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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.

 

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

 

Always Encouraging

Encourage one another daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

Since I attended the University of Iowa and spent more than thirty years of my life in Iowa, I was especially interested when Iowa played Duke in the NCAA basketball tournament some years ago. You see I have been a Duke fan for all my life. When Duke won the game I’ll never forget the reaction of some of the Iowa players. The thing that impressed them about the Duke team was “They’re always encouraging each other.” Not they’re great shooters or rebounders or ball handlers but they encouraged each other.

Encouragement is a powerful element for success in any facet of life. And nowhere is that more true than in the life of living for Jesus, being Christian. As you read about the early Christians in the book of Acts you get this refrain “they encouraged” one another.
Just one of many examples: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by.”

Sisters/Bothers, God has made provision for Monday morning, for the discouragement that lurks around the corner, for the draining effect of the battle. It is encouragement. That is the primary ministry that we are to have to one another—“always encouraging.”

Spectator or Disciple

Luke 19:1-10 (CEV)
“Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today.” (v5b)

Discipleship Is Not a Spectator Sport*

There are certain Bible stories that we all have heard from our child-hood—Adam and Eve, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, a boy with loaves and fishes, Peter trying to walk on water, and so on. There is wisdom in the retelling of these stories, something about them that tugs at the cords of our better selves. Here are places we hear the greatest of all stories—people meet God.

One such story is Zacchaeus. Every child who has spent any time in Sunday school has heard the story. Most know the song about him. In just 10 short verses we learn a lot about this man.

Do you ever complain about paying taxes? Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. Worse yet, he was working for a foreign government. So he was considered a traitor, a collaborator with the enemy. He was classed with the lowest, robbers, adulterers, cut-throats. He was hated and despised by most everyone. He had, in fact, gotten rich at their expense.

The day Zacchaeus heard the news that Jesus was coming and climbed up that sycamore tree, he had no inkling of what was about to happen. It is not hard for me to believe that he had no higher motive than the desire to see a celebrity, a famous man. He made no effort to meet Jesus. He didn’t go to hear him preach. He just wanted to see him. In the safety of that tree, he would be a spectator.

Now Zacchaeus knew what people have always believed, what most of us believe, what Scripture gives credibility to. A person can find God if she/he really looks for Him.

“You will find Him [God], if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”(Deut 4:29)

BUT like many, he never knew that God seeks us out—that Jesus was looking for him. Were he not, Zacchaeus would have been content for the rest of his life to remain a spectator—seeing but not knowing.

How easy it is to be satisfied with being a religious spectator. Churches can be wonderful places to be spectators. You can be close to Jesus—observe, even be entertained. The spectator sits, looks, listens. It is safe—you can enjoy or criticize as suits you.

But sooner or later “once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.”

Jesus stops under the sycamore tree, along the church pew, at our grandstand seat and says, “I want to go home with you. I want you to become involved with me.” He calls us from the grandstand to the playing field. Because He doesn’t want spectators, he wants disciples. He will not let us just watch.

Zacchaeus didn’t want very much from Jesus—just to see Him. A lot of us don’t want much from God—just assurance we’ve done our duty, gone to church. To know when we are in trouble, or we’re sick, we can call on him. We don’t really expect God to come, change us, and be part of our every-day-lives. Sundays, holidays, weddings, funerals, special occasions— that’s quite enough God, thank you. But Jesus says, “Let’s go to your house. I want to spend the day with you.”

Why Zacchaeus went to see Jesus, I don’t really know. What made him curious, I don’t really know. Who told him about Jesus, I don’t know. I only know he went to see a celebrity, a great figure passing through and there he met the son of God face to face. Zacchaeus could have said, “No.” But he didn’t. And to his credit and his benefit, to his own eternal joy, he took Jesus home with him.

And something wonderful, miraculous happened. The spectator became a disciple.

It’s the choice we all have to make. What about you—content to be a spectator, watch from the Sycamore tree? Interested? Even convinced? Jesus is saying “I want to go Home with you today.” Take Him up on it. Say, “yes.” Take Him home and where ever you go.

Want to know more? click here.

*This is an update of a previous post.

The Great Experiment

Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. -Matthew 5:16b

Today is July 4th, Independence Day in the United States. It is the birthday of this country, what has been called “The Great Experiment.” Christians living that experiment have become different from most other Christians in history. We have enjoyed a favored status. The government and larger culture have accommodated, even in some ways supported those calling themselves Christian. Many have seen this as a “Christian” nation, at least in name if not in fact.

Christians in most other countries for most of history have had a different and often more difficult journey as followers of Jesus. They have had to live as minorities with governments and societies less than friendly toward them or even hostile. So they have learned to live the life more nearly matching Jesus’ words, “in the world you will have tribulation.”

But things have changed for Christians in our country. We are becoming a more secular country and more and more find ourselves in opposition to decisions of our government and opinions of our neighbors. And we often do not know how to react.

Some express and become motivated by anger, fear or defeatism. None of these are characteristics that Jesus has taught and modeled for his followers.

So, how can Christians in our society avoid either compromising our Biblical principles or becoming angry and bitter self-imposed cultural exiles?

I believe the answer is found in one word—grace. We saw it modeled in Charleston. We heard it proclaimed by President Obama at the funeral for the slain pastor. It shows when we don’t get our way, when we are good losers. So when a law is passed by the democratic process which we don’t agree with, we respect it. It shows when we are mistreated, misunderstood or misrepresented. We don’t return evil for evil or hatred for hatred but overcome them by good, by love.

The “Great Experiment” was that people, all kinds of people would live together with their differences intact but accepting of each other. Jesus’ followers in such a place are to be “salt and light” and full of grace.

Strangers in Town But Members of the Household

Now you are the people of God -I Peter 2:10b

Alfred North Whitehead once wrote: “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.”  That is when no one is looking, and not trying to impress anyone.

While that is true in a sense, it is certainly not the fundamental truth of the Christian experience.  Because as John Wesley said, Christianity is a social religion.  An essential and primary ingredient in the Christian experience is community.

In this letter Peter is not addressing “isolated individuals but a community. It is nothing less than the continuation of the OT “Covenant People”.  In this short passage Peter uses several terms for this community.  He calls them:

obedient children
temple
spiritual house
priesthood
race
nation
God’s own people

Even though strangers in the world, they do not loose their identity because they are members of a community. This community, which the New Testament calls the church is to provide the environment for growth and spiritual health. It is also to be the primary witness to God’s work in the world through Jesus.

Because we are strangers in a hostile world, we can only maintain our identity as Christians/survive in community.  This community gets its value and identity by belonging to God and its purpose by worshiping and witnessing to His excellencies.

Are you trying to go it alone as a follower of Jesus? If so, find a group of other followers and join them. Churches like Messiah will welcome you with open arms.

Listening To God (2)

“God…has spoken” –Hebrews 1:1,2-
“Listen and understand. –Matthew 15:10

Listening is the primary starting place for a journey with God. The Bible is the primary place we hear God. That’s not a misprint. In spite of the problems our culture sees with it, the Bible is what God says to us, in writing.

There is no denying it can be daunting, at least in the beginning. There is no denying there are some things we don’t understand. According to Eugene Peterson, classicist, Gilbert Highet “used to say that anyone who reads the Bible and isn’t puzzled at least half the time doesn’t have his mind on what he is doing.” But every period of renewal and revival, reformation has come as God’s people returned to the Book—reading, studying, teaching. It is there we hear God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

It is important to remember that the reading, studying are not ends in themselves but means to hearing God. As Jim Cymbala puts it “Christianity is not predominantly a teaching religion…The teaching of sound doctrine is a prelude, if you will, to the supernatural.”

Need direction? Need understanding? Need encouragement? Need correction? Need salvation? Listen; God has what you need.