

                      First, “Do you love me?”    If so, then “Follow Me”.

You see, we all need forgiveness – and Jesus’ offering of amazing grace to restore us when we are lost. we just have to be on the right road. If that is what you want, I know you’ll find your way. Because Matthew 7:7 reads, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Your assignment is…to take some time this week and evaluate your walk with Jesus. There is no peace like the peace of Christ. Do you love him? If so, be a follower. We do that by living like Jesus. He served others, so Feed his lambs, Care for his Sheep – and Feed his sheep.

 Amen.  

Peace Be With You – May 12, 2019

A woman and her ‘over-bearing husband’ went on vacation to Jerusalem. While they were there, the husband passed away. A Jewish undertaker told the wife, “You can have him shipped home for $5,000, or you can bury him here in the Holy Land for $150.” The woman thought about it and told him she was going to ship her husband home for the funeral.

The undertaker asked, “Why would you spend $5,000 to ship your husband home, when it would be wonderful to be buried here and you would only spend $150?” The woman replied, “Oh No, I have heard about the Holy Land. Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance.”

Now, this woman had some level of faith, she was at least willing to accept that resurrection was possible. The disciples on the other hand, even after seeing people raised from the dead, still did not believe.

Last Sunday we took a walk on the road to Emmaus. Two discouraged disciples came upon a stranger, who was actually Jesus and he amazed them. He explained the scriptures and even sat down to eat dinner with them. When he was at the table, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and handed it to them. At that moment their eyes were opened and they recognized him. 

And here is the strange part; then, he disappeared from their sight. He just vanished.

Some scholars like to suggest that Jesus just slipped out the back door. Others say that while they were talking, he got up and left. But the Greek work used here for disappeared is aphantos and it means he became invisible or dissolved into thin air. Another words, he was gone in the blink of an eye.

Afterwards, their passion returned and at once, they got up and returned to Jerusalem to tell the eleven disciples what they had seen. They explained that they finally recognized Jesus when he broke the bread. Then, they went on to explain how he had just disappeared before their eyes.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus appeared among them and said, “Peace be with you”. Luke’s gospel does not explain where Jesus came from, he was just there. John 20:19 adds this insight, ‘The doors were locked for fear that the Jews would come and have them arrested’.

Mark 16:14 also adds some more insight, it reads, “Later Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating”. All of these parts fit together, as we will soon see.

When the disciples saw Jesus, they were startled and frightened. They were absolutely sure that they were staring at a ghost.

Take note, this is not the first ghastly experience for the disciples. You may recall what happened in Mark 6:48-50, when Jesus came ‘walking on water’ the disciples were terrified because they thought he was a ghost.

Now, Jesus just materialized in front of them, somehow getting in through a locked door. How could they not suspect this to be Jesus’ ghost? No one just appears.

Jesus responded, “What’s troubling you? And why do you have so many doubts? Look at my hands and my feet. This is really me! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, but I do.”

Then, Jesus showed them his hands and feet and they could clearly see his scars from the nails. At this point, no one dared to touch him. They were experiencing a mixture of fear, confusion and joy. This was too good to be true and just unimaginable.

How could Jesus have survived that? He couldn’t! Certainly, he was dead, wasn’t he? If so, how could he be standing here. This had to be a ghost, how else could they explain it? They did not even understand what a bodily resurrection was. They just couldn’t wrap their minds around this. Then Jesus asked, “Do you have anything to eat?”

Now, everyone knows that ghosts don’t get hungry and they certainly do not eat! Yet, they gave Jesus some boiled fish and he took it and ate it all. Then, they believed.

It is not hard to imagine why this whole situation confused the disciples back then, because it still confuses us today. Some Catholic scholars’ debate ‘what happened to the fish?’ Because Jesus, in a resurrected body would not need to eat. Did he just pretend to eat or did the fish just dissolve mysteriously? I tend to believe that he actually ate it. What do we really know about a resurrected body anyway?

Then, Jesus began to share the scriptures, and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, their hearts and minds were opened to the truth. Verses 46-47 reads, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day, and then, repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

As we know from John chapter 20:24-29; Thomas was not there at the time and Jesus would have to explain things again. But first, Thomas refuses to believe and even said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, – and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

So, A week later, the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were again locked, Jesus just appeared and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 

Then he turned to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

There is no indication that Thomas ever touched him. I have to believe that just the sight of Jesus alive and before Thomas was enough. He had already heard the testimony of the other 11 disciples. Then Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

1 Corinthians 15:6-8 records that “after that, Jesus appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last to me (Paul) also.”

How many of them had to touch Jesus to believe?

Historical Scholars tell us that past events need 2 or 3 witnesses to be proven true. Jesus appeared to ‘550 people or more’, if you include the disciples and other followers.

Now, there are a few things I want to cover; first, this emphasis on Jesus’ physical body requires us to consider two popular Greek beliefs; dualism and immortality.

1) Dualism divides the world into the physical and the spiritual, saying that the physical world is bad but the spiritual world is good.

2) The concept of immortality, growing out of this dualistic understanding, says that, ‘at death’, the good spirit or soul separates from the bad body and continues to live independently of the body.

Resurrection is future oriented; God raises a person from the dead at a time of his choosing. Immortality is “now” oriented; in other words, life continues after death, as if no time had lapsed; because we move right to heaven. We are essentially ‘out of time’.

However, Jesus presents himself to the disciples after the resurrection, not as a disembodied spirit, but as a person in bodily form; a body recognizable by sight and touch; a body capable of eating food.

Jesus is essentially eliminating this divide between body and soul. It isn’t the body that makes us bad, but sin. And after death, God will reconcile all things; so we will again have a new but similar body. So, do not hate your body, instead, use it well to fulfill God’s purposes.

Second, over and over, Jesus shows us the power manifested in eating a meal together and the bonds made there in building fellowship. Enemies become friends when they eat together and really talk to one another. ‘Sitting as equals’ and letting down our guard is healing.

In the 1st century, it was bad manners to turn visitors away. It was expected that you take in travelers and that you eat with them. Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Jesus uses food to bring us together in the church. It is a shared meal of bread and juice that we do ‘in communion with one another’. One loaf because we are one body. Jesus was recognized in the breaking of the bread! And when we do this, Jesus says he is also present with us.

Finally, Jesus went to great lengths to show his disciples and others that he was really alive and to give them peace. Peter had denied Jesus three times; and all of the disciples had run away, when Jesus was arrested. They had broken their promise to never leave him. Jesus did not want revenge; instead, he offered forgiveness and restoration. He offered mercy and hope. He was not there to frighten them but to unite them again.

Remember John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. So do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Or Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom” which means; wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity; carrying with it the implication of permanence.

John 16:33 reads, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

They would need his peace if they were to carry out his mission; which he said was “to proclaim or preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem.”

This is his command to all who follow. The thing is; we cannot do this unless we have his peace. That is why he sent his Holy Spirit down. We cannot be afraid of what others think. We must stand in the truth of Jesus Christ and offer others his peace that only comes through repentance.

There is a BC comic strip that shows a woman reading a book. Then she lifts her head and says to her friend, “Oh my goodness!  Says here, Jesus descended into hell!” 

The other woman replied, “You’re kidding!” 

The first woman responded, “oh No… Not to Stay!  He just dropped in to cancel our reservations!”

I guess, some folks took offense to that comic strip. No one likes to think about hell.

The Good News is; Jesus offers us his peace when we repent and turn to him. And when we faithfully follow, there is never a need to worry about hell again.

I want to end with this last ‘true illustration’.

Someone wrote, “On 5th avenue in NYC there’s a visual reminder of the peace Jesus promises. Let me explain, at the entrance of The RCA Building is a huge statue of Atlas struggling to keep the world on his shoulders. But on the other side of the street is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and behind the alter in the cathedral is a small stature of Jesus effortlessly holding ‘the whole world in one hand’ without breaking a sweat.”

Why would we choose to be like Atlas, when we can join Jesus and have such amazing relief? Jesus makes our burdens lite, because his yoke is easy! (Matthew 11:28-30) In him we find rest and peace.

Your assignment is…Share the peace of Christ with another this week. We have Good News to share, trust in the peace that Jesus brings to do just that! Do not be afraid.

Amen.