REDEEMED: The Thief & The Garden

Holy week is about to be upon us. This is the final week of Jesus’ earthly life right before the cross on Good Friday. People seem to approach Holy Week in different ways. Some like to dwell in the darkness and focus solely on the gruesome cross. Others take the time to go through this week recounting the last days of Christ. Still others seem to skip or avoid Holy Week altogether and go straight to Easter Sunday and the celebration that Christ has risen.

Yes, the Christian faith is based upon the risen and living Christ. When we take the time to study and go through the final days of Jesus Christ, we remember the resurrection could not have happened without the crucifixion. Everything toward the end of the week is built on top of the events that happened at the end of the week. I invite you to take time to remember and go through Holy Week events, activities, worship services, etc. As you do, I hope the power of Christ’s resurrection means so much more than it may have before.

The scripture I would like you to look at this week is found in the Gospel of Luke. Click here to read Luke 23:32-43. Jesus is lifted up on the cross and is placed between two other criminals. This is an incredible passage that shows the hearts of the two criminals hanging there with Jesus.

(Brief side note: When you think about the cross, try not to image it as a tall structure. The cross would not have been as tall as we might try to think. Think of the cross as actually about eye level. Bystanders would have been able to see the agony and details in the faces of those hanging. Spoken words would have been heard easily.)

One of the criminals was taunting Jesus, right there with the crowd who made sure Jesus was crucified. The other was attempting to show mercy to Jesus, who had the same fate as the other two yet did nothing to deserve the cross.

When I read this I think about our daily conversations. How often do we avoid talking to Christ (through prayer) or about Christ when we are in mixed company because of the reactions people might have? One person boldly proclaiming Christ or praying to Christ in public will have a better chance of hearing from Jesus Christ then a person who refuses to speak. Now, this is not saying that we have to force conversations to happen. Instead, like the thief who spoke mercifully, we speak when it comes naturally in the conversation.

Because one thief heard God’s promises spoken to him before he died, he was able to die with his soul being at peace. We do not have anything in scripture that Christ spoke to the criminal who went with the jeering and taunting of the crowd. I believe the same is true for us today. When we take the time to talk mercifully to and about Jesus, we experience a peace in this life that doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. When the world is in turmoil, we can have a supernatural peace.

This peace reminds us we have been redeemed from the curse and slavery of Sin and death. Jesus speaks of bringing the criminal into paradise. The Greek word used for paradise is describing a garden. This could mean the Garden of Eden: God’s garden.

Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17).

Jesus came to redeem the world. His life, death, and resurrection redeemed you. You and I are able to come into the presence of God and experience paradise in a broken world. Jesus came to redeem and to restore creation back to it’s original state of perfection.

One day the Kingdom of God will be known fully here on earth. For now, trust that Jesus Christ has redeemed (paid the cost for) the world, which includes you.

This is why it is important to go through Holy Week and allow yourself to experience and meditate on the events that lead up to the cross. Jesus Christ’s actions on the cross and his victorious resurrection are revealed to us in a more powerful way than when we skip the activities of Holy Week.

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

REDEEMED: The Unfamily Becomes Family

Last week, I invited you to think about your faith story and how you are different because of the grace of Jesus Christ. If it wasn’t for his mercy and his grace, we would not be able to experience hope, joy, love, and peace in this world. We would constantly shift from emotion to emotion. That kind of rollercoaster emotional ride is challenging. But because of the firm foundation Christ’s grace can and does offer, we are able to experience the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

As you think about your life before and after Jesus Christ, think about how powerful it is to have gone from not knowing the family of God to coming into full knowledge of what it means to be part of the family of God. We really go from not feeling like we belong to realizing that through God’s grace we can become his children and have a Father in heaven we belong to (John 1:12).

The story of Ruth is a great story of redemption. Throughout this season of Lent, we have been examining and discussing our redemption through Jesus Christ. I invite you to read this week’s passage, Ruth 4:13-17. To put this passage into context, feel free to read the entire book (it’s only 4 chapters long).

Ruth decided she was not going to leave Naomi, her mother in law, as she was going back to her home land. Naomi had lost her husband and her sons, so she had no more family ties where she was living. Naomi was lost. Ruth, a Moabite (foreigner), her daughter in law, said she was not going to leave her. Naomi told Ruth to stay and get a new husband. Ruth did not listen to the request, and went on with Naomi.

I wonder if you have ever felt like Naomi at times. Walked through times when it seems like no one else would be there for you. Even wondered whether or not you belonged. In times like this, we would try to turn down the offer of our friends and family to be with us because we would not want to burden them.

But, aren’t you eventually glad there are people who stick by us even when we don’t want them to, or ask them to? We should be joyful we have people that want to be with us in times of grief, despair, loneliness. However, there are times when it just feels like we don’t belong.

I am sure there are people who might read this blog post today who find themselves in this situation. I am sure there are people who are wanting and are trying to show their friends they are loved, they belong. These are people we should keep in our lives.

See, when we read the story of Ruth, we can see how Naomi lost her family and Ruth was not part of a family (after her husband died). This can leave us in a pit of despair. But God. Those two words change everything about our lives and our circumstance. But God used Naomi’s one of relatives (Boaz) to restore their position in society and put them back in relationship with a family. Ruth bore a son. It is through her lineage that came our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Just like Naomi and Ruth finding a new place in a family, we find that Jesus Christ brings us into his family. We are grafted into the family of the King of kings. We belong. As we look at the cross, we see just how much Jesus wanted to have us know the love and grace of God.

You belong. Trust and know that God loves you.

If there has been someone who has walked with you through hard times, I invite you to find a way to say “thank you.”

May the joy of the Living God continue to fill you life with a sense of joy and of belonging.

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

REDEEMED: Out of Egypt

This week, I want you to think about what your defining story. This would be a story that defines your life journey from where you were to where you are, and are going.

The defining story of the Hebrew people is the Exodus, the escape from Egypt. I invite you to read the passage for this week, Exodus 12.

Now if you had a story like the Hebrew people, you would definitely remember what happened and how your past changed you into the person you are today. This is one of the things we should reflect upon during the season of Lent. When we remember where we have been, we keep in focus who we are being formed into. The question we need to keep thinking about is, “what are we being transformed into?”

The Israelites moved to Egypt as a family of 70 people (see Genesis 47-50) and grew into millions of people in the next 400 or so years (Exodus 1). There came a time when the Pharaoh of Egypt forgot about Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel), and enslaved the Hebrew people for fear become too numerous and too powerful and they would take over the country of Egypt.

So, the Israelites were praying for deliverance from the oppression they lived in each and every day. There were times, I am sure, the people lost hope at times because their situation had not improved.

But God did not forget the people of Israel, and raised up a man of power to deliver the people of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. This man was Moses. Moses was not who the Hebrews thought would be their deliverer; but God showed otherwise. God used Moses, who was raised as Egyptian royalty by Pharaoh’s daughter, and knew how to move through the governmental system to get to the right person, Pharaoh himself.

Moses was still not the right person in the Hebrew people’s eyes because he murdered and Egyptian for beating one of the Hebrew people. He had to flee because he was going to get found out. Moses ended up spending the next forty years in the desert as a shepherd.

When the time was right, God called to Moses and had him go back to Egypt. The unlikely person of Moses, now 80 years old, was going to lead millions of Hebrew people out of Egypt.

Whenever the Exodus story is told, they remember the faithfulness and power of the God who delivered them from slavery and lead them into freedom.

Now, what about your defining story? What was it you were enslaved to before you met Jesus Christ and lead into freedom and salvation (the presence of God). Or, what is holding you back from entering into the freedom God gives? What are you enslaved to? Addiction? Porn? Alcohol? Money? Fame? Pride? News? Self?

There are many things that can and do enslave us, especially when we allow ourselves to stay in that state of being. It can get so bad that we can lose hope that everything will not get better.

God constantly showed His people his faithfulness and His power throughout the Exodus redemption story. He does so today to. My friends, God has placed the right people in our lives to help us hear and experience His grace and His presence. He has been right there with you your whole life.

Because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we have the opportunity to fully experience and embrace love, mercy, grace, God himself. We are different after an encounter with God.

This week, as you take time to reflect on who you were before you met Jesus Christ personally, thank Him for changing your life and bringing your freedom. If you have not yet experienced grace, why not? Why would we allow ourselves, or other people in a state of life that is not joyful?

The story of God is written all through your life. How will you remember it? How will you tell it?

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

REDEEMED: The Rescue

One of the great aspects of going though the season of Lent personally before heading straight to the resurrection is that we have a chance to slow our lives down and really contemplate the full life and death of Jesus Christ before we witnessing him rise from the dead, defeating it’s power forever.

We have been going through scripture to help us see how God has been redeeming people, and the world. A couple weeks ago, we looked at the interesting story of Hosea (Chapter 3) to see God’s unconditional love for us and how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us a great glimpse into this vast love. Last week, we talked about the Prodigal Son parable in Luke 15, looking at it from the father’s point of view. This week, we’re looking at being rescued by talking about the story of Abram (later Abraham) rescuing his nephew Lot from captivity.

I invite you to read the passage for this week, Genesis 14:1-16. If you would like further context, feel free to read chapters 12 and 13 also.

Abraham gets word his nephew Lot is in danger and is being held captive as a prisoner in a war. Without missing a beat, he gathers his men to go rescue Lot. He is not really concerned about what it will take to get Lot back. He is more concerned for Lot’s safety. What makes this story really good is that Lot went on his own way after getting too big (with all of his possessions) to stay with the safety and security of Abraham and his people. Abraham goes with just a little over 300 men to go against armies much larger and completes the mission of “Operation Rescue Lot.”

Does at least sound somewhat familiar to you? I hope so, because what I just described is what happens to our lives as well. Think about it for a second. Lot and all of “his” possessions got too big for them to stay with Abraham. Starting to see? When we allow what we know, what we have, what we desire to be too big to stay following God, we go off on our own to find “more space” and more things for us to do and get. The safety and security of being in God’s presence no longer satisfies when we think about our stuff more than Him.

The beauty about all of this is, God does not leave us alone when we get ourselves deep in danger, deep in sin. He comes to the rescue. He finally sent Jesus Christ to release of from the power of sin and death and the grip they held over us. Lot could have said he did not want to be rescued, that he would rather stay in captivity and go with the people who were taking him away. We can choose to stay in love with ourselves, our stuff, our intelligence instead of being released from the burden they carry.

Here’s what I see happen when we allow God to rescue us. We become free! This freedom means we use what we have, and have been given, for God’s glory instead of our own. We are no longer bound to the power the “stuff” has over us. We see everything as a gift and use our lives more wisely.

Jesus did not die on the cross so we could say, “oh, that’s cool he died for me. I’m glad I’m saved.” No, when He died on the cross and rose from the grave, He did so to show us a life that we can enter. A life that is fully in the presence of God. What a gift.

As we go through this season of lent, consider how much of a grip our “stuff” really does have on us and hold us back. Then take time to ask Jesus to release that “stuff’s” power over you and give you true freedom.

Three more weeks until Easter. How are you preparing your heart to fully grasp the incredible love, power, and majesty of Jesus Christ? Are you truly free?

NOTE: This is a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

REDEEMED: The Prodigal Father

What is your first impression on the story of the “Prodigal Son”? Most of us have probably focused on the wayward son that came back home and the father welcoming him back with a big party. We probably also have focused on the attitude of the older son. Have you been counted among the “prodigals” and been told it’s time to come back home?

This season of lent, we are being challenged by two concepts. The main one is to practice lent as a spiritual discipline so when Easter comes it is experienced with more joy and rejoicing because Jesus the Christ has won the victory. Sin has been defeated and we are able to have our relationship with God, our Creator restored and reconciled. This is incredible news that we can miss if we do not take the time to allow everything that happened up to and including the cross to impact our hearts and lives.

The second concept we are challenged and invited to meditate on is the truth of what it means to be redeemed. Last week, we talked about God having an incredible love for us that He would pay any price to redeem us. This was done on the cross with the death of Jesus Christ. God redeemed us by paying the price for our sin and “buying” us back with His blood. What a gift this is! And we can miss how incredible this really is if we just go straight to the resurrection without the events, including the death, that lead up to the victorious resurrection.

Click here to read this week’s passage from Luke 15.  One of the first things we have to consider what prodigal means. The way most of us have heard about prodigal is as a wayward, lost person. When we look up prodigal in the dictionary, it means “extravagantly wasteful.” This makes complete sense when we think about the son who left and returned humble and remorseful. But, have you considered the father as prodigal?

In our society, it really does not make sense for the father to spend that much money or give that kind of reception for a child who squandered his part of the inheritance and was not smart with his money. It is customary to see people get left out of the family or treated in a way where the person has to learn a lesson from the school of hard knocks. This is the type of society we tend to live in.

The father in this passage is just like God. In fact, he is meant to point us to the ravishing love that God, our Father, has for us. It does not make sense; but God treats us in ways, and gives us things that we would consider wasteful. There is no reason that God should treat us this way; except for the truth that He loves us which such complete love that we cannot fully comprehend.

Don’t you find it amazing how God, the Creator of the universe sees us living lives that are so against what He designed us to live and still accepts us back when we return to Him? You and I are invited to experience grace in this way. We do not deserve all of what God desires to give us; but we still get to receive. We have the freedom to choose whether we’ll live a life without God; but He rejoices greatly when we choose to follow Him and choose His life. In Christ, we have real life and real freedom.

I invite you to meditate on, not just what wayward people we can be at times; but rather on the truth of how generous our God is. Even though it seems wasteful to us to throw an extravagant reception and to lavish true unconditional love on the lost and waywards (us), this is what God our Father does.

As we approach Easter and celebrating the resurrection, let’s take serious time to reflect on the incredible love of the Father and allow this to draw us close to the cross and the life of Jesus Christ. God has so much that He wants us to experience this side of eternity.

NOTE: This is a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

REDEEMED: A Strange Love

We have begun the season of Lent, a time of reflection, repentance, and turning our lives back toward the gospel. Whether you practice the season of Lent or not (the 40 days before Easter not including Sundays), I invite you to begin this practice this year.

Ash Wednesday is the day that begins the Lenten season. In the Methodist Church, there is an invitation to the observance of Lent. This observance to Lent invites us to observe a holy lent. It puts it this way, “the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty–day season of spiritual preparation…the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith…in the name of the Church…observe a holy Lent: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.”

Today, we begin a six week series called “Redeemed” where we focus on what it means to be redeemed by God through Jesus Christ and empowers us with the Holy Spirit.

Our passage today comes from the minor prophet book of Hosea. Take some time to read this passage. (Click link to read Hosea 3:1-5.)

So, reading this passage may seem a little strange. But, what did you notice, what stood out? Why do you think we begin with this passage?

To begin with, let’s think about the characters. The prophet Hosea was sent to be with an adulterous woman. Why would God send Hosea to her? As it says in the passage, it was to show that the people of Israel had lost their way.

Think of it this way. The people of Israel had gone astray from their love for God and chose to live for themselves and worship other idols, and gods. But God did not give up on them. God does not remove any of the consequences for their actions and lifestyle; but He does go to prove He desires for them to be redeemed.

We see this action of redemption through the actions of Hosea. He had to “buy” the woman so she could go with him. Why did he have to buy her? Does this mean she was choosing that lifestyle? Not necessarily. It does mean that she was in a place, a situation, that she needed to leave and be redeemed from.

This is the same with God. We find ourselves in many circumstances and situations in our life. Some of which we put ourselves into and some we are in this state by choice. God does not turn his eye from us. How do we know this?

Look toward the cross. Jesus Christ, God in flesh, lived on this earth. Get that? God came down to redeem, to save, to bring to restoration those who are lost. The good news is that this is us. Jesus Christ offers us new life and chances to turn our life back to God.

Will you take this opportunity? No matter what is going on in your life, or in what situation you find yourself in, God has already paid the price for you and I to be free from our slavery to sin. Get that? You and I are free because of Jesus Christ.

Lent is so much more than just thinking about how good this truth is. Lent is about turning our lives back to God. Always remember the core of the Gospel:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16)

May this Lent be meaningful and bring you closer to the throne of grace. Jesus Christ has done so much. Repent and believe the gospel!

NOTE: This is a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”