Tag Archives: Jesus

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

 

I’m Pressing On in Christ

http://bible.com/72/php.3.13-14.hcsb Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

Someone once said change is difficult. However, that perspective is generally directed toward those being asked to change. I have discovered personal change is not simply difficult rather it is an excruciatingly painful process.

I have a comfort zone in every area God confronts and changing remains frightening. I now realize that change challenges my beliefs, paradigms and emotions. Change demands I accept the fact that what I have been is no longer a valid philosophy for where I’m headed. Change doesn’t involve just habits; change involves my mindset. Breaking out of my comfort zone then is really breaking out of old patterns of thinking. Patterns I have relied upon for over 59 years must be shed as a snake sheds its skin in order to grow.

Thus, I join Paul in stating that change is a constant “press.” I must put pressure on those stubborn, clingy, ideologies that hinder my growth. I am pursuing the destiny God intended for me before the foundation of the world. What an exciting challenge that has been and will continue to be.

The Courage to “Be”

“Whosoever shall find his life shall lose it; whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

Introduction
Since the dawn of time mankind has struggled to find meaning in life. Jesus posits a challenge in our text this morning. Jesus challenges us to find not only the true meaning for life; but also challenges us to dedicate the life we find to him for his purposes.

Who am I? Where am I? Am I awake or asleep? Alive or dead? How did I get here? What am I supposed to do while I’m here? Is there life after death? Why is there death?

The Movie, “The Matrix” sought to answer these questions. In this movie the world we know as reality is depicted as some form of pseudo-reality. It was a sham, a hoax, perpetrated by those who sought to enslave humanity through use of its vices and weaknesses. The real world in “the Matrix” was the machine world; a world of reality confined to numbers and cold, unemotional purpose. If you had a purpose you were allowed to serve the Architect of this pseudo reality otherwise you were terminated.

The key was to have your mind expiated from this pseudo reality by Morpheus and to be reborn as a cross between human and machine. Once freed your powers were increased and you could fight the machine world to regain and protect the pseudo reality which you despised in the first place. Zion as it were was the city of bliss and happiness that all humans coveted; it had to be protected at all costs. Zion was the aim and object of those seeking to be freed. It was a very intriguing movie but left us just as confused as we were before its production. For you see trying to answer life’s questions apart from Jesus is futile, frustrating, and fruitless.

Jesus uproots us from this pseudo reality and transports us into a new reality, the reality of God’s Kingdom. We can choose to spend our life trying to discover what and who we are in this world or we can spend our time discovering what and who we are in the Kingdom. In the former choice, we find a never ending story; but in the latter decision we find absolute power, purpose, and passion for living. In other words we can spend our time finding out who and what we are only to keep discovering that we can’t fully discover it or we can find and discover who we are based on our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let us explore these two choices, seeking to find out about ourselves in this world or seeking to find out about our relationship to God in this world.
These two choices are reflected in the words of this text: “Whosoever shall find his life shall lose it; whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” This is a strange and mind boggling text. It seems to suggest two pathways; one that leads to death and one that leads to life. In other words, even after we spend a lifetime looking for the answers to the quintessential questions “Who Am I?” “Why Am I Here?” outlined before, even after we find the answers, we will still end up losing our life.

So, should we spend our time looking for our life knowing that we will lose it anyway? Or should we decide how we will live our lives in this world?

Move 2
Now consider this: We are persons! “A person is one who knows the world around him and particularly who knows himself in relation to that world and to other persons. . . . A person may be influenced from without, but the determining factor in shaping life and destiny is from within. Others may influence us; we determine ourselves. This means that a person has the power of looking ahead and of choosing one’s own course in light of moral distinctive.

Thus the challenge that Jesus poses is a challenge that can literally be accepted. This challenge is to “be or to become.” It is to find out who and what you really are and to “be” that unique distinct person, and then surrender that person to him and his cause. It is what Paul Tillich in his novel work The Courage to Be puts this spin on the text:. ” … Therefore, Jesus says that we are to take accept the life we find or determine within ourselves to use that life for his purpose, power, and passion. That passion is to help others discover their true selves and then commit that self to God through a personal relationship with Jesus as a disciple. Since loss of life is inevitable, Jesus challenges us to lose it doing the will of God rather than our own. But who can make such decision without first discovering who they are and “being” who they are in relation to this world? None of us can truly decide to become disciples of Jesus until we first discover who we are without Jesus. From such thinking is derived the saying of Shakespeare, “To Thine Own Self Be True.”

There are obstacles to determining who and what we are. They are three: intimidation, domination, and manipulation. Each derive from our relationship with others. Your environment influences your choices; intimidation, domination, and manipulation negatively influence you becoming your true self. All three of these obstacles are the forces of darkness that seek to cut you off from the light which shines once you obtain wisdom and knowledge about yourself. Only after overcoming these three negative influences can we discover our true self and with that the “life” of which Jesus speaks.

Move 3
Many of us quite frankly are hypocrites. We pretend to be who we are not. We have lived in response to intimidation, domination, and manipulation. We have kept our true self hidden, protected from the world or those in our environment. Only when we develop the courage to be can we relinquish that true self to Jesus in discipleship. Living as someone you’re not keeps you chained, isolated, imprisoned.

Only when you decide to “be” can you realize the depths of your alienation from God and accept God’s Son, Jesus as Savior. This notion of being is as a homosexual coming out of the closet. It is as an alcoholic refusing to drink another alcoholic beverage. It is as you and I determining to speak our truth refusing to allow others to intimidate, dominate, or manipulate us.

Being you is tough. Being you means accepting who you are at the core of your being: the good, the bad, the ugly. People in the world often exclaim, “Don’t judge me!” “Accept me for who I am.” “What you see is what you get!” Then, go on to be who they think someone else wants them to be. Being you is tough; accepting you is even more difficult.

Yet, this is exactly the you Jesus is challenging you to be. He does so because this is the you God is after. David, the King of Israel gave God his true self: whoremonger, murderer, selfish,warrior, betrayer, lover, friend, leader, servant, shepherd, singer, song writer, worshipper. David was all these things; but David dedicated his total nature, his true self, to God. And God accepted David as a son. David the Bible commends David on this one point, “David was a man after God’s own heart.” David sought to become who God intended him to be even as David dealt with his own true self.

This is discipleship: surrendering your true nature to Jesus and exchanging that nature for Christ’s nature. It is an evolving, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. This, my friends, is the courage to be. Jesus invites us to trust Him with our true selves knowing that Jesus has paid the price and knows the way for us to live free eternally. I urge you to submit your true nature to Jesus today! Amen.

Signs of Pentecost

Scripture References:  Exodus 19: 18-20; Acts 2:1-4, 14-36 

The sound was deafening. Here I sat at the train tracks, seemingly for 10 minutes because I had heard the unnerving sound of the train blast and the engines roaring. I had stopped at the tracks and the crossing rails were down, but no train. I thought, I’m going through this train stop right now. But suddenly, as I prepared to move forward, I saw the train. I stopped and waited for that train to come speeding by. What I had heard was an echo; the train horn had sounded but the wind had carried the sound miles down the track before the train’s arrival. That’s how it was on the day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover commemorating the day God gave his law to Moses.

Move 1

 The children of Israel had arrived at Mt. Sinai; the dawn of a new era was just on the horizon. Moses had gathered them around the mountain to meet the God who had delivered them with a mighty hand.

On that morning a thick darkness fell over Mt Sinai engulfing that majestic mountain. Rolling thunder and lightning fire made for a frightening yet memorable arrival: God, Jehovah Adonai, El Shaddai was on his way to meet the people he had chosen to live in covenant with him.

Moses remembered the scene. He said: “18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. 20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So he [Moses] went up.

 One hundred twenty people met in the upper room for worship service, bible study,and prayer. And after they had elected Matthias to replace Judas as an Apostle, Pentecost arrived. Pentecost Sunday, the day of the harvest, a day for them to reap the blessings of God with joy. And all they heard initially was a noise, a loud, booming noise, one that could be heard throughout Jerusalem, just like that horn on that train.

The scene echoed in the minds of those men and women waiting in the Upper Room for the promise of God’s Holy Spirit. They knew that God’s arrival would come in such a way that it could not be mistaken. It was no coincidence that the giving of the Law and the Coming of the Holy Spirit both came on the day of Pentecost. When the Law was given, “thunder rumbled and flames broke forth on the top of Mt. Sinai, and God’s Spirit engraved the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone. Here there is also a sound and flames. But not on some distant mountain peak. Now the wind sweeps into a house in Jerusalem; the flames divides to rest on every believer. And, enabled by the Spirit, all were “declaring the wonders of God” showing that God’s Law is now being engraved on human hearts. ” (Richards, 1994, p. 281)

Just as the Law signaled a new day in the lives of the Hebrews, Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit would signal a new day in the lives of the New Testament believers in Jesus. Never again would they be ruled by fear. This day, Pentecost Day would be their day of empowerment to do the work of Jesus in the land. For indeed Paul was right when he wrote concerning the Spirit, “7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Lord, have mercy!

Move 2

 But what’s all the fuss about. Why does the church continue to celebrate Pentecost? Could it be possible that the church could experience more than one Pentecost, more than one infilling of the Holy Spirit? I dare say it could, should, and does. All that is required for this renewal is apostolic preaching, praying, and praising to be done. C. H. Dodd in his classic work, Apostolic Preaching, distinguishes six recurring themes in such preaching. One such sermon is recorded in Acts 2:14-41. I don’t have time to adequately discuss these now, so let me just enumerate them for you.

 An apostolic sermon 1) announces that the age of fulfillment has dawned. In other words, God has kept his promise; the Holy Spirit is present in the world. 2) Jesus is identified as the source of this new age; 3) Jesus’ resurrection and position at the right of hand of God makes this salvation efficacious. 4) The Holy Spirit is God in the Earth today and as such the Holy Spirit seals us until the day of redemption. In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee of our salvation. 5) Jesus Christ is coming again to retrieve his church, his bride and present her to his Heavenly Father in victory. 6) Every apostolic sermon should end in a call for repentance and invitation to discipleship. Put simply preaching where Jesus is the main attraction reignites burned out saints, heals broken down disciples, and sets free those captive to sin and satan. When the saints get excited about Jesus, the Holy Spirit gets excited about the saints. Lord, have mercy! But let us move on here.

 Prayer and Praising will cause the Holy Spirit to reignite the flames in any believer’s heart. They will be able to face situations with boldness and faith rather than cower in fear. The book of Acts presents countless examples of the Holy Spirit refilling the believers in response to such praying and praising.

 In Acts 4, the believers were threatened with punishment, even imprisonment if they would not stop declaring the Name of Jesus. So they prayed: “29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And God moved: 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”

 And might I add right here that the emphasis is not on speaking in tongues, the emphasis is on power, the ability to get supernatural results when facing adversaries to the will of God. I stop by to tell somebody today that when you receive the filling of the Holy Spirit, you’re going to get positive results against the enemies of your God and His Christ. Hallelujah!

When African American W.J. Seymour who began the Pentecostal movement discovered that white men who spoke in tongues, could still continue to practice racism, he became convinced that “the dissolution of racial barriers was the surest sign of the Spirit’s Pentecostal presence.” (Williams, 2007, p. 219) In other words, the surest sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life is whether that person loves his brother or his sister not how many tongues he or she can speak.

Well did Paul exclaim, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Move 3

 Finally, because of the arrival of the Holy Spirit, we see a church transformed. It moves from being a church in waiting to a church in action. It moves from being a church in exile to a church engaged in its community. Signs of the Holy Spirit in the earth today can be found in the results Christians get when they are combatting institutional racism, policy brutality, poor schools, homelessness, child abuse and sex trafficking. When Christians stand up for the lost, the left out, the outcast, and the rejected in this world and see laws revised or initiated that care for the poor, widowed, orphaned and immigrant, that is a sign that God’s Spirit is present in the earth. When researchers find cures for terminal illness and pestilences around the globe, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is present. When communities of faith join together to combat discrimination in whichever form it raises its ugly head, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is present.

 When people of all nationalities come to realize that all lives matter, the black, the gay, the bisexual, the inter-gender, the transsexual, the bisexual, the queer and the asexual, that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is present. When same sex couples can live in freedom to exercise their rights as human beings to live free from discrimination and hate crimes that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is present.

Two Texans were traveling together on vacation. They decided to stop at one of the natural wonders of the world, Niagara Falls. As they took the beautiful drive from Lake Erie to the falls they were filled with admiration and awe at the size and power of the Niagara River. They were particularly impressed with the rapids just above the falls and stopped there to look. From there they could see the massive mist cloud that always hangs over the precipice.

One of the men, having already been there, said, “Come and I’ll show you the greatest unused power in the world.” Taking him to the foot of Niagara Falls, he said, “There is the greatest unused power in the world.”

Ah, no, my friend, not so!” was the reply of the other. “The greatest unused power in the world is the Holy Spirit of the living God.” (Green, 1989)

And that is why the church must rise in this hour to fight against oppression, discrimination, and injustice. The church proclaims that the Holy Spirit is present, yet the adversaries of God win victory after victory. Church, it’s time for us to stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit and counterattack. We need to stand full of fire and passion that will burn away the enemies of God’s attempts to cause division, strife, war, and decay in our communities and in this world Let’s not leave the Holy Spirit dormant; let’s get filed up, let’s get fired up and stand, hallelujah!

Conclusion

 Beloved, let me proclaim to you “The Holy Spirit is present.” God, the Holy Spirit is present to heal, save, and deliver. This is good news! Pentecost is here in 2015 and the same Holy Spirit that moved in the book of Acts wants to move in Grambling, Louisiana today. It’s time for us to get excited about the Holy Spirit and turn this city upside down for Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we ask that your Holy Spirit would reignite the fire of action within us in such a way that we will work for a better Brambling, a better Louisiana, a better America, and a better world. We pray that you will through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit give us a steadfast mind that will not accept mediocrity nor accept second class existence in the world you have created for all of your children. Loose us now from the spirit of fear and endue us with your Spirit of boldness to stand against such apathy and slothfulness that would cause us to remain careless or unconcerned. Holy Spirit reignite fires of passion in our hearts and give us God’s wisdom on how to proceed to be people who will make a difference in our world. In Jesus Name, we pray, Amen.

References

Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Richards, L. O. (1994). The Victor Bible Background Commentary New Testament. Wheaton: Victor Books.

Williams, D. K. (2007). True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. (B. K. Blount, C. H. Felder, C. J. Martin, & E. B. Powery, Eds.) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Living in Exile

Matthew 2:12-15

 

Introduction

Joseph and Mary were ecstatic; a caravan of kings from the East, from Midian, Ephah, and Sheba; those wise sages from the East had come bearing gifts for her son. Now this was extraordinary and the gifts, wow, the gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Isaiah said they would come: “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. . .They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” These three gifts were strange but somehow matched the prophecy she had heard about her son. Gold, gifts fit for a king, frankincense, an aromatic elixir used for medicinal purposes, and myrrh, the herbs used in burial preparation. By these gifts they recognized Jesus as King even while lying in a manger, hallelujah!

Mary prayed over Jesus and pondered the things the angel had told her in her heart. Each night she would meditate on what it would mean for her son to “save his people from their sins.” No doubt, she contemplated what this would involve. “Would he lead a revolt against the Roman Empire?” she questioned. “Or would he lead a spiritual rebellion and become High Priest?” she mused. As she looked into his eyes and thought of the awesome purpose for which Jesus was born, she had no idea that a few miles down the road Herod was plotting his demise.

Isn’t it amazing that when we have just been blessed and are thinking good thoughts, someone is plotting our demise. You know that there are some folk who will not let you be blessed. There are some folk who will not rejoice when you are happy. No, my brothers and sisters, some folk will try to steal, kill, and destroy everything that you cherish. And in this case, Herod who wanted to be King forever, could not stand the thought of   Jesus taking his place. No, Herod who was king, wanted to be king, had sold his soul to be king, was not going to just sit by while Jesus stole the spotlight from him. And there exists in the world today, people who will plot your demise just to keep you from taking their four minutes of fame.

But Joseph and Mary were people of God. Joseph and Mary could get a word from the Lord; they would have visions and visitations from angels. But more importantly, they would follow the advice they received from God without hesitation. You ought to be a person who when God shows you something in a dream, you will respond and act upon it because you understand that God has your best interest in mind. He knows what folks are doing against you in secret places. God knows what folks are saying behind closed doors. And God will not allow you to be blinded by them if you listen to his voice. And living in exile is just one of God’s ways of taking care of his people. Living in exile has its benefits. I have discovered that living in exile prepares you for your destiny, protects you from your enemies, and keeps you looking forward to the place of your destiny. Let’s explore these benefits this morning.

 

Move 1

First, living in exile prepares you for your destiny. Living in exile causes you to ask questions. You ask why am I here? What is my purpose in life?   You say things like, I know I’m not supposed to stay here. You imagine that you came from somewhere else. Yet despite the wanderings of your mind, living in exile gives you experience you could get no where else. You don’t have to worry about fighting the enemy while you’re in exile. You can take all the time you need to grow and develop in the presence of almighty God.

The stories Jesus learned in Egypt as a child, the customs he experienced there, made him long for the one true and living God everyday. Jesus had time for Joseph to teach him the ways of God, the word of God, and the lifestyle of a believer in God. Joseph built of a love for God in the heart of Jesus that satan nor other people would ever destroy.

In exile, all you have is God. You don’t know the people around you, nor do you understand their ways. And no matter how much you try to fit in, you don’t. You don’t talk like them, walk like them, nor live like them. You’re in exile, but you’re different. God gets to deal with you personally in exile. He takes you out of your comfort zone and places you in isolation so he can commune with you. There are just some things that only God can teach and you have to be willing to be alone with God to learn them. Hallelujah!

Jesus had a rich heritage and a great destiny, but he would not have fulfilled his calling, if God had not put him in Egypt. Egypt was the place where Jesus learned about his heavenly father. Egypt prepared him for Jerusalem. How else could he have demonstrated his knowledge of the scriptures so young. Joseph ensured Jesus knew the Torah and Joseph ensured Jesus knew how to live holy before his God. Never underestimate the value of a good stepfather or a father who adopts a child. Joseph proves that you don’t have to be the biological father to help a child fulfill his or her destiny. Hallelujah! Thank God for those men who stand in the gap for those boys and girls whose natural father has abandoned them. Hallelujah!

Move 2

Second, living in exile provides you a place of protection from your enemies. The angel came to Joseph and told him to take Mary and his son, Jesus, to Egypt. The angel warned Joseph that trouble was being stirred up; the angel said, “flee into Egypt; Herod wants to destroy your son.” In other words, the angel said, “Run, man and get in a hurry.” Sometimes, you got to move quick, fast, and in a hurry, because if you procrastinate trying to get confirmation or trying to get assurance from somebody else about what the Lord told you to do, the enemy will overtake you. No, my brothers and sisters, sometimes you just have to trust God for yourself. “Run,” the angel said, and Joseph got up the next day and started packing. By nightfall, he was headed out of Bethlehem on his way to Egypt.

But why, Egypt. Well, first, Egypt was close by. The cities of Alexandria and Pelusium were only about 90 miles from Jerusalem. But even more significantly, it was a place where Herod had no authority or influence. Not only that but, Herod could not bribe the officials to return Joseph to Jerusalem, because he didn’t know who he was looking for. Look at God. Egypt, which used to be a place of slavery for Joseph, was now a place of safety and hiding. God had made Egypt a place where his son could stay and live out his time in exile in peace. And God sent Jesus into Egypt to see and experience the place and the people that had put his ancestors in captivity. It was important for Jesus to understand the culture of the slave masters of his ancestors. And it was important for Egypt that Jesus come and bring light to a dark country. As a hiding place for the Savior, Egypt would receive God’s grace and mercy.

But as a beautiful as Egypt was and as comfortable as Joseph and Mary were, they longed in their hearts to be home again. They longed to live among family; they longed to observe family traditions; they longed to hear people speak in their own language and to hear the elders tell the stories of how God brought them from a mighty long way. Yeah, Egypt was alright; but there’s no place like home. Home, you see, when you’re in exile, seems more beautiful, more pleasant, more desirable, than any other place in the world. Yet, Jesus lived in Exile.

Move 3

God did not kill Herod, nor did he remove Herod from office. You know He could have done it. He did not stop Herod from trying to kill Jesus; he did not stop Herod from sending his troops to kill those innocent children two years old and under. You see, God knows something about evil that we don’t know. When we see evil coming, we try to stop evil; we try to bargain with evil; we try to rationalize evil; but I stop by to tell you this morning, evil doesn’t know when to quit. Evil doesn’t know right from wrong; and if you control evil today, evil will break free tomorrow. You see, evil can not be stopped by intellectual jousting; evil can’t be stopped by mental machinations; evil can’t be overcome by brute force or weapons of mass destruction. Evil is just evil, evil is a spirit. Evil doesn’t know good; and good has no affiliation with evil.

I’m glad our President is a praying man. Because a praying man knows that the only way to overcome evil is with good. Hallelujah!

God is good; and there is no darkness in him at all. God spends his time being good; he spends no time trying to understand evil and all its wickedness. In the face of evil, God just makes sure that his light keeps on shining. God makes sure that his goodness is greater; his grace is greater, his love is greater, than any evil in this world. Because love conquers evil; goodness smoothes out the wrinkles caused by evil; and grace overcomes the destruction that evil causes in our lives. Thank God that his goodness and his mercy endures forever. Hallelujah!

So, God sent Jesus into Egypt. No, Jesus was not destined to stay in Egypt, but he had to stay there for a season. God kept Jesus in Egypt until the evil Herod planned had worked itself out and time and circumstance destroyed Herod, along with all those who plotted to kill him. I wonder this morning, “Is there anyone here living in exile?” Are you somewhere right now because God moved you out of danger? The fact is you may not want to be in exile, but exile is where you need to be right now! Hallelujah!

Move 4

Well, I got to move on. There is another reason for living in exile. Not only does living in exile prepare you for your destiny, protect you from danger, but living in exile keeps you looking forward to the place of your destiny. Living in exile causes a longing in you that can not be satisfied until you reach the place God has prepared for you to be. There is a place prepared for all of God’s children to live out their calling, and you’ve to find it. That’s the joy of being a child of God. You get to go on these adventure quests knowing that God is leading you. You get to live in new places, experience new things, and see the glory of God in His world. Your soul will be restless, anxiously anticipating the place of your destiny. Your sleep will be deep, but your rest will be minimal. Your mind will soar, and your body will feel like it is exploding the closer you get to your destiny. And when you come into the place of your destiny, you will thrive. You will know that you are there. No one will have to tell you. Down in your soul you will experience peace. The longing will cease and the turmoil will end. You have arrived; now you can fully carryout the plan of God for your life. But most of all, you will fit in. You will be home!

Now we know that as a child of God our destiny is heaven; but I’m talking about your destiny here in the earth. There is a place on this planet that God has destined us to reach. Don’t stop short of it. Don’t settle for just being okay. Don’t settle for just being all right. Reach for the place that makes you exclaim, “I love it here!” Reach for the place that whatever you do prospers! Reach for the place that even your troubles bring you joy! Keep reaching forward to the place of your destiny and don’t stop until you find it. This is what living in exile is all about!

Jesus lived in exile in both Egypt and Nazareth. But when he arrived in Jerusalem, he said, “This is the place of my destiny!” He made Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee his headquarters, but he didn’t’ stay there. Many of his disciples came from Capernaum, but he didn’t stay there. He did many miracles in Capernaum but he didn’t’ stay there! It was the home of Roman soldiers and king’s kids, but he didn’t’ stay there. No, Jesus said, “I must needs go to Jerusalem, for it is not fit that a prophet should die outside Jerusalem.” He knew his destiny and no matter how good it was in Capernaum, he kept looking forward to that place of destiny God had prepared for him. You can do no less. You may be successful where you are, but is that the place of your destiny?

I pray today that you will enjoy the benefits of being in exile. One day, you will reach your destination and it will be that day when you soar like an eagle.   I don’t know about you but I want to be where God wants me to be.

Equally Blessed

“So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20: 1-16)

Here is a picture of “Extravagant Generosity.”  The land owner was a wealthy person with a generous heart. He used his resources to offer opportunity and aid to others.

His lavish blessing to those who had worked only one hour became a source of inspiration to some and contempt to others.  Some saw it as injustice;  others as noble and kind.

Some worked for a specific amount; others simply trusted the land owner to be fair. No doubt that land owner had developed such a reputation for fairness and generosity.  Those eager to work despite the lateness of the hour went into the vineyard with only one hour left in the day. They worked earnestly as if it was a new beginning.  They were rewarded for their generosity in going.

Both those who worked from sunrise to sunset and those who worked less were equally blessed by the land owner.

This is a parable of the Kingdom of God and His Christ.   When we enter does not determine our blessing, because in God’s Kingdom we are all equally blessed!

So, beloved it’s not too late for you to enter God’s Kingdom.  Why not accept Jesus Christ today and become His disciple?  Ask Jesus to receive you, surrender to His Word and accept His lifestyle.  Your life will never be the same again!

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The Investment Factor: Investing in the Jesus Brand

Introduction

Back in the 1500s, people didn’t have a Bible they could read. The Catholic Church controlled the translating of Scripture and only offered it in Latin. But when Martin Luther rebelled against the abuses of the Church of his day he worked hard to make a translation available in German (the language of his people). The daughter of the printer Luther used was cleaning in her dad’s shop and she picked up a piece of paper off the floor. It read, “For God so loved that He gave…” and that was all. The rest of the verse was not printed yet, but what she saw excited her. The thought that God would give her anything moved her. Her mother noticed a change in her and asked her why she seemed so happy. The girl pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of her pocket and showed it to her mother. The mother read it and asked, “What did He give?” The girl said, “I don’t know but if God loved us enough to give us anything we should not be afraid of Him.” What she read on that scrap of paper changed how she looked at God.

This is the investment factor at its finest: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Oh yes, God gave! God invested his best for us and now his best is asking us to invest our best in him!

Some time ago, a teenager, Arthur Hinkley, lifted a 3,000-pound tractor with his bare hands. He wasn’t a weight lifter, but his friend, Lloyd Bachelder, 18, was pinned under a tractor on a farm near Rome, Maine. Hearing Lloyd scream, Arthur somehow lifted the tractor enough for Lloyd to wriggle out. Love motivated him to do it.

Our Father in heaven heard the screams of lost humanity, crying out for deliverance. He sent His one and only precious Son to the cross so that our sins could be lifted off of us and on to Himself. Love motivated Him to do it.

The question for us today is: Have I invested in the Jesus Brand? A Brand has been defined as a particular product or a characteristic that serves to identify a particular product; a product that has its own name, and is made by a particular company; or simply a recognizable kind. A factor has been defined as “an active contribution to production of a result; a substance of a particular process or system. For Christians Jesus is that factor that produces results in our lives by filling us with his Holy Spirit. For Christians, we have a particular product, that of salvation, we which make available through the marketing of the plan of salvation through the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, in order for this plan to be successful, Christians must invest in the brand name Jesus. The message of Jesus, the life of Jesus, has to become the identifying mark of the Christian to the world.

Move 1

What is the Jesus Brand? In his own words, Jesus states the characteristics of His Brand:

The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

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

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

“When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)

“Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Jesus is a reconciler; Jesus is in the reconciliation business and he invites each of us to invest in the business of reconciliation. The Jesus brand is summed up in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21:  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Plainly put this is the identifying brand of Jesus. Jesus came to reach, teach, train, and send disciples into the world to redeem, restore, and reconcile people alienated from their heavenly Father by sin.

Move 2

Next question:  How I can invest in the Jesus Brand. Again Jesus makes this clear:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

Peter replied, “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off- for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

Plainly put you buy into this company with faith in the President of the Company, the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ will get you in and keep you in even when sales are sluggish or profits are minimal. Faith in Jesus Christ will ensure your franchise will not go under; you will be successful with team Jesus. Hallelujah!

Move 3

Finally, once you have Accepted the Jesus Brand, Invested in the Jesus Brand, then Jesus calls on you to Promote the Jesus Brand. There are other brands vying for the customers Jesus sends you to reach, teach, train, and send. How then shall we recruit and outdistance the competition? Let us explore the method Jesus left for us to follow:

Then Jesus came to them and said. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

He said to them “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven, and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:15-20)

However, to do that will require a consistent effort against the opposition. And for those who think this promotion strategy too risky, too dangerous or too overwhelming, Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit come on you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

This power is supernatural power. This power is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. This power once activated conquers all fear of the competition. This power once received separates your brand from any other brand. This power once charged to capacity turns you into a person that can easily be recognized. Men and women, devils and demons will recognize the mark of distinction you wear. All because you have connected to the Jesus Brand.

Now, I want you to remember that every successful company has a logo. Well, when you invest in the Jesus Brand there is a Logo. That Logo is the Cross and the Dove. That Cross represents what Jesus did. That Dove represents what you will do in Jesus Name. That Cross which was a symbol of shame Jesus turned into a symbol of victory. That Dove which was noted as gentle and meek has become an unseen source of strength and power. That Dove provides insight that is unmatched in the world and wisdom that is unstoppable in the spread of the gospel. That cross reminds us that we are all human, but that Dove reminds us that we are forgiven.

Bryan Chapell tells this story that happened in his hometown: Two brothers were playing on the sandbanks by the river. One ran after another up a large mound of sand. Unfortunately, the mound was not solid, and their weight caused them to sink in quickly. When the boys did not return home for dinner, the family and neighbors organized a search. They found the younger brother unconscious, with his head and shoulders sticking out above the sand. When they cleared the sand to his waist, he awakened. The searchers asked, “Where is your brother?” The child replied, “I’m standing on his shoulders!”

When you accept the Jesus Brand, you’ll be standing on Jesus shoulders.  When you promote the Jesus Brand, you will be standing on His Shoulders. And when the storms of life are raging, he’ll lift you above the dangerous waters.

I don’t know about you but I have invested in the Jesus Brand! Want you join me? Want you buy in to this product called Jesus? Want you begin to sale this product to those who Jesus came to save? Yes, I’m so glad to be invested with Jesus! Hallelujah!

Repentance that Leads to Reconciliation

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32)

Introduction:
A man discussing an argument he had with his wife says “Oh, how I hate it, every time we have an argument, she gets historical.” The friend replied, “You mean hysterical.” “No,” he insisted. “I mean historical. Every time we argue she drags up everything from the past and holds it against me!”

We’ve been discussing the importance of forgiveness all month long; Jesus commands us to forgive others so that we might be forgiven. Jesus says the standard of measure for our discipleship is how we love one another; one cannot love one whom one cannot forgive. Because the Apostle Paul is right, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God!” Lord, have mercy!

Many reconciliations have broken down because both parties have come prepared to forgive and unprepared to be forgiven. What is the missing ingredient? Repentance. The wife forgave him, but she did not reconcile with him. Without repentance, there can be no reconciliation; without forgiveness repentance is futile, for the pathway to forgiveness is repentance and repentance precludes reconciliation. Thus, repentance plus forgiveness equals reconciliation. And both parties must see their need for repentance in a dispute if forgiveness and reconciliation are to occur.

Move 1:
Repentance was the first message of Jesus the Christ, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and Philip, the Evangelist. It was and it is the first message, because without repentance, you cannot be reconciled with God or your neighbor.

Even today repentance remains crucial to forgiveness and reconciliation. If you don’t believe me, listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 7: 21-23: “not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name? Then I will declare to them, I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.”

Listen carefully, undergoing infant baptism and joining a church does not independent of repentance, reconcile you to God nor guarantee you admission into the kingdom of God. Nor does being a good moral person make one right with God; Jesus said, “Marvel not that I say unto you” while talking with Nicodemus, a good righteous person, “you must be born again.” Nicodemus was a good moral person but he was estranged from a relationship with God because of unrepentance.

Move 2:
I apologized; I said I was sorry? Why is that not sufficient? So just what is repentance Pastor? Let us explore this term repentance together.

Repentance has been defined in many ways over the course of the Christian faith. According to Wayne Grudem (1994) Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ. Repentance is something that occurs in the heart and involves the whole person in a decision to turn from sin.

According to Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (1960), repentance from the Greek word “Metanoia” can be said to denote that inward change of mind, affections, convictions and commitment, rooted in the fear of God and sorrow for offenses committed against him, which, when accompanied by faith in Jesus Christ, results in an outward turning from sin to God and his service in all of life.”

For example: Several years ago the Peanuts comic strip had Lucy and Charlie Brown practicing football. Lucy would hold the ball for Charlie’s placekicking and then Charlie would kick the ball. But every time Lucy had ever held the ball for Charlie, he would approach the ball and kick with all his might. At the precise moment of the point of no return, Lucy would pick up the ball and Charlie would kick and his momentum unchecked by the ball, which was not there to kick, would cause him to fall flat on his back.

This comic strip episode opened with Lucy holding the ball, but Charlie Brown would not kick the ball. Lucy begged him to kick the ball. But Charlie Brown said, “Every time I try to kick the ball you remove it and I fall on my back.” They went back and forth for the longest time and finally Lucy broke down in tears and admitted, “Charlie Brown I have been so terrible to you over the years, picking up the football like I have. I have played so many cruel tricks on you, but I’ve seen the error of my ways! I’ve seen the hurt look in your eyes when I’ve deceived you. I’ve been wrong, so wrong. Won’t you give a poor penitent girl another chance?”

Charlie Brown was moved by her display of grief and responded to her, “Of course, I’ll give you another chance.” He stepped back as she held the ball, and he ran. At the last moment, Lucy picked up the ball and Charlie Brown fell flat on his back. Lucy’s last words were, “Recognizing your faults and actually changing your ways are two different things, Charlie Brown!”

Move 3:
Repentance then, is a turning away from one state of mind toward another more appropriate state of mind and acting in line with that new thought. Repentance involves the total person: body, soul, and spirit. Hence, repentance involves three aspects of our being: intellectual, emotional, and volitional.

Jesus illustrates this pattern in Matthew 21:28-32. “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

I believe the first son experienced these three stages of repentance which led to his salvation. First, Repentance is intellectual. It changes the way a person thinks about God and neighbor. This young man acknowledged, who it was that asked him to go to work. He understood that his father had the right to ask him to go to work, and finally he believed it was his duty to do what his father required of him. My brothers and my sisters, when you hear the word of God, and the word of God challenges you to be about your heavenly father’s business; you may initially rebel, and leave God’s Work undone. Yet even though you are not obeying God’s Word, you can still agree that God has the right to ask of you to do his will. This is called intellectual agreement, but this alone will not cause repentance.

Intellectual repentance occurs when one has a change in consciousness. In other words, when you hear the word of God, the Holy Spirit awakens your spiritual consciousness. When your spiritual consciousness is awakened you begin to discern between good and evil. You start to see yourself for who you really are, a sinner in need of salvation. Doing wrong is no longer done without a fight. Galatians 5:17 instructs us “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from dong what you want.” Therefore, guilt is produced with the aim of convincing one that repentance is in order and necessary to reconcile one’s thinking with that of God or another person.

Second, repentance is emotional. It is preceded by godly sorrow — it moves an individual to grieve, to weep with bitter tears. Second Corinthians 7: 9 to 11, reads “Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves guiltless in the matter.”

This young man, after his father left him, after he began to intellectually meditate on what his father had asked of him; after he had concluded that his father had every right to ask him to work in the vineyard; he got up and went about his father’s business. This is a sure sign that this son grieved in his heart that he had not done what his father asked him to do. We see the fruit of his intellectual and emotional repentance by the fact that he went and did what his father asked him to do.

Third, repentance is volitional — it is an act, a decision, of the will. In other words, you have to agree to do the will of God, not because you are embarrassed; not because you got exposed; not because you’re afraid; but because you desire to please God. This young man changed his mind. This young man grieved in his heart that he had sinned against his father. This young man was moved deeply and without any motivation other than to make things right with his father, he got up and did what he was asked to do; and this totally changed his life. It led to his salvation.

Move 4 (Celebration)
This is repentance that leads to reconciliation. When a person is persuaded that they have wronged someone and it effects them emotionally to the point of grieving about it, then they make a conscious decision to not only ask forgiveness but to determine never to commit that egregious act again, that is the kind of repentance that leads to reconciliation.

Beloved, God has opened the door through Jesus Christ for you to repent: to change the way you think about God and God’s care for you. God reconciled the entire world unto himself through the blood of Jesus Christ His Son. You only have to repent and have faith in what God did through Jesus to be reconciled with God.

Yet some people are like the little boy who got his hand stuck in a vase. His parents applied soapy water and cooking oil hoping he would slide his hand through, but to no avail. They tried everything they knew to set the boy’s hands free of the vase. Suddenly, they decided to break that valuable vase because they loved their son just that much.

It was at this point, when they had decided to demonstrate their love by destroying the vase, that the boy asked, “Would it help if I let go of the penny I’m holding?” What are you holding on too that prevents you from reconciling with God today. What offense, what bitterness, what resentment precludes you from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Let it go today and return to God.

Now is the time to repent not simply in your mind; but with your emotions, and with your will. Present your entire being to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transform you. He will abolish your sins. Acts 3:19 records, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” He will refresh you. He will renew you. And 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares If any man one be in Christ; He is a new creation, old things have passed away; behold all things have become new. Hallelujah
Will you come and receive forgiveness and reconciliation? Jesus is calling you to act today in concert with the Word of God. Come now!

Forgiveness: Where Do I Draw the Line?

Introduction

Forgiveness is the one weapon Satan cannot defeat in the Church. And this week our lectionary text answers the question: “How often should I forgive somebody who offends me?” Or “When is enough enough?” I want to deal with this issue of how often we should forgive those who offend us. I want to help us come to grips with the type of behavior that Jesus expects of his disciples. Here again the parable of the unmerciful servant:

One day a king decided to call in his officials and ask them to give an account of what they owed him. 24As he was doing this, one official was brought in who owed him fifty million silver coins. 25But he didn’t have any money to pay what he owed. The king ordered him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all he owned, in order to pay the debt. 26The official got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!” 27The king felt sorry for him and let him go free. He even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money. 28As the official was leaving, he happened to meet another official, who owed him a hundred silver coins. So he grabbed the man by the throat. He started choking him and said, “Pay me what you owe!” 29The man got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you back.” 30But the first official refused to have pity. Instead, he went and had the other official put in jail until he could pay what he owed. 31When some other officials found out what had happened, they felt sorry for the man who had been put in jail. Then they told the king what had happened. 32The king called the first official back in and said, “You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent. 33Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” 34The king was so angry that he ordered the official to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed.

Move 1
Some of us do some pretty strange things when we have been slighted or wronged. In a 1930s edition of the Chicago Herald Examiner there was an article, “Man Spites His Wife by Staying Blindfolded in Bed Seven Years,” which read:

The strange story of Harry Havens of Indiana, who went to bed—and stayed there—for seven years with a blindfold over his eyes because he was peeved at his wife, was revealed here today when he decided to get out of bed. Havens was the kind of husband who liked to help around the house—hang pictures, wipe the dishes, and such. His wife scolded him for the way he was performing one of these tasks, and he resented it. He is reported to have said: “All right. If that’s the way you feel, I’m going to bed. I’m going to stay there the rest of my life. And I don’t want to see you or anyone else again.” His last remark explains the blindfold. He got up, he explained, when the bed started to feel uncomfortable after seven years.

Still others like the official in our text try to get payback from the other person who wronged them. Max Lucado tells this story about such a person. He writes,
Each week Kevin Tunell is required to mail a dollar to a family he’d rather forget. They sued him for $1.5 million but settled for $936, to be paid a dollar at a time. The family expects the payment each Friday so Tunell won’t forget what happened on the first Friday of 1982.

That’s the day their daughter was killed. Tunell was convicted of manslaughter and drunken driving. He was 17. She was 18. Tunell served a court sentence. He also spent seven years campaigning against drunk driving, six years more than his sentence required. But he keeps forgetting to send the dollar.
The weekly restitution is to last until the year 2000. Eighteen years. Tunell makes the check out to the victim, mails it to her family, and then the money is deposited in a scholarship fund.

The family has taken him to court four times for failure to comply. After the most recent appearance, Tunell spent thirty days in jail. He insists that he’s not defying the order but rather is haunted by the girl’s death and tormented by the reminders. He offered the family two boxes of checks covering the payments until the year 2001, one year more than required. They refused. It’s not money they seek, but penance.
Quoting the mother, “We want to receive the check every week on time. He must understand we are going to pursue this until August of the year 2000. We will go back to court every month if we have to.”
Few would question the anger of the family. Only the naïve would think it fair to leave the guilty unpunished. But I do have one concern. Is 936 payments enough? Not for Tunell to send, mind you, but for the family to demand? When they receive the final payment, will they be at peace? In August 2000, will the family be able to put the matter to rest? Is 18 years’ worth of restitution sufficient? Will 196 months’ worth of remorse be adequate?

How much is enough? Were you in the family and were Tunell your target, how many payments would you require? Better stated, how many payments do you require?

No one—I repeat, no one— makes it through life free of injury. Someone somewhere has hurt you. Like the 18-year-old, you’ve been a victim. She died because someone drank too much. Part of you has died because someone spoke too much, demanded too much, or neglected too much.

Move 2
In contrast, we need to know that each act of forgiveness has the potential to transform another person’s life. Forgiveness is so powerful because forgiveness affords a person three opportunities: to repent, to be transformed, and to help someone else.

When Shannon Ethridge was just 16 years old, an act of forgiveness and love changed her life forever. While driving to her high school one day, Ethridge ran over Marjorie Jarstfar, a woman who was riding her bicycle along a country road. Marjorie died as a result, and Ethridge, who was found completely at fault by authorities, was consumed by intense guilt. She contemplated suicide several times, but she never took her life because of the healing response of one man: Gary, Jarstfar’s husband.

Gary forgave the 16-year-old and asked the attorney to drop all charges against her, saving her from a probable guilty verdict. Instead, he simply asked that Ethridge continue on in the godly footsteps that his wife had taken. “You can’t let this ruin your life,” Gary told her more than 20 years ago. “God wants to strengthen you through this. In fact, I am passing Marjorie’s legacy on to you.”

Gary’s act of forgiveness showed Ethridge the amazing love of God. Today, Ethridge is the bestselling author of Every Girl’s Battle and Every Woman’s Battle, and her recent book, Completely His: Loving Jesus Without Limits, helps women overcome guilt-ridden, wounded lives.

Shannon repented for her actions, was totally transformed by Gary’s act of forgiveness, and is now helping others to overcome their guilt and shame about past indiscretions. That’s what Jesus wants from you. Jesus wants you to become the type of disciple that can offer God’s grace not God’s wrath to those who do you wrong. Lord, have mercy!

Move 3
I hear ya, Reverend, but you haven’t answered the question: How many times do I have to forgive someone who offends me? Even moreover, how often do I have to forgive if it’s the same person hurting me over and over again?

Here is what Jesus replied when asked this same question by Peter? Look at Matthew 18: 22, “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.” Long story short, we are to forgive others until forgiving becomes second nature; until forgiveness becomes a lifestyle; until forgiveness is given so freely the devil cannot use an offense to keep you from fulfilling the will of God for your life. What Jesus is after is a lifestyle of forgiveness, grace, and mercy shown toward others, most especially your enemies.

Did he not say? 11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Did not Jesus say? 38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

Did not Jesus say? 43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. ”

Move 4 (Conclusion)
There it is. “Grow up. You have to resist the urge to live in your old nature of sin and evil and determine, decide to walk intentionally in your new nature which reflects God and your Savior Jesus Christ. I urge you to do that; I urge you to offer forgiveness to those who you know have wronged you and forgive yourself for those times that you have offended others. The altar is open for you right now. Come and have a talk with Jesus about changing your heart to one of forgiveness and love.

To the one to whom the Holy Spirit is speaking, let me invite you to come this morning. God offers you forgiveness right now. Is there anyone standing in need of the love of God found in God’s forgiveness? God wants to give you this gift of grace called salvation right here and right now. Come and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. The doors of the church are open; the altar of God is open for you this morning. Come and ask God to come into your hearts this morning through the grace and mercy found in Jesus Christ! Will you come?

Good News at the Gravesite

10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her._

Introduction
Everyone else had gone home. The funeral was over, tears had been shed, hugs had been given, words of comfort had been spoken. It was over. But Mary stood weeping at the gravesite. She was left behind to mourn alone. Mary was left behind to cry as she reflected on this momentous occasion, the death of her beloved Jesus. And cry she did, all alone. Or so it seemed.
Her grief was severe for Jesus had meant so much to her.

Jesus, you remember had broken every chain that held her bound. Chains caused by being possessed by seven demonic spirits. And while they saw no hope for her future, Jesus in one moment totally changed her life. She fell in love with the man Jesus. Fell in love with him because he freed her from the criticism of men, the cold stares of women less beautiful and less desirable than she. Freed her from the taunt of the religious community that looked down upon women in her condition. Freed her I say from a community that would berate her and hold her as someone to be shunned and ignored.
Yes, her relationship with Jesus while he was on earth was special. Special because it was Jesus who protected her from those who would see her live a depressed, despondent, and deflated life. Special because her entire life changed when she met Jesus and so she spent the rest of her life following him and caring for him. But now that relationship was over; she sits weeping at the gravesite, alone, or so it seems.

Countless women know Mary of Magdala. Women are familiar with her plight. For they too have been left to exist on the fringes of society because they too have been used by men and accosted by women. They too have been ridiculed while being taken advantage of. They too have been visited in the night and then shunned in the daylight. Whispers have been heard in the malls and marketplaces as they have walked by to shop and people have slid down in the pews when they took a seat. Yes, you know Mary. You understand her tears; you too have been left alone. You too have been left at the gravesite to cry all by yourself. People have left you to grieve your aloneness, alone. Or so it seems.

Move 1
The testimony of the text is that while Mary was crying, God was present. While Mary was weeping angels showed up to question her, and to comfort her. I stop by to tell you, you are not alone. Once you have known Jesus as a friend and brother, you are never alone. Beloved, you are not alone. God sees your tears and is catching them with his heart. Just imagine for a moment your tears being captured not by God’s eyes, yes he can see them. Captured not by his ears, yes he can hear them. Captured not by his hands, yes, he could wipe them. But rather captured by his heart, where he can feel them. That’s an awesome image. Beloved, remember, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.”

The angels confronted her, “Mary, why are you crying?” “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him,” she responded. In other words, Mary was weeping because her relationship with Jesus had been abruptly ended. He died too soon, she was not ready to let him go. Her world as she knew it had been shattered; her only defender gone, killed by an unjust justice system, killed as many of our young men and women are today while doing nothing wrong.

I imagine she would ask, “Who is going to protect me now?” “How will I once again walk through the marketplace without shame?” “Who will comfort me now?” “Who can I tell all my stories to?” “Who will I laugh with, dance with, cry with?” I imagine Mary thought, even now I can’t visit his tomb because someone has taken his body, the last vestige of my memory of our relationship has been stolen from me.

Families are weeping today. They have the same questions, the same concerns as this Mary of Magdala. But there is good news at the grave. For at the grave Jesus, the resurrected Jesus is standing there. In her grief she does not recognize him; to her he’s only another man who may know the whereabouts of the remains of her beloved Jesus. She doesn’t recognize him because her former relationship has been severed. She doesn’t recognize him because he has come to her in his resurrected body, in a way she has never seen him before.

He asks here, “Dear woman, why are you crying?” “Who are you looking for?” She looked at him hoping he had been the man who moved the body of Jesus and that he would certainly tell her where the new gravesite was because she had no idea that Jesus had resurrected from the grave. She wanted to continue mourning her loss, but standing before her was good news at the grave.

He called her name in a way that only he had called it before, “Mary” he said with love and boldness. Immediately, she recognized his voice. “Teacher,” she responded as her heart leaped with joy! She hugged him so tight he thought she would never let him go. “Wait, don’t cling to me like this,” he cautioned. “I’ve still got to ascend into heaven; I’ve not been to see my our heavenly Father yet.” Yes, there was good news at the grave.

Move 2
Jesus wanted Mary to know that the old relationship they had was over. That relationship had limitations; this new relationship was eternal. Everything had changed at the grave. Life had conquered death. Jesus had been buried, but the Christ had arisen. Weakness had been put in the tomb; but strength had arisen. A man had been buried; but God had arisen. The shackles of sin and death had been forever broken, forever demolished, forever loosed and the power taken away.

Jesus told Mary, “Go find the others and tell them I’m going to see my God and your God. Remind them Mary, that I said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”_

Yes, the good news on that day and this day is that Jesus is at every gravesite. The Bible declares, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”_ Death lurks in the shadows looking for an occasion to strike as if death had the last word. Death does not. For the day is coming and now is where we will rejoice “

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”_ Yes, death lurks in the shadows but the light of Jesus obliterates the sting of death. There is power in Jesus to brighten every midnight hour and every dawn of each new day. In Jesus there is comfort for your grief and comfort for your tomorrow.

Mary discovered Jesus was there at the gravesite. Mary discovered that Jesus had power over death. You too can discover the same thing today. You like Mary can refuse to allow death to consume you in grief. You can respond because you have hope.

For truly the bible declares, “14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.”_