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We Don’t Want You Here

Matthew 8:34  Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Does that “jar” you? A whole town is stirred enough to go see Jesus. They break away from their jobs, their daily struggles, important activities, whatever occupies their time and go into Jesus’ presence. Not a surprise; but then they “pleaded” with him, not just asked him, to leave. “We don’t want you here.

I think we are inclined to attribute that to the immediately preceding story where Jesus casts out demons and sends them into a herd of pigs who then run into the sea and are drowned. (I know I am.) We think he’s threatening their lively hood. But I wonder.

There is nothing to indicate that they were angry or went with negative intent. In fact, on the surface it seems to indication there was an attraction to him. But “when they saw him” everything changed–“We don’t want you here.” It seems so different from common reactions to him or what we would expect. But it should “give us pause.” When people encounter Jesus, all reactions are not positive. And a short time later, Jesus puts it in perspective: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble [fall away] on account of me.” (11:6)

 

Unbelievable?

“they did not believe the women, because their words seemed…like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11, NIV)

Those are some of the most telling words in the New Testament concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Forever they should dispel the notion that Easter was created by the wishful thinking of gullible, unlearned, poor fishermen and such. The first reports that Jesus was alive did not seem credible to them.

These people had to be convinced that what seemed impossible to them was really true. Only when they saw him with their own eyes did they believe it. And this Jesus, once dead but now alive for ever, changed their lives and the world. He has changed me and he can change you too. Because he lives, he offers life to anyone willing to follow him.

He is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

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 Couldn’t Be Done. But God Did It.

“I bring you good news of great joy….a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10, 11

I know. I know. We’re two days past Christmas. Many people have already put away Christmas decorations or trying to figure out when they will have time to do it. There is a weariness that comes from the commercial push that started, to some extent, after Halloween and left many of us breathless. Whew! It’s all over except for maybe returning unwanted gifts and taking advantage of the after-Christmas sales.

But just maybe for those of us who have been fretting about taking Christ out of Christmas, the days after December 25th are the best time to make sure we really keep Christ in Christmas. Maybe we can find time to really listen to the story.

I have been thinking about those words of the angel to Mary, For with God nothing will be impossible.

Everything about the Christmas story is impossible!  From every important avenue, from every means of knowing, it is unbelievable, impossible.  It could not happen—but it did!  Even the little angel in JB Phillips’ story couldn’t believe it.  But the senior angle said, “But that he really went [to earth] I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that.”  The reaction to the words of shepherds was, “All who heard it wondered [were amazed] at what the shepherds told them.

I wonder if there has ever been a time when those words needed to be heard more than today—with God nothing will be impossible. What are the implications for our world? What are the implications for you personally? What are the implications for our praying, our hope, our expectations?  Most of all what does it mean for the way we live?

My challenge to myself, and to you, for 2018, is to live on the basis of the truth of those words. Whatever I face, whatever you face, God help us to remember with you “nothing will be impossible.”

More Than I Ask For

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. -Ephesians 3:20

As I was thinking about Thanksgiving, I came across the following story:

“In A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Rev. John R. Ramsey tells how in one church a certain person provided him with a rose boutonniere for the lapel of his suit every Sunday. At first he really appreciated it but then it sort of became routine. Then one Sunday it became very special.  As he was leaving the Sunday Service a young boy walked up to him and said, “Sir, what are you going to do with your flower?”  At first the preacher didn’t know what the boy was talking about. When it sank in, he pointed to the rose on his lapel and asked the boy, “Do you mean this?”

The boy said, “Yes, sir. If you’re just going to throw it away, I would like it.”

The preacher smiled and told him he could have the flower and then casually asked what he was going to do with it. The boy, who was probably no more than 10 years old, looked up at the preacher and said, “Sir, I’m going to give it to my granny. My mother and father divorced last year. I was living with my mother, but she married again, and wanted me to live with my father.  I lived with him for a while, but he said I couldn’t stay, so he sent me to live with my grandmother. She is so good to me. She cooks for me and takes care of me. She has been so good to me that I wanted to give her that pretty flower for loving me.”

When the little boy finished, the preacher could hardly speak. His eyes filled with tears and he knew he had been touched by God. He reached up and unpinned the rose. With the flower in his hand, he looked at the boy and said, “Son, that is the nicest thing that I’ve ever heard but you can’t have this flower because it’s not enough. If you’ll look in front of the pulpit, you’ll see a big bouquet of flowers. Different families buy them for the Church each week. Please take those flowers to your granny because she deserves the very best.”

Then the boy made one last statement which Rev. Ramsey said he will always treasure. The boy said, “What a wonderful day! I asked for one flower but got a beautiful bouquet.”*

Isn’t it amazing that God gives us a bouquet when we ask for one flower, that is, more than we ask for? He not only gives us more than we ask for but more than we can even think about or imagine. Our ability to ask or imagine does not limit what God has in mind for us.

As we gather with family or friends and express gratitude for specific blessings, remember this. No matter how much we identify things for which we are grateful, they only scratch the surface of what God offers.


*John R. Ramsey, Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. 
Adapted by Billy D. Strayhorn, Sermon: "The Gratitude Attitude"

Worth the Cost

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
    and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
    for those who love him.” –I Corinthians 2:9b (NLT)

I’ve been thinking (that’s dangerous I know). One of the things I’ve heard people say over the years is “how could a loving, all powerful God create a world that produces so much suffering and pure evil?” For some, it is given as their reason for rejecting the idea of God at all.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that God, the God spoken of in the Bible does exist. Since God, loving, powerful, and all knowing created a world which is like this. What purpose, outcome is God planning, working toward that would be worth the cost of all the pain, suffering and evil allowed in God’s creation? Ultimately it cost the death of God’s own son, Jesus. I cannot image. But it must be something so great and wonderful that it is worth the cost.

Mistake or Sin?

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. -I John 1:9

Baseball players have their own way of explaining things. For example: when a pitcher gives up a home run, the pitcher says, “The curve ball was flat; in the middle of the plate.” Or he might say, “I left the pitch up.” But one of the most colorful descriptions I’ve seen was some years ago by Chicago Cubs pitcher Bob Patterson. The Cincinnati Reds’ Barry Larkin had hit one of his pitches for a game-winning home run. Patterson described it as “a cross between a screwball and a change-up. It was a screw-up.”

Ever “screw-up?” Every “blow it?” Have you ever made a wrong choice or decision which you lived to regret? Or have you done something, or failed to do something which was just wrong? Join the crowd. We all have and do. It’s the nature of flawed, sinful creatures. And we all know it.

But there’s an important distinction in how we look at it. Patterson’s pitch was a mistake. He didn’t intend to make a pitch like that. He was trying to make the right pitch. Some of our failures are mistakes. We didn’t know better, so we made the wrong decision. We tried to do the right thing.

But we also make choices, take actions that are clearly wrong. A popular sports or entertainment figure commits a immoral or illegal act. When, caught and held accountable she/he says, “I made a mistake.” It becomes a means of denying responsibility, an excuse.

The difference between these two attitudes is important for our relationship with God. Mistakes are the result of being human (They still can be very costly). Intentional choices to do wrong are the result of sin. And, unless we accept responsibility (confess) and turn away from them, prevent us from knowing God and his forgiving grace.

As followers of Jesus, we acknowledge our sin, by God’s grace are forgiven and given new life.

This also is in the Messiah July Newsletter.

Just Like Us

He…[was] fully human in every way. –Hebrews 2:17

Several weeks ago, while visiting a church out of state, I heard a sermon that has had me thinking ever since (watch it here). Now being a preacher for more than 40 years, that’s a high compliment for a sermon.

Specifically, it highlighted Jesus as a human being—nothing unusual there. Orthodox Christians have always maintained that Jesus is both God and human. But in my experience, as a practical matter, the emphasis rests on Jesus as God (“who being in very nature God”-Phil. 2:6). We believe that is crucial to our hope.

The sermon was “When Uncertainty Comes.” And it specifically related it to Jesus. What that sermon did was remind me that to forget Jesus is “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17) misses an important part of the good news about him. So as we journey through the season of Lent, I’ve been trying to grasp some of what that might mean.

I’m acquainted with human struggles as are all of you, some of us more than others. I have observed suffering but thankfully not experienced very much. My wife, Alana, knows pain as a constant companion and has for a good part of her life. Others experience hunger, fear, persecution and every imaginable human misery.

What we need to know and what the Bible tells us is that Jesus knew it all personally. Everything it meant to be human he experienced, with one exception—sin. And “because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18). I don’t know your personal struggle—uncertainty, physical pain, emotional turmoil, betrayal or questions about life, about God, or anything else. Even death, he knows. And because he knows, he can help. And because he loves, he will help. Maybe he will deliver you from the struggle but maybe deliver you in the struggle.

Just call for help.

It’s a Covenant

“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” -Hebrews 8:10b (NIV)

For more than 200 years many Christians have begun a new year with a worship time called a “Watch Night Service.” Influenced by a Moravian practice, in 1740 John Wesley held the first Watch Night Service. It was a time of reflection, testimonies, singing, and prayer. Later Wesley would call them “Covenant Renewal Services.”

In the book of Hebrews, the writer places this statement in the context of God’s dealing with His people in the Old Testament: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Hebrews 8:10)

Few concepts or terms are more basic to the Bible story than that of covenant.  It is not a concept unfamiliar to us either, though the term may not be as common as some others—contract, agreement, deal.  God’s relation to His people (from the Biblical perspective) is a covenant relationship.  It is about a relationship governed by promises, obligations.  God is the initiator and prime determiner but His people have a part to play.

The blessings of the covenant are more than part of a ceremony. They become reality in the life of His people.

The Bible makes clear that at the heart of the covenant is God’s love. You are important to God, more important than the whole world.  And that applies not just to the saints.  Whoever you are, whatever your past or present state, even your future, God loves you.

The Old Testament story shows a people who are hard-headed, unfaithful, ungrateful, unloving, and untrustworthy who repeatedly break their promises to God and break His heart.  The book of Hosea compared them to an unfaithful wife, an adulteress.  His book is 14 chapters of sins and shameful behavior.  In dramatic fashion, God compares his love to that of a husband to an unfaithful wife:

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1 NIV)

What does God say about all that?  I love you.  I have chosen you. God’s love (graciousness) is prior to everything else—our sins, our faith, our righteousness and it lasts beyond all else, in spite of all else. Even if we have been a total disaster as a person, a church; no matter how long the list of charges against us might be; how far we have left God, He is pursuing us like the “hound of heaven.”  Should we ultimately make our bed in hell, it will be over the broken pieces of God’s heart for He will still love us.

In 2017, can we assume our part of the covenant and love God back with all our heart, soul, and mind? It is my prayer for you and for myself.

 

Thanks Giving-Why?

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth… Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. -Psalms 100:1a, 4 (NIV)

A few years ago, I wrote a post (Thanks Giving Is What We Do) that was a reminder of the main reason we are to give thanks. It is the most basic Christian action.  Failure to give thanks is the basic charge against the “ungodly” and “wicked in the Bible.

But there is another reason for giving thanks. Giving thanks changes us.

It brings us joy. Grateful people get more out of life.  In a best selling book, “Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” author and researcher Dr. Robert Emmons argues that what gives life meaning is gratitude.

Emmons, a University of California, Davis professor, backs up his claim with eight years of intensive research on gratitude…. [He] found that people who view life as a gift and consciously acquire an “attitude of gratitude” will experience multiple advantages. Gratitude improves emotional and physical health, and it can strengthen relationships and communities. “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished,” said Emmons. “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.” (www.gratitudepower.net/science)

In the Biblical record thanks giving is joy. Grace, gratitude, and joy come from the same basic Greek word. Someone has said, “Joy is what you feel when you’re grateful….[It] is the subjective experience of gratitude.” Many lack joy because they are not grateful.

As I emphasized in that earlier post that it is not just about feeling grateful but actively “giving,” expressing thanks, verbally or by deeds motivated by gratitude. In fact expressing thanks makes us grateful. Actions often precede attitudes and feelings.

Of course for those who follow Jesus, the recipient of thanks is God. Words closely connected to it are praise and magnify. Some time ago I read this:

If you were to look at the words on this page through a magnifying glass, it would not change their size, shape, or meaning in any way. All that would change would be your perception, and the words would appear larger and clearer.  So it is when you praise or magnify God. He isn’t changed, but your perception of Him is – you see Him in a new light, from a new perspective, and more clearly.1

So don’t just feel it. Say it, express it. Thank you God!

1CrossWalk.com