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Three Dependable Promises

IMG_024325-27 “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. 28 “You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I’m on my way to the Father because the Father is the goal and purpose of my life. 29-31 “I’ve told you this ahead of time, before it happens, so that when it does happen, the confirmation will deepen your belief in me. I’ll not be talking with you much more like this because the chief of this godless world is about to attack. But don’t worry—he has nothing on me, no claim on me. But so the world might know how thoroughly I love the Father, I am carrying out my Father’s instructions right down to the last detail. “Get up. Let’s go. It’s time to leave here.” (John 14:25-31)

 

Introduction

Charlie Brown is one of my favorite cartoon shows, especially at Christmas.  In one scene, Linus is building castles in the sand. He tells Charlie Brown: “Working with your hands is good therapy . . . It takes your mind off your troubles . . . Whenever I feel depressed, I build sand castles . . . I’ve been feeling pretty depressed lately!” Behind him we see a dozen or so sandcastles. In baseball they tell the story about the rookie who faced the great pitcher Walter Johnson for the first time. Johnson was in his prime. The batter took two quick strikes and headed for the dugout. He told the umpire to keep the third strike–he had seen enough.

Have you ever felt like that? Jesus promised his disciples, “I will not leave you comfortless.” Have you ever felt comfortless? The RSV translation uses the term desolate. Have you ever experienced desolation? For some people this is no joking matter. Depression is the most prevalent and the least treated serious illness in America today. Because it is so prevalent and so potentially dangerous, I am going to list several possible signs:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Shifts in sleeping patterns
  • Lack of energy
  • Agitation or increased activity
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and decreased sex drive
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt or self-reproach
  • Thoughts of suicide

If you or someone you know has at least four of these symptoms and they have lasted for at least two weeks, professional help probably should be sought. Prayerfully, most of us are not troubled enough to need professional help.  There are times, however when all of us need to be comforted.[1]

It is precisely at the point of facing the frightening prospects of the future that we can find a common ground with the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord had spoken more frequently and clearly of His death in Jerusalem.141 During the last supper Jesus had revealed that He was to be betrayed by one of His most intimate associates (John 13:18,21). Finally, He had told Peter that before the night was over he would deny knowing his Lord (John 13:38).

All of this was a most perplexing situation to those who had given up everything to become the followers of the Savior (Matthew 19:27). They saw the future now as something to be feared, rather than that which was eagerly anticipated. They, like many of us, viewed the future as something to be dreaded rather than desired.[2]

Move 1

But Jesus did something miraculous.  He made three dependable promises that would guide his followers through such turmoil.  Beloved, we have those same promises because we follow that same Jesus. He promised the disciples and us, His Presence, His Power, and His Peace.  Let us explore these for a few moments today.

First, Jesus promised his presence. In John 14:18-19, Jesus said of his impending death: ”1-4 “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. He went on to say in John 14:18-19, 18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.”

He dealt with their lack of faith because they felt their situation would be too overwhelming to live with and to live through.

So, this morning as we face this pandemic with a prognosis of getting worse rather better, we too must examine our faith.  We must answer the question whether we believe in the promises of Jesus and if so, we have to confess and live by our faith.

The writer of Hebrews admonishes us that in difficult times, “35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. 36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. 37 For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”

We are the church that holds to God’s unchanging hand.  Our ancestors lived through World War II, the Great Depression, Spanish Flu, The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, the Middle Passage, Jim Crow, and all types of atrocities but they kept on praising God through it all.  And they did that largely because they kept the faith. We can do no less. Jesus promises his presence through it all.  Jesus said, “Lo, I’ll be with you even to the end of the age.

Second, Jesus promised his power.  “All power is given unto me, in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28) He said that power would be available and present with them.  According to Luke’s gospel account, Jesus said to them, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”  All you need do is wait for it and when that power comes, you will be able to make it in even the toughest of times.  Hallelujah!

Power to get results, to be in control of your circumstances and situations despite the enormous odds against you.  Power to live through pandemics, wars, and natural catastrophes.  Power to endure hatred, oppression, famine and pestilence.  Power to stand to declare that our God is an awesome God.  Power to be a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ to a world that is teetering toward hell without a path of victory.  We are benefactors of that same power!   Acts 2:38-39 reads, 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” And isn’t that good news.  Hallelujah!

Third, Jesus promised his Peace.  Listen to his words in John 14:27,” 27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” What is this peace?  Well, it is peace that comes when you have unquenchable faith in the word of God.  It is peace that orders your life when chaos is rampant in your world.  It is peace that is as serene as the picture of a great storm, waters raging, floods destroying, winds ravishing the land,  lightning flashing, and the thunder roaring, and there perched upon a branch in a teetering tree is a little bird, sitting, singing, and unmoved.  That is the peace that passes all understanding that in the face of such odds against his survival that little bird, helpless to the human eye is unmoved.  Why, perhaps because he knows the one that controls the elements, he knows the one that calms the storms and she believes that One will never leave her nor forsake.  That is the peace that Jesus left his disciples and that he has left with those who believe and have faith in His word.

Move 2 (Conclusion)

And how is all this possible.  Because all of it is contained in the promise of the Holy Spirit.  All three promises are contained in the gift of the Holy Spirit which we have received.  Here what Jesus said about the Spirit in John 14:15-18, “16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. 18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”

A story was written some years ago about a man who had discovered an amazing inner spiritual peace. He had lost his entire fortune in the stock market crash in the 1930s. He was drinking himself to death. He decided to take his life by walking out into the ocean and swimming past the point of no return. As he came to the edge of the water, he noticed something sparkling in the sand. It was a pale, delicate shell. He stood there, completely captivated by it. Finally, he picked it up. It was so delicate that the least pressure of his fingers would crush it. Yet it was undamaged and perfect. He was puzzled by this fact as the waves roared in upon him. How could a shell remain intact and unbroken in the midst of the tons of seething water?

Suddenly it dawned upon him that the shell did not panic, fight the forces of the water, and seek to forge its own path in the ocean. The shell simply yielded itself to the waters. It has accepted the storms with calmness, just as it had accepted the stillness of the depths of the water where it had its beginning. By yielding itself to the water, it survived. Suddenly the man saw himself. He had been fighting God, disobeying him, and trying to defy the spiritual forces at the heart of the universe. He realized now why his life was troubled, and his days were not worth living. He dropped to his knees and placed his life in God’s hands. He walked away into a new life of faith.[3]

Jesus said the Holy Spirit will comfort, guide, and inform us of how to live in a chaotic world.  Because of the Holy Spirit, we can depend on the presence, power, and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ to endure this current pandemic when hearts are filled with anxiety and frustration.  We can have peace, the peace of God if we continue to trust his word.    I look forward to Pentecost, don’t you?  On May 31, Pentecost season will arrive.  I look forward to another season of being infilled yet again with the presence, power, and peace of Christ through the Holy Spirit.  Let me conclude with this:  Is your life safely in the hands of Jesus? Have you come to know Jesus through repentance and baptism?  If not, I offer Christ to you today!  Only through accepting Christ, can you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Only then can you depend on the promises of Christ’s presence, power, and peace.  Let us pray.

[1] https://sermons.com/sermon/i-will-not-leave-you-comfortless/1348276

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/32-facing-future-prescription-peace-john-14

[3] O. Garfield Beckstrand II, The Word From The Upper Room, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

A Mother Cries From Anxiety and Frustration

15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” (1 Sam 1:15-16)

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

 

Introduction

Black Mothers are so tired. Tired of seeing their young men killed, gunned down, murdered, abused, mutilated, and treated like they are 3/5th of a human being, treated less than one would treat their own canine or feline.

What can young black men and black women do in America?  One unknown writer wrote:  We can’t livestream (#Sean Reed); We can’t go jogging (#Ahmaud Arbery); We can’t relax in the comfort of our own homes (#Bothem Sean and #Atatiana Jefferson); We can’t ask for help after being in a car crash (#Jonathan Ferrell and #Renisha McBride); We can’t have a cellphone (#Stephon Clark); We can’t leave a party to get to safety (#Jordan Edwards); We can’t play loud music (#Jordan Davis); We can’t sell CD’s (#Alton Sterling); We can’t sleep (#Aiyana Jones); We can’t walk from the corner store (#Mike Brown).; We can’t play cops and robbers (#Tamir Rice); We can’t go to church (#Charleston9); We can’t walk home with Skittles (#Trayvon Martin); We can’t hold a hair brush while leaving our own bachelor party (#Sean Bell); We can’t party on New Years (#Oscar Grant); We can’t get a normal traffic ticket (#Sandra Bland); We can’t lawfully carry a weapon (#Philando Castile); We can’t break down on a public road with car problems (#Corey Jones); We can’t shop at Walmart (#John Crawford); We can’t have a disabled vehicle (#Terrence Crutcher); We can’t read a book in our own car (#Keith Scott); We can’t be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#Clifford Glover); We can’t decorate for a party (#Claude Reese); We can’t ask a cop a question (#Randy Evans); We can’t cash our check in peace (#Yvonne Smallwood); We can’t take out our wallet (#Amadou Diallo); We can’t run (#Walter Scott); We can’t breathe (#Eric Garner); We can’t live (#Freddie Gray).

This is frustration produced by anxiety from being Black in America.  Despite raising decent sons and daughters, taught to be respectful, honest, and God-fearing, Black sons and daughters find themselves too often attacked and maimed for no reason.  Murdered, killed, brutalized for being Black in America.

Yes, Black mothers are tired; we are all tired. Tired of making hashtags on social media. Tired of trying to convince America that our #BlackLivesMatter too. All this Spring Quarter we have been studying about justice in our Sunday School Lessons, the same lessons white America reads on Sunday Morning.  Somehow, at the same time white people are learning about justice, most white churches and some black churches are woefully silent on the atrocities being perpetrated on people of color in America and the world.

Throughout history, when anxiety and frustration set in a community, it has been praying mothers who made the difference.  Praying mothers who went before the throne of grace and sought help from a living God, a God able to make a difference and to raise up leaders who would allow peace and justice to reign.  Women who would band together and appeal to the powers that be for justice, action against oppression, and equitable treatment based upon the dignity of all persons and based on the standard of equal justice under the laws of the land.  Beloved, a praying mother, one who cries through her anxiety and frustration due to experiencing evil in the world, is a mighty force for good in the land.  Never underestimate the power of a praying woman.  Hallelujah!

 

Move 1

Hannah is a case in point.  She is miserable.  She is living in a polyamorous relationship with her husband Elkanah and his other wife Peninnah.  Peninnah had sons and daughters while Hannah had no children. Peninnah provoked her often and belittled, humiliated, and frustrated her every day.  The fact that Hannah was barren caused unbearable friction in Elkanah’s household.

Hannah wanted a child, yearned for a child, and she understood that if she got in the presence of God, God would answer her plea.  She prayed so diligently, until she had prayed herself weak.  Her voice was gone, but her lips were still moving.  Her voice was gone but her heart was still praying.  Her voice was gone but her spirit had touched heaven and it appeared as if she was in a spiritual stupor.  She had become so engrossed in the act of prayer until Eli thought her drunk, that tells you how out of touch he was. Lord, have mercy! Sometimes, those we expect to be able to tell when we’re in the presence of God, just are not there.  They are dealing with their own drama and mistake you getting your breakthrough for foolishness.  But hold on, God knows and God hears your heart’s cry.

Hannah said to Eli, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Hannah had pressed her way into the presence of God, she knew the key was getting before the throne and getting her petition before him.  So, she pressed her way and once the man of God knew what was going on, he added his faith to her faith, and said, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” I’m telling you this morning that a praying woman, a determined woman who lays it all on the altar will hear from heaven beloved.  God will hear and God will answer!  Hallelujah!

 

Move 2

Nothing is more powerful than a woman who cries out of her own personal anxiety and frustration when evil has come and devastated her world.  Evil has come inside her front door and taken the life of her child.  Such is the case of the mothers of those children whose names I called.  Imagine the anxiety and frustration each mother feels. What sustains her, what calms her, what allows her strength to be emboldened rather than weakened?

The key can be found in Hannah’s actions and in following the advice of the writer of Hebrews.  Hannah demonstrates the power of prayer to effect change in your situation.  The Hebrew writer suggests prayer as the key to getting God’s attention and bringing justice to bear on unjust situations.

According to Jack Scott’s May 8th article in The Red & Black Online Newspaper, “On Feb. 23, Gregory and Travis McMichael killed Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black jogger, in Satilla Shores in Brunswick, Georgia. After two months, a full video of the killing and a wave of public outrage, the men were finally arrested on May 7. The case will go to a grand jury, but only after the end of a statewide judicial emergency currently in effect until June 12. The two-month delay is a failure of justice all on its own, but even more so because the case’s outcome is legitimately uncertain.”[1]

From February until May 8, Wanda Cooper, Ahmaud’s mother had to cry out of her anxiety and frustration.  No news reports on CNN or MSNBC, ABC, or CBS.  No headline news or NBC coverage.  For 90 days, this mother had to suffer the disrespect and disinterest of white reporters on the local and national level.  In their eyes, it was just another story about another black child killed in America.  It was not frontline news material, rather the antics of Donald Trump and his handling of COVID19 received their attention.

But God heard the cry of this mother.  How do you know that God heard her Reverend.  Because she declared on her Facebook page, “God is My Strength,” even before this incident occurred.  And since this tragic killing of her son, she has had the support of the Lord as she goes through frustration that would certainly destroy a person who does not depend on God. This is her baby boy, a son that she had just celebrated his birthday and encouraged him to continue being the son she knew and to accomplish those things she knew he could accomplish.  Running for him was regular, not some strange occurrence.  And so she never thought two white men would pull up on her son with a third trailing in the rear and take his life.

One mother said, “My emotions have not changed much. I still look to God for revenge and justice. However, I am very angry and I am very tired. And if Ahmaud’s mother isn’t, then something is severely wrong. I am numb in some way. I found myself asking what more does God want us to do? Asking God what is it that we are not doing as a people, to where we are forever bound to this life of torture, this fast track to death, and this existing but not living state. But when I think I hear the answer, I feel exhausted and paralyzed from depression and weariness. That’s where I am.”

When you have reached your breaking point, remember God is working behind the scenes.  The writer of Hebrews declares, “14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The video surfaced garnering national outrage.  The cry for justice drowned out the cry for racism and bigotry.  The campaign for justice is in full effect.  Arrests were made and the investigation is ongoing.  Ahmaud Arbery’s deaf will not go quietly into the night.  His blood is crying from the ground and our God is orchestrating the actions to follow.

God’s grace and mercy will sustain Wanda Cooper and Ahmaud’s father because God is their strength. And so finally, we have come to far to be tired.  Evil is ramping up its attacks on our personhood and our liberties.  There is too much work to do for us to get too tired to fight these atrocities.  So rise up church, rise up and call on the Name of the Lord.  The battle is not over, let us lift high the royal banner of the Lord. This battle is not ours, it is the Lord’s.  And our God hears the cries of a mother out of her anxiety and frustration with the troubles of this world.  Amen. Amen. Amen.

[1] https://www.redandblack.com/coronavirus/opinion-georgia-must-change-laws-that-enabled-ahmaud-aubrey-killing/article_32f3962e-9106-11ea-9815-af9094cf42ee.html

Is the Church Leading the World to Jesus Christ?

“Dear friends,
I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license—which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master.” (Jude 3-4, The Message Bible)

I look to the church to lead the world to Christ. What I see baffles me! I remember well how when I received a call to Christ and Christ’s gospel, I went to my beloved Willard W. Allen Lodge No. 108 and bid farewell to my brothers. They were happy for me that I had discovered my life’s calling and understood my decision to fully commit myself to the of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Is the Church transforming culture or is culture transforming the church? Are the two so intertwined until they are no longer singularly recognizable? Grambling State University has the Bayou Classic, a game that alumni and well-wishers look forward to each year. I daresay they have supporters committed to going to this one game even if they miss all the others. They prepare for it in advance to include budgeting, putting in time off at work, scheduling reunions, etc. It is of the utmost importance to them.

Do you as a supporter, no as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ have that one service, that one day you have committed to the Lord and refuse to substitute for anything else? For me, it is the Holy Communion Service. Despite what I have going on, it is my commitment to be at my church partaking of the Lord’s Supper with my members. I do whatever I can to keep this commitment above all others.

Jude warns us of confusing our commitment to Christ with that of our worldly pursuits and aspirations. I love the Lord and the Lord’s Church; never would I forsake her for obligations to any other group I’m affiliated with. Do you have such loyalty to your church?

The world stands in need of disciples of Jesus Christ leading the fight for their souls. They do not need associates, friends, comrades that flock to the same worldly pursuits as themselves. They who have not God, need those who do to become recognizable and distinct from any other group. The world needs our light to shine its brightest at this very moment in history. I urge you to consider whether your witness leads others to Christ or to something someone, some place, else.
In His Service,

The God Manifested in Jesus Cares About You!

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. [John 2:1-11]

 

Introduction/Anti-Thesis

Tony Kriz asks in his book Aloof, “What are we to do with a God who hides?  He is not alone.  Throughout the ages, men have debated whether God is concerned about his creation.  For example, Deist believe God has left us to our own devices.

Deism is a religion where it is generally believed that God is not (wholly or in part) involved in the affairs of human history.  They do believe that God created the world and everything in it.  They do believe that there is one God, though they reject the trinity.  However, for the most part, the Deists do not believe that God is involved with our lives.  God created the world and basically gave it all that it needed to run itself.  All, to the Deists, is governed by nature and natural laws.  All we can know about God could be found in nature.  They reject the Bible, revelations, and the like because those are man-made things invented through the superstition.

In any case the Deists believe that God is not concerned (though at various levels) with human history.  Therefore, we are all headed towards whatever fate has for us and whatever our greed and superstition may take us.

This general idea about God’s relation to His creation is widespread, though not as popular as it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  As a matter of fact, some of the founding fathers of the United States of America were deists.  Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine were Deists.[1]

There may be Gods who are unconcerned, aloof, and distant about human affairs but that God is not the God of Jesus Christ.  That God is not the God that we serve.  Can I get a witness?

 

Transition/Thesis

The Bible tells us otherwise in regards to the views of the Deists.  The Bible reveals to us that God is very much involved with the affairs of the human race.  [2]

Foundational to the Christian faith is the belief that the  God manifested in Jesus  is actively involved with His creation?  From Genesis to Revelation, God is revealed as a God that cares about his creation.  In fact at no time does God abandon us; God is always intervening in human affairs, not because he is indifferent but because God cares about our lives here in the earth and because God wants us to have the very best quality of life we can muster.  Lord, have mercy!

Synthesis/Main Points

At the beginning of Epiphany, we have emphasized that God prepared the world to worship Jesus.  God did that in the name he gave Jesus and in the way that the heavens proclaimed his name and the way that the gentiles approached him to worship him.  God prophesized that his name would be called Emmanuel, meaning God with us.  In other words, the epiphany says that God is manifested among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth now known as the Christ after his resurrection and ascension back into heaven.  Jesus the name says “will be great because he will save his people from their sins.”   It is a name that God gave to demonstrate the powerlessness of the devil to triumph over the plan of God for his people and Jesus overcome the devil once and for all on Calvary.  Lord, have mercy!

You will remember that John presents Jesus as God’s Word made flesh, dwelling among us; as being able to be touched, felt, and handled like any other human being.  John says “And we beheld his glory full of grace and truth.”  Jesus is the man that contains the Godhead bodily, the creator of the universe, offered as a ransom for sin in the earth.  Jesus is the one who opened up possibilities for humanity to grow and excel in the earth.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that affords those who accept him a way to live the abundant life.

And our text this morning shows the first sign that the God we worship in Jesus, cares.  This text proves without doubt that the mundane affairs of our lives are important to God.  The God manifested in Jesus is concerned not just about our sorrows, but about every facet of our lives. This includes but is not limited to instances of joy such as a wedding, the birth of a child, the party to celebrate a promotion, the cruise to relax and enjoy family and friends, all are equally important to our God manifested in Jesus of Nazareth, now known as Jesus the Christ.  Hallelujah!

That ought to cause you joy to know that God is not aloof, somewhere in the universe unconcerned about your life, but that God as manifested in Jesus is a very present help in time of trouble.  And I don’t know about you but that is music to my ears.  I need to know that God cares, and more specifically God cares for me.

Move 1

This text illustrates four points that I would like to highlight this morning.  Let me give them to you now and elaborate on each of them in due course.  First, the God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Second, the God manifested in Jesus when you bring your cares to him, will work on your behalf.  Jesus has a solution to every dilemma you face in life. Third, the God manifested in Jesus offers you his very best solution. And finally, the God manifested in Jesus does all that he does to bring glory to his heavenly father, your God and my God.  Amen?

First, the God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Here is the situation as outlined in verses 1-4, “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

A wedding is going on.  Guests are enjoying themselves and as the custom is, wine is served at the wedding.  However, as the reception progresses Mary is informed that the wine is about consumed and more will be needed otherwise the groom and the bride will be embarrassed.  Mary is concerned; it is important to her that the wedding party is not embarrassed.

Everyone is having a good time and such humiliation will scar the wedding day for the couple.  And so Mary, knowing that Jesus cares, brings this problem to him.  Jesus not understanding that these types of things are important to God, asks, “Woman, why do you involve me?”  Yet the God manifested in Jesus speaks to Jesus and helps Jesus know that God does indeed care about whether this couple has a beautiful wedding celebration.

Many are the things that we discount God about.  Many are the things we don’t take to Jesus because we don’t believe God cares about them.  However, our text illustrates that what is important to you is important to God.  Never should you be ashamed to bring your cares to Jesus despite how trivial or human they might seem.  The God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Hallelujah!

Second, the God manifested in Jesus when you bring your cares to him, will work on your behalf.  Listen, I want you to understand this as well:  Jesus has a solution to every dilemma you face in good times and in sullen times.  Listen to what happened in John 2:6-8, “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

What Jesus did to address this problem was both natural and supernatural.  Jesus used the natural resources available to him to work a miracle for this couple.  The God in Jesus uses those things that are available to us to bless us.  You remember Elijah the prophet asked the widow, “What do you have in your house?”  Well, Jesus saw the water pots as a source of supply rather than as a source of waste.  The water in those posts were used to wash the feet of the guests, but Jesus took what was unclean, made it clean and transformed it into a blessing.

What are you withholding from Jesus because you think it’s not clean enough or appropriate enough to offer Jesus?  Let me tell you this morning that the God manifested in Jesus will work with what you have, not what you don’t have.  Hallelujah!

But let me move on.  Third, the God manifested in Jesus only offers you his very best.  Listen to the response to what the God in Jesus had done.  John 2:8b-10 reads, “They did so,  and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside  and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Two keys exist in this solution.  First, they did what Jesus asked them to do.  Second, God intervened supernaturally to resolve their problem.  Beloved, when you do what Jesus asks; when you obey Jesus; miracles happen.  And miracles happen that far surpass anything that you could ever ask or think.  Jesus did not give them common wine; Jesus gave them the best wine.  Why?  Because the God manifested in Jesus only offers the very best to his children.  God wants you to have the very best and you need to understand that.  Beloved, God cares about you and wants the best for you.  Can you receive that this morning?  Say this with me: “My God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or think.”  Hallelujah!

Finally, the God manifested in Jesus does all that he does to bring glory to his heavenly Father, your God and my God.   John 2:11 says, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Listen, the God manifested in Jesus desires for you to worship him.  God desires for you to experience his glory (his power, his presence, his provision, his protection, and his love). When God takes interests in your life, he does so that the world might have a testimony of his goodness and his love.  And that’s why throughout the world men and women have exclaimed God’s goodness; God’s willingness to work in human affairs.  Just as God saved the day at this wedding, God wants you to bring your situations to him today.

Don’t save God for the big things in your life.  Don’t wait on a tragedy to pray and seek the God manifested in Jesus.  Rather, invite God to participate in all the activities of your life that are important to you.  The God manifested in Jesus wants you to be successful in everything you do.

Move 2 (Conclusion)

Epiphany is the sudden realization of something; it’s an unction; it’s a feeling.  When these people saw what Jesus was able to do, even at the wedding, it pointed to God his heavenly Father.  They began to believe what the prophet has spoken: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel, meaning God with us.”  They believed that his name would be called Jesus, “because he would save his people from their sins.”

During this epiphany season, I invite you to get to know Jesus as God manifested in the flesh.  I invite you to stop looking for some abstract, ephemeral God and try Jesus.  Beloved, I offer you the best gift ever given, I offer you Jesus, God manifested in the flesh.  I offer him to you because the God manifested in Jesus cares about your life, all of your life.

And so we don’t worship some distant, unknown Architect of the Universe, some Unmoved Mover. Rather we worship the God manifested in Jesus. God has prepared the entire creation to worship Jesus. For this God cares; this God can be touched by each of us. Touched by faith in Jesus, touched by prayer and supplication. Hallelujah!

[1] Cunningham, W. R. (2006). God’s Involvement in our lives.  Retrieved from http://www.pursuingthetruth.org/sermons/files/godsinvolvement.htm

[2] ibid

 

God Preparing the World to Worship Jesus!

Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”  King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,     are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah, for a ruler will come from you     who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

 

Introduction

I learned in English Composition that the opening paragraph (the first couple of sentences) should give the topic of the essay. Upon careful outlining of these first two verses it is clear that Jesus is the subject worship is the verb and that Jews and Gentiles are the objects.  In other words, this story of the magi is about how God prepared the world to worship Jesus.  However, unless a person has an epiphany regarding Jesus, they will never come to worship Jesus, God’s only begotten son, who has been crowned both Lord and Christ.

 

Move 1

Matthew elucidates for his church, three ways God prepared the entire world to worship Jesus. Joseph as the representative of the lineage of David and the Jews are on board. He’s ready to worship Jesus. Now God turns his attention to the Gentiles and through prophecy and signs gets them on board to worship Jesus.

First, God preordained the worship of Jesus out of every nation. In other words, God prophesized that he would send Jesus to restore Israel and unite the gentile nations under his light. Listen to what the prophet Isaiah and Micah proclaim.

Isaiah 60, verses 1-6 reads, “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance. “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home.  Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands. Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the Lord.”

Micah gives the place for the entrance of Jesus into the world, the place where caravans of gentiles will come to worship Christ.  Micah 5:2-4 says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world.”

And Matthew provides the fulfillment of what God prophesized when he wrote in Matthew 1:18-23, 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

This is indeed the culmination of advent. This is the coming of the great king Jesus who will save his people from their sins; who will have dwelling within his body the entire godhead. This god-man will be the answer to the demands of salvation for all who worship him. It says to us no matter where you reside, God is able. God is able to lift you up when you worship Jesus.

Second, God self-revealed himself in Jesus Christ to all humanity according to the scriptures. The church calls it an epiphany. What is an epiphany? An Epiphany describes a sudden and striking revelation.  Wikipedia defines “epiphany” as a feeling. The article says about epiphany, “Generally the term is used to describe a scientific breakthrough, religious, or philosophical discoveries (defined earlier as experiences of sudden and striking realization), but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.”[1]

The church celebrates Epiphany as the sudden realization of not just the wise men, but of all Disciples of Christ in every age, that Jesus is the physical manifestation of God.[2]  John had such an epiphany and wrote in John 1:1-1-3, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.”  But each of the apostles had this epiphany concerning Jesus and concluded with joy in John 1:14, “14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son [Jesus].”

Paul also had such an epiphany and wrote in Colossians 2:9 reads, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.”  Paul received this revelation from his encounter with Jesus was on the Damascus road and subsequent revelations as he labored in the gospel.

Third, God protected his investment in Jesus. When God got ready for Jesus to enter this world; God did not allow evil to prevail. Herod was no match for God protected Jesus by unmasking the desires of Herod to the wise men and God kept Herod from preventing the Gentiles to worship. In one bold dream God cemented forever the worship of Jesus. He told the magi, don’t trust Herod; go back home another way. And try as he might, evil could not destroy the worship of Jesus.

 

Move 2

What makes some people see a star and immediately pack their bags and head across the dessert for Bethlehem looking for a savior? Why is it that some people can see the brightest light of all lights shining in the sky and be torn from their ordinary hum drum existence and be driven to go and look for something they truly believe is so important that it will change their lives—and change the world. And yet others will see the same star the same night, in the same way, and look up and say, “well, yes, that was nice, now let’s go back inside to catch the start of the third season of ‘Downton Abbey’”? The wise men (Magi) were hundreds of miles away, but they got it.[3]  These wise men teach us three very important lessons about the worship of Jesus.

First, Those who understand who Jesus is (those who have an epiphany) will travel the farthest to find him. Our text says in verses 1-2, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Second, Those who understand who Jesus is (those who have an epiphany) will travel the farthest to worship him. Matthew 2:10-11 reads, “10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

These wise men had an epiphany; a sudden realization that the star meant the fulfillment of prophecy; that God had done what he said; the Messiah had been born and getting to him to worship was the right approach.  Only by coming to Jesus to worship could gratefulness be demonstrated by those who had this revelation.

Third, these wise men teach us how to worship Jesus.  They come to worship and they do not come empty-handed.  They bring gifts prophetically linked to the destiny of Jesus Christ. Their gifts are ordinary gifts one would offer to a king: gold has great value; frankincense is a perfume; and myrrh is a common anointing oil. The gifts have symbolic significance in light of the identity of the baby to whom they are given. Gold is a symbol of kingship on earth, it symbolizes the wealth of the nations, the prosperity that occurs in the lives of those who worship God and obey his commandments.

Frankincense (used for incense) is a symbol of deity, and is used in worship.  “Incense engages our senses in inescapable ways. The smoke we see rising from the burning incense is the physical representation of our prayers rising to God. The aroma we smell reminds us to live our lives as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.[4]

Myrrh (an embalming oil) is a symbol of death.[5] It was used in embalming (John 19:39 ), also as a perfume ( Esther 2:12 ; Psalms 45:8 ; Proverbs 7:17 ). It was a custom of the Jews to give those who were condemned to death by crucifixion “wine mingled with myrrh” to produce insensibility.[6]  It prefigures the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross for the sins of the world.  He would not take the numbing myrrh to reduce his sensation of pain, but his devoted disciples would anoint his body with it as he lay in the tomb.  Hallelujah!

Move 3 (Conclusion)

Listen beloved, do you understand who Jesus is?   Have you come to worship him as Lord and Savior? How do we honor Christ as our ruler, revere him as the Son of God, and lament his identity as the crucified Messiah?[7]

Because when we get the revelation, like the wise men got it, we too will return to our homes another way.  Matthew 2:12, reads, “12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.”  The revelation of who Jesus is will not allow us to return back to our worlds the same way we came.  We will bypass evildoers; we will walk in the light of Christ and live by his commands.

When you have an epiphany an awareness that Jesus is the light of the world and the Savior, your Savior from darkness and sin, you too will take another route home, to work, and to play.  No longer will you be the same person you were before you encountered Jesus.  No longer will you come to worship empty-handed.  You just like the magi will bring gifts tied to the destiny of the church in the world.  And that destiny is to make disciples and help usher in the kingdom of God in the earth.  No longer will you be known for your frugalness; you will be known for your generosity because now you understand who Jesus is.  Your heart, your life, and your possessions will be given to Jesus because you understand who He is.  Hallelujah!

Beloved, you and I were made for worship; we were made to give praise and glory to God through Jesus Christ. Yet, we must be prepared by receiving the revelation of Jesus contained in the Word of God. You and I must have an epiphany. Strange things happen when you experience an epiphany of who Jesus is. Look at what happened to the wise men; when they understood who Jesus was, they were totally transformed and determined to worship him.

I dare say someone here this morning needs to see Jesus for who he really is.  Jesus is God’s Son and God desires for you and me to worship him.  Worship him as king of kings and lord of lords.  Worship him because he is God’s Shekinah glory.  Worship because he is your light and your salvation.  God has prepared the world to worship Jesus?

And if you don’t worship him now, you will.  For Philippians 2:9-11 reads, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  God has prepared the world to worship Jesus and he created you for the self-same thing.  Will you worship him today?  Will you do as these wise men, bow down and worship Christ?  He stands ready to receive you into his kingdom today.  Will you come?  The door to the kingdom is open for you.  Walk on in!  Walk on in!

References:

[1] Chesser, D. (2015). Notes on Matthew 2:1-12. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphany

[2] Chesser, D.  ibid.

[3] Duncan, S. (2015). Who were those guys?  Retrieved from http://homebynow.blogspot.com/2013/01/who-were-those-guys.html

[4] Kleinwechter, S. (2013). Incense in Episcopal Worship.  Retrieved from http://www.stmartininthefields.org/incense-in-episcopal-worship/

[5] McKenzie, A. ibid.

[6]Bible Study Tools (2015) “Myrrh” Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  Retrieved from http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/myrrh/

[7] McKenzie, A. (2013)  ibid.

Sometimes it Hurts

the-butterfly-song_reference Image: Queen Enigma – Coming out of the Cocoon

The thing about spiritual awakening is that sometimes it hurts.

We talk a lot about the way that everything gets a little brighter and how the world transforms before your eyes.  We relish describing how there’s this bottomless well of love hidden right inside your own chest and the way that your relationships – with yourself, with others, with the earth, with god – suddenly and drastically change for the better once you learn how to tap into it.  We take joy in sharing the beauty of the journey; but what we often fail to mention is all of the pain that must be endured along the way.

We neglect to talk about how much your feet start to grow tired and eventually bleed as you learn how to walk through rather than around the thorns and barbs in your path. …

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What Is Hope?

HopeThere is a distinct difference between the definition of hope used from an ordinary human standpoint, and the definition of hope we find in the pages of Scripture. It is pretty common to hope, right? We hope we get a job. We hope our kids are well behaved. We hope we make enough money to pay our bills. But our human hope implies a degree of uncertainty, things are not sure, they are possibilities but not certainties. In Scripture, however, hope is void of uncertainty. In fact, certainty is at its core, because it rests in the stability of God, His character and His will, which are unwavering. Biblical hope, then, can be defined as, “the confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.”

 

We also see in Scripture the close connection between hope and faith. In Hebrews 6:11-12, the writer of Hebrews uses the term, “full assurance of hope”. This phrase is also used in Hebrews 10:22 and translated, “full assurance of faith”. Faith defined for us in Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is both the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. So hope is an element of faith looking specifically toward the future, while faith encompasses a belief and trust in God for our past, our present, and our future. This distinction is critical to understanding the confidence that lies in a biblically defined hope. Hope is essential to our faith.

The extremely incomplete list of unarmed Blacks killed by police

We must stay vigilant and ensure these lives matter by never forgetting and continuing to fight for justice!

Abagond

Police Shooting

Here is a list of unarmed Blacks killed by police in the US. It is extremely incomplete. US police kill on average about two unarmed Black people every week, according to a study by the Guardian. A complete list for 1964 to 2014 would have over 5,000 people – ten times more than this list..

Those in bold are linked to posts of their own:

2015: Freddie Gray (Baltimore, MD)
2015: Walter Scott (North Charleston, SC)
2015: Tony Robinson (Madison, WI)
2015: Anthony Hill (Chamblee, GA)
2014: Akai Gurley (New York, NY)
2014: Tamir Rice (Cleveland, OH)
2014: Victor White III (Iberia Parish, LA)
2014: Dante Parker (San Bernardino County, CA)
2014: Ezell Ford (Los Angeles, CA)
2014: Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO)
2014: Tyree Woodson (Baltimore, MD)
2014: John Crawford III (Beavercreek, OH)
2014: Eric Garner (New York, NY)
2014: Yvette Smith (Bastrop, TX)
2014: Donitre Hamilton (Milwaukee, WI)

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Church Emphasis “Most are laboring for

Church Emphasis

“Most are laboring for the Seed when they should be laboring for the harvest.” ~ Oral Roberts

Churches spend so much time raising funds to pay expenses, they forget that they should be spending funds to win souls. I declare that if a church concentrates on winning souls, making disciples, God will provide al their other needs. A mission oriented church is a prosperous church. Where is your emphasis in your church?

Toward a Wonderful Marriage “Husbands,

Toward a Wonderful Marriage

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to maker her holy, cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word.”

That means commit to your wife and render her the due benevolence you vowed to give her when you made that marriage covenant.

That means don’t float off into your feelings and justify being mean because of her shortcomings. Husbands sacrifice your short term discomfort as you allow your wife to adapt to the real you, not the dating you.

Husbands you must subdue your passions and improve yourself in order to become that protector, provider, lover, and visionary God created you to become to your wife.

Husbands you must be firm, stable, and dependable for your wife needs all of this from you smothered in love.

In return she will ravish you with love, respect you as her leader, and support your aspirations and dreams. As you subdue yourself and take mastery over your own being, her image of you, her ability to adapt to you will result in peace and joy for you both.

Grow together and love together for this is the will of God for you.