In the Presence of the King

Click here to read Acts 25.

How nerve wracking it is for people to stand in front of people of power. What do you think your real reaction would be to stand in front of a president? A king or queen? A CEO of a billion dollar company? Your own boss who may not come around that often? I find it interesting that sometimes we will act one way until that person enters the room or we are brought before them.

The Apostle Paul knew who his only King was and is: Jesus Christ. His only goal was to serve Christ by proclaiming Christ risen from the dead. Paul knew that the people he was standing in front of was of no match to the King of kings. He only feared God.

Take time to read through the scripture today. Notice how many “important” people Paul is brought in front of. There was Festus, the angry crowd, King Agrippa, Bernice, and the entourage. I wonder how many people are reading this now and wondering why I placed the angry crowd as important people?

Look at what is being done to Paul. He has been placed in front of Caesar’s court and is giving his testimony and his defense to the highest court in the land. The angry crowd that is present is important because they were the ones to bring Paul to this particular time and place. What is interesting is that even though they did not get their way (Paul being executed), they should still be considered important because they unknowingly followed a plan of God to take the gospel to Rome via Paul. This crowd was the loudest voice and brought a lot of attention to the imprisoned apostle.

But then we have Festus, and King Agrippa. These are people who have great, human, power in this area. They are the ones where final decisions for the area are made, and people try to appease them and flatter them just to get whatever is wanted. I think this is where most of us stand when it comes to being in the presence of power. We want to try to make them like us so nothing bad happens to us and we can get the most comfortable life possible. Most of the time the people in positions of power may not see the real people because everyone will put on a front to act their best.

Paul knows something even more important. He knows the only King to be true to is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the King of all the kings and Lord of all the lords. Paul knows that he doesn’t have to be flattering to the rulers in front of him because the only ruler he answers to is Jesus Christ.

How about you? What or who makes you more nervous? I tend to think we get more nervous in the presence of humans in positions of power than we do for Jesus Christ. We tend to give more accolades to the people rather than the God of the universe. Oh, we go to worship each week; but do we worship God? Or do we really worship what we’re doing? This is a tough question to really think about.

As you go through your day, through your week, journey through life, remember this one thing Jesus Christ is the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. Everyone else we come in contact with is another person either to minister to or join in ministry with.

You have been called to be a witness to Christ to the world. You have been placed where you are “for such a time as this.” The presence of the one true King is with you always.

Love Changes the World

 

Every person has a story of how the world is not how everyone else sees it. Every generation tells of how the world is completely different from how “it used to be.” What do we mean by this? I think we are all trying to tell how the world is changing, in our own way. Some say it is worse; and some say the world is better. How we view the world is really dependent on where our faith truly lies.

In the time of Jesus, there is Caesar Augustus who has it in his mind he is the true ruler of the world. He has human power, makes decrees and assignments everyone listens to and obeys out of fear, and sees the world as his play area. We have people like this all around us. People who are truly great because they are living out the grace of God through their lives, and people who are only great in their own eyes simply because they have certain titles, material goods, positions, etc.

When God came down in the form of Jesus Christ, the world was and is changed completely. Nothing is the same since God personally intervened. This is the gift we celebrate at Christmas time. This is the gift we open and fully receive at Easter. It was the power of God’s love that completely changed and is changing the world.

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

The first thing we should see is that love changes the world and gives us power.

The decree of Caesar to go to your hometown for a census to be taken is a good way for him to assert his power. He did this so he could know how many people are in the empire. Not so he could see how blessed he was to be able to lead that number of people; but so he could know how many people to tax and line his pockets. When Caesars of the world today get in power, it is usually for their benefit and not for the benefit of the people.

But God does something completely different. When the angels gave the proclamation that Jesus was born, the shepherds, and us today, are invited to partake in the presence of God. Caesar’s goal was to increase taxation and he could create laws for this. God is the only One who has the power to break us free from the law of sin and death. This is where the true power lies, and we get to receive this power within us, to go in the power of God to make a difference in the world because of the love He has for us. We get to go in the world and be instruments of guiding people to receive the power of God as well.

Love not only changes the world by giving us power; but now we are given a new pride and purpose for our life and work.

The work leaders do may or may not have a lasting impact in the world. It all depends on who they are doing the work for.

After the shepherds left the scene of baby Jesus, they not only returned to their work (tending the flocks); but they have greater purpose now. No longer where they simply shepherds doing menial tasks and a lowly job. Now they get to do their work for the glory of God because they had been in the presence of God, Jesus Christ. This is true for us too! After we have an encounter with God, we experience His powerful love, and we are changed forever. Everything we do is done to serve Him and give Him all the glory. No one can take away the work we do with God for showing others the Kingdom of Heaven that is right here among us. But when we do things for our own glory and purpose, we seen the work we do does not last beyond our time allotted.

“C.S. Lewis once wrote about the nature of humility in the Christian life, saying something like this: the Christian life is to play great parts without pride and small parts without shame. The shepherds’ role was not great by human standards, but it mattered little to them. Serving the Lord with pride and purpose in tending the sheep was a source of joy because they were in God’s presence.” The same is true for you and I. The work we do really matters because we are in the presence of God.

Love changes the world and allows us to ponder and think about all God has done, is doing now and will do in the future.

Not only have we been given great power in the love of God, greater pride and purpose for the work we do, we also get to ponder what it is God is leading us to do and praise Him for all he has done.

After the shepherds left, Mary “pondered” the shepherds visit. The shepherds would have also thought about what the angels told them. They had been given a grand message.

Now that same message is entrusted to us. Think about the things of God and we will see this world not as a place that cannot be redeemed and put right. We will, instead, see the world anew. God allows us to be part of this great work He is doing. The world is not too far gone. The world is ready to be changed and recreated. As we look outside, at the world around us, we should not allow the negativity to steal our joy in Christ. Instead, break through the negativity and show the world the incredible love of God through our actions, our words, and even our thoughts.

It is awesome how communities of faith can gather to worship and demonstrate the love of God in their communities which goes out and changes the world.

In the churches my wife and I are blessed to pastor, we have seen awesome things this year and are excited what the next year will bring. Some of the things we have seen happen in our community are:

  • Recovered from a tornado and rebuilt the church building
  • Baptized 6 people this year
  • Restarted Sunday School for children, teens and adults
  • Started young adult Sunday school
  • Impacted 280 children plus adults in our Trunk or Treat
  • Youth mission trip
  • Choir cantata had 175 in attendance plus choir
  • Children’s Christmas program (11 children and adults helping)
  • 31 coats for kids
  • 50+ shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
  • Helped people this year with utilities and other benevolence
  • families receiving Christmas gifts this year
  • Night in Bethlehem community event saw 175 people plus many volunteers
  • Provided food for backpack lunches to those kids who don’t have food on the weekends
  • Provided lunch for the school personal as appreciation before school started
  • Provided school supplies
  • Countless prayers, visitations, and so much more
  • This does not even include all of the missionary, evangelism, and life saving work around the world by the global United Methodist Church
  • When we let the grace of God grow in us and we stop living for ourselves and our comfort, Imagine how much we’ll see and experience God’s grace, mercy and power through us this next year!

To some, this list may not seem like much; but there have been many lives impacted in our community because of the love of God that shines through these churches.

God’s love through us changes things, changes our world, our community, us. His power is the most powerful force in the world.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

 

 

I Believe in the Victory of God

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 3

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

1 Corinthians 15:1-28

Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time.  I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.

So if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, “There’s no resurrection of the dead”? If there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless. We are found to be false witnesses about God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, when he didn’t raise him if it’s the case that the dead aren’t raised. If the dead aren’t raised, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest, then those who belong to Christ at his coming, and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end.  It is necessary for him to rule until he puts all enemies under his feet. Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end, since he has brought everything under control under his feet. When it says that everything has been brought under his control, this clearly means everything except for the one who placed everything under his control. But when all things have been brought under his control, then the Son himself will also be under the control of the one who gave him control over everything so that God may be all in all.

 Psalm 110:1

What the Lord says to my master: “Sit right beside me until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet!”

Suppose I ask you to describe your life with one of these words, which would you choose? Victorious, Defeated, So-so.

So many of us are living lives that simply do not reflect the victory of Jesus Christ. Look at this part of the Apostle’s Creed:

“the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

What do you experience when you read these words? I invite you to read them again, and then read the Scriptures above and see what God may be telling you.

If we look at the words from the Apostle’s Creed, we can see at least three things:

  1. “I have a risen Lord because Jesus rose from the dead.”
  2. “I have a reigning King because Jesus ascended into heaven.”
  3. “I have a righteous Judge because Jesus is coming again to judge.”

If nothing else, when we look at this, we can see how much we have even when we hear the lies our life isn’t worth anything. We have a risen Lord who has defeated our ultimate enemy, death, so we can live life everlasting here and now and in the life to come. We have a reigning King who sits in heaven who makes sure we can have everything we need. We have a righteous Judge who is able to discern and see the truth and bring true justice and reconciliation in the world.

We have so much because of the power and person of Jesus Christ that we should be the most joyful, confident, hopeful people who don’t let the circumstance of our life bring us down. Who don’t become envious of others because they have more or their life seems smoother. We have everything we need and we can live victoriously through the power of Jesus Christ.

The verse we all know, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” should really be thought of in this way, “I can endure all these things through the POWER of the ONE who gives me STRENGTH.” See the difference?

How can you live your life in such a way that people know you have the victorious power of Jesus Christ shining through everything you do? We get to live as people of the resurrection; and as such, show the awesomeness of Jesus Christ daily.

 

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 *Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

Hardened Heart

As I was traveling to a meeting this afternoon, I passed several people on the side of the road asking for money or in need of some kind of help. To confess, I have to admit that I was thinking negative thoughts about them and tried not to look at them directly.

As a person who works in a church, I felt convicted, as I passed the people, that I should have stopped to help, or at the very least, acknowledge their presence.
That’s when I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me. It wasn’t an audible voice; but I clearly heard him say, “These are real people made in the image of God just like you. Why are you hesitant to even acknowledge their presence?” That convicted me and has given me something to keep in my heart.
I tell this not for any personal reason, except it seems like this is how most of us tend to go through our lives. While I was driving to my next destination, my single focus was where I was heading and what would be discussed. I believe if we are open to including more people from all over the human spectrum, we will be able to see God clearer in our day to day lives.
Even the writer of Hebrews, in the Bible, says “they entertained angels unaware.” Imagine what would happen and imagine how kinder the world would be if we noticed and showed hospitality to those people we feel are beneath us. So, as we go about the day ahead, the invitation is to look at people with non-judgmental eyes and see the person inside…the person that God created and loves. Just like you and I!
Lord, may our hearts become soft toward all you love.
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Say What?

“I can’t believe you just said that!”
“Well, if you knew what I was really thinking…”

How often have we said or thought those phrases or something like them? I bet you’re like me and often hear the meaning behind the words even if that’s not what the person meant.

I do not particularly enjoy confrontation. It is, however, interesting to hear conversations going on around me. I believe my job, as a Christian, is to say what needs to be said in a convicting yet caring way. This is not always easy.

Imagine if you are talking with a stranger and this person says some way you need to change. Now imagine the same conversation, but this time it’s a close friend not a stranger. Who would you take offense at? Who would you get defensive with or have your feelings hurt?

Speaking with strangers is sometimes easier than friends or family. Doesn’t it seem we’re nicer and more patient with strangers?

What would it look like to speak the same way to family and friends?

Our speech should build up and encourage. Sometimes encouragement comes in the form of criticism, but it’s purpose is to build up. The language we use is important to pay attention to so that it is used in the right way.

Using communication to build up is not as easy as tearing down; but I know we can all do it.

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Learning About God at the Beach

Standing on the beach and staring at the ocean can make us feel small. We may even feel like there is so much going on around us (birds flying and feeding, waves never ending, avoiding sea weed and jellyfish). With all of this going on around us, it can be difficult to see or hear from God; or even allow our minds and spirits to be quiet and calm so we can learn more about God.

Two mornings in a row, I’ve had the opportunity to just walk on the beach and learn 3 amazing things about God, God speaking to us, and something about us:

1) We have heard God’s love is like the ocean (vast, endless and never ending). As the waves were coming in, it occurred to me something is trying to stop them or at least break them apart. Then, looking at the land and feeling the breeze, it dawned on me that we are like the land and the breeze. We’ll try and try to stop God and His love from reaching us; but it just keeps coming and reaching out for us.

2) We can see there are many waves and they can be loud. We know the waves are there but we also have ways of tuning the sound and the presence of waves out. It was at this point I felt God saying the waves are like His voice, His words trying to speak to us. A question to think about is: How often do we really pay attention and tune in to hear the voice of God instead of ignoring it? Water is life. Without water, the land would dry up. So is the same with us when we try to avoid and run away from God. We need His life giving spirit each and everyday.

3) Last but not least. This morning there was a lone sea gull trying to search for food and wandering about. This reminded me of us, as humans. We are constantly reaching out and wandering about to find something, anything that will fill us up. Just as the water kept coming toward the land and the sea gull, God is always reaching for us. It is in Him we find fulfillment. It is in Him we find spiritual nourishment. It is in Him we find our purpose.

My prayer is that we never look at the beach or the ocean the same way again. May we be the people who see God everywhere!

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New Life

Ever had a day that you feel like you did everything wrong and nothing went right? Of course you have! Everyone has at some point in our lives. This is true before we encounter Jesus Christ and come to know him and it even happens after we come to know him as Savior.

Something to remember, if you’re a believer remember this and if you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, listen up, you are a new creation in Christ. (see 2 Corinthians 5:17)

You may feel like you make mistakes and keep sinning in your life. We ALL make mistakes, but we should also remember that our sin has been bought and paid for by the same Creator who made us! If you have never personally met Jesus Christ in your heart, let me introduce him. Jesus was a man who live about 2,000 years ago. We can find much about his adult life in the Bible and about his life in other reliable historical sources. He was a man who did not sin and was tempted in every way possible that we are tempted today. Don’t believe me? Right after Jesus was baptized, he went into the wilderness (really a desert) and fasted from food for 40 days. Jesus knows what it is like to be deprived of physical nourishment. The Tempter came and said, “if you’re hungry turn these stones into bread to satisfy your hunger.” Jesus responded, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every Word from the mouth of God.” Jesus was tempted to make things happen himself rather than trust in God. We are tempted to rely on our own strength more so than trusting in God for provisions.

Then Jesus was placed on top of this tall mountain and the Tempter tempted him to jump saying, “He has commanded the angels concerning you and they will take you in their hands and you won’t hit your foot against a stone.” Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Do not test the Lord, your God.” Jesus was tempted with his very life, if he jumped his misery would have been over, but he would have missed out on the fulfilling life God had planned for him.

The Tempter placed Jesus on top of the world and said, “All these kingdoms could be yours if you just bow down and worship me.” Jesus said, “worship only the Lord your God.” Jesus had every opportunity to take the life of luxury and not have to live the life he did, but Jesus still chose to go to the cross for you and for me. The luxuries in this world stay here and do not go with us, and they only provide short term satisfaction. Jesus knew true joy and true life is living the life God intended.

Sinning means veering off the path. When we sin, we get further away from God. Our sin, my sin, needs to be paid for to bring us into the right relationship with God. Jesus died on the cross so that we have the opportunity, you have the opportunity to realize you have value and can be made right with God. Because of this, you have the chance to seek God with your whole heart and experience life as God intended. Life is not always easy, but being made right with God allows us, allows you to know forgiveness which gives peace and joy beyond understanding.

You have the choice to accept this love God has for you. Whether or not you believe in God, God believes in you and desires you to get to know him and spend time with him in the Word (Bible), with his people (church worship and community), and personal prayer time (speaking with God daily).

No matter what you have done wrong, or feel you have done wrong, God is always there waiting on you. Forgiveness and new life is yours! Jesus rose from the dead for YOU to have new life.

God created the heavens and the earth; but YOU are his most valuable creation!

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Mission Trip Begins

I have the great opportunity to lead a team of 18 people, most of whom, have not been on an short term mission trip out of the state.

We are not thinking we’re going there to do stuff for the people, we have something different in mind. We desire to learn, love, listen to and show people the light and love of Jesus Christ.

Our goal is to learn about a new culture and experience and witness how other people live when we escape from the suburbs. This will be important to meet people where they are.

We get to love. The work we do with the community will be done out of love so that we can help those who need help. When we go, I pray, others will see the reason we’re there is not to do the work for them; but yo serve and love them so they remember they are not alone.

We never know who we’re going to encounter or what the other person might be going through. I pray we all have listening ears to hear what’s said and respond out of love. This is for when we travel, when we’re there and this “task” maybe within our team itself.

All of the above is great but the most important thing we will do is to show others the light of a Jesus Christ. Our mission is to serve out of love and to speak about Christ. There may be members of this team who do not yet know Christ, but I pray they begin to know Him on this trip so all people can see the joy life can have and the peace He brings.

What a task this next week! With God working through us and in us, it will be incredible what happens.

Many Blessings

So often in this life, we tend to focus solely on our own circumstances and situations. When we think others are getting things we want, or we feel we deserve, we can place ourselves into a dangerous mindset.

There is a reason the last commandment is “Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17).

Always looking at what other people have and what we don’t have makes us lose focus of the many ways we are blessed. We have many more blessings than we realize, all we need to do is open our eyes and our hearts.

The first commandment is “You must have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2). Keeping this commandment means that we are trusting in the guidance of God and the ways God works through us. We can have so many “gods” in our life (TV, video games, computer, phone, friends, food, etc…), but none of these “gods” can ever be as personal and as life giving as Jesus Christ.

The truth is that Jesus Christ (God in human flesh) came to earth to live a life we couldn’t live and he died a gruesome death. Jesus knows how we are tempted, how other “gods” try to take control of our lives, but he still died for you and for me. 3 days later, he proved death and the world could not keep him down, so he rose from the dead (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 23, John 20). He rose to show the power he gives us through the Holy Spirit is enough to strengthen us and to show us we truly have everything we need in Christ and do not need to worry we do not have enough. You have been gifted with so much more than you may know. Seek to live a live of gratitude and you will find abundant peace and joy from the Creator of the Universe who perfectly created you.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
1) What are some things I am thankful for?
2) What will I do to not allow the other “gods” to control me?
3) Who can I help to remind them they are loved and adored by God?

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Live Differently in God’s Presence

This message is over Exodus 34 and how Moses shined after meeting with God. Have you felt like people don’t, or you don’t, feel differently after going to worship? This message is hopeful because God gives us chance after chance after chance. I pray you’ll see how God is calling each of us to be the lights that shine as a city on a hill to bring people into the Living God’s presence with us.

Streamed live on May 31, 2014
Youth Director, Ryan Stratton, leads this message on “Living Differently in God’s Presence”
Scripture: Exodus 34

Grace and Peace to YOU!
Buda United Methodist Church (www.budaumc.org)

You are invited to join us for worship anytime. Our mission is to empower people with the love of God and make disciples for Jesus Christ.