Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Connecting In Christ: Loving Flawed People

Focus Passage: John 8:1-11

The sun was low in the sky on this day after the Feast of Tabernacles. The pilgrims were ready to start home, but many had crowded around Jesus to hear him one last time before they left. Pushing through the crowd, a group of Pharisees brought a woman half dressed and forced her to stand before the crowd. With anger in their eyes, they practically spit out the charge, ‘we have caught this woman in adultery – Jesus, what do you say should happen to her?” His words disarmed them. “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.’ His response serves as an example of how we are to deal with the flawed people that surround us in life.

It is so easy to focus on another’s flaws. What would it have been like to be part of the crowd that day? The accusation was clear, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.” V.4 The woman never argued that she was innocent. Her clothes and appearance probably made everyone know she was guilty. Have her stoned to death. She is guilty and deserves the right penalty. Why is it that we cheer when someone else if found guilty?

It is so easy to feel self-righteous. The Pharisees know what should be done, “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" (v.5) They want Jesus to make the pronouncement so that they can feel smug. Yet, what happens when we are the one who is less than perfect. We get caught in a lie. We over extend our credit cards and are deep in debt. We all have deep secrets. Maybe that is why we are glad when the spot light gets turned onto the problems and sins of others. In the shadows, we can look a little more perfect.

Jesus’ pause makes us feel uneasy. I find myself wondering what Jesus wrote in the dust. Was it the sins of those who were accusing – as God he would have known who was naughty and who was nice better than Santa Claus. When he does speak, he tells them "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." (v.7) As I read the story, I find myself squirming. Just at the time that we think we are safe, our flaws are exposed. Yet, the perfect Jesus reaches out and surprises us all.

Jesus surprises us with grace. It must have been awkward to stand before Jesus as wrote in the sand. His words – “then neither do I condemn you” (v.11) must have been a surprise.  Having her sin laid raw before Jesus and having been humiliated before the crowd, Jesus forgives her and gives her back her dignity and her self worth. She is forgiven under the cross of Jesus. Seek out the forgiveness of the cross. Only the cross has the ability to heal the flaws that we all have.

Before he lets her leave, Jesus gives her a word of encouragement and a direction. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (v.11)  He is saying that now that I have begun to unwrap you of your sin, do not go and get tangled again. For Jesus, it was not enough to just forgive her of her sin, he wanted to pull her out of the sin. To give her forgiveness only to have her go back to the same sin doesn’t rescue her. The forgiveness must be given as a chance at a new life. It must be the same for us. Jesus’ command to the woman sums up the mission. Free people by the forgiveness of Jesus from their sin and love them enough to help them sin no more.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Story: Book of Revelation - Hold On!

Focus: Book of Revelation

How do you encourage people to keep going? How do you motivate an athlete to give his best or get a person who has suffered a heart attack or who just has diabetes like me to change their diet and exercise because their life depends on it? Did someone scream at them like on the biggest loser? We could ask that of the church. Record numbers seem to be dropping out of the church and leaving the Lord. How does the church engage people who think that the church is boring or that they are too busy for religion? Such was the question in the early church. Persecution was heavy and temptations to leave the church were all around them. It was time for a view from above and a peek at the ending so people could be encouraged and not fall away.

They have lost their first love. Rev. 2:4 It had been over sixty years since Jesus had died on the cross. Most of the first generation Christians were gone and the second generation was growing weak in their faith. The seven letters enumerate how Satan was chipping away at the church. The once strong church of Asia Minor was slipping away. This book was a plea for the church to hold on and not give in to persecution or apathy. It is a message well taken today. Satan is killing Christians around the world who must die for their faith and is filling our American lives with busyness and hobbies.

The first battle has been won Rev. 7:14 God has already won the first battle. Through the cross of Jesus, He has saved both the Jew and the Gentile from the coming wrath here on earth and on the last day. John is pleading with the people to not throw away the victory that is theirs in Christ. They can see the beginnings of the fall of the Roman Empire. They can look to Jerusalem and see the temple destroyed. Don’t throw away your protection and future that you have in Jesus.

It is going to get tough. Rev. 16:1 There will be waves of famine, war, and seas of blood. Sadly, the evening news is filled with these occurrences every night. It is the result of a world filled with sin in which men kill each other and people starve in the aftermath. God will allow these things to happen to break down man’s pride. A world upside down shows that man cannot fix things. This is a time to hold onto the Lord. You and I cannot control what is coming in the world. We can protect ourselves, but God can. For those who have the Lord, they would be wise to not let go.

Satan will be destroyed Rev. 20:10 In the end, Satan and all the things that people rely on will be destroyed. False religions based on works or false gods will be gone. Technology and governments that people think will provide the answers will be destroyed. Satan himself will be judged and spend eternity in hell. Yes, they will wage war against God and the church. They can’t win the war because they cannot overcome the Lord. As strong as Satan is, he is not stronger than God. In the gospels, Jesus only had to utter one word and the demons obeyed.

God’s future reality- New Jerusalem Rev. 21:1 For those who do hold on, there is a vision of what the future can look like. It is a beautiful place filled with God’s people living and communing with God. In heaven, you will find the ones who overcame. Satan tempted them and they did not give in. For that reason, they will spend eternity celebrating. I want you to see all the scary things of Revelation and place yourself in God’s hands. Hold on to him and let him help you through the trials that are coming. Don’t find yourself outside His hands and trying to deal with illness, violence, and the harm of others by yourself. You can’t handle it. Revelation is a plea not to give up on God. He is your future and brings the promise of great things to come in eternity for those who just hold on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Connecting In Christ: Showing Up

Focus Passage: Matthew 25:31-46

If you love someone, you show up when they are in need. It doesn’t matter how busy you are or how difficult it will be, you will be there to help. My wife Joan knows what that is like. It was a first year of ministry in a new parish and her sister died in a car accident 400 miles away. We rushed to be with Joan’s family and support each other. Yet, when we got back only one person out of the 300 in our congregation came to the door or sent a card consoling Joan in her grief. They loved her, but just figured that a pastor’s wife didn’t need their help with grief. Jesus in the text talks of a host of opportunities for us to show up for one another. Love is about showing up for others and putting the faith you confess into action.

Love is showing up. One of the best examples that I can think of love is the three friends of Job. When Job loses his wealth and all his children, the three friends come and sit with him for a week with out saying a word. Job thinks that he has lost everything and here his friends show that he not lost one thing – their friendship. They will sit with him. They will cry with him. They will take on his pain. Loving friends show up. 

Love is about listening. No one said that you have to have all the answers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The book of James tells us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. We often have no idea what they are really feeling or what they really need. What they need is an ear to listen and to let them vent their frustration and their pain. God can speak volumes of love through our quiet. 

Love is about praying. And when they are wearied by their own words or wearied by the emotions that have been spent, take time and pray. Few are offended – even non-Christians – if you pray for them from your heart and without any source of personal gain. Pray about the concerns that you heard with your heart as they spoke. And pray from your heart – not in big words, but in the emotions of one who has been touched by what you have heard. 

Let it touch your heart. When Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus, we find that the text says simply – Jesus wept. He wouldn’t have had to do that. He knew that the Father was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. If such pain can touch the heart of our Lord, it should touch our heart as well. You feel the pain of those who are hungry or thirsty. You feel the pain of those mourning or in grief. You feel the loneliness of the stranger. Showing up is showing up with your human emotions. Even Jesus cried and had his heart broken by the needs of others. They felt his heart and knew that he had fully shown up for them. It is the same today.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Story - Later life of Paul: Mission Multiplied Into Legacy

 Focus Passage: Acts 16-28

There is great power in a legacy. Mount Rushmore shows us the legacies of four of our great presidents. Washington is the father of our country. Jefferson wrote its constitution. Lincoln saved the nation. Teddy Roosevelt – well I was told that he was up there because of his stance on nature and monopolies. Imagine Fillmore, Tyler, Harrison and Buchanan gracing the monument. It is not the same. Four presidents, yes, but not the same effect. It is all about their legacy. St. Paul was one of those who had a legacy that touches every living Christian today. Few of us have not been touched by the books of Roman, Corinthians or Philippians. Many of us look to his example in life as a guide for our ministry. Today we will look at his legacy and ours.

A. Paul was always training people as they worked together: Romans 16:21  At the end of the book of Romans, twenty six people are mentioned by name as having ministered with Paul. Some we know well. Others are only mentioned in the bible here. All had a big impact on the church. His heart and life touched them and they were witnesses together of the gospel. Everyone was better because of their time with Paul. Pastors and people are not to work in isolation. Part of our ministry is to each other. God made it that way so that we could leave a piece of ourselves with each other.

B. Paul multiplied his ministry by letters: Colossians 4:18 In prison, Paul could not be silenced. They could chain him up and keep him from going to those he served, but they could not stop his pen. 13 letters of Paul are included in the Bible and I am sure that there were others as well. His letters multiplied his ministry as one church got the letter and then copies went out to other churches around them. His letters still touch people’s hearts for they are his legacy to us. We sense Paul’s faith and his intimate knowledge of God’s wisdom and plan.

C: Paul multiplied his ministry by training coworkers: Titus 1:5 The churches that Paul planted got to be so many that he could not minister to them all. So Paul sent Titus to Crete, Timothy to Ephesus, Crescens went to Galatia and many others went to other churches. Paul multiplied the ministry by training and sending coworkers across the mission field. Paul would probably tell us to mentor someone else and be mentored by them. Invest in someone else and it will pay dividends for years. They, too, will be your legacy for years to come.

D: Poured out, Paul left an example: 2 Timothy 4:6 Yet one of the greatest legacies that Paul ever left was the example of his life. Second Timothy is the last letter that Paul ever wrote and it talks of his upcoming death. The message is simple: Timothy follow the example of my life that you have witnessed and participated in. People don’t look at your achievements, they look at your life. What were your values and what was the character that you exhibited. All the degrees and accolades don’t mean as much as the example that you showed others and the way that you poured yourself out in life.

People are our greatest legacy. I think of several pastor friends who have retired lately and some churches around us that have closed and I wonder what they left behind as legacy. The pastors may have rooms named for them or churches had massive building projects that doubled their size. Yet what they really leave behind is the memories of the people who they helped. It may be the person with cancer that pastor and people helped for months. It may be a children’s program that brought a family to the Lord. The currency of legacy is people. How do you want to be remembered? How would you like people to remember your church? How do you want them to remember you? Legacy is built now. What we do today can have an impact for generations to come.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Connecting In Christ: As I Have Loved You

Focus passage: John 15:9-17

How much do you love me? How much do you love your wife or your children? How much do you love the friend down the street or the cousin across the country? I guess the only way to really know is what you would do for them. Would you help them by giving them $1000 if they were really in trouble? Would you give someone one of your kidneys if you were a match? To be honest, I would gladly do either of those for a wife or one of my children, but giving a kidney would be hard to a friend or even a cousin that I don’t see often. Jesus seems to sometimes ask the impossible.  On the night before Jesus dies, He asks them to love each other just as He has loved them. There had been no doubt of His love through the three years He had been with them. Now as He prepared to show them how much He loved them by dying for them, he asked what they were willing to do for each other. What would you sacrifice for Jesus? Could you love others even half as much as He has loved you?

Was it an impossible command? v.12. I sense the disciples wondering if they could ever love as much as Jesus had loved them and others. I find myself wondering the same thing. He had been willing to make sacrifices for them and for others. His love had always been pure and open to a lot of people who did not deserve His love. He had opened his heart to the widow, the prostitute, the tax collector and even many Pharisees. Who could love like that? There is no way you will love anyone, even yourself as much as Jesus loves you. I sense Him telling you and me to look to Him as the model for love. Don’t love conditionally. Don’t love expecting something back in return. To love as He does is not about quantity, it is about quality. Aim to love with an open heart like Jesus did.

He is our source of love v.9 Come to Jesus and let him show you his love. Real love is only possible if we abide in Jesus. They must keep connected to Jesus if they are to have the power needed to have such love. Our love runs out. It gets tired. It gets distracted. His love never ran out. He loved even the unlovable people of His society. I know that when I struggle to love others, the problem is that I don’t always realize how much Jesus loves me. I have not pondered the depth of His love and the depth of my unworthiness. I don’t deserve His love, but God has given it to me regardless. When I bask in the love of Jesus, it warms me and gives me the confidence to love others. I give His love to others because, by myself, I don’t have enough love to give away.

Still don’t feel like loving? v. 11 There are times that all sounds nice, but I am struggling with my own problems and don’t have time to love and listen to the troubles of others. How can I help others when I feel like I am running on empty?  In order to love, we have to be filled with Jesus’ love. The disciples had felt that love intimately for three years. Now Jesus was asking them to love as they had been loved. Many Christians have kept Jesus at an arm’s length. He is not allowed in their workplace, their home, or their hobbies. He is at the edge of life confined to church events. That makes it hard to love others because we are starving for love ourselves. Those who find it easy to love have invited Jesus into their lives and hearts so that they can reach in and let His love reach out from inside them.

Giving from the abundance of Jesus’ love. v.15 A starving man struggles to give away some of the precious food he has. A person who receives more food each day gives out of the abundance for they have more than they need. Jesus has called them friends and has given them more than they could use every day He has been with them. Sounds like foolishness, doesn’t it. Yet, Jesus in the previous verses talks about abiding in him and abiding in his words. Taking time to learn from Jesus is the key. You can’t spend two hours and think you have mastered Algebra. Those who daily are in Bible study and prayer are putting the Lord inside of their hearts in a powerful way that they can reach in and use in those times that they need to love or need Jesus’ help.

People notice when Christians love. They notice when Christians feel the hungry at a soup kitchen. They notice when Christians hand out backpacks to school children or visit the elderly at the nursing home. If a business is giving away free pens or has a drawing for a free trip to the Caribbean, there is often a feeling that there is a catch. Our world gives to get something in return. The genuine love of Christians as they care for the people around them defies logic. It is not giving because we get something in return. It is giving to others because Jesus has already given to us. Such love and giving set Christians apart from the world and can lead people to want the love of Jesus that we have. While we can never love to the degree that Jesus did, if we have Jesus in our heart, we will love the way that he did. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Story: Early Life of Paul - The Church Expands

Focus Passage: Acts 8-16

Change brings blessings. Think what life would be like if we all still used horses and wagons or lit our homes with kerosene lamps. Think of what it is like when your furnace goes out or if the electricity is gone for a night. People used to live like that all the time, but I doubt that we would go back. Yet, churches are not supposed to change. Try and change the style of service or the way the voter’s meeting is run and you will have a mutiny on your hands. Yet, as we will see change comes even in the church. The church expanded into new areas and new people. God wants the church to reach the world and have the blessings that it brings.

A. God changes hearts Acts 9:15 Three years after the first Easter, God changed a heart that became a movement. Saul was a persecutor of the church and was one of those who did not want any changes to the Old Testament way of doing things. Then God stepped in with a blinding light and a disabling blindness. His message delivered by Ananias to Paul was that Paul would take the Gospel out to the world. God is still changing hearts because he wants the church to expand. People need to know that God wants to include them into His family.

B. God moves beyond Palestine Acts 13:2 For fourteen years, the gospel had been centered in Palestine. Now it was time for the church to move beyond Judea and Syria. God called Paul and Barnabas to begin this ministry in earnest. The church at Antioch would be their base and give them support for the ministry. God wants us to move beyond these walls to places we care about. It might be a family that needs the comfort of the gospel. It might be a coworker who is struggling and needs a friend. The Gospel was not meant to be contained in these walls. It must expand and reach out into the community.

C. God moves beyond the Jews to the Gentiles Acts 15:19 Yet the success of the ministry made some uncomfortable. They wanted the Gentile Christians to follow all the Jewish rules if they were to be part of the church. The church wondered, “Did you have to be Jewish to be loved by God?” The answer came back no. Gentiles should obey the Ten Commandments and keep themselves pure, but the gospel was being freely given to them. God wanted all these people to be part of His family just as He did the Jews. God did not want to make it difficult for all men to be saved.

D. God moves beyond Asia into Europe Acts 16:9 Paul began his second missionary journey seeing many of the churches in Asia Minor that he had started two years before. A new chapter was beginning and it was to places unfamiliar to Paul. The cities of Greece and later Rome were places filled with people crying out for the message of the gospel. These were the home of Lydia, Luke, Pricilla, and Aquila to name a few. God loved the whole world. Today we see the gospel expanding onto all the continents and with all kinds of people. The world is His.

Expansion of ministry is a blessing Acts 8:1 You might think that it was easy to expand the gospel, but human nature tells you that it was not easy at all. The early church enjoyed the fellowship of each other and did not seem eager to disperse. An expansion is a blessing. We may not want to do it at first, but God knows how much it will be a blessing. The early church moved from the safety of Jerusalem and started going out into the world around them. New people became part of the church and it prospered. God knows the blessings. He knows the new friends that people can make. He knows how the church expanding will impact its community for good. He wants those blessings for His people and so He nudges his people out of the comfortable nest.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Failure: Forgiveness Overcomes Failure

Focus Passage:  John 21:15-22

Facing failure of guilt, we need some forgiveness and hope. We are haunted by a mistake that we made that has changed our life. It is the infidelity that resulted in divorce. The angry words to our boss that got us fired. The car or home that has put us deeply in debt. How do you undo the past and rebuild the future? The answer is Jesus. You can’t undo the sins of the past by yourself. They will always haunt you even if you manage to get your life back together. Only Jesus can help us to forgive ourselves and move forward. Know that you are not alone. Even the apostle Peter had a guilt that weighed heavily on him. As he sits around the fire days after Easter, seeing Jesus was bittersweet. He was glad to see Jesus, but Peter had a burden. He had denied his Lord He wondered if he could be forgiven and if there was really hope for someone who had fallen like he had. This is a story of restoration for Peter and for us.

The first element of hope is God’s love. (v.15) We can never whitewash the truth to take away guilt. We can never control the things in our world so that we feel comfortable. Hope comes when we see the depth of God’s love. Peter saw that Jesus still loved him. Peter knew that he could never do enough to undo denying the Lord. He had hope because he realized that Jesus loved him in spite of what he had done. If you want to have hope, look to Christ. Hope comes when you feel in your heart that Jesus loves you and that he will do anything to help you in the future. You cannot control the future, but He can. You cannot fully prepare for the future, but He can handle whatever comes. Hope comes as we hope and trust in His love for us not in ourselves.

The second element of hope is God’s purpose. (v.15) Peter is told three times to go and feed God’s lambs and sheep. He is restored as a disciple so that he can spread the hope to others. He will care for others across Asia Minor and into Rome. Others will have hope because Peter will share the hope that he has in Jesus. Hope is not yours to keep. It is yours to give. Hope is yours to give to your children. It is yours to give to others in your church and your workplace and your family. Others around you are locked in guilt as well. Most people have things that they wish they could undo in life. Jesus is the answer to their guilt as well. We have hope because God is good and we need to share that hope with others. God has a plan for their future and ours.

The third element of hope is surrender to God. (v.18) Why do we trust the retirement banker who we know makes mistakes and not trust Christ? Why do we trust the doctor or the idiot on Television and not trust the Lord? If you want hope, you surrender to God and let him tell you what will work. Sometimes what He tells you defies logic. In the text, He tells Peter that Peter will be crucified. It is something that Peter mentions years later in the book of 2 Peter and happens in Rome in about AD 66. Sounds bad, but it will cap a wonderful life with the Lord. You can’t control your money or your health. You can’t control the direction of our country or the schools that your kids go to. Somethings you just have to surrender to the Lord confident that God will make the most of our lives and bring us joy.

The fourth element is to trust God’s plan for you (v.21). Don’t get trapped in the comparison trap. It will rob you of hope. Peter finds out he will die and wants to know about John. Here is the beloved disciple. Here is the only disciple that came to the cross while all the others hid in fear or betrayed the Lord like Peter. Does he get a better deal, Lord? What about him? Like children we are always comparing our jobs, our children, and our property. We want to know why someone seems to be doing better than we are. If you want hope, don’t compare. You will see all the good things that happen to people and miss all the hardships that they face. Just be glad about all that the Lord has brought to your life.

Jesus gives an invitation to hope. So how do you thrive when your world has fallen apart? You accept Jesus’ invitation to hope. Here is Peter’s call renewed. He was forgiven. He would serve the Lord again. Jesus would lead and Peter would follow. The future had a purpose and direction. Ask yourself how your life has been different because you have followed Jesus. What are the joys that have come because you surrendered to him? Take time to make a list of the blessings that have come because you have felt his love. Hope springs from Jesus. He can forgive the past because of his cross and rebuild our futures. What is impossible for us can be easily done by Him. Feel His love. Claim the forgiveness that He offers you and the promises that He has made in scripture concerning your future. Let Him exchange your guilt and failure for forgiveness and hope. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Story: Early Church - Now What?

Focus passage: Acts 1-8 April 3, 2016

Easter is over – Now What? Acts 1:6 The disciples followed Jesus for forty days after Easter. It was like old times. He taught them and he did miracles before them. Yet, it was different. He walked through walls, he didn’t need to sleep. Before Easter, they thought that they knew what the ministry was about. Now they were not sure. Curious, they asked him what came next. Is this the time that you are going to restore the Messianic Kingdom? What do you want us to do in this new kingdom? They didn’t realize the wave that was about to come. The early chapters of the book of Acts are a call to arms and a pattern for the church to get on fire. 

A. Power: Getting ready for God’s commission Acts 1:8 What was to come next was to be witnesses to Easter. Jesus had opened the door to heaven and established a relationship with God, but if no one knew about it, it would have little effect. To accomplish that, they would be given power from the Holy Spirit. He would come on them mightily on Pentecost. In preparation for that day, the people would pray constantly for ten days. They would open themselves up to the Spirit’s power for they knew that something big was happening. Prayer shows the vitality of a church. A church that prays had great power.

B. Witness: Telling what you have seen Acts 2:32 It was the dawning of a new day. The tongues of fire showed the gift of the spirit. Jesus whom many of the people in the crowd had seen crucified was alive. Having received power from God, the disciples simply told what they had seen and heard. The Holy Spirit worked upon the hearts of those who were present for the festival of Pentecost. 3000 people came to faith that day because Peter spoke what finally made sense to him. Let the Spirit explode though us so that this city might hear what Jesus has done for them. If they can reach 3000, can we reach 30?

C. Power: Constant recharging with Bible study, prayer and fellowship Acts 2:42 Prayer was not a onetime event, it was ongoing in the church. Like rechargeable batteries, they had to recharge the power if they were going to witness in touch times. They devoted themselves to Bible study and prayer letting the power of the Lord fill their lives. Here is a model for the church. It is to be a people connected with the Lord. Life doesn’t go well when you have no energy. How long will you survive without food? How long do you think people survive without spiritual food?
D. Witness: Overcoming resistance by being witnesses Acts 4:19-20 Thousands had become Christians and the Jewish leaders were worried so they arrested Peter and John and told them to stop preaching about Jesus. Having just healed a crippled beggar, Peter declared that it was by the power of Jesus that this man could walk. When the power comes on God’s people, they don’t just do witnessing, they become witnesses. Their whole life is about the wonder of the cross. They talk about it. They live it by showing kindness to others like the disciples did. Everyone knows who they belong to and where they stand.

Easter is over – Now What? First, you have to recharge your spiritual batteries. You are worthless to yourself and to others if you have no Godly power in you. You will have little ability to protect yourself from Satan’s temptations and no power to be a witness to others. Commit yourself to daily time in prayer and Bible study. It is something that you see again and again in the book of Acts. And as you are being fed, let your light shine. Not every one of us is a natural evangelist, but we all should have the light. Live in such a way that people see your good works and give glory to God in heaven. Live in such a way that people know you are a Christian and ask you to pray for them. Easter is over - Now what? The answer is simple. Live in the light of Easter as you power up through bible study and prayer so that your life doesn’t have to be ruled by the darkness. Then let your light shine so that Easter can dispel the darkness that has taken over the world.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Failure: Character Overcomes Failure

Focus passage: Numbers 12:1-16

Moses takes a whipping from his siblings. He hadn’t done anything wrong. His wife was not of one of the tribes of Israel. It is likely that Zipporah had died and Moses had taken a second wife. That wasn’t the real issue, however. It was jealousy. Moses was their little brother and God had made him the boss. Did this little brother forget that it was Miriam who had put him in the basket so long ago? Did Moses forget that it was Aaron who had spoken to Pharaoh when he was afraid to? Who did he think he was? There are times when even our friends and family seem to turn against us because of our success or God’s favor. We are hurt and wonder what we have done wrong. What is just as important is how we react when we are wrongly accused.

Moses shows true meekness in this situation. It would be only natural for Moses to yell and scream at his siblings in order to protect himself, but the text never says that he uttered a word. Moses never seemed to be protective about his position. Moses was comfortable sharing leadership first with Aaron during the plagues and then having Joshua at his side. When God made Aaron high priest instead of him, Moses obediently prepared his brother and his nephews for this high honor. Meekness is often seen as a weakness, but it is a strength of those who truly rise to the top. The meek are so comfortable with who they are that they don’t need to protect their position. They don’t covet other’s happiness. They are happy with whatever position or honor that the Lord wants to give them. 

Moses is merciful and loving. Many people would have been glad to see Miriam suffer for what she had done. Moses sees his sister as a leper and begs for her healing. He comes before the God he knows so well and asks for mercy. He loves her and her pain is more important than his own honor. Moses knows how merciful God really is. He asks for mercy without a second thought. He is not worried about getting God angry. He has spent time with God and knows God’s heart and thoughts. Mercy too is strength. Merciful people see the pain of others rather than their own hurt. You feel in your core what the punishment will do to their lives. You fear their future instead of needing to protect your own. God’s heart has touched yours and so you care just like he does. 

Moses has a deep relationship with the Lord. Several people in the Old Testament had visions or dreams with the Lord. Abraham, Jacob, and Daniel were a few who had such connections. Moses was even more special. He spent time face to face with God on Mt. Sinai and at other times. He was one of the few that can plead with God directly to change his mind. The relationship of God and Moses was deep and close. It made Moses who he was. He had God’s heart for the people. It takes strength to not be brought down by the insults of others. Those who are close to the Lord will be shaped and strengthened by the Lord. They will spend time with the Lord in word and prayer and know that they are loved by God. It will give them comfort and strength when they are hated by the world. 

God will protect those whom He loves. Moses doesn’t have to protect himself. God will deal with those who dishonor others. When the cloud lifts, Miriam finds herself a leper. As such, she will be excluded from the congregation and not allowed to live with them lest she infect others. Instead of being a leader, she will be an outcast. God strikes quickly here lest others join her refrain in speaking against Moses. Her attacks were tools of Satan. Instead of letting the Lord lead, she wanted to lead and to have the honor that was not hers to bestow on herself. The people who promote themselves will not stay on top for long. God will lift up the meek and merciful in his time and will bring down those who seek to promote themselves. It is the meek who will survive and thrive. 

There will always be bullies, but their rise to the top will not last for long. There will soon be a bully who begins to plan against them. You can’t be a leader by your own strength or cunning. Those who rise to the top will have three things in common with Moses. The first is a strong relationship with the Lord. God taught his mind and touched his heart in those times of closeness. People who are connected to the Lord rise to the top because they have God’s wisdom and power. Second, Moses was meek. He had nothing to prove. He put his life in God’s hands and was comfortable with whatever the Lord wanted for him. The meek are humble and kind. People respect them for it. Finally, Moses was merciful. A lot of people hurt him over his ministry, but he asked God to forgive them. He saw the pain of punishment and cared about others more than himself. When you have the qualities of God, others may think you are a failure, but you have the qualities of success that will stand the test of time.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Failure: Life With No Direction

Focus Passage: Gen 15:7-21

Wouldn’t be nice to know the future? You could plan your life without wasting time and energy on false starts. You could have direction in life with as little pain as possible. Yet, what if the future contained hardships, too? What if your job would end in a year or the future held a serious illness for you or your wife? Would you want to know those things as well? God lays 400 years of history before Abraham. Yes, there will be successes, but there will also be hardship and pain for Abraham’s descendants. God has a lot to teach the scraggly and selfish sons of Jacob so that they can be the great nation promised to Abraham. Yet, we can know that God’s plan is bigger than we would have ever imagined. We have to trust God to take us where we cannot get by ourselves.

Abraham’s discussion of the future begins with a question. Abraham has spent ten years of wandering up and down the countryside and yet God’s promise that he is no closer to having this land for his offspring. It isn’t that life hasn’t been good. Abraham is becoming a rich man with large flocks and many servants. He just feels like he is treading water. Promises were made by God, but nothing much is different. Unfulfilled dreams can haunt us as well. God made promises that don’t seem to be coming true. We are facing illness and feel like God has not listened to our prayers. Money is tight when we thought that God would give us what we need. We have never been hungry, but this was not what we thought would happen.

God knew that Abraham struggled because he kept looking to earthly solutions for his problems. He had already turned to Egypt not God when he was hungry and lied about who Sarah was to save himself. He looked to solve problems by himself. God takes Abraham outside and makes him look up. It is as if God is telling Abraham that he is looking to the wrong place. You need to look heavenward and see what God can do. If God can make that many stars, is it really too hard to believe that God can give you that many offspring? Likewise, looking to earth for the answers for our future will stunt our growth. We need to look to the Lord who has the ability to do anything. Look to the stars and ask “What does God want for you?”

And when you look up to the heavens, trust God. Abraham has not learned to be patient. He will still struggle and try to handle it his own way. He would fail when he took Hagar as a second wife and again when he told everyone Sarah was not his wife a second time. Yet, for the most part, he believed. He cast his lot with the Lord. When the Lord said that he should go this way, he went. He leaned his whole life toward God’s will because he believed with all his heart that God really knew what was best. Be patient and cast your lot with the Lord. Start your day asking what the Lord wants of you today. Worship him and learn from him in his word. Trust that the Lord who created the heavens knows what is best for your life. Cast your lot with him and life will have joy.

Look again up to the heavens. Do you notice how small you and I are compared to all the stars? Sometimes, we have to look beyond ourselves and realize that God is ministering to the whole world. Abraham wanted the land now, but he would have to wait because God was still working with the Amorite people. They would have to fail before God would give Abraham’s descendants the land that was promised. That would take time because God is loving and very patient.  We often ask God to speed things up so that we can what we want without considering the world around us. God is orchestrating blessings for the world around us as well as us. Even if we are ready for the miracle to begin, others may not be ready or be in place. Patience is required as he brings all the pieces together.

The real question is, “Can you take the truth?” We want direction with as little pain as possible. Here, Abraham gets the awful truth. His descendants have a lot to learn. God will take the stiff necked descendants of Jacob and will mold them into a nation. Abraham wants the land now, but his descendants will not be ready for it. Can you take the truth? Do you really want to know where you will be five or ten years from now? Are you really ready to take the responsibility that comes with that promotion or jealous rivals that will come with your success? Sometimes we are better off trusting God and just waiting for His solution. Just look at Abraham. Abraham continued to prosper during his life. The simple man who left Ur with a few cattle and sheep had a large flock and much gold and silver by this time. Know that God will take care of you as He is working His plans. Look up, believe and realize that God is working great plans for us. He is a God who can be trusted. God’s plan is bigger than you could ever imagine. Trust him to take care of you till then as well. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Story: Holy Week - He Came to be a Savior

Focus: Matt 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 13-19

 I walked into the auditorium excited to be at this mega church for an exciting conference on outreach and preaching. The speakers were first rate and the conference was sold out. I saw banners proclaiming some of the opportunities for members to work in the inner city with the homeless and posters for several missionaries that they were supporting. Yet, something felt wrong as I walked into this sanctuary. I wondered what it was. Then it hit me. There was no cross in this building. It could have been a college lecture hall or symphony concert hall. I am not sure why there is no cross in some churches when they are doing great ministry. It does point to a concern of mine. What does it mean that Jesus is Savior? For us, the story of the cross is central and we show it, but savior had different meanings to many in Jesus’ day.

Some want a Savior who will give an easy life. Matt 17:4 On the way to the cross, Jesus takes three of the disciples up on a mountain for the transfiguration. There they get a bit of heaven. Moses and Elijah are there and Jesus is in all His glory. Here trouble was far away and the gates of heaven were opened. Some still think that Jesus came to give the easy life. They are disappointed when life has problems or when ministry is tough. There is a desire to expect heaven without the cross. And when the Christian life is not easy or people face problems, they think that Jesus has failed.

Some want a Savior who will provide for their needs Luke 19:38 It is Palm Sunday and Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on a colt. The people decided that the Messiah had come and was ready to take His throne in Jerusalem. He would push out the Romans and would take over the throne of great king David. Peace and prosperity will be had by all men here in Judea. Some still think of Jesus as the savior from our problems. Feeling sick, Jesus will cure you. Need a job, the answer is a simple prayer away. What if someone doesn’t get well or that job doesn’t come?

The real Jesus came to be a Savior from sin John 19:30 He never said that His work as Savior was done when he rode into Jerusalem or when He healed some sick person. His work when He diedon the cross. It was what God had promised Adam and Eve in the garden and what God had continued to promise through the ages. The Savior had finished it. Man was forgiven. It is what all of us are really here for. We need someone who will take away the guilt that haunts us from the past and the eternal death that haunts the future.

It isn’t pretty to see His beaten and bloody body on the cross. It was something that only one of the twelve disciples could bear to come and see on that day. Yet, it was for this reason that He came. Make Jesus a great prophet who died too early in life or a caring man who helped many who were ill or hurting and you miss the whole point of His life. He came to die. He came to save us from sin. Everything else was secondary to Him and should be to us. The heart of the Bible is that we are all sinners who sin daily and can’t save ourselves, but that God sent His son to come and save us by His death and resurrection. Believe in the cross and everything changes. All the other things that people want from Jesus are now possible. Savior can mean many things to many people. What it meant to Jesus was a cross and salvation from sin and eternal death.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Failure: When life fails you

Focus Passage: John 4:1-26

Failure can feel like a hole so deep that you just can’t seem to get out of. You are fighting to get upstream and it seems the whole world is stacked against you. I bet that you either know what that feels like or you know people who feel that way. Taxes and expenses are up, but salary ends up going down. Family or friends doing stupid things and you have to pick up the pieces. You can try your hardest, but there seems no way to get out of the hole. You think of yourself as a failure with no hope. Such was the woman in our text. She has been divorced five times and is living with another man. You may have just consigned yourself that this is the way that it is going to be. Jesus gave hope to a woman who was a failure and He can help you and me when we feel that way, too. There are four questions for people when life is failing

What prejudices do you have? Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We need someone to ask us the hard questions that shake us out of our failure. The first question that Jesus asks is about prejudice. The woman shows her prejudice when she is surprised at Jesus’ request for a glass of water. The woman had to set aside her “you think you’re so great” prejudice if she was to be healed. Sometimes people have prejudices against Christ and the church. They can’t see how Jesus wants to help them because they think that Jesus wouldn’t help someone who wasn’t perfect. They dismiss Jesus and Christians as being too good to help just as the woman did. Yet, that is not why we seek Jesus. We band together as a church because we need the healing. We want others to join us so Jesus can help us all be whole.

What preconceptions must you drop? Everyone has preconceptions. They are the framework that we view life through. Preconceptions are not always bad, but if we are not careful, those preconceptions enslave us. We get stuck in a box whose answers don’t work instead of seeking the truth. The woman has her preconceptions. She gets a little huffy when she thinks that Jesus is putting down Jacob, her great ancestor. Yet, all Jesus is trying to do is to get her out of her box. People can still get upset when you question their preconceptions. They see technology and the media as having all the answers, but reject the Bible as an old dusty book. Jesus has the real answers for our lives as He teaches us about things like finance, rearing our children or helpful priorities. We need to be open to His answers. They really help.

What sin must you confess? Sometimes the wrong framework causes us to make mistakes. The woman in the text had led life to the fullest. Jesus’ question is designed to help her to see that things had not turned out very well. With a series of divorces, she was ostracized by her community. She had messed up and needed to admit her sin was the cause of her pain. There can be no healing or change without an admission of sin. Sadly, we live in a society where everyone wants to do their own thing and is surprised that there are consequences from it. People can’t see that overspending can bring foreclosure. People ignore the connection between adultery and ruined families. Yet, ignoring sin doesn’t stop its disastrous effects. Only the mercy of the cross forgives us and helps us to overcome the consequences of sin. We seek him out because He is the only one who can forgive and restore.

What are you really afraid of? Have you noticed that when the questions get too intense or too close to the heart, people often change the conversation? The woman was uncomfortable talking about her sinful life. She tried to change the topic to talk about the differences between Jewish and Samaritan religion. This prophet was getting too close to the truth. She was a failure and she had no idea how to make things better. Truth makes us feel open and exposed. Often, they don’t want to talk about God or about the brokenness in their life. They pretend that if they avoid it, it will all go away eventually. Change is hard and so we often would rather stay in failure. Yet, the churches exist because we are all broken people in one way or another. We can come for support and for help. We are broken people walking together. Jesus can help us all.

Failure doesn’t have to be terminal. So many people think that life is as good as it is going to get. They have had problems and sins and they are stuck in that hole. All four questions are simply about the walls that we build around ourselves. The walls tell us that there is nothing we can do. Yet, the walls really keep us from seeing the real solution. Yet, Jesus has answers. Jesus patiently asked the questions and moved her closer to a relationship with him where she could be healed and her life could be change. It is only when Jesus breaks down our walls that the real answers come. Failure happens to every one of God’s people. Just look at Abraham, David and Peter to name a few. Success came to each one and to the woman because they opened up their lives to Jesus. The answer to failure is to let the walls come down and Jesus to come in. There is nothing our savior can’t help.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Story: No Ordinary Man - He Redefines Extraordinary

Focus passage: Gospels

What is extraordinary really like? Our culture is filled with self-proclaimed and media proclaimed heroes. They are athletes and movie stars and the ordinary guy who saves a woman from a burning car. What makes someone extraordinary for more than their minute of fame? An extraordinary person does things that no one else can do and does it repeatedly. Jesus was such an extraordinary person. He did things that no one else had ever done. He healed the blind and spoke like He knew God first hand. You want to be around extraordinary people so that you can be better. Those who realize how extraordinary Jesus really is and who build their lives around Jesus will be the most blessed of all. Here are four ways that Jesus is extraordinary.

He has an intimate knowledge of God Mark 1:22 Jesus did not teach like the Jewish teachers of the day. They taught out of a book sharing ideas of past scholars. Jesus taught as if He knew God personally. Jesus is still an extraordinary teacher and we would be wise to hang on every word that He says. His teaching gives people an edge in life. The bible is filled with insights about how to raise a family, how to be a good employee and how to manage your money that really work.

He seemed to be able to heal anyone Matthew 15:31 The days of miracles had seem to have passed. Then Jesus burst on the scene and the lame could walk and the dead were raised. The number and scope of his miracles were like nothing that had ever been seen before. Jesus is still a great miracle worker for those who come to Him in prayer. He is worth following when life is filled with troubles. He still performs miracles of healing and provides for His people when they hurt.

He could give orders to demons Luke 4:36 Satan had the hearts and lives of many. He controlled them and often they were naked, half crazed and out of control. The demons were afraid of Jesus. They cried out in fear when He came. Yet, when Jesus cast them out or commanded them to be quiet, they had to obey. Life can easily be out of control for you and me. We may not believe in demons, but they are still around us. It can be the unreasonable person at work or a string of “coincidences” that are all bad luck. Those are the times to come to Jesus for help.

He had great compassion for the helpless He was never too busy to help someone. Even when He was tired, He stopped to heal the mob of people begging for help. He saw their pain and how their illness had destroyed their bodies. It broke His heart. Jesus still has compassion for people like you and me. He hurts when you and I are feeling pain. He grieves when someone dies too early or when a child doesn’t have a meal all day. He is the friend that every person needs.

Those who know Jesus will never forget Him Sixty-five years after Jesus had died, John writes because he still could not get Jesus out of His mind. He had a front row seat and could call this one his friend. Jesus was so extraordinary that John had lived his whole life for Jesus. He had spent these sixty-five years in a nonstop conversation letting people know all that Jesus had done for him and others. Yet, the best part is that the extraordinary rubs off. The book of Acts describes the change that had come on the disciples because of their connection with the extraordinary Christ. What would you be willing to do to be a little more amazing? Would you be willing to spend a half hour a day in prayer to have less worry in your life or find a place of service so you can do miracles for God? Jesus is extraordinary and being with Jesus lets the extraordinary rub off on you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Faith's Challenges: Fighting Doubt

Focus passage: John 20:24-31

Most of us don’t care about problems in Greece or the success of terrorists in Syria. Yet, our doubts explode if a bond levy threatens our kid’s school programs or a merger threatens our jobs. We start to wonder and start to have our doubts when people say that everything will be OK. If it isn’t important, it really doesn’t matter to us. If something looks bad and it will affect us, we start wondering and doubting when people tell us it will be all right. Doubts often show us what is important in our lives. Doubts come when we want something to be true, but we are unsure. That doesn’t mean that doubts are a sin. There is a difference between doubt and unbelief. The problem is that doubt can lead to unbelief and rob us of faith. Yet, Jesus turned Thomas’s doubts into a stronger faith. His doubts gave him something to believe in.

Doubt misses out on joys v.24 Why Thomas was not with the others on Easter evening, we are not told. Was he so disappointed that he had gone for a walk? Was he discouraged and ready to give up? His absence increased his doubts. If he had been with the others, he would have seen Jesus for himself. Doubts flourish in the dark. Questions seem larger and we begin to fear things that have not come about. Don’t let isolation attack your faith.

Confronted by Jesus v.26 The good news is that Thomas came back the next week for worship and gave the Lord an opportunity to confront Thomas’ doubts. There in worship, Jesus appeared to Thomas and the others. He had demanded evidence and the Lord granted Thomas’ request. The worst thing that we can do is to stay away. If we continue to come to worship and if we continue to pray and be in the word, the Lord will help us with our doubts. He wants us to believe.

Faith defined by doubt v. 28 The result for Thomas was a stronger faith. To the best of my knowledge, Thomas is the first one to call Jesus God. His doubts had received an answer. His doubts which had pondered the truth about Jesus for a week had led him to see something that the others had not seen yet. Your doubts can become the basis of a greater faith. If you pray about your doubts, God will use that time that you share with Him to let your mind see truths that others have not seen.

How do you deal with doubt? The first thing is to admit to yourself and to others that you have your doubts. All too often we smother our doubt and pretend it doesn’t exist. Second, pray about your doubts and share your doubts with a fellow Christian that you can trust. God will use others to help you to find the answers. Third, analyze your doubts by yourself or with a friend. What is it exactly that is causing your to doubt? Look for answers to that doubt in God’s word and pray about them specifically. It is easier for you to overcome doubt if you know what it is. Finally, realize that doubt often comes because we are uncomfortable with truth. You don’t find flaws in God’s word, it finds flaws in you. Doubts often come because our beliefs run headlong into God’s truth. Thomas believed that no one could rise from the dead. Jesus showed that God could and it changed everything for Thomas.  Ironically, doubts can give us something to believe in as we bring them to the Lord and let Him help.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Story: The Son of God - He Is Not Your Equal

Focus: Gospels

 In the military, a general is still a general. I have never been in the military. I have never even been in the boy scouts. Yet, rank seems to be everything in the military. When a general gives an order, the soldier doesn’t question the order. He just does it. A soldier realizes that the general holds the soldier’s future in his hands. Now we make fun of the president and of company CEO’s. The guy on the line talks like he could do the job better. The comic on late night television makes you believe that he understands the presidency better than Bush or Obama. No wonder there is so little respect for Jesus today.

He is the eternal Son of God– John 8:58 He has been speaking of God as a Father and here He claims to be older than Abraham. For two years, the people had seen His miracles of healing, demon casting, and feeding the masses. His works and teaching were undeniable. A Greek would have called it the work of the Gods. The first thing man has to learn about Jesus is our place before Him. He is God, not just some prophet representing God.

He is Lord of all – Luke 8:28 Second, He expects to be obeyed. Now I don’t know why the demons give Jesus more respect than the humans, but they do. They also obey him when he issues a command. He is Lord and they obey Him to the letter. It is like His power is so great that they have no other option. They must and do obey even if it means their destruction. The second thing that man has to learn is to obey God instead of trying to make God obey you and me.

He is one with the Father John 10:29-30 The time for His death on the cross was only months away. The Jewish leaders have seen His miracles and wonder if He is the Messiah promised to come. The answer is of course yes, but He is more and he tells them plainly that He is one with God the Father. His position in the trinity is not second to the Father as if He is an inferior God. The third thing that man has to learn is what a gift it is that the Almighty God became man just to save them.

He is the giver of life – John 20:31 Ultimately, He has our eternal fate in our hands. Who is it that scripture continually declares will judge who gets to go into heaven and who will face the fire of hell? The answer is Jesus. That is why it is so foolish to ignore Jesus. This judgment is the choice of God alone for He created you and Christ redeemed the world. Those who believe in Him have nothing to fear. Those who reject Jesus will find that they are lost without Him.

I have always wondered why we humans think that we have the right to tell Jesus how to run the world or think that we can tell Him what our life should be like. We are not even as powerful as the demons and maybe not as smart as they are. When Jesus commanded, they obeyed. Maybe we still have the option to disobey because we still have the choice and demons don’t. We can go against the Almighty and powerful Son of God all the way up till we die and face Him on judgement day. Yet, where is the sense in that? You go against the general and you will pay the consequences. I would rather have Him on my side. Jesus is rooting for you and me. He has offered salvation to every man woman and child whether they take it or not. Moreover, he has given us His word and a way to contact Him in prayer so that we can have his guidance and help every day of our lives. He is the son of God and I will treat Him that way. As terrifying as His power should be, I am content in His arms for He loves me. He is God and I trust Him with my life.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Faith's Challenges: Fighting Temptation

Focus Passage: Luke 4:1-13

No one said life would be easy. There are days that I really wish that being a Christian meant that I was above temptation. I know that is not true. I face temptations every day and fail more than I want to admit. Yet, I know that there can be a good side to temptation. It can be a tool used by God to make my faith stronger and to help me learn about the “inner me”. Abraham was tested when God told him to sacrifice Isaac and his faith grew so that he was a changed man. Job was tested with boils and learned that God is wiser than we are and can be trusted even in hard times. Yet the greatest temptation was the one that Jesus faced from Satan himself. In that temptation, we see three of our greatest weaknesses and God’s answers. 

We have physical needs and desires v. 4 Jesus was in the desert and He was hungry. Our first temptation is to take care of ourselves first and put everyone last. It is what makes a kid take the last cookie or makes us want to rest instead of helping someone else first. Jesus’ answer is a reminder that God will provide. God provided for the people during the exodus and He will provide for you. He sees your physical needs. You just have to trust that God will keep giving us what we need.

We want possessions and power v. 8 Satan takes Jesus to a high place and promises him the world if Jesus will just worship Satan. Our temptation is that we often want it all and want it to come easy. Why can’t I buy a new car or an apple watch? Jesus’ answer shows us that such things will not make life easier. Living with God’s character and values will provide a better life. God has a plan for you and wants good things for your life. Follow him not things which will only disappoint.

We want to know we are loved v.12 Satan’s final test was to make God prove that He loved Jesus. For us, it is the temptation of self-worth. Does God really love us? When life gets tough, we can easily accuse God of letting us down. Jesus answer recalls the time at Massah when the Israelites complained that God was going to let them die with no water. God’s children are encouraged to ask, but they should not demand. They should trust the Lord and not put conditions on God to prove Himself. Our self worth comes from the cross where we see how much God loves us.

It is nice to know that Satan can be defeated. After three tries, Satan left Jesus and waited to try again. Satan had failed because Jesus knew His bible and used the power of the word against Satan. Satan tried to make Jesus think of himself first, but He kept thinking about the Father. If we are to defeat Satan in our lives, we will need God’s help as well. We can pray that Jesus would stand at our side since he has already defeated Satan. We can arm ourselves with Bible passages or just take time to read the Bible since Satan can not stand to be near those who are in the word. If we lean on the Lord, times of temptation can be times of growth that stretch our faith. We will understand better what God’s will is for our lives and will be better equipped to handle the problems of life and to take the opportunities that the Lord wants to give.