Thursday, March 24, 2016

Easter Thoughts ... Two Words from Jesus that Changed 1500 Years of History

We know the picture above as the Last Supper.  Jesus and the disciples knew this meal as Passover.  And, one of the most revolutionary things Jesus ever said was said on this night.  For centuries the Jewish people celebrated Passover as a way for them to remember God’s deliverance from Egypt.  They were told to celebrate this and remember their release from slavery.  (Exodus 12:1 – 14) The meal was very symbolic and everything that was said pointed back to God delivering them from Egypt.  But, on this particular Passover night, Jesus said “I know that for centuries we have celebrated Passover to remember being delivered from Egypt, but from this point on, everything changes.  Now I want you to remember Me.”  (1 Cor. 11:24) “Remember Me.”  With two simple words Jesus was in essence changing 1500 years worth of history.  This would be like me saying, “OK.  I know for the past couple hundred years we’ve celebrated our nation’s birthday on July 4th.  Not any more.  From this point on, we celebrate my birthday.  The fireworks, the cookouts, the red, white, and blue it all points to me now.” 

If there was ever anything that Jesus said that completely baffled the disciples it had to have been this!  As good Jewish men, they would have celebrated the Passover every year of their life as a way to remember how God delivered them from bondage in Egypt.  But, on this night Jesus is saying, “I am the Lamb to which every Passover has pointed. I’m freely offering myself for you for your sin.  So, from this point on when you do this I want you to ‘remember Me’ the Lamb of God.” 

During the time of Jesus, there were a lot of people claiming to be the Messiah the anointed one chosen to deliver the Jewish people. There were a lot of people claiming to be the one chosen of God to bring the Jewish nation back to greatness.  But, no one no one desired to claim the title of lamb.  Why?  A lamb was sacrificed.  A lamb was slaughtered.  A lamb was the substitute a lamb took the full wrath of God so we wouldn’t have too.  You wouldn’t have to search long for someone wanting to be known for greatness, but no one wanted to be known as a sacrifice enter Jesus. 

In John 1, you can read about when Jesus first started his public ministry on earth.  And, the very first description of Jesus given was by a man named John the Baptist.  And, of all the things he could have called Jesus, the very first thing he said about Him in John 1:29 was “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Countless people would have been willing to hear John say of them, “Behold, the Messiah the chosen one who will bring Israel back to greatness.” Only Jesus was willing to hear John say “Behold, the Lamb of God the one who will be slaughtered the one who will be our substitute the one who will stand between us and the judgment of God behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” American sin African sin Asian sin Arab sin your sin my sin literally He picks it up and carries it away.  (Stanley)

Every religious system offers a way of deliverance from judgment that typically revolves around doing something to earn God’s favor.  It takes different forms, but the solution is typically do less wrong and do more right and God will be happier with you.  And one day you can stand before Him and hope that you did more to make Him happy than unhappy.  Every religious system offers a solution do this, don’t do that one-two-three strikes your out.  Oh, sorry.  You’ll just have to try harder.  Every religious system offers a solution, but there has only been one Person who offered Himself as the solution.  Every religious system will say “Yes we have a spiritual need.  We have a spiritual emptiness.  We have something inside that causes us to feel guilt or shame.  So do this to work your way out of it.” Only Jesus says, “Trust Me to get you out of it. I don’t just have a solution I am the solution.” (Stanley)

So, on this night I remember Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away my sin.  Thank you, Jesus.

Who, oh Lord, could save themselves,
Their own soul could heal?
Our shame was deeper than the sea
Your grace is deeper still

You alone can rescue, You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us, led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise

You, oh Lord, have made a way
The great divide You heal
For when our hearts were far away
Your love went further still
Yes, your love goes further still

You alone can rescue, You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us, led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise

You Alone Can Rescue by Matt Redman

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Weeklong Sermon: At Home and at Work

I was thankful for the opportunity to share on Ephesians 6:1 – 9 this past weekend at Grace.  Throughout our series in Ephesians, I have been reminded over and over of all God has done and how what He has done impacts my life.    Once we begin to see all that God has done and once we begin to understand who we are because of what Christ has done, we will be able to live out of those truths.  This will impact every area of our life.  Ephesians 6:1 – 9 focuses on how Jesus works in us and through us at home and at work.  If you’re interested, you can watch the sermon right here.

It quickly became evident to me that time would not allow me to share as much as I would like to share. So, I thought I would follow Pastor Mitchel’s lead and take some of what ended up on the “cutting room floor” and share it on the blog. 

Ephesians 6:1 – 4 reads: 1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (ESV)

The hope is that as my wife and I parent our children in a grace-filled way that it will return to us as honor.  The progression of what happens with kids is they simply start out obeying, and as we grow them, pour into them, and nurture their hearts, it ends in honor.  As a parent, for it to end in honor, it needs to begin with a few other things.  The book of Proverbs teaches that humility comes before honor (Proverbs 15:33), so I need to be a humble parent.  Proverbs also teaches that grace comes before honor (Proverbs 11:16), so I need to be a parent full of grace.  And, Proverbs teaches that pursuing righteousness and kindness will lead to honor (Proverbs 21:21), so I need to pursue those qualities as a parent. The more I parent with these qualities, the more likely honor will follow. 

For our children, honor will be found in the heart before it is found in the act.  So, our desire as parents is to do what we can do and then trust God to do what only He can do: awaken in their hearts a love for Jesus and a desire to embrace His way of life. One way to embrace Jesus’ way of life is to honor our parents (Mark 7:9 – 13) To honor means to “prize or fix a value upon.”  The hope is that as we age, and as our children age, that they will begin to place a high value upon us as parents.  And, we desire this not because they “owe” us or because we are demanding anything from them but rather because doing so is for their good. The command comes with a promise and as they follow it, things will go well for them and they will have a long life on earth. (Ephesians 6:3)

If you read Exodus 20, you’ll discover that this is the fifth of the 10 Commandments.  “Honor your father and mother,” were among the first words God spoke to His people (Exodus 20:12).  It’s important to remember that God gave His people the 10 Commandments not as a CONDITION for His love and approval but rather BECAUSE of His love and approval.  As all of God’s word, He gave the 10 Commandments to His people for their own good and to keep them free.  His people had been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years.  God had just miraculously freed them from bondage and now He was giving them boundaries that would protect them from becoming slaves again slaves to themselves and their own selfish desires.  If human history has proven anything, it’s proven that mankind is not on a quest for smallness.  Human history is always a reminder that we are out to make a name for ourselves, even at the expense of others.  The 10 Commandments stand in opposition to these natural desires by placing God and others at the center.  And, Jesus summed up the entire law by saying “Love God and express that through loving others.”  (Matthew 22:36 – 40)  It’s natural for our wants and our desires to take center stage. This leads to slavery.  Accepting what Jesus did on the cross will set us free and following God’s commands will allow us to walk in that freedom.  Obeying God’s commands will always be for our good and the good of those around us.  This command in particular was given so that His people would enjoy a long, full life in the land He was giving to them. 

“God regarded honoring parents as the key to a peaceful, orderly, stable society saying, in effect, ‘Your nation will never be stronger than your families.  How you treat your father and mother will influence how you treat your fellow citizens, which will directly impact the future welfare of your country.’  If you grow up honoring your parents, more than likely you will lean toward honoring the people around you as well.  And the remaining commandments that follow center on extending honor to others.”  (Stanley: The Grace of God)  While this promise originally applied to the Jewish people, the Apostle Paul applied its truths to followers of Jesus today. (The Bible Exposition Commentary)  A strong family helps make everything stronger.

Again, the progression is that children start out obeying and then move to honoring as they become adults.  This weekend, we briefly discussed what it could look like for adults to honor dishonorable parents.  That is an unfortunate reality in our broken world.  For many, though, the question of honoring parents as an adult is not an issue of a lack of desire or of insurmountable wounds, but rather an honest bewilderment as to how to do it.  Author Bronwyn Lea provided some insight in to this.  In a series of interviews posing questions to the parents of adult children, she was amazed to see a constant and significant trend in the answers. “More than anything, they just wanted to be acknowledged. Parents with adult children didn’t need their children to take their advice, but just to know they had listened and considered it. They didn’t need their children to be constantly available to them, or to be their ‘best friends,’ but they did want to know they were accepted. ‘The worst thing is when your kids treat you as if you have nothing of value to offer.’ wrote one parent.”

She went on to say, “The most often cited source of hurt from parents was feeling disregarded. However, small acts and words of acknowledgement were mentioned by almost all as being the most significant way they felt honored. One mother of three grown sons laughed as she told me: ‘My son used to set his phone to remind him to call me once a week. He only had five minutes, on his way home from his last class. But he was faithful to call every week, and given that we only had five minutes, we never talked about any hard stuff. But those minutes were precious: they kept the human connection. I felt remembered.’

Finally, she noted that “while relationships between adult parents and children are among the most complex and catalytic of relationships, the question of how to honor our parents as adults ends up reducing to something surprisingly simple: not speaking badly about them, and remembering to speak regularly to them. As it happens, those small acts of honor to our parents are significant acts of honor to God.

“Honoring our parents is part of our allegiance to Christ and will be rewarded by God in the coming kingdom of heaven, and to some degree in the fullness of life now even in our broken world.  Christians who honor their parents will tend to know the joys of a close family in which children ordinarily respect their parents.”  (Coekin: Ephesians for You) 

When our children demonstrate obedience, as parents, we’re not the only one happy about that.  God is as well.  (Colossians 3:20)  Their obedience pleases Him.  Their obedience to us as parents is a reflection of their obedience to Him as God and this pleases Him because before obedience is just found in the act, it’s found in the heart.  When, as adults, we honor our parents, again our parents are not the only ones happy about that.  God is as well.  Honoring them is a way to express our honor to God.  “For adults this means respecting our parents’ wisdom by seeking and heeding their advice; it will mean caring for them by visiting, providing practical care and financial help, and possibly accommodating them as they become frailer, and more unwell and afraid.  Just as we will not allow our kids to disrespect our spouse, we must not disrespect our own parents or parents-in-law in the way we talk about them.”  (Coekin:  Ephesians for You) 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

How Much Faith Does God Need?

Have you ever wondered how much faith God needs to accomplish something in your life?  Don’t know if you ever wonder about things like that, but I do sometimes.  There’s a story in Mark 9 that has been on my mind lately.  It’s a story about faith and, to be honest, it kind of rocks mine.

14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him (Jesus), were greatly amazed and ran up to Him and greeted Him. 16 And He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to You, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked Your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And He answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to Me.”

What we see happening is that Jesus comes on this scene of chaos and confusion.  We have a little boy in captivity by an evil spirit and we have a father who has frantically come to Jesus looking for help. Maybe He’s heard the rumors about Jesus’ miracles.  Maybe he actually saw Jesus do some miracles.  Whatever it is, something has brought him to Jesus.  And, so he comes to where he thought Jesus would be, but no Jesus.  But, Jesus’ disciples were there the next best thing, right?  So, he goes to the disciples for help. Yet, despite their best efforts, nothing was happening.  The boy?  Still captive.  The father? Still despondent.  In the midst of this messy situation, no one seems to believe anything can be done. No one. 

Ever been there?  Maybe you’re there right now. More questions than answers more hurt than hope.  When we read on in the story, we see that this father and this boy have both been experiencing this for years. The longer a situation goes on, the more difficult it can be to find hope especially when we find ourselves right in the middle of a long, hopeless situation.  The longer something goes on, the harder it can be to believe God is good or that He even cares.  And, in this story, everyone’s faith was shaken.  Except for Jesus’.

20 And they brought the boy to him (Jesus). And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

This is where I see myself in the story because I often find myself with an “if you can” type of faith.  Because when the father says, “If you can,” I just hear this great sense of doubt in his voice.  And, seriously, can we blame him?  He is right in the middle of an incredibly painful circumstance his boy is convulsing on the ground, foaming at the mouth and this condition has been going on for years.  Can we blame him for his doubt? I mean, who among us has never doubted God? Who among us has ever seen or experienced a tragic loss and wondered if God is really good?  Who among us has ever stopped praying for something or someone not because we got a clear “no” from God but simply because we didn’t see anything happening, so we just gave up.  I mean, I can look at my life and see situations I stopped praying about because I didn’t see anything happening or people I stopped praying for because I didn’t see happening what I thought should be happening.  And, so, because of that, I found myself beginning to doubt that God was going to do anything.  So I just quit. I’m not saying it’s right.  I’m just saying it happens sometimes.  And, the reality is, this is where we live our lives.  We live our lives between our human circumstances and the promises of God.  And, what we decide to focus on will make all the difference.

So, in our story, we have a situation that requires faith.  And, the magnitude of the situation has elicited doubt that Jesus can really do anything about it.  And, those two things bring the father to a choice.  Let’s read about the choice that is made. 

The father says to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 “And Jesus said to him, ‘If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.”  “All things” I looked up the original Greek word for “all” used in this verse.  You know what it means?  “All.”  Not some things.  Not a few things. Not just things naturally possible. Not simply things that fit within our limits.  But, ALL things are possible for one who believes.  

And, as I read this story, I believe, with compassion in His eyes, Jesus looks at this desperate father and basically says, “Oh my dear boy. Remember who you’re talking too. Remember, there will never be a challenge I can’t empower you to meet.  There will never be a desire I cannot beat.  There will never be a hurt I cannot comfort.  There will never be a need that I cannot fill.  Remember who you’re talking too.  Look around you you see all of this?  I made this!  I am the Creator!  If I can hold the Universe together, I can hold your life together.  If I can?  My dear son, trust Me.  I can.” This father was placing limits upon a limitless God. And, that is when the father cries out in verse 24, “ I believe; help my unbelief!”

And, this is where the question of how much faith does God need comes in to play.  Even if there’s only about 1% of me that believes and 99% of me that doesn’t, I think God can work with that.  And, even in a simple, honest prayer like “Help my unbelief,” we can see the amazing grace of God because God doesn’t need the biggest, boldest faith to work.  He just needs an honest cry of desperation “Help me overcome my unbelief!” 

If that is you if that’s where you are can I tell you that Jesus isn’t condemning you.  Jesus isn’t shaming you.  If anything, He’s here to help you.  He is there right beside you arm around your shoulder looking at you with all the love in the world and without a hint of doubt in His eyes saying “My dear son, my dear daughter.  Remember who I am.”  And, it’s in those moments when our prayer, our cry to Him can be “I believe.  Help my unbelief.”  When we come to Jesus like that, choosing to focus our attention on Him rather than on ourselves, that’s something God can work with because 1% of my faith in a limitless God is greater than 100% of my faith in my faith. So, don’t make the mistake of putting faith in your faith even if it’s a great faith.  Put your faith in our great God.  Even a little bit of faith in an unstoppable God can move mountains. 

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