And Then…Everything Changed

CHRIST IS RISEN!

HE IS RISEN INDEED!

Five-year-old Brian had a pivotal verse to recite in an Easter program: “He is not here, he is risen” (Luke 24:6). Unfortunately, he could not remember what to say, and the director had to quietly remind him of his line. He then confidently grabbed the microphone and triumphantly shouted, “He’s not here; He’s in prison!”

What brought us to this day? During the season of Lent, we took time for self-examination and reflection, hopefully drawing us closer to the throne of Grace. The week before Easter, Holy Week, traced the final week of Jesus’ earthly life from 

Palm Sunday’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting “Hosanna”, which means, “Save us!”, 

to the Upper Room where Jesus, with His disciples shared their Last Supper together.

We then, on Good Friday, went from the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal from Judas Iscariot, the mock trials, the humiliation, the torture, the crucifixion, the burial.

This looked like the end. Evil seemed to have won. Hope seemed lost.

READ MARK 16:1-8

This seems like such an abrupt ending to the greatest story of the greatest life ever told. Jesus is alive, the women had been told, and they went away and “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”

This can’t be the ending to the story.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not! Christ rose from the grave. Christ is alive. Christ in the world, changes everything. Because of this, his disciples went into the world proclaiming the gospel, AND we can go into the world with this confidence.

The passage we read today is the traditional ending to this gospel. Out of no where, Mark begins the gospel with Jesus being baptized. he ends it with quickly and with no real explanation with the women being afraid and not saying anything.

Now, we know from the other synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Luke), and the Gospel of John and the longer ending to the Gospel of Mark, the disciples reaction to Jesus raising from the dead and their proclamation to the world.

Doesn’t it often seems like things go bad or we cannot get out of the situation we’re in. It seems like everything goes so wrong at times. It seems that nothing can get us out of the pit of despair and fear. It seems like we have to stop what we’re doing because we’re too afraid to keep going. But fear should never stop us in our tracks.[1]

Because Jesus has risen from the grave, there is so much more to the story, to our story, than we can even see at times.

Because Jesus Christ is alive…

EVERYTHING CHANGES!

The women who went to the tomb to perform the burial rituals, became the first preachers of the gospel:

CHRIST IS RISEN!

We proclaim with Christians around the world and throughout history:

CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELULIA!

Nothing has been the same since Jesus Christ came to us, as a human being, born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Nothing has been the same since he showed the disciples, and many of the people of Israel, what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like (and is like on earth here and now).

Nothing has been the same since Jesus died.

Nothing has been or will be the same since God raised Him up from the grave!

Now is the time to unwrap the gift that came to us that first Christmas, when Christ was born. We get to unwrap and live into the joy and new life that God offers the world through Jesus Christ.

Everything has been changed. Christ has won (Christus Victor)!

Jesus Christ is alive and is showing us how he is redeeming the world. 

Through His Love.

I never what joy was, or how much joy there really is in the world. They suddenly seemed to appear in my life. It is amazing how much love a person can have and give. We spent some time together and I knew they were an answer to many years of praying. I knew Amanda was the one for me…I found someone I want to share life with. Then, at Sea World, I got to meet them. Their smile, their sense of fun and adventure was encouraging to my soul and I knew my older kids were special people, now I have the privilege to call them my kids.

For some time, I thought my joy was complete. I have an incredible wife and two amazing kids. On a November afternoon, a couple years ago, the world was introduced to my youngest daughter, and I fell in love once again.

Love is an incredible thing. Because of the love of God that was and is experienced through Amanda, Sage and Solomon, and now Samarah, I can see Jesus working in and through them to share His love and grace to the world, which ultimately changes the world and makes this world see, experience, and live into God’s Kingdom here and now AND in the life to come.

JESUS HAS COME TO REDEEM AND TRANSFORM ALL OF CREATION.

He starts with us, as individuals, who bring others into the community of faith, working in the world to show the world Jesus Christ changes everything.

Scholar NT Wright puts it this way, “The call of the gospel is for the church to implement the victory of God in the world through suffering love. The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out, put into practice.”[2]

In John 20, we see Jesus, who seems like a gardener to Mary Magdalene, working on tilling the soil. He is doing this to demonstrate he has come, not just to change individual people’s lives, but to change the world as a whole. So, Jesus is working in the dirt…what Genesis 2 says humans were made out of…what Genesis 3 says people will return to be…and what is also cursed. He is working to redeem and transform all of creation.

In the book, “Give them Christ”, Asbury professor, scholar, and author, Stephen Seamonds, writes, “The resurrection of Jesus was therefore not only one miracle—extraordinary no doubt—among others; nor was it simply the final guarantee of life after death. Rather it was the decisive start of the general resurrection, God’s final redemption of all things!”[3]

See, it is not enough to just say Jesus “changed my personal life.” That is only a small part of the real story. We get to be instruments of his grace, that are transformed into his new creations [4]that go into the world to work with God to transform the world by making disciples of Jesus Christ wherever we go.[5]

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave also demonstrates God’s incredible power.

WITH GOD NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.

The stone has been rolled away. The stone would have been too large and heavy for people to roll back on their own. Remember, the women at the tomb would have been perplexed because they had seen the stone rolled in place and knew how heavy it was.

When the stone was put in place, it rolled down an incline to make sure the tomb would stay closed. Moving the stone away, then, was no simple feat.

But, no matter what seems to be blocking the path. No matter what seems to be interfering with God’s work in the world (natural disasters, terminal illnesses, famine, poverty, hungry, people in prison), nothing is too great for God to handle. Nothing is beyond the reach and scope of God’s power.[6]

God raising Jesus from the grave, rolling the stone away shows that everything is different now. Nothing is impossible with God. We can have sure and certain hope of God’s incredible power, presence, and love flowing through our lives and in the world.

The love and power of God and His word, can transform any human, break any addictions, free people from internal prisons of self-doubt, hatred, cancer, illnesses, comas, you name it.

I visited a person in the nursing home. This person had been unresponsive for awhile. I started reading Psalm 23, “walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” “the Lord is my shepherd, I am in need of nothing else.” When I began reading Revelation 21 about a new heaven and a new earth, she suddenly became (more) alert and was reaching for her “mama”, trying to sit up. This was the first time she had really moved in awhile.

God through His word, through His son Jesus Christ, brings people to a new sense of alertness and “wakes them up.”

Paul declares, in Ephesians 5:17, “Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

If God can raise Jesus Christ from the dead, He sure can wake up those who are asleep to His word, those who are passed away and will be part of the final resurrection.

With God, nothing is impossible.

Jesus being raised from the grave shows this. Because of our knowledge and faith in the resurrection, because we know Jesus is still alive and with us always, everything changes with how we view the world. We live as people of the victory of the resurrection because God has won!

Philosopher Stephen Davis sums up Jesus’ resurrection well:

“[The resurrection] assures us that God will win and that accordingly the world is not mad. Events do happen that we cannot explain. Irrational tragedies and horrible outrages do occur. But because God raised Jesus from the dead after the catastrophe of the cross, we can be sure that God will one day overcome all catastrophes…The resurrection is proof that no matter how bad things get, we can trust in God. God loves us. God has our interests at heart. God works to achieve what is beneficial to us. And in the end God will win.”[7]

Friends, I not only believe this, I’m counting on it!


[1]1 John 4:18

[2]NT Wright, “Evil and the Justice of God” Page 98

[3]Stephens Seamands, “Give Them Christ” Page 106

[4]2 Corinthians 5:17

[5]Matthew 28:19-20

[6]Romans 8:38-39

[7]Stephens Seamands, “Give Them Christ” Page 119

Experience the Power of the Holy Spirit

Live,Laugh and Love

Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?

Get your copy here. Paperback version. Kindle version.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us. This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

FOR ALL ORDERS DURING THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, I WILL BE DONATING ALL OF THE PROCEEDS.

Betrayed, Denied, Tried, Crucified

In the 1924 book by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game is a story of big game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney ending up on an island owned by General Zaroff. The General talks about how he is bored with “traditional” hunting and has moved into hunting the most dangerous, the most cunning animal, ship-wrecked humans. This is a dark story that shows what happens when we lose our way and give in to the darkness of the world.

As disturbing as this book was, and still is, this is a good picture of the darkness humanity is capable of. We like to think that because we’re “evolved” and “more civil” now that we do not act like this. But the reality is human nature has not changed. There is still darkness looming over humanity. There is still something that pulls us away from the God who created us. There is still Sin.

Over the past several weeks, we have been diving into the life of Jesus Christ. Originally this was going to be the last message, but after some prayer, we’re adding two more so we can take the time to talk more fully about the life of Jesus Christ.

Remember we talked about why the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” is really the most important question. From there we talked about his birth and were reminded this is not just a story we should only hear at Christmas time. Then we talked about his baptism and temptations. From there, we talked about his healing ministry. Last week, we talked about Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. Today, we’re going to talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life.

READ LUKE 23:1-3

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

In this scene, we are already in the courtroom of Pontius Pilate. How did we get here? To understand what’s going on, we have to go back in time about 12 hours.

Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll writes, “Jesus didn’t come to win the approval of people or to swing the majority of a disenfranchised voter base to embrace his platform and sweep him in a position of power in Jerusalem. He came to speak the “solemn truth”. And let’s face it; the truth is rarely popular. In fact, it usually offends the majority.”[1]

This is an important thing for us to remember, especially when we talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life. All of a sudden we have shifted to what appears the majority wanted – for Jesus to keep doing his mission – to a different kind of majority, a group of people who are threatened by the truth and will stop at nothing to get what they want – Jesus gone so they can continue ruling and living the way they see fit.

Whenever people’s pride is threatened, there is really nothing that can stop them from acting the way they do. Reason doesn’t help because we begin to act on our feelings and emotions rather than logical thinking. In fact, if you really think about it, we have moved beyond the Age of Reason and are living in the Age of Feelings.

To understand more of why Jesus was so focused on his mission and purpose, we have to explore more into the depths humanity is capable of.

We can see a picture of this during the last supper (Luke 22:7-38).

BETRAYAL

Jesus and his disciples were gathering together to eat a meal together. They were enjoying the company, the food, the conversation. None of them know, except Jesus, the intentions of a single person. This person would have been upset because Jesus was not overthrowing Rome in a militaristic fashion. This person could also have been nervous because, as the writer of John points out, “[Judas] was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”[2]

Judas was probably feeling guilt which turned into shame and he did not want anyone to find out what he was doing. This “secret” sin begins to eat at him and will cause him to betray the one he professed faith in. Judas was living a double life, and Jesus knew it. One of the most difficult things for us to hear is we do not ever really do anything in “secret.” God is always watching us. We learn through Jesus, “secret sin has a way of warping the mind and twisting one’s values grotesquely out of shape.”[3]

Jesus always knows when we are living hypocritically because Jesus knows “what [is] in each person[4].” A double life always catches up with us and will cause us to act in ways we never intended or dreamed would be possible – all in the name of self-preservation.

Now, it is easy to keep this image of Judas, the image of the one who betrayed Jesus with a kiss and leaves it at that. We, as a people, tend to like it when people get “what they deserve.” But we have to be careful not to condemn Judas completely. Remember, Judas’ feet were still washed by Jesus (John 13) and Jesus was on the cross even for people like Judas. When we hear the words Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,”[5]we hear Jesus’ compassion even for the worst of sinners. We hear the forgiveness of God stretching across the earth, across time, across ALL boundaries and borders that Sin has built.

Maybe you’re someone here today with a “secret sin,” one that would cause embarrassment. Make sure this does not take a hold of you and cause you to live a life far away from God, even though people see you as loving God. Hear this today, “You are NEVER too far from God. God is eternally drawing himself to you, desiring you live a free life: free from guilt and shame and pride. He is pursuing you so you can live in true freedom. Repent and come to the throne of grace where he is graciously and mercifully waiting for you.”

DENIAL

The next scene we come to is Peter. I love Peter. Peter can put both feet in his mouth – at the same time. He is always trying to show that he is “better” than the other disciples. So when Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,”[6]Peter becomes indignant and says, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”[7]

Can you hear the pride in Peter’s reply? Here’s the deal though, whenever we are faced with a choice, the fallen human nature is to choose our own safety and preservation. It is only by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the strength to stand up for Christ and be counted as among his followers. We all have to understand we ALL deny Jesus every single day. When we focus on ourselves. When we choose to not help. When we choose to stay away from people different than us. When we refuse to publically acknowledge our faith in God because we’re scared of how people react or because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We all have denied Jesus many times in our life.

Denying Jesus has more consequences than we might realize. Every time we do not live as God desires us to live, another person is turned off by Christianity and can become angry with God. We see this all the time when followers of Jesus Christ are mean, purposefully acting one way after professing another, refuse to let new people in, become so self-centered in our life we become indifferent to the suffering around us.

Jesus does not leave us in this state. He is giving us grace upon grace so we have new opportunities to turn our life around and so the world can see Christ in us. I love the line in the prayer of St. Patrick, “Christ in heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the hear that hears me.”

Peter’s denial is left in the four gospel accounts on purpose. It is to show that we cannot think we are better and will never deny Jesus.

When have you been like Peter? When have you denied Jesus? He is not mad at you. In fact, Jesus is eternally calling you to come to him so he can show you grace upon grace and restore and redeem you.

TRIALS

Peter’s denial happened during the time Jesus was being tried. In scripture we see six trials taking place. None of them are really legal (according to the Jewish law) but they still took place. Three of the trials were in front of the Jewish religious leaders and three were in front of the civil authorities of Rome (Pilate and Herod). These were all undercover and attempted to be kept private so the religious leaders could get what they wanted without the rumblings or rioting of the crowds that adored and believed in Jesus.

During the trials, there were false accusations against Jesus. But Jesus stayed focused on his mission. He stayed the course for what he was sent to do and he did not let anything stop him. It may seem as if the people are doing this on their own; but what we begin to see is these trials are actually against humanity, not Jesus. God is taking this opportunity to further reveal the hearts that are in humanity. He foreknew this was going to happen and, in Jesus Christ, allowed the people to carry out their plan which God used for the redemption of the world.

Jesus came to show humanity the real life God intended for us to live. He is the living embodiment of the “suffering servant” the prophet Isaiah wrote about several hundred years beforehand:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.[8]

CRUCIFIED

The crucifixion story is difficult for many people to encounter, even read about. Steve Seamands writes, “Yet despite the unbearable physical agony, people in Roman times dreaded the shame associated with crucifixion…By pinning them up like insects, crucifixion was deliberately intended to display and humiliate its victims…Crucifixion, then, was deliberately designed to be loathsome, vulgar, revolting, and obscene…The hideous shame associated with the crucifixion was the main reason why the message of the cross seemed ludicrous to its original hearers.”[9]

It is so easy for us to wear the cross as decoration or even as an accessory. But the sight of the cross, throughout history, has been gruesome and hideous because of how it was used. When you wear a cross or have the decorations of the cross, remember to see them as not something pretty to hang up. This is what the Son of God died upon. This is what God used to conquer the power of sin and death over humanity. This is the key that unlocked the chain so humanity did not have to be slaves to sin and the power of temptations anymore. The cross is the sign of victory.

Alister McGrath says, “The cross of Christ is the point of reference for Christian faith; Christian faith is based upon it and judged by it…Christian theology, Christian worship, and Christian ethics are essentially nothing other than an attempt to explore and develop the meaning and implications of the crucified Christ in every area of life.”[10]

Many people around the globe love to have the cross with the body of Jesus to remind them of the suffering God in flesh endured for the sake of humanity. This is a constant reminder of how God is with us even in our sufferings because God himself suffered.

Many people prefer the empty cross to symbolize the risen Christ and the ultimate victory of sin and death. It is a reminder that Christ did not stay on the cross but is living eternally and has become our mediator between God and people.[11]

The crucifixion is an important aspect of Jesus’ life we cannot just brush aside. The crucifixion reminds that God is willing to do EVERYTHING possible to redeem and restore humanity and all of creation. The cross reminds us that God knows and understands suffering on a very personal level.

Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus was left in the tomb.

Always remember that this is not the end of the story. The worst thing in life is never the last thing. God always has the final word.

Stay tuned next week as we talk about the next incredible event of Jesus’ life that continues to change the world today..

We all have been in a place to betray Jesus. We all have denied Jesus. Jesus took on the weight of sin on humanity and carried that with him on the cross. Do not live in fear that God is mad at you. Do not live with guilt or shame. Repent (change your heart and lives), confess and live into the freedom that God has waiting for you. Come to the throne of grace and experience an incredible presence of grace and mercy that changes our lives.

 

Works Cited:

[1]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[2]John 12:6 NIV

[3]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[4]John 2:25 NIV

[5]Luke 23:34 NIV

[6]Luke 22:34 NIV

[7]Mark 14:31

[8]Isaiah 53:2-7 NIV

[9]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 57

[10]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 55

[11]Hebrews 9:15, 1 Timothy 2:5

Can’t Be Contained!

Read Acts 12 here.

Being told to keep quiet when you know the truth should be spoken is challenging. Being told not to do anything you think is right is challenging. For some, it is more important not to ruffle feathers or to disturb the status quo or cause a disturbance in the force. But always remember the truth and grace of God will continue to prevail and will not be held back.

In Acts 12, we read about Herod trying to please the crowd. He was violent with anyone who was affiliated with the church (those who followed Jesus Christ). In fact, he had the Apostle James killed by the sword. Herold saw how much this pleased the Jews, so he had Peter arrested too.

Why would Herod be so angry with followers of Christ and do what he could to please the Jews? His control over the region would be lost and severely threatened if more of the citizens believed in and followed Jesus Christ. This is a scary place to be whenever you are used to having control. Isn’t it amazing how much emphasis on our identity is based upon what we do and what we can control?

To keep his sense of running the region, Herod was doing everything he could to stop the people from following another. His actions would have instilled fear in the people who witnessed his actions. It is human nature to go into a mindset of self-preservation. So, acting pleased, even if you weren’t would have been the thing to do. Also, there would have been religious authorities, of the day, most likely pressuring people to not go against Herod.

The citizens saw that Peter was arrested. In the community, he would have been the one seen as the leader, so some may have thought this business of following Jesus was over. But…You cannot contain nor stop what God is doing.

Peter was released, at night, by an angel of the Lord. No one saw him leave. What Herod tried to contain and squish, God released. Is there anything inside you that is “imprisoned” that needs to be released? I am talking about having fear of talking to others about Jesus, going on the “bad/rough” side of town to spread the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ, being the person willing to stand up for those who have no one?

The power of God’s grace can open up doors and cross boundaries we may feel it’s difficult to cross. When we recognize that God is the Creator and is already present, we also should understand there is nothing that humans can do to stop the power of grace.

Yes, fear does keep people laying low and not doing anything; but if we allow ourselves to live into the joy, hope, love, peace, power that God has given us, there is nothing anyone can do.

1 Timothy 2:7 “God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”

Romans 8:26-39 “26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. 30 Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified. 31 So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them.34 Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us. 35 Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter. 37 But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.38 I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.”

When The Spirit Moves

Read Acts 11 here.

Peter had a vision about what God considers clean. Before he had this vision about the animals on the sheet, he was still only focused on “his people.” But he began to understand that God’s Word is truly for all people.

There is a little verse at the end of Romans chapter 2 that I do not hear many people quote. It’s simply says, “God does not have favorites.” The point is God’s blessings and grace is not just for one group of people but for the whole world. Peter has just learned this and has had to gives his testimony to the other apostles who questioned his actions.

Have you had an opportunity to follow the Spirit’s leading, doing the good that he was guiding you to do only to have it questioned later? Sometimes I think people question our motives for doing good works. Why would we do something if it didn’t benefit us? Those who have quenched the Spirit’s voice may not understand that we don’t always do things to improve our reputation, or to move our status up. We talk with people, help, and go places because God’s Spirit is leading us.

One thing we have to be aware of is some people will not understand why we do what we do. This is an incredible opportunity to share grace, to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. Wherever we go, people need to hear about Christ so they can understand they are truly free because Christ has defeated and broken the chains of sin and death forever.

When we allow ourselves to be filled with the joy and grace the Spirit gives, people see there is something different about us. They want to know why you can handle tragic situations with calmness. They want to know how you can remain hopeful and peaceful when a family member is on their death bed. They want to know what is the source of all this.

Our culture has gotten to be more interested in finding the answers to how to “fix” their life through books, thinking all they have to do is read and they’re problems will go away. But we know that the answer to life is Christ. He is the source of our joy, strength, peace.

Knowing and living in that truth will cause people to notice you follow Jesus Christ in your life. What a joy it is to be called “Christian” meaning “little Christ.” Every time we step out and do something others may not understand, we are following the Spirit’s movement, truthfully going where Christ is working, and being his hands and feet in the world.

The Spirit will lead and guide us to do what we may not do if it was left to us. It is much easier to remain comfortable than to go where the hurt and pain is in the world. But, when we trust the prompting of the Spirt, we get to watch incredible things happen, incredible things change, and see the powerful works of God in the world and in the lives of those people the Spirit sent us to.

What great a blessing is it to be joined with God to go into the world to work for redemption, reconciliation, to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and to witness how God is changing the world one step at a time.

It Is Clean!

Read Acts 10 here.

“Are these dishes clean or dirty?” This is a common question in our house. Most of the time I can answer with confidence the dishes are clean. But there are sometimes I am not sure because I don’t remember running the dishwasher.

My kids are usually the ones who ask that question. Sometimes they will look to see if the “clean” light is on so they know if they could use a plate, bowl, or cup; other times, they ask as they’re rinsing their dish so they know where or not to put it in the dishwasher.

Knowing what is clean is important so we can be healthy. But, much of the time we tend to take this kind of thinking and apply it to people as well. This is not a new mindset: who is “clean” meaning who is like me that is worthy to be around me. All throughout the history of mankind, people have fought because deep down they felt the other side with inferior to them. As I write this in the morning, I automatically think of the historic feud here in America between the Hatfields and McCoys.

Prejudices and stereotypes have been developed because we still like to be with people like us and want to think others are not worthy to be near us, or us associate with them. This way of thinking about people has caused great harm to many families and causes distrust and hatred.

In the Acts passage today, a non-Jewish person (Gentile) who worshipped God has vision to have the Apostle Peter summoned to talk with him and his family about God. At the same time this was going on (and the servant was on his way to get Peter), Peter was hungry and had his own vision prompted by the Spirit.

This is one of those famous passages people tell a lot (in fact it is told twice in the book of Acts in two consecutive chapters so it might be important to pay attention to). A sheet has come down from heaven and Peter is told to eat the animals more than once. Peter sees there are animals that were forbidden by the Torah to eat. I think he felt like it was a test, so he answered like a good Jewish man would by saying he would not eat the animals that are unclean.

Can you blame Peter for this? All his life he was told to stay away from certain foods and now the Spirit was telling him to eat the animals he wasn’t supposed to.

Now, think about our lives today. How many of us have been told not to go around certain types of people simply because of x, y, z? Often times we’re told it’s because we need to stay safe.  We live in a world that is divided on so many levels and many groups of people will not associate with another group because of underlying prejudices and teachings.

But God told Peter not to call the animals “unclean” after God has called them clean. Just as he awoke from the vision, there was a knock at the door. He was asked to go to Cornelius’ house.

Had Peter not gone, the story would have ended there and we would not have found out anymore. But, instead, he chose to go to see what would happen and what was going on.

Imagine how different the world would be if we all did this same thing? How much division could be brought down by just talking with the other “side.”

Peter found out Cornelius and his family wanted to learn more about God. So Peter told them much more than they anticipated. He told them about Jesus Christ, God made flesh. Lives were changed because of the willingness to break down the barrier between Jewish and Gentile people.

Jesus Christ came for all people. Every person needs to hear the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Do not be surprised if (and when) God calls you to talk with a person you don’t like, flat out hate, or don’t like because of other reasons. You may be the very person God is using to break down barriers to spread his message throughout the world.

We do this because we love God and have had his transforming grace change our lives. Now, we get to go into the world and work with God to change and redeem the world and show what true love really is.

From 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

Being Known

Read Acts 9:32-43 here.

What would you like to be known for? This is something I believe we all think about more than we care to admit. Now, I’m not talking about how we want to be remembered after was pass away and move on to life eternal. I’m talking about here and now. How would you like people to talk about you? To know you?

We see this all the time. People want to be known for something, so they’ll start a new business, donate to charity, be active in church, write, work in certain jobs. It is important to us, at least on some level, for us to be known. We want to be the people others come to. But we should be careful too. If we are trying to be known for something, it is too easy to be jealous for what we perceive other people to have, strive to be perfect and refuse to show imperfection, work more for ourselves than for our family or improving society.

As we grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ and commit our work to Him, suddenly what we do have greater purpose and joy. It is incredible how God uses the work we do to bring Him glory and give us everything we need. Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.” (CEB) and Proverbs 16:3 states, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (NIV).

Continuing on with our study through the book of Acts, we come back to the Apostle Peter. Peter as committed his life to the Jesus Christ. He has committed all of his work as well. There was no separate designation because Peter knew that his entire life is better lived when it’s lived with and for Jesus Christ.

Too often we miss that point. We can go on thinking and living in ways that say we are working for a purpose and what we do after work is for another purpose. To be known in our communities is to understand that everything we do is connected. For example, if at our “job” we do not smile, are not happy, undermine or talk bad about our co-workers, it will be difficult for people to believe you can do great things in your free time. On the other hand, if we work hard (whether we like our job or not), are courteous, give praise where it’s due, etc., people will gravitate toward that attitude.

Peter had challenges with his pride before Jesus was crucified. But now, we come to the book of Acts and see his life radically transformed. He has a greater mission and purpose within himself and it is played out in his everyday life. When he is around, word gets around.

Because of Peter’s life, and his dedication to live his life for Christ, he has become a person known for his love of others. He has become known as a person you can trust, count on, and call to be with you in times of heartache and grief.

In the end, what is more important: having someone with you to help encourage and build you up, or having someone guide you to be able to be the materially wealthiest person out there? Often times, if we live for a greater purpose than just ourselves, we find we are better known and people come to Christ because of the lives we live.

Revisit the passage today and see how Peter was known in the areas he travelled. I challenge you to think about if you are known for doing good? If so, what?

Peter did not get that way over night. He committed his life to following Jesus Christ which led him to experience incredible joy and work he would never imagined would be possible.

 

 

Not For Sale

Click here to read Acts 8:5-25.

When you go to a garage sale, one of the first questions asked is “how much is _______?” We want to know how much it is going to cost us to get what we want.

There is a sweet couple who grow produce in their garden. The husband refuses to sell it. Instead, he wants to give it away.

Many people hear about God, the good news of Jesus Christ and the new life he offers, and think, “How can I earn this?” “What do I have to pay?”

We have this mindset to wonder how much something is going to cost us and we begin to figure out if it is worth the asking price.

Here’s the underlying truth about God’s grace. It cost him everything. It costs us nothing. God’s grace is FREE and undeserved. “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.” (Ephesians 2:8)

In the passage in Acts today, we look at the story of Simon the sorcerer. He sees all of the incredible acts (done by the Holy Spirit) Philip, and then the apostles Peter and John. He was so enamored at the attention they were receiving and realized he could not do what they could. He wanted what they have. So, he offered money to them to try and buy the “power” they possessed.

Think about how this can translate to us in our society today. There is a person who is peaceful and joyful in every situation. This person is one of the most respectful and respectable people in the community. They are in a position of authority and influence and their generosity is unmatched because business has been good. Then we find out this person is a follower of Jesus Christ.

This person can easily be admired, even to the point of others wanting what they have just to be recognized as a good person. So, this person tries to find a church and begins attending. The motives for joining the church (or really any organization) are impure because the underlying thought is “this will make be a better person so I can get the same respect and attention.”

God’s grace does not work this way. The power of the Holy Spirit is not given because we try to purchase it. The price was paid by God on the cross of Jesus Christ. He paid the price so we don’t have to. When we take the time to follow Jesus Christ, learn about who he is in the scriptures, and see how the whole revelation of God changes the world (read Genesis – Revelation), we can see the gift of grace is all because of God’s great love for us and his desire for us to be in good relationship with him and with other people.

I invite you to carefully consider motivations for being part of a group, organization, even church, to see if you are part of it because you want recognition, prestige, praise, etc. If this is you, take time to repent and turn you mind and heart to the things of God. When our heart is open to live into the grace that God freely gives, our lives are transformed from the inside out and we begin to experience life in an incredible way.

Or are you part of it because you sense a great desire to be truly molded into the image of our Creator and follow Jesus Christ with every step of our lives. If this is you, allow God to continue to keep your focus on him and his direction for your life. It will not always be easy; but true and full life is always ready to be lived in and through you.

This is something my wife and I consider daily. Some days are different than others. I’m sure yours are too.

Expect the Unexpected

THE RUSH

This is the Pentecost sermon preached on Sunday, June 4, 2017.

Click here to read ACTS 2:1-2.

WRITE “ORDINARY DAY” ON YOUR NOTES

It was just another normal day. Everyone was gathered together. Everyone had been praying for the last 10 days. This was just another average day.

Over the last 10 days, they had been reminiscing. Reminiscing over the incredible things that had witnessed and experienced over the last 50 days. Jesus had defeated death by walking out of the grave, leaving it empty. After appearing to the disciples and even 500 people all at one time, he ascended, was lifted up, into heaven. As he was about to depart, Jesus said these words (that we have come to know as Acts 1:8), “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.”

The disciples gathered together and prayed. I would guess they were bewildered about who/what the Holy Spirit is that is coming. I’m sure they would have tried to recall what their Lord said about the Spirit and what this would mean.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:7-8)

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

So…sitting around, praying, and talking about what they remembered Jesus said about this Spirit. It was just a normal, run of the mill day.

Sure, the city of Jerusalem was filled with hundreds of thousands of people there to celebrate Pentecost. This holiday fest tradition started with Moses, while the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. We read about this in the book of Leviticus. “‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Lev 23:15-16)

Other than the city filled and people were partying, it was really just an ordinary time in the life of the disciples. They were trying as hard as they could to stay on the DL because the Roman authorities and the Jewish Sanhedrin (religious leaders) were on the lookout for them. So they stayed together in one place.

Life can seem like this. We expect the day or the week to go as planned. We like the idea of change but we do not like to change. It seems like it can be more comfortable and easy to live as things have always been. We like to cling to the past because that is what we are familiar with. God does not desire us to live in the past. God does not desire us to play it safe and comfortable. God does not desire us to be the exact same today as we were the year before, or even the day before.

Who-Wants-Change-360x360

Suddenly in the blink of an eye, everything can change! Without warning an illness can occur. Without warning a spouse can file for divorce. Without warning a child can go to their parents and give bad news. Without warning you’ll get feeling to visit or call a friend and find out they needed to talk with you. Without warning, the Spirit of the Living God will come upon you and fill you so full of love and grace that you are different from the inside out which causes your life’s plans to go in a completely new direction.

We have the chance not to view change as negative or bad; but, rather, view change as new opportunities to “declare the wonders of God” to different people and a culture that’s different from how we grew up. God’s Spirit is always at work in and through our lives.

That is what happened on the day of Pentecost 2,000 or so years ago. Nothing was the same after the Spirit came down upon the disciples.

In the classic movie, the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was experiencing a normal day in Kansas. She visited friends, went on a walk, did her chores, and then went back home and laid down to take a nap.

WIZARD OF OZ MOVIE CLIP

  • Things were normal, grumbly, not very happy, until THE WIND came.
  • Picked up the house, Dorothy, Toto and all, and took them to a place where NOTHING WAS THE SAME
  • Little people dancing around
  • Monkeys who could fly
  • Unexpected dangers
  • Friends with unexplainable gifts–Courage, Compassion, Wisdom–without anything to offer a rational explanation for their presence
  • The Emerald City–beautiful, full of promise

That’s how it is with the Holy Spirit.

NOW, CROSS OUT “ORDINARY LIFE”

WRITE “EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED” ON YOUR NOTES

We’ve already established we do not like change. But when the Holy Spirit of God fills us, we are experiencing the power of God dwelling, residing, filling our hearts and our lives for incredible change to occur.

The Apostle Peter took the lead in this moment and stood up to proclaim to the crowd what they were witnessing. Now, you remember Peter, right? He always had his foot in his mouth. He told Jesus what he needed to do on more than one occasion. He denied knowing Jesus. Peter had a lot going against him. However, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood as a superstar, the leader of the disciples to tell the crowd all about God’s promises and about Jesus the Christ.

A favorite question from Charles Wesley, John Wesley’s brother, was “have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?” This was in the sermon “Awake Thou Sleeper”. Nothing is the same after the Holy Spirit washes over you. No longer do you rely on the past to make you comfortable. Now, because of the Spirit, you find your comfort in the unpredictable future and nature of the work God is calling you and I to do right here, right now.

We should never expect to live an “ordinary” life. Because of the grace of God, we are set apart, we are holy. We are the saints of God in today’s world.

The Spirit turns everything we know upside down.

It is not just the young who will have dreams for the future and dreams for the work to bring about the Kingdom of God, it is the elderly people who will also have these dreams because God’s work is never done. It doesn’t matter the age of the person, God can and does incredible feats through each person.

We often go to the older people to get some vision, to get some perspective and wisdom. Because of the Holy Spirit of God being poured out on all people, wisdom will also come from the young, the one people look down upon because of their age.

It is incredible what the Spirit does in each person and as a community! Was Kansas different when Dorothy returned? No. DOROTHY was different! She had seen what life is supposed to be like. Not gray and gloomy; but full of joy, wonder, and unconditional love and grace.

WRITE “NOTHING IS THE SAME” ON YOUR NOTES

My friends, the Holy Spirit is here. Allow this Spirit to wash over you. Be filled with the fire (passion) of God and remember from where you came from and where you’re going.

John Wesley has a great quote we should remember, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

Hold fast and firm to the Spirit and trust that his guiding work is taking you to the paths, places, and people God is desiring you to connect with to proclaim and declare the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. What an exhilarating rush this is when the Holy Spirit fills us and guides us!

Each day, I pray we wake up with an earnest desire to seek the Spirit. May this be our song everyday:

“Holy Spirit You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence Lord”

Praying as Community

Click here to read the scripture for today: Acts 4:23-37.

Peter and John have just been interrogated for their faith and belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. They could have easily went back and began a tirade of bashing the religious leaders; but they did something different.

Instead of badmouthing, according to the scripture, they gave an account of what was said. Then they lifted a prayer to God, as a community of believers. Individual prayers to God are powerful; but there is something incredible that occurs when we pray as a group, as a community.

Praying together in a group does not make God hear our prayer more or cause him to take action quicker because we have a group praying. One of the most powerful things that takes place is a group of people, a community, is changed in the heart. That is often more powerful than anything we desire God to do because our hearts, more times than not, are bend toward one goal, and that is not always what God is desiring from us. In order to break into the human heart God patiently waits for an opening of compassion, just a chance.

This is not saying that God working in our lives is completely dependent on us. God is already present and active in our lives. “God coming into our heart” is more of allowing ourselves to be awakened to the already present and working Holy Spirit of God within us. And coming to that realization changes everything about us. Realizing this as a community makes great waves of revival and gives way to more people experiencing the real presence of the Kingdom of Heaven right here, right now.

So what can change when we pray as a community? We understand that everything we have can and should be used in some way to benefit the lives of those around us. Think about that for a minute. Does that make sense? Shouldn’t we be the ones to benefit from what we have? The answer of more of a “yes, and” answer. Yes we benefit for what we have AND we have the opportunity to use what we have to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and make an impact in another life.

I believe this is what the believers experienced. “None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions;” but they allowed what they have been entrusted with, by God, to share his love and his grace so no one was left out.

What do you think about all of this? What is challenging for you?

I hope you’ll take time and pray with a group of people, asking God to reveal himself in your life and to guide you to where he is working so you can join him. Does this mean everything will change in the world because of your actions? It means that you and I can be instruments to show and share God’s grace which makes an impact in another person’s life. The entire world may not be changed that quickly; but someone’s world is. And that’s incredible!