Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2019

At the Seventh Hour – July 7, 2019

In the movie ‘Leap of Faith’, Steve Martin plays Jonas Nightingale a con man who claims to be a faith healer. As his team is passing through a little town in Kansas, one of their trucks breaks down. After they learn that it will take several days to get replacement parts for the truck, Jonas decides to hold a series of revival meetings to cut some of their loses, while they wait.

Jonas uses careful observation, advanced technology and sleight of hand to manipulate and dazzle the crowds. Many are sure he is a real faith-healer, but the town policeman is convinced he is a fraud. Jonas pays people money to pretend to be healed and to keep his secret.

Also, in this town, lives Boyd, a young boy on crutches. He desperately wants to be healed and he believes in Jonas. At one of the gatherings, the towns people encourage and then demand that Jonas heal the boy. He takes on the task reluctantly, knowing that he cannot heal anyone because he is a fake.

But the boy believes and so does the town. In a twist, there is a real miracle and Boyd is healed. Jonas is in shock and he talks to God in anger. He cannot explain the miracle and he feels like he also cannot take credit for it. In light of this, Jonas decides to stop conning others as a faith healer. Faith triumphs over lies and God has the last laugh. It is a very inspiring and interesting story.

In several places in the Bible, we see that faith is important when it comes to miracles. Mark 6:4-5 reveals that while Jesus was in his own hometown, “He could not perform any miracles there, except to lay His hands on a few of the sick and heal them. And He was amazed at their unbelief.”

When he traveled to Samaria, a land that was hostile to the Jews, Jesus revealed himself to a woman at a well. She was so amazed, she ran and told her entire village. And then, they all came out and they believed in him. Without any signs or wonders, they believed in him by his words alone. This must have been a real spiritual high for Jesus.

After two days there, he left to go back to Galilee. Nazareth is the place where Jesus grew up and it was in Galilee. It is like saying that Cowan is in Delaware county.

Also, in this area was Cana, which is about 10 miles from Nazareth. Cana was the place where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water to wine. By this time, word had spread from a few who knew what happened that Jesus had performed a miracle there.

When Jesus first proclaimed his calling by God in Nazareth, Luke 4:16 tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, because that was his custom. At one point, he stood up to read and a scroll was handed to him. He read from Isaiah,

“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.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. 

The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people from his hometown were shocked and they became angry. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph, the carpenter’s son?” Finally, they drove him to the edge of town and nearly tossed him off a cliff. During this skirmish, Jesus proclaimed, I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”

Now we have Jesus, in John chapter 4 headed back toward his own homeland. What was he thinking?    That is the last place I would want to go to. After the way they treated him, you would think he would avoid that place as if they had the plague! But not Jesus.

Then, something strange happens. When Jesus arrived, they welcomed him. It doesn’t say they rolled out the red carpet and celebrated him, but they didn’t reject him either. Scripture says this was the case – because some had witnessed Jesus (found in John 2:12-25) turn over tables in the Temple and heal people.

Notice verses 2:24-25 especially, it reads, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” In other words, Jesus understood that the people didn’t really believe in him as the Messiah, they were just mesmerized by the signs and miracles.

Once Jesus arrived back in Galilee, the attitude there was the same as what it was in Jerusalem. They still saw Jesus as one of their own, not the Messiah, but now also as a celebrity and one who did miracles. They welcomed and followed him, with great anticipation.

In essence, they believed in him but had no faith in him. We often use the words believe and faith, as if they were the same thing, but they are not. It is possible to believe someone, or something exists and still not have that belief affect your life.

For example, I can believe that planes fly but also lack the faith to ever board one. While belief is the first step in knowing something, faith deals more with trust and action. True faith gets me on that plane, even when I cannot fly it or understand how it actually goes about flying.

Now, as we return to Galilee, Jesus stopped in Cana. While he was there, a certain royal official, whose son was sick in Capernaum, which is about 17-18 miles away, heard that Jesus was there and traveled to see him. We don’t know how he traveled but if he walked, it would be a good 5-6 hours.

This man may have been part of Herod’s court but as a royal official, he was a man of means and part of the governing class. He had more than likely already been to all the physicians in Capernaum.

No amount of money or connections would help his son, so he turned in desperation to Jesus. Let’s be clear, he wasn’t doing this because he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but because he knew that Jesus had performed miracles.

Once this royal official found where Jesus was in the city, he went there and begged Jesus to come and heal his son, and by this time, his son was close to death.

I can just imagine the crowd following Jesus listening in and moving closer. Would this be it? Would they get to see Jesus perform a miracle?

Looking at the man and then the crowd, Jesus said, “Unless ‘you people’ see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.”

Frightened and fearing that Jesus would not go, the man pleaded, “Sir, come with me before my son dies.” Turning and looking into his eyes, Jesus saw only a man suffering and he took pity on him.

Softly Jesus spoke to him, “You may go. Your son will live.” I imagine those standing around were asking one another, “What did he say? Are we going to see a miracle or not?”

The royal official believed Jesus, he took him at his word and departed. There would be no spectacular laying on of hands, no sign for the crowd to gawk at. The followers must have moved back frustrated, waited for another opportunity. Imagine how that must have made Jesus feel.

The man left and headed home to see his son. He had to be saying to himself, if this man is a miracle worker, he must know what he is saying, so I will trust him. What choice did he have?

Let me just ask you-all, would that be enough for you? Because I am not sure that would be enough for me.

Were these just empty words meant to pacify the man or was more going on here? What did this man see in Jesus’ eyes?

Scripture tells us indirectly, that this man must have not wanted to travel in the heat if the day or knew better than to travel at night, because he left the next day. Remember, it was only a 6-hour trip by foot. Something caused him to be delayed. We know that by what comes next.

While the royal official was on his way home, his servants met him on the road with the news that is son was alive and well. Surprised, the man inquired as to the exact time when his son got better. They replied, “The fever left him yesterday, at the 7th hour”. The seventh hour in their time is 1pm.

Then, the father realized that this was the exact time Jesus had told him that his son would live. Just a note here; 7 is the number of perfection in the Bible. The use of the 7th hour is important because it was the right time for God to heal him. All things work together for good in God’s time. (Romans 8:28) This was No accident!

This Royal official had his miracle, his son would live! Only God could accomplish such a feat. Certainly, none of these things passed by the father of the boy who was healed. He trusted Jesus and Jesus came through. I think then, this man’s eyes were truly opened, and he had a deeper, stronger faith.

Then he went home and shared all that had happened and his whole household became believers. Had he demanded that Jesus come or demand a miracle, he may have not seen the same outcome.

Someone once said, faith is not what you believe, it’s what you do that matters. Rev. William Sloane Coffin once said, “Faith isn’t believing without proof it’s trusting without reservation.”

Also, James 2:19 reminds us that “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shutter.”

The question is, where will that belief take you? What will it inspire you to do – or what will it do within you to carry you through good times and bad? The question is, do you really trust God?

Our Hebrews 12 passage reminds us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. After all he has been through already for us, it says, do not give up on him; do not grow weary or lose heart. Trust in Jesus and his timing.

Evangelist Beth Moore, once wrote, “After many years of being a Christian who believed in Jesus and His salvation, she said, “I felt the Holy Spirit leading her to understanding something new, it was this “I didn’t ask you to believe in Me. I asked you to believe Me.”

Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  When we have that kind of faith, we live into it. We trust, and we act accordingly.

My question for you this morning is…do you believe in Jesus? Then, if you say yes…do you have faith to trust in all circumstances and to live for him. If your answer is yes, it is time to pick up your cross and follow.

Today, Jesus needs faithful followers more than ever.

Amen.

Having Nothing and yet Possessing Everything – June 30, 2019

In 2015, Pixar released the animated movie “Inside Out”. The story revolves around the life of a little girl named Riley Anderson who was born in a small town in Minnesota. From an early age, Riley had many happy memories. All of that changes, when she, at the age of 11, moved to San Francisco with her family. The new house was cramped and old, the local pizza parlor only sold pizza topped with broccoli, her father was stressed and often gone, and their luggage got lost so she had no clothes. For the first time, Riley was experiencing some sad and confusing emotions.

Within her mind’s headquarters, her basic emotions, Sadness, Joy, Fear, Disgust and Anger were thrown out of balance. So, what happens when she tried to suppress all the ‘so called bad feelings?’ Riley’s life slipped off track. Her world was turned upside down. And her emotions spun out of control.

Inside Out is a very creative and engaging story about a child coming of age and having to deal with all her emotions. Sure, there are things we never want to deal with, but, in truth, we cannot avoid them. It is a story about growing up, changing expectations and seeing the world for what it really is; it is about learning to process the good times and the bad.

The Apostle Paul also knew a lot about living life in good times and in bad. Paul (named Saul early on) was born in Tarsus (now in the area we call Turkey), in a Roman province. By all accounts, Paul had a comfortable childhood with few problems. As he grew up, he was trained to work with his hands and he became a tentmaker.

Paul received a good education, both in academic skills and in faith development and later became a member of the Pharisees. By his own account, Paul was the best Jew and the best Pharisee of his generation (Galatians 1:13–14; Philippians 3:4–6).

Later he claimed to be the best apostle of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:22–23) though he attributed his excellence to the grace of God. In case you didn’t notice; modesty was not his strongest suit. Neither was compassion, empathy or understanding, as we will soon see.

Paul was somewhat narrow-minded and took a very hardline against others who did not believe like he believed. This led to his dislike of early Christians. The chief persecutors of the Christian movement in Jerusalem were the high priest and his associates, who were Sadducees. Yet Paul believed that Jewish converts to the new movement were not sufficiently observant of the Jewish law and that Jewish converts mingled too freely with Gentile converts.

In an attempt to stop the new Christian movement, Paul and others went from synagogue to synagogue, confronting and punishing those who claimed to follow Jesus. Early believers were pressured to reject the movement and if they did not, they were ostracized, beaten or flogged, and some were stoned.

Paul was faithful to the law and he believed he had all the answers. But all of that changed on the road to Damascus. Acts Chapter 9 reveals that Saul, as he was known then, was spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples as they rode along on horseback. As they neared the city, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around them.

Startled, Saul’s horse bucked him off and Saul fell to the ground. That is when he heard a voice from heaven call out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord”, Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what to do.”

Now, to make a long story short, Saul was speechless and blind for 3 days until a man named Ananias (a Christ follower) laid hands on him and prayed over him. He regained his sight, and at a later point, Saul would officially become Paul.

This encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus radically changed Paul’s life. From that point on, instead of persecuting Christians, he embraced them. But since they knew his background, many were leery of him. He would have to prove to them, by his ongoing faithfulness, that he was a changed man.

Paul would go from prosecutor to sufferer, he would go from cocky to humble and from arrogant to faith-driven. Listen to the new description he gives himself in 2 Corinthians chapter 11:16-17, 22-28

“Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind, to talk like this.) I am more.

  “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 5 times I received from the Jews, the 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. 

“I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled; and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily; the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” He ends like this,…   (vs 30-31) “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God, and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.”

Paul has had an amazing transformation. We might call it a heart change but I suspect it is more then that. His entire value system has changed. It reflects an earlier conversation between Peter and Jesus.

In Mark 10:28-31 “Peter said to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!”

Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times more now in this present age:

“houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, and with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  (He is saying, be careful what you wish for…)

You see, the security of this world is found in finances and stuff we accumulate; Homes, cars, property; all tangible stuff. Jesus tells us not to trust any of it and to let it go when necessary. In the Greek, to let it all go means; to release it and not hold on too tight. Because it is ‘the empty hand’ that gives us a full heart. From it we give and receive.

Rev. AW Tozier once wrote, “It is amazing how God becomes everything, when you have nothing.”  King David said ‘it’ in a similar way when he wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (I lack nothing); Everything else is meaningless.

Once Paul experienced Jesus; his understanding about life was turned ‘inside out’. It changed his world view from scarcity to abundance, from disappointment to satisfaction and from keeping the rule of law to showing mercy, grace and love.

Maybe Paul finally understood the Be-attitudes for the first time. One pastor interprets Matthew 5:5-8 like this, “Blessed are the meek, the ones who claim nothing, For they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the ones who desire nothing but truth, for they will be filled. Blessed are merciful, the ones who forgive others, for they will be shown mercy. And blessed are the pure in heart, the ones who have a right vision, for they will see God.” 

After a horrific fire, a man and his wife held on tightly to their children and watched their house burn. A neighbor walked up, saw tears in their eyes and said, “Don’t worry, what you lost can be replaced by insurance.”

The wife turned and said, “You have misinterpreted our tears. They are not about what we lost, our tears are for what was saved.”  They understood the concept about having nothing – and yet possessing everything.

Mark 8:36 reads, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”  That should make us stop and think about what it is we are trying to get and what we are willing to give up.

In this frame of mind, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, about how he approaches his work and ministry, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commit ourselves ‘in every way’ to what comes (He starts with the bad things): in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 

(He then moves to the good) “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 

(Then he shifts to a balance of the two) “through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown;

“dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

What Paul is saying is, we can remember all the bad or good things, but life comes in a mix of both. He was, you see, becoming ‘wise like Solomon’. Remember, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. How you interpret it is all up to you.

As a young man, film director Robert Flaherty spent many months in the far north looking for iron ore and cod. He found neither, but he did shoot 70,000 feet of film in his travels. Later someone encouraged him to edit the film and make a documentary of the land, which Flaherty spent weeks doing. But just as he finished, a match from his cigarette dropped among the celluloid, consuming the entire film and burning Flaherty badly. A friend said to him that he must be cursed and that apparently, he wasn’t supposed to make the film. What a tragedy!

Flaherty’s response to the disaster was – a determination to return to the far north and make a film of Eskimo life “that people would never forget.” Instead of focusing on the land, he decided he would focus on just one family. He did just that, and the result was the classic 1922 documentary, ‘Nanook of the North’. It has since been labeled the 7th best documentary ever filmed.

He went from having nothing – to capturing something special. All it required was for him to not give up and to see things from a new perspective.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism once said, “Give me 100 preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen; they alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon Earth.”

I want to end with 2 songs that I think capture this mindset of desiring nothing but God. The first is by the group Unspoken. Here is the chorus, “Just give me Jesus, Just give me Jesus
There’s nothing I desire – that can’t be found in You. You’re everything that I’ve ever needed
Just give me Jesus.” 

The second song ‘you have heard’, it is an old African spiritual made new by Chris Tomlin called ‘Enough’. Listen…

All of You, is more than enough, for all of me For every thirst and every need,
You satisfy me with Your love, And all I have in You, is more than enough

You’re my sacrifice of greatest price And still more awesome than I know
You’re the coming King, – You are everything And still more awesome than I know.

And I want to add this last line of my own, “Even if I have nothing, I possess everything if I have you, Jesus.”

So, your assignment is,…to reexamine your life through God’s eyes. What are you ‘holding onto’ that you should let go? Then, how can you use your time and gifts to advance God’s kingdom, one life at a time? Seek and you will find.

Amen.

“All the Lonely People” – June 23, 2019

In 1972, Journalist and author Vance Packard wrote a book about America called “A Nation of Strangers”. In the book, his studies showed that 4 out of 10 people experienced feelings of intense loneliness.

He wrote, “Our American culture produces people who more closely identify with characters on a weekly TV series, than with their own neighbors. Everywhere you look, there are signs that people are hungering for fellowship, community, and a sense of family.”

Back in 1966, the Beatles sang about that dilemma in their song “Eleanor Rigby”. They sang, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

Now, let’s fast forward to Today. Certainly things are much better, right? Social Media is booming, people send tweets, pictures and spend hours on Facebook Whats App, We Chat, Tumblr, Instagram, and snap chat.

Yet on National Health Day, December 18, 2018 a University of California study suggested that 3 out of 4 Americans struggle with ongoing feelings of loneliness. They also pointed out 3 age groups who seem to be hit the worst; those in their late 20’s, 50’s and 80’s.

Dr. Dilip Jeste wrote, “The late 20s are a time when people are making choices that will affect the rest of their lives, such as their career, their choice of life partner and where they will settle. It really puts a lot of responsibility on them,” Jeste said. “It’s a really difficult period. And when they compare themselves to others, they might feel they aren’t doing as well as their peers.”

Studies suggest that many young people today talk about building relationships or engaging in ‘experiences’ but they seldom talk of joining or committing to anything. And most are lucky, if they have one close friend.

“The mid-50s are when people tend to experience a mid-life crisis, as signs of aging highlight the fact that their time on Earth is limited. They have major illnesses or surgeries, they may be caring for aging parents and have probably lost loved ones”.

The late 80s are a time of increased fear of helplessness. People may be dealing with ‘health that is in decline’ and them may have lost a spouse. Also, they may not have many people left around them, either family or friends.

Yet loneliness can happen at any age, at any time, and to anyone. It is no respecter of status or proximity to others. Loneliness is defined as; a feeling of being separated or isolated from others. Notice, first off, it is a feeling (and while no one can tell you how to feel, the Bible warns us about controlling our emotions.)

Proverbs 25:28 reads, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” And Ephesians 4:26 warns us it is ok to be angry but don’t sin. Likewise, it is ok to feel alone at times, as long as we do not wallow in loneliness.

The great playwright Thomas Wolfe wrote, “Don’t think of loneliness as some curious abstraction or rare phenomenon. Loneliness is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”

As we flip through the covers of our Bible, from Genesis through Revelation we find folks dealing constantly with seasons of loneliness. It is there in the life of Job, Jacob, Moses, King David, Solomon, Nehemiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, the disciples and even Jesus himself.

As Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane, he was beginning to feel the distance from God the Father and from his disciples. He told Peter, James and John to remain behind and to keep watch as he went to pray.

But when he came back a short time later, he found his disciples sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?” Imagine the hurt, frustration and feelings of being alone and misunderstood that Jesus must have experienced.

Yet Jesus also knew a few other things; that what he was feeling was only temporary and that it was not completely true. God may turn his back on the sin but he would never abandon his Son. And he understood that this was just for a season.

David writes in the 23rd Psalm verse 4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” This was only one small part of his life’s journey.

Several pastors have written about the lies we believe about loneliness. Here are several I liked; feeling lonely is not a curse or a punishment from God. You are not the only one to ever feel this way. Feeling lonely is not a sign that you do not have enough faith. And finally, feeling lonely does not mean that God is abandoning you or does not care for you. The truth is, it is just a state of mind that most often passes.

Just a side note, if loneliness persists, it can lead to depression and hopelessness. If it does, seek help. Don’t be afraid to get support, that is not a sign of weakness, it just makes good sense. We all need someone to talk to from time to time.

Chuck Swindoll writes about an advertisement he saw in a Kansas Newspaper that read, “”I will listen to you talk for 30 minutes without comment for $5.”

Swindoll writes, “Sounds like a hoax, doesn’t it? But the person was serious. Did anybody call? You bet. It wasn’t long before this individual was receiving 10 to 20 calls a day. The pain of loneliness was so sharp that some were willing to try anything for a half-hour of companionship”

Back in 1982, the show ‘Cheers’ premiered on TV.  In the opening theme song, these words rang clear, “Making your way in the world today, takes everything you’ve got.

 Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? 

“Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same 
You wanna be… where everybody knows your name”. 

People tuned into that show for 11 years, some, just to hear the opening song. We really do want to be understood, be cared about and be listened to. A few years later, “Friends” would use the same formula.

But just being near people is not enough, we need to be engaged. Have you ever gone somewhere and felt lonely in a crowd? Have you ever gone out with a group of people, only to find that you didn’t quite fit in?

At first I thought it was only me. Then I started paying attention. There are a lot of times I go to the store smile at people, and random people begin to talk to me. And sometimes it is hard to get away!

Our Bible has a lot to say about this; In Genesis, God created man to be in fellowship with him. But Adam was still lonely, so God gave him a companion, Eve. From the very beginning, in Genesis 2:20, it says, we were created to be social creatures, who need one another.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reads, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls – and has no one to help him up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Galatians 6:2 records these words, “Help carry one other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

The opposite of feeling lonely is feeling like you belong. It is feeling like you connect; that people notice you and they care. Being connected ‘by the internet’ is a good temporary fix but we need more. We were designed for face to face relationships.

Scientists tell us that by ‘looking at someone, touching them and just by being near’, our stress level drops and our overall health improves. We also know that little children who are ‘deprived of touch and speech’ suffer and can even ‘die from loneliness and depression’.

Americans like to be known as ‘lone rangers’ and when we get angry we sometimes say,

“I don’t need you. I don’t need anybody.”  C.S. Lewis wrote ‘that that’ is just not true, “we are all in need of intimate relationships.” Yet we spend much of our lives denying that need and we are ‘helped by our culture’ that binds our eyes.

In his book Facing Loneliness, Rev. J. Oswald Sanders writes, ‘The millionaire is usually a lonely man and the comedian is often more unhappy than his audience.

On his 65th Birthday, Science Fiction writer HG Wells wrote, “I am 65, and I am lonely and have never found peace.” Albert Einstein, in later years wrote, “It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to still be so lonely.” Unfortunately, both rejected God.

Elisabeth Elliott, who lost her husband early in their marriage to the Auca Indians in South America Jim Elliot was murdered (Books and movies: Through Gates of Splendor & End of the Spear)

Elisabeth said out of her experience: “When you are lonely too much stillness is exactly the thing that seems to be laying waste your soul, but use that stillness to quiet your heart before God. Get to know Him.”    That is where we all must start. 

The Bible tells us that we are all loved, even before we knew God or were created. And God’s love never stops. One Bible version of Ephesians 2:19 reads, “You are no longer foreigners or strangers, but citizens together with God’s holy people. You belong to God’s family.”

Ephesians 1:5 says that we were adopted into God’s family, through Christ Jesus.

And Jesus himself promises us in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

You see, in God’s family, you are never alone. We have God and we have each other. The Church is the family of God.    And because God knows how important it is for us to stay connected.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews (10:25) writes, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” In the sentence before, he writes, let’s spur each other on.

Now, sticking spurs in a horse to make it run faster seems cruel and kind of harsh, doesn’t it? What we are being called to do is to ‘challenge or excite others’ to go far beyond ‘where we believe we can go’.

That is what family does. They believe in you. They support you. They don’t always agree with you but they love you anyway.  They want the best for you and they stand by you, through thick and thin.

But becoming part of the Family of God requires a commitment. You have to make a choice to belong. No one can force you. But when you do join, although it may not be perfect, it will be a place of hope, peace, joy, grace and love.

I wish I could say, from this point on, that everything would be perfect, but it won’t. But we have to look for the best in one another. There will still be times when we feel lonely.

It happens to all of us. Sometimes, we ‘just have to remember’ our family ties and get re-connected to get through the tough times. Just remember, you don’t have to go it alone.        

We do need each other. We do belong to God and the family of God; His church. And we are never alone or unloved but we have to choose to belong. If you haven’t, make that choice to be connected, Today.

Your assignment is…accept what cannot be changed. Change what you can. Then, trust God for the rest. Finally, if you feel alone, don’t be afraid to reach out to God and one another. That is why we are here. If you are not feeling alone, maybe it is time to reach out to another.

Someone needs to be reminded that they are appreciated and loved!  Amen.

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.