Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Call to Follow, Not a Call to Lead

Mark 1:16-20

16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him. 19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.
Introduction
Our challenge this morning is to understand God’s Call to follow his son Jesus Christ. To that end let me point four aspects of the call found in our text: 1) the call is to follow not to lead; 2) the call is to follow only Jesus; 3) the call is plural, many are needed for the task; 4) the call is specific to one vision that of evangelism and discipleship. Let me state those elements of the call again. (Repeat)
Now the one criteria necessary to answer this call is repentance and I’ll say more about that momentarily. Our quadrennial theme is “The Investment Factor: A Changed People, Changing the World.” Repentance is the way to change and repentance sustains change. Repentance is an ongoing phenomenon that results from following Jesus. A follower of Jesus has been changed, is changing, and awaits new changes each day they follow Jesus. The hymn writer wrote, “Everyday with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” Hallelujah! Only a life of repentance can do that. Praise the Lord!

Move 1
Beloved, when people encounter Jesus through a life of discipleship they change the world around them. True story. A little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it was “too crowded.” “I can’t go to Sunday School,” she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class.
The child was so happy that they found room for her, and she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship Jesus. Some two years later, this child lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings. Her parents called for the kindhearted pastor who had befriended their daughter to handle the final arrangements.
As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled red purse was found which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note, scribbled in childish handwriting, which read: “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.
For two years she had saved for this offering of love. When the pastor tearfully read that note he knew instantly what he would do. Carrying this note and the cracked red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his deacons to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building. But the story does not end there. . .
A newspaper learned of the story and published it. It was read by a wealthy realtor who offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands. When told that the church could not pay so much, he offered to sell it to the little church for 57 cents.
Church members made large donations. Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl’s gift had increased to $250,000.00—a huge sum for that time (near the turn of the century). Her unselfish love had paid large dividends.
When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300. And be sure to visit Temple University, where thousands of students are educated. Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday School building which houses hundreds of beautiful children, built so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside during Sunday school time.
In one of the rooms of this building may be seen a picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell, author of the book, “Acres of Diamonds.”
Who would have thought that the investment of this pastor in this one, unkempt child would result in such a change. That’s the power of a changed life investing in someone else, hallelujah! This little girl, penniless, homeless, and broke fell in love with Jesus. She took everything she had and invested so that others would be blessed. When ordinary people answer the call to follow Jesus, God does miraculous things.

Move 2

That notwithstanding, everybody is not ready to follow Jesus; you have to observe people and target those you sense are ready to answer the call. Jesus passed by a lot of men, prayed many days, before he finally walked up to those he chose to follow him. As disciples of Jesus Christ before you invest in someone look for the same traits Jesus found in these men in those persons.
Let’s look at four criteria Jesus used to select members of his discipleship team.
Look again at Mark 1:16-17, it reads, “16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”
First Jesus looked for men who exhibited a consistent work ethic. These men were not afraid of hard work. Jesus looked at the way those men threw those nets into the water, the way they worked as a team, and decided these men can help me. Jesus called Simon and Andrew to serve because they were committed to a purpose.
Next, Jesus chose men who were teachable. Luke Chapter 5 tells us that Jesus had used their boats as a platform to teach and afterward gave them instructions on fishing and they obeyed. They were teachable. Listen, if you are not willing to learn, if you think you know it all, Jesus can’t use you. Someone who can’t be taught, also can’t follow.
Thirdly, Jesus chose men who were willing to follow. Look at verses 18, “18 And they left their nets at once and followed him.” Simon and Andrew heard the call to serve, to learn, to go on a new adventure and because Jesus had proven his ability to be successful, they followed him. Jesus didn’t have to bribe them, cajole them, or brow-beat them. When they heard the call, immediately, they followed Jesus. I wonder this morning is there anybody here willing to do likewise. I wonder this morning if in 2015, someone would enter a deeper level of commitment as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!
Finally, Jesus chose men who would sacrifice. Look at verses 19-20: “19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.” These men sacrificed what they were in order to become who Jesus needed them to be. They accepted an invitation to change and to begin doing something with eternal ramifications. They, along with Simon and Andrew also had witnessed the ability of Jesus to get results. No longer would they simply be ordinary men engaged in the fishing business, now they would become ordinary men engaged in the business of salvation.
They sacrificed their livelihood and chose to follow Jesus. Why, because discipleship requires sacrifice. Jesus needs somebody to answer the call to follow who is willing to sacrifice who they are to become who he needs them to be. Jesus offers a brand new life, not a part time job. I wonder if I have anybody this morning willing to sacrifice their livelihood to follow Jesus.

Move 3
The sum total of these four criteria – hardworking, willing, teachable, sacrificial – is repentance. When you answer the call to follow Jesus, you have to repent.
In Mission in Christ’s Way Lesslie Newbigin (d. 1996), long-time missionary to India, writes:
I remember once visiting a village in the Madras diocese. There was no road into the village; you reached it by crossing a river, and you could do this either on the south side of the village or on the north. The congregation had decided that I would come by the southern route, and they had prepared a welcome such as only an Indian village can prepare.
There was music and fireworks and garlands and fruit and silumbum (the performance of a South Indian martial art done on ceremonial occasions)—everything you can imagine. Unfortunately I entered the village at the north end and found only a few goats and chickens. Crisis! I had to disappear while word was sent to the assembled congregation, and the entire village did a sort of U-turn so as to face the other way. Then I duly reappeared.
This is what metanoia, the word repentance means. The TEV translation gives a misleading impression by translating it: “Turn away from your sins.” That might make it look like a traditional call for moral reformation. That is not the point. There is nothing about sins in the text (Mark 1:14-18). The point is: “The reign of God has drawn near, but you can’t see it because you are looking the wrong way. You are expecting the wrong thing..”

Move 4
God’s call comes to us as an invitation to follow, never to lead, never to take risks independently of him. In other words, when you follow Jesus, success is assured. For when we follow Jesus our sins no longer have dominion over us. So then, God’s call comes despite our sins, flaws or handicaps. In other words God does not reject us because we’re flawed; he calls us who are flawed to serve others who are flawed. Hallelujah!
One of the main characters in the movie Seabiscuit is a broken-down, unemployed cowboy named Tom Smith. Millionaire Charles Howard, who is about to engage in a horse racing enterprise, has a campfire interview with Smith, and asks why he bothered rescuing an old, lame horse that was sentenced to death because of a broken leg.
Tom replies, “You don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause it’s banged up a bit.” Every horse is good for something, Tom claims. This devotion to horses convinces the millionaire that Tom should be his trainer.
Together they find and purchase Seabiscuit, a horse whose physical shortcomings and temperament make it an unlikely prospect for racing success. Tom’s method of training, while unorthodox, is tailored toward curing the horse of its inner demons, a byproduct of the neglect shown by its previous owners.
Tom hires a second-rate jockey named John “Red” Pollard to ride Seabiscuit. At 5’7″, Red is considered too tall to be anything but a bush-league jockey and a bad match for this undersized horse. But Tom notices a mystical connection between Red and Seabiscuit.
Red has another handicap. He is blind in one eye, and he has concealed the handicap fearing that track officials would no longer allow him to race.
During a crucial race at Santa Anita, Red’s limited vision allows a competing horse, Rosemont, to overtake Seabiscuit on Red’s blind side, costing them the victory.
Tom, the trainer, is outraged that the jockey failed to urge Seabiscuit to keep the winning pace. He presses the jockey to explain how he could let this happen. Finally, in a burst of emotion, Red shouts, “Because I’m blind!”
Stung by the loss and betrayal, Tom scornfully urges Mr. Howard to fire Red. To Tom’s surprise, Mr. Howard requests that Red remain as his jockey. Dumbfounded, Tom demands a reason. Mr. Howard states, “You don’t throw away a whole life just because it’s banged up a bit.” God doesn’t throw us away just because we’re banged up a bit. Hallelujah!
This is it, precisely. Jesus recruits those who enjoy life, those who are teachable, those who are willing and those who will sacrifice their livelihood in exchange for his. Your sins are swallowed up in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. God calls you as you are to follow his son Jesus in service. Are you that person Jesus is calling today? Are you willing to answer the call of Jesus Christ to follow him? Come, follow Jesus and begin to live the abundant life of serving others through faith in him. Hallelujah!

An Invitation to Change

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Introduction

I learned so much from watching the hit television show “The Preachers of LA.”  II can’t wait to watch “The Preachers of Detroit.”  These shows highlight the flamboyance of certain high profile preachers and the ministries they share within their communities.

Yet some people get the message confused with the messenger.  However, the fact remains that the messengers of God come in all different shades.  No two messengers approach the task the same.  Each of us has to obey God and relay the message the way god has shaped it within our heart.  And you cannot be the barometer as to whether we’re pleasing God or not.  Only sinners who are weary and heavy laden can judge whether the message is valid.

Well, John the Baptist felt the same way about Jesus’ approach.  He questioned whether Jesus actually was a messenger of God.  John sent questions to Jesus about his authenticity.  John wanted Jesus to validate his claim to be the Messiah.  Albeit the Holy Spirit had shown John the sign that Jesus was the one prophesized about in the Scriptures, John still wanted Jesus to verify his claim.  Why?  Their lifestyles and approaches to ministry were so different.

John lived an aesthetic lifestyle.  He denied himself the pleasures of this world.  He lived in the wilderness, ate wild locusts and honey and never cut his hair.  From all appearances he lived as a Nazarite in the Old Testament.  A Nazarite was forbidden to touch dead bodies, marry a foreigner, or drink wine.  John came preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  So did Jesus, but Jesus lived a different lifestyle.

Jesus came eating and drinking, hanging out with sinners, attending wedding parties, in addition to attending synagogue and participating in the worship of God, the Father.  Jesus had a life that he used to influence sinners to discipleship.  He used every avenue he could to reach people.  His was a different approach than John, the Baptist.  Yet, his message was the same.  “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand.  The Great Invitation remained the same:  Accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and Follow Him.

Move 1

Well, if that is true, and it is.  Why don’t people respond to the message rather than the messenger?

First, immature people are listening to the message [v.16-17].  They are immature in the sense of not being ready to act on the message.  Most of those who hear the word of God concerning repentance and salvation have not yet attained the conviction of sin being despicable to God.  They don’t realize how much God hates sin, nor do they hate sin.  Most people just want to be appeased and given a sense of release from the weight of sin for that moment.  But in order for you to appropriately hear the gospel, you must have reached a point of hatred and disgust with the sinful life you’re living.  You need to be sick and tired of being sick and tired.  You must be ready for change, not temporary change, but eternal change.  You must be ready for rest.  This is what is means to be weary and heavy laden.  This is what it means to be ready for God to intervene in your life.  And until you seriously come to hate the sin you’ve committed then you’re like a child being entertained.  You may laugh or you may cry, but you’re not going to change.

Second, the message is being shared in ways that seek to please people and deal with their present situation rather than their eternal destination [v.18-19].  Jesus has stated emphatically in these passages that until a person is ready to change, they will always criticize the messenger rather than deal with the message.  It doesn’t matter how holy the messenger lives in the eyes of people, or how loose the messenger lives in the eyes of people.  What matters is whether the messenger is being faithful to the God who called him/her to deliver the message.  Socrates stated, “To Thine Own Self be True.”  I now add, “To God Be True.”  In other words, be true to what God told you.  Tell it the way he told it to you; approach the people he sends you to the way he tells you to approach them.  Don’t try to fit some preconceived notion of people.  People will get you off track; people will get you killed; people will get you fired.  Don’t allow anyone to cause you to make yourself more important than the message God has given you to offer.  It is the message that will deliver those who are ready to respond.  Keep your focus on eternal destinies not temporary, emotional highs and lows.  God is concerned about both, but his message is intended to get a person’s spiritual life in proper order.  For it is the spirit that dictates how well a person will live in this temporary world.  Seek only to please God as you do his work in the earth.

Third, the options being presented are not exclusive enough [v.25-27].  It must be made clear that there is only one way to find peace from the weight of sin and guilt caused by alienation from God.  We live in a world that offers many ways to salvation, peace, and rest.  Yet, the church is charged to represent Christ and Christ alone.  The people don’t respond to mixed messages.  We must be consistent in the fact that there is only one way of salvation acceptable to God according to the Bible.  That way is through faith in His son.  Without such faith, rest cannot be obtained.  Jesus is the only one who can connect a weary and labored sinner to the Father and only the Father can give rest.  Only the Father can lift the burden of sin; only the Father can forgive, restore, and refresh a life broken by sin.

Move 2

Who then can respond to this exclusive spiritual message of rest and peace?

First, only the weary can respond [v.28].  The word “weary” means, “worn out; having one’s patience, tolerance, or liking exhausted; causing tiredness.”  If you are just looking for absolution from guilt but you really enjoy the sin, don’t come to Jesus.  The fact of the matter is you’re not ready.  You have to be a person who’s sinful life causing you grief, pain, and worry.  Your sin must cause you to walk the floor at night crying out to God for help.  Your sin must cause you to cry bitter tears at inopportune times and in inappropriate places.  Your sin must cause you to not only ask for forgiveness but also cause you to resolve never to do it again.  You need to not just want to be let off the hook; you need to be ready to destroy the behavior that put you on the hook in the first place.  You’ve got to be worn out with the sin.  If you’re not weary, don’t fake it, wait.

Second, only those willing to change can respond [v.29].  A clear definition of insanity is “to keep doing the same things you’re doing now but to keep expecting a different result.”  Jesus offers the sinner a lifestyle that is no longer independent.  Jesus offers to take the sinner by hand and heart and lead them into a place they have never entered before.  It is a place of rest.  Rest, much needed rest, from the heartaches and mental anguish caused by sin, guilt, and shame.  Jesus invites the repentant sinner to a new way of living.  Jesus invites the sinner to begin a relationship with God by following him.  It is this relationship with God that offers rest and peace to a sin sick soul.  This is a call to change!  It is a call to rest!  No more judging or criticizing self; no more beating up on yourself.  It is looking through eyes of faith at the God of salvation knowing that He loves you.  Once Jesus allows you to see the love of God, rest and peace follows.  There is no greater joy than knowing that God, your creator loves you regardless of what you’ve done or where you’ve been.  There is no greater peace and rest than knowing that your God will always be there for you and that he will help you grow and succeed in life.

Move 3

This is the Great Invitation.  Jesus invites you to change.  Jesus calls you to stop living your life apart from God and to begin living your life in His presence.  Jesus assures you that when you accept his invitation; rest and peace shall be your reward.  Your soul will be filled with the radiating glory of the goodness of God, the Father.  Your spirit will be made alive, quickened, by the spirit of the Father.  Your live will begin anew.  God will be your God and you will be adopted into his family.

How then shall the weary and heavy-laden respond?  First, come to Jesus [v.28].  You’ve tried alcohol, drugs, women, work, and the world.  Now, walk out of that quagmire of confusion and decide to receive faith in God’s Son.  Simply turn around and listen to what Jesus is saying to you right now.

Second, become a disciple of Jesus Christ [v.29].  Decide to embrace Jesus as Lord.  The Word of God says, “That if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord; and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead you will be saved.”  What you do is confess that your efforts have failed, and left you weary with guilt.  Confess that you have found no other way able to release you from the guilt of sin, and then call on the name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

Third, learn from Jesus Christ.  A disciple is one who is under discipline of the teacher.  In other words, you exchange your way of doing and being right for that of what the Word of God says you should do to be right.  As a disciple you constantly change to comply with what the word of God asks you to do.  As a disciple you embrace change as a way of life.  Jesus sought to please the father by obeying his word and so do you.  Jesus sought to be a blessing and so do you as you prosper in the things of God and in this world.  As a disciple you seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness.  As a disciple you belong to God in Christ.

Move 4

Finally, as a result of coming to Jesus, becoming his disciple and learning from him, you enter a period of rest and peace.  Rest from the bondage of sin that caused you to be restless and worn.  Rest from the power of repeated and habitual sin dominating your life.  Rest from the constant search of looking for a way out.  Rest from the fast paced life.  Rest from worrying about where you will spend eternity.

Everyday in every way your life will begin to get better because you know Jesus Christ.  This is God’s Great Invitation.  He wants your life to be peaceful, restful, and successful.  Will you come to Him?  Are you weary of sin?  Are you willing to change?  If so, come to Jesus, become His disciple, and learn his way of doing and being right.  He is here for you right now.  Why not lay down your heavy burden and let Christ pick you up and bring you out of your pit of despair?  I assure you that the love of God will be found in the face of Jesus Christ.  Come to Jesus!

A Reason Not to Fear

v. 35) Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (v. 36) As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” (v. 37) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (v. 38) For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, (v. 39) nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Introduction
Today is the celebration of All Saints Day. All Saints Day was begun by the Roman Catholic Church to combat the pagan holiday All Hallowed Eve which was a wiccan celebration. The Church wanted to phase out all pagan rituals so that the barbarians in Europe could more easily practice Christianity. It also gave the Church an opportunity to remember those saints who chose death over life rather than compromise their faith in Jesus Christ. Then and now they were known as “martyrs”.

The word “martyr” comes from the Greek word martyrs, meaning witness. While Jesus is the greatest model of the faithful martyr in the New Testament, the word also is used in Acts to describe people who were witnesses of Jesus’ life and resurrection (Acts 1:8). In Christian usage, “martyr” soon acquired the meaning “blood-witness,” that is, the person who was put to death because of her testimony on behalf of Jesus.1

Under pressure, martyrs freely chose death over life as a witness to the truth of Jesus’ claims and to their faith in Jesus. In the early church, Christians would celebrate the anniversary of a martyr’s death by keeping an all-night vigil and then celebrating the Lord’s Supper over the tomb or the shrine at the place of martyrdom. The cloud of witnesses whom we honor on this day consists of saints of God who led exemplary lives and who died believing that Christian faith and black liberation mattered more than life itself.

Move 1
The book of Hebrews Chapter 11 is known as the Faith Hall of Fame. It lists those saints, those servants of God who by faith lived a victorious life albeit not inheriting the prize of eternal life without the rest of us. Hebrews talks of the struggles, battles fought, and dangers endured of the people of God who were witnesses of Jesus Christ. We know the legacy of Enoch, Noah, Sarah, Abraham, David, Rahab, and Solomon but what about those unsung heroes and heroines who did not get their names recorded.

Listen to the record in Hebrews 11:30-40. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.

32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted,[f] were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
Likewise, we know about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Emmet Till, and Medgar Evers. We know about the four little girls murdered at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama – Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair.

Move 2
African Americans are intimately acquainted with “trials and tribulations.” For nearly four hundred years, we have been persecuted, martyred, and frequently made the cultural and political scapegoat by persons in power. We have been kidnapped and beaten, crammed into stinking ships, enslaved by cruel slavers, and disinherited by broken promises during the Reconstruction Era. We have suffered segregation and disenfranchisement in a country we helped build.

Many black Christian leaders, who have agitated for the liberation and freedom of our people, have been beaten, tortured, and assassinated. As a people, we have endured hunger, starvation, homelessness, separation, segregation, lynching, and disappearances. Our people have been killed “all day long” and “accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” (v. 36) But what about the lives of the countless men and women who were lynched, imprisoned, and ostracized whose names remain unknown.

One such man is Rev. George W. Lee (1904-1955). Very early in his life, George Lee felt the call to become a preacher, but he evaded it for several years. It was as a preacher that he came to Belzoni, Mississippi. From the beginning, he felt a lingering discontent with pastoral ministry in the fashion of most Negro preachers of the day. For Lee, it was not enough to orate about heaven and eat free chicken dinners on Sunday. He dreamed of long lines of muscular Negro cotton farmers lining up at the county courthouses demanding to vote. He protested against a system that he knew could crush him, and he was well aware that if he were killed, some Negroes at his funeral would say in hushed tones: “Maybe it’s just as well the Rev. Lee is gone. He riled the white man too much.” Mrs. Rose Lee said of her husband: “He had a thinking ability better than most of the others, so they came to him.”

Many black people were too beaten down by a racist system to care about freedom, but the few, the tough few, could be the beginning of a freedom movement. One of the hardy few was Mr. Gus Courts who, along with Rev. Lee and 62 other blacks, organized a Belzoni branch of the NAACP early in 1954. The backlash came from the White Citizens Council (WCC). Lee and Courts were part of a group of 95 Negroes who managed to achieve voter status. Lee and Courts believed that they were numbers one and two on a widely circulated WCC “hit list.”

Rev. Lee had a typesetting business; so, he was financially independent. He received several threatening phone calls that sounded like this: “Nigger, you’re number one on a list of people we don’t need around here anymore.” Frequently followed in his car by violent whites, he said to his wife, “Rose, somebody’s got to stand up.” “A religious powerhouse, Lee served three churches, operated a grocery store and a printing shop. As one of the VPs of the Mississippi Council of Negro Leadership and a member of the NAACP, he sermonized about voting and eventually electing a Negro congressman – an idea that caused whites to fear such a political triumph because of the predominant Negro population.”

On May 7, 1955, Rev. Lee went to pick up his preaching suit from the dry cleaners. A convertible roared up from behind and pulled up alongside. One shot rang out – then another. Lee’s car plunged into an old shack tearing it from its foundations. The lower left side of Lee’s face and his jawbone were torn away by the gun blasts, yet he somehow managed to pull himself from the wreckage. Cabdrivers found him and drove him toward the hospital. He died on the way without being able to speak.

Rev. Lee’s funeral service was held at the First Baptist Church. More than 1,000 mourners gathered. He was one of the earliest martyrs of the modern civil rights movement and inspired Medgar Evers and others.3

Move 3
Even today, we still suffer hardship and distress, as well as persecution and peril in the form of broken political promises, evaporating jobs and the dominant culture’s arrogant mockery and misunderstanding of the black church tradition. Yet, through Jesus’ life-changing love, we are more than conquerors. Jesus’ love for us makes us a loving and compassionate people. Jesus’ love for us has prompted us to build a spiritual tradition that offers a testimony of life and liberation, hope and healing, to hounded and harassed people the world over. Our pilgrimage as a people can serve as a living testimony of the triumph of right over might; and we can work as part of God’s ongoing purpose to save a suffering and lost world.

Our slain martyrs believed unto death that God’s word was true and that each person, regardless of race, gender, creed, or color, was fearfully and wonderfully made. Because God loves us and makes all of us equal, prejudiced thinking and bigoted actions are attempts to negate God’s goodness and to place human values before God’s supreme equity and justice.

Their voice signaled to the saints beyond the river, that justice will run down like water and righteousness as a mighty stream. It signals to our women that they are just as capable of bringing a righteous man success as any woman from another race. It signals to our children that in America there are no limits – that anything and God is enough! You need to make sure you vote on Tuesday morning because those who suffered bled and dyed as martyrs for the sake of freedom for black Americans demand you vote. Never let it be said that on this historic occasion you failed to stand up and do your duty – vote on Tuesday because it matters. Hallelujah!

As Paul says in another letter, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, and powers of this fallen world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm [Eph. 6:12]. Satan would have us believe that hatred and prejudice extinguish the good, discourage the just, and silence truth-tellers. But the devil is a liar, and the truth is not in him. Those who are faithful to the point of death will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God and will receive the crown of life [Rev. 2:10].

I stand today to recognize that those who fought, of all races and colors, are saints within the black community. They embodied the words of Dr. King, “If a person hasn’t found something he/she are willing to die for, he/she is not fit to live.” They died for the freedom’s cause; they embodied the words of the slaves, “Before I be a slave I’ll be resting in my grave and go home with my Lord and be free.” They stood in the face of a corrupt, racist, government system and declared, “I Am Somebody!” They stood at before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and dared to Dream of a time when black people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. We celebrate today because if it had not been for our ancestors, we would not enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Romans 8:35-39 exhorts Christians to trust that God will care for and deliver them even in the most desperate situations. While the persecution of Christians in the ancient world was local and sporadic, the threat was ever present. Whether people were persecuted depended on political, social, and economic circumstances in the Roman Empire. Persecution is worst during periods of economic or political turmoil when a scapegoat is needed on whom to place blame for bad times.

With the poetic cadence of a preacher, Paul passionately reminds these believers that Christ’s love will accompany them as they face difficult dilemmas and even death. Dishonest leaders, brutal dictators, wars and rumors of wars might heap suffering and injustice upon believers, but there is no person or peril on this planet strong enough to separate believers from the empowering love of Jesus Christ. Paul’s proclamation in this passage is clear: persevere through it all—persecution, famine, poverty, incarceration, violent intimidation—because God has promised to be with us! God has generously poured out His love upon us. No trial or tribulation can destroy that divine love.

Jesus is our example. He fought the system, both religious and political – God was with him. He broke barriers that sought to keep a people enslaved to the dictates of the Roman Empire – God was with him. He broke barriers that sought to keep a people enslaved to sin and degradation. He broke the barriers for us all; it costs him his life; but God raised him up in the third day – God was with him. He got up with all power in his hand – God was with him. He got up to watch over you and me as we too fight the good fight of faith. Do not be deterred; stand and having done all keep on standing. The Lord Jesus Christ is with you! His blood is powerful and efficacious. He will stand with you. Hallelujah!

This is the reason we do not fear. God through Christ is with us! When we stand and exercise our citizen rights, we do not fear. When we report to vote and the power structure challenges our qualifications, we do not fear. When police stand outside the voting polls with weapons in plain sight, we do not fear. We do not fear because nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We do not fear because death is not the final response to an oppressor’s aggression. We do not fear because we have been called by God to stand up and do what is right in the earth.

Good News in Tough Times

Luke 2:7-10

Introduction

This text describes some tough times. First, it was tax time. Time to pay those infamous taxes that make the middle class and the poor cringe. It was tax time. And in order to pay the tax, Joseph and Mary had to travel all the way back to Bethlehem, the city of David the place of their inheritance. It was the place where all the deeds to the family property were held in store; the place where their wealth could be assessed with all the proper documentation readily available for verification. It was tax time. Second, it was winter. This was to be no ordinary journey. Mary who was almost eight months pregnant and ready to deliver had to take this journey in freezing temperatures with no hospitals along the way. Thieves and bandits would lie in wait on this journey to deceive and rob unsuspecting travelers. Thieves and robbers would take advantage of travelers unaware of the road and its turns and crooks. It was cold; it was dangerous; it was mandatory. Thirdly, it was crowded. Taxpayers filled the roads going to Bethlehem to pay their taxes. It was like going from Manchester to Atlanta on I-85 in the middle of the day and then having to drive thru downtown Atlanta during rush hour. It was crowded; it was frustrating; it was hectic. Still Joseph and Mary had to persevere.

Then having finally arrived in Bethlehem, they found themselves one-room short of having a place to stay. When they reached the front desk to Hotel Bethlehem, the clerk said, “We just sold our last room. There is no more room here or anywhere else in town.” Imagine traveling a great distance in the freezing cold winter climate to pay taxes and upon arrival the desk clerk saying, “We have no more rooms available.” Imagine that on top of all this, you were almost nine months pregnant, even with money in your husband’s pocket; money couldn’t fix your situation. Imagine how you would feel.

Moreover, imagine how you would feel if told the only place you could lodge would be a small courtyard where the animals had been housed. Imagine wrapping your baby in swaddling clothes and laying him in a manger. Now swaddling clothes were customary, no big deal. Swaddling clothes were just a bunch of bandages or clothes that Mary used to wrap the baby’s arms and legs to keep him from moving. But a manger, the place where the animals’ food was placed. These three-foot long, eighteen inches wide, and two feet deep, troughs were cold and hard. Imagine that. I guarantee you that this was not Mary’s idea of a bed for her first child. Yet, Jesus, our Savior was born in an animal courtyard and Mary made his first bed out of an animal’s feeding trough. Isn’t that the mark of a good mother? She uses what she has to make the best environment she can for her children. Hallelujah!

Move 2

Notwithstanding their personal struggles, Joseph and Mary lived in austere time. There were political, social, religious and economic hardships that the people of God had to live through.. Politically, they had just experienced the Maccabean revolts against the Greek General Alexander and his sons, the Ptolemy. Then, the Romans came, occupied their lands and confiscated their treasures. Roman taxation had nearly robbed the temple treasury and caused countless Jews to loose their land and valuables. They just could not afford the taxes and through a government process, lost all that they had worked hard to maintain. Socially, the Jews were broken down into the poor, middle class, upper class, and elitist – or what we call “the haves and the have nots.” There was racial division among brethren and social taboos that society dared people to cross. In other words, captivity had produced a strain on familial relationships that caused many squabbles and clashes between brothers. Religiously, there were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Zealots. The Pharisees were legalistically superior in their external religious observance, while the Sadducees were more concerned with prosperity and position in the world. Meanwhile, the Zealots were frequently causing revolutions among the populace that always threatened the existence of the other Jews. Yet, for all these the majority of the people disowned membership in any of these groups. They were the simple people who mixed a little prosperity with a little religion to help fuel a little protest every now and then. They were the cosmopolitan – heard to utter – “can’t we all just get along.”

Economically, times were tough. It was hard for the common person just to make ends meet. The updraft would catch the common person because of the political upheavals and the religious tyranny. Loyalties to the Romans could produce suits in the courts against family members who refused to play along. It could also cause family members to become jobless and the authorities could strip them of their land, livelihood, and status overnight. These were indeed tough and perilous times.

Move 3

To top all this off, God was angry with the people. They had disobeyed his laws, trampled over his commandments, disgraced his rituals, and taken advantage of his grace. These people had been obstinate, stubborn, and incorrigible toward God. God, who had successfully led them out of bondage in Egypt, into the Promised Land, and through numerous hardships looked and saw how the people had totally denied his existence and taken him for granted. He had every right to be furious at them, yet he loved them more than life itself. God could not envision abandoning them; he could not envision life without his beloved people. Therefore, after more than 430 years of silence, God spoke.

In the toughest of tough times, God speaks. He did not speak to condemn humanity. He did not deal out justice against their sinful nature. He did not add insult to injury. Rather, God spoke a word of grace. He sent his angels in the midst of those tough times and this is what they said, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. They broke out singing, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

What an awesome word! What a change of heart. God who had every right to be angry and to mete out justice on the world, spoke a word of love and forgiveness. God spoke of a Savior, a deliverer, a person who would save his people from their sins. Hallelujah!

And what of you this Christmas morning. Do you know anyone who deserves your wrath? Yet, you will impute your love and forgiveness to them. Do you know someone with whom you have every right to be angry? Yet, you have chosen to give that person love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of wrath.

Do you know how tough it can be to have everything in your life going wrong, and experience the anger of God as well? That’s what these people were experiencing. If it had not been the Lord move in their favor, they would not have made it. Moreover, some of you, right now, hold in your hands the key to someone’s release into their destiny. God wants you to give them the greatest gift they could ever receive this holiday – love and forgiveness.

This was truly good news in tough times. This was news that made the difference in their lives. This was news that despite what had happened to them as a family, politically, socially, or economically, God was with them. God was no longer angry with them. God did not want to inflame their misery; he wanted to ignite their passion to excel above their misfortunes. Beloved, whatever you are going through right now, God wants to inspire your creativity to reach above it. Do not let your tough times defeat you. Receive the word of God this morning. There is good news for your tough time! You are greater than your misfortune; you are stronger than your trouble; you are a child of Gold, rejoice in Him!

Move 4 (Celebration)

The good news is that Jesus Christ was born. He came that you might have life and that more abundantly. He came so that you would no longer be a stranger in the household of faith. He came so that you would no longer be an alien and stranger to your covenant with God. He came so that you would embrace God as God has embraced you. This is the good news this morning – Jesus Christ has come! Hallelujah!

You can achieve; you can succeed; you can be free from the burdens of life because Jesus Christ is come! You can receive God’s love and forgiveness this holiday season. You can experience his grace in your life right now. The good news is that because of Jesus Christ, you can rise up from the pit of despair and put on the joy of hope that springs eternal. The good news is that because of Jesus Christ, trouble can make you better rather than bitter. The good news is that because of Jesus Christ, there is strength for the weary and power for the faint. The good news is that you are not alone any more, Jesus Christ has come, and if you will receive him this morning, he will make a difference in your life. Hallelujah!