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Great Expectations

The people were waiting expectantly… -Luke 3:15  

“Great Expectations”

I read about a man who left a relative $1 million.  In return, the relative thoroughly cursed the man.  The reason—the man was Andrew Carnegie and he left $365 million to public charities.
This was a problem of expectations—he expected more.

One day a father told his son,
“Don’t swim in that canal.”
“O.K. Dad”
That evening he came home caring a wet bathing suit.
“Where have you been?” demanded the father.
“Swimming in the canal,” answered the boy.
“Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” asked the father.
“Yes, sir.”
“Why did you?”
“Well, Dad,” he explained, “I had my bathing suit with me and I couldn’t resist the temptation.”
“Why did you take your bathing suit with you?”  he asked.
“So I’d be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted,”…

          To a great extent, our actions are determined by expectations.
So, our expectations affect our satisfaction with life and with people and how we act. Therefore it should not surprise us that expectations play a large role in our lives—spiritually. Notice the words of our text, “As the people were in expectation.”

It is no accident that promises play such a large role in God’s dealings with people and his  plan.  Every major event in the history of God’s redemptive action is preceded by a promise.  People were told over and over to expect certain actions on God’s part—at times against overwhelming odds.

God is THE God of Promise,
His People, THE people of Expectancy

The expectation often had bearing on the event.  Expectation has a close relationship to desire and is an element of faith.  How much do we want God?  What do we expect from him are important factors in our spiritual health.
It is of course  true that what happened was different from the details of what was expected—God’s surprises—but it was believing God would, as we say, “do God’s thing.”

As we have already seen, there are good and bad expectations—we might say holy and unholy ones.  The unholy ones when frustrated can cause bitterness, disappointment, frustration, and anger. Perhaps the most common form of unholy expectation is worry. Robert Frost once said, “The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.”

But there are the holy ones—the real “Great Expectations” and they make   a profound difference in our lives. Here are some of the most basic for the believer:

EXPECT TO BE RID OF YOUR SINS. That is God’s ultimate goal for you. The angel said to Joseph, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
EXPECT RESISTANCE/OPPOSITION (In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33)
EXPECT TO GROW (Romans 5:3-5) God will take you to another stage in your journey.
EXPECT TO SEE GOD WORK. He promises daily renewal and final victory.

So in 2019, worship God with heart and mind, and spirit. Tell Him you love him. Praise His glory, His goodness.  Keep on singing, praying and listening. Do all of this with Great Expectations.

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Don’t Forget. He Died for You

“They crucified him….Jesus said, “It is finished.” –John 19:18, 30

Strangely enough, many Christians will arrive next Sunday at Easter having missed any real talk about the cross/Jesus’ death. Yesterday was Palm Sunday and in many churches that was the focus of the service. Unless, a special service on Thursday or Friday is attended (which for a majority of Christians is unlikely) little mention of the cross will be made. That is a major distortion of the Gospel message.

The New Testament is clear we are saved by Jesus’ death. Consider just a few examples:
— Jesus’ own words on the cross- “It is finished.”
— We are “reconciled by his death.”
— We are “baptized into his death.”
— In communion- “we proclaim the Lord’s death.”
— He “suffered for our sins.”

Easter may be more exciting and more appealing but the message is “he died for me and for you.” (Romans 5:8)

Of course, Easter, the resurrection, needs to be proclaimed and celebrated. In no way should it be minimized or diminished. However, without the cross, an essential element is missing. The early Christians did not disconnect the resurrection from the crucifixion. Without a real understanding of Jesus’ death Easter loses its meaning.

 

It’s Holy Ground

  God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:8

God was angry with Moses. ‘Your brother, Aaron the Levite, can speak well. He is on his way to meet you. He will be your spokesman. Take your staff in your hand so you will be able to perform miracles.’ – Slide 20 Moses had just met God through the experience of a burning bush when God spoke these words to him. The details of this experience were unique. However, spiritual experience is a universal human phenomenon.*

It can produce fear, confusion, questions, peace, direction, joy and almost any other imaginable reaction positive or negative. It is often sought and sometimes intentionally evaded or avoided. It can be misunderstood and misused. It can be divine or demonic, even satanic. We have it on no less authority than Jesus.

For the Christian, spiritual experience is the life blood of a relationship with God and God’s son, Jesus.

One of the common results of an experience of God is how often it is connected to a place. There have always been places identified as sacred—places where God has shown himself or often shows himself. Chances are you have a specific time or place where you experienced God’s presence. However sometimes it is possible to be so tied to a certain place or experience that we become closed to God’s fresh presence.

And we need that fresh, that new encounter with God. It is a place where God is welcomed, expected, believed and honored. That place can be here. It can even be now, this moment. We can allow God to produce a climate an atmosphere here in Messiah Church where God is given the freedom to renew us all so that He can accomplish His purpose here. God is not confined to one place but fills with his love, wonder, and power wherever people desire Him more than all else. Will that be here? I pray it will.

One of the best places to experience God is in the presence of other followers of Jesus in a small group setting. Check out a small group at Messiah or a church near you.

*Picture from freebibleimages.org

This article also appears in the February Messiah Newsletter.

All In

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. -Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

Recently in my daily reading these two verses caught my attention. Specifically the phrase “it is with your heart that you believe” set me on one of those “I wonder…” paths which has lasted for a couple of weeks.  I keep coming back to these questions: “Why did the apostle not just say “believe”? Why “believe in your heart” and “with your heart…you believe”? Don’t we generally connect believing with the mind, with the head? I think I do.

However, there is a problem with that. Have you ever done something and said “my heart was just not in it”? Have you ever made a statement which you accepted as true but which didn’t make a lot of difference to you? I think there are many people who accept the story of Jesus as being factual, true but which has little effect on them. As Pastor Steve put it, they’re not “invested” in it. It’s a little like someone throwing you a rope and saying “catch this or it will hit the ground” vs “catch this so I can pull you out of the river to prevent your drowning.” Both statements are true but there’s a world of difference between what they mean to me.

When the Bible uses the word heart, it is usually referring to the whole person, with all that may infer. Yes, it involves my mind but also everything else about me. To believe with my heart is to say, “I’m all in.”

As a follower of Jesus, am I all in? Are you all in?

 

 

 

It’s Not Enough

Although he had performed so many signs (miracles) in their presence, they did not believe in him. -John 12:37

“Seeing is believing” is a statement so universally accepted that it seems to be self- authenticating. Yet in this remarkable statement, we find a situation directly contradictory to that idea. And it is not unique in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ministry. In John’s gospel it is a very common reaction.

If we were not so used to it, it would astound us.  They saw the lame healed, the deaf given speech, the blind sight and the dead given life AND THEY DID NOT BELIEVE! Many signs equaled few disciples.

On closer study it becomes clear that John and the New Testament distinguish between simply believing facts about Jesus and as it is put here, “believing in him.”  It is the difference in believing something to be true and acting on that belief. It is not just agreeing with him, but trusting him enough to follow him.

And make no mistake about it; that is the difference between salvation and lostness, life and death, heaven and hell. Jesus really wants followers, not just admirers. click here to begin.

 

Made Whole

Luke 17:19-Your faith has made you whole.

One day as Jesus travels he is encountered by ten men who are lepers. The horror of their predicament is illustrated by the fact that they cannot even approach Jesus but, from a distance, plead for his pity.

Jesus issues simple instructions to go show themselves to the priests; a requirement for anyone healed of leprosy to have it verified. And the text says, “as they went, they were cleansed.” Interesting—not “they were cleansed and went” but as they went. They obeyed and were healed.

Then one of them, only one, seeing he was healed returned to praise God and thank Jesus.

Does this incident surprise you?  It did Jesus!  I find it hard to say that and wondered if I could (I know the theological difficulty).  In one sense Jesus is never surprised.  He is God.  But, he is also human and in a human sense, he was surprised.  He was also apparently very disappointed.  It shows in his words: “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Then Jesus adds the words that put a whole different light on this story.

“Rise and go; your faith has made you well [whole].” Did you notice? All were “cleansed” or “healed.” But only this man was said to be made whole. Or as the Message has it: “Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Physical healing is great but it is not salvation. Fixing some problem we have, helping us be a better person, giving us insight into a puzzling situation all are things for which to be grateful. But only our faith in Jesus provides salvation, makes us whole.

The point of it all is to be made whole.  To stop short of that is to accept a treatment that deals with the symptoms rather than radical surgery which produces a cure. God wants to make you whole.

The nine received a touch from God, and they probably went on to do what they were told, but they were not made whole. It made them better able to fit into the community, better citizens but it did not produce the indelible stamp of faith: gratitude. When God touches us, then our praise, gratitude takes precedence over everything else!

God, don’t let me settle for anything less than being made whole.

A Life Of Prayer

Matt. 14:23-  And after he [Jesus] had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,…; (NRSV)

Peter Marshall once began a Senate session with this prayer, “O Lord, forgive us for thinking that prayer is a waste of time, and help us to see that without prayer our work is a waste of time.”*

I once calculated that a little over 4% of all my sermons as a pastor had been on prayer.  So I averaged about 2 sermons a year on prayer.  They included a series of sermons on “The Lord’s Prayer.” Some of the titles were “The Most Difficult Prayer To Pray,” “The Least Understood Prayer,” “Jesus’ Prayer For His Church,” “A Pastor’s Prayer,” “When Praying Seems Hopeless,” “A Prayer For The Right Stuff,” and “The Ultimate Weapon.” Of course, I talked about prayer at other times, mentioned it in other sermons and I hope made prayer a significant part of my life.

But, I have to confess that when I talk to you about a life of prayer, I feel a little like the parent who says, “Don’t do as I do, but do as I say.”  Because, in my life, it is more about need and aspiration and goal than achievement.

Notice how this is labeled—“A life of prayer.”  I did not say we need to pray. Or this is how to pray, etc.  When I first thought those words, I was probably thinking more like that. But I realized it’s much more.

It is true of course that a Christian ought to engage in the activity of prayer a lot. A life of prayer certainly means we pray much. We pray with breadth—in and for all things, all forms, places and times. Sometimes we even pray with urgency and depth.

But a life of prayer can never be confined to formal prayer—in church, specific places, times, causes, etc., no matter how frequent or intense.  That is relatively easy. They may be activities of a life which is characterized by something else.

A life of prayer brings God and his work into sharp focus. In a little book more than fifty years ago, Roslind Rinker wrote: “Prayer’s real purpose is to put God at the center of our attention, and forget ourselves and the impression we are making on others.” (Conversing With God, 5)

It is of course to speak with God. But Martin Luther put this in perspective when he said, “The fewer the words…the better the prayer.” Because it is about listening to God. The great missionary Frank Laubach once said, “God is speaking all the time, all the time, all the time.” We need to hear what God is saying.

Prayer is not just utilitarian, how we get something. A life of prayer is in some sense an end in itself. William Law put it this way: “Prayer is the nearest approach to God and the highest enjoyment of him that we are capable of in this life.”

I understand why the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Even more help us to live a life of prayer.

*SermonCentral