“Why Do You Embrace Your Cross?”

Posted by on March 28, 2004 under Sermons

Continue to demonstrate the welcoming spirit of Christ as we gather on Sunday morning.

Prepare yourself spiritually for worship by praying for an open heart, open mind, and the strength to serve. Read the following: Matthew 27, Psalm 22, Romans 8.

The Passion of the Christ

Order of Worship and Discipleship:

    Welcome and Prayer

    Song #112 – “Wonderful Grace of Jesus”
    Song #316 – “Jesus Paid It All”
    Song #351 – “He Bore It All”

    Song #318 – “O Sacred Head”

    Song #69 – “Give Thanks” (during the offering)

    Song #315 – “When I Survey the Cross”


This question is asked by one of the thieves who will be crucified beside Jesus.
He is amazed that Jesus does not resist but actually takes up the cross with resolve and a prayer of acceptance to God.

Can’t we appreciate the thief’s amazement?
      Why not fight? Why not resist? Why not protest in the face of such injustice and tragedy?

Matthew 27

Why God? If any of the statements from the cross trouble us, it is probably this one. Why would Jesus say this? It seems the opposite of the attitude that "embraces" the cross. When Jesus says this he seems too human. He seems to doubt. He seems upset with God. Theological rationales don’t remove the emotional impact of this verse. Even the crowds aren’t sure of what they’re hearing and suppose that this is some cry to Elijah.

Maybe this word from the cross shocks and offends because in this statement, more than any others, we come closest to the suffering Jesus.

And there is a tendency in our world to deny suffering. Some protested the Passion of the Christ saying that it was too agonizing.

But we dare not ignore the suffering (the Passion) for if we do we lose a very important dimension of the gospel. We also deny good news to those of us who do suffer and grieve …

Jesus’ cry to God is the first line of an ancient song, Psalm 22. Why would Jesus recite from this Psalm. It will become clear as we read these excerpts from the Psalm.

Psalm 22

Knowing this Psalm and knowing that it would have been in the heart as well as on the lips of Jesus as he embraced the cross speaks to us about the realities of suffering and God’s response when we suffer …

  1. God With Us

    Suffering is not always the result of bad choices and sin. To ask, "Who sinned?" or "Who’s fault is this?" is not a always the right approach.

    • Jesus’ disciples tried to do this with a blind man.
    • Job’s friends tried to do this with Job. "Who being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?" they said. What if Job had listened to his friends? What if he had listened to his wife, lost his integrity and cursed God?

    God offers no polished answer for "Why?" But he does answer. He does arrive and shares in the conversation.

    • Job sees things, in the end, from God’s perspective (Job 42:2-6).
    • But what if God could see things from our perspective? If God were to experience creation as we do, from within, could that change the way we endure the suffering?

    Now God is not an outsider looking in on us, he is within. He participates and shares. Jesus is God who has come to dwell with us. He identifies with us so that we may outlast the suffering.

    Psalm 22: O LORD, do not stay away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!
    When we suffer, we can know that God is not far away – he participates in our suffering with us. He is Immanuel – even when life is difficult.

  2. All Gain, No Pain

    By embracing the cross, by choosing to suffer with us, Jesus challenges a false motto of our age – "All Gain, No Pain."

    • Our culture affirms gain, not loss.
    • Our culture denies pain and suffering – even by trying to fix it.

    Those who suffer in our culture are made to feel worse when no medicine, no prayer, no counseling, no program, no ministry can alleviate their suffering. Eventually we tend to think that people bring about their own suffering.

    There has been much effort put into ignoring and denying pain in our society.

    • The tragedy of September 11, 2001, was especially difficult for America not only in magnitude, but also because of our refusal to accept suffering.
    • Dr. Kevorkian’s method of eradicating all pain could only happen in America (well, maybe Europe too – but that’s no consolation!). Why not apply his reasoning to third world countries where the majority of the people, including children, suffer and let millions commit suicide.

    “Well, let’s take what people think is a dignified death. Christ, was that a dignified death? Do you think it’s dignified to hang from wood with nails through your hands and feet bleeding, hang for three or four days slowly dying, with people jabbing spears into your side, and people jeering you? Do you think that’s dignified? Not by a long shot. Had Christ died in my van with people around Him who loved Him, the way it was, it would be far more dignified. In my rusty van.” – Jack Kevorkian – National Press Club – July 29, 1996
    Maybe Kevorkian is an extreme, but lest we judge the "world" too quickly, we ought to also realize that this is true of the church. Browse any Christian bookstore or catalogue and it is obvious that "gospels" of health, wealth, happiness, and success have often distracted the church from the reality of suffering.
    This is why the Passion of the Christ has been such a scandal and phenomenon. It has made a culture in denial accept the fact that real suffering does exist in the world. [The media hypocrisy of decrying this movie – when they report daily on suffering and tragedy.]
    We try to gloss over the reality of pain and suffering – but the cross breaks through to show us that God will not ignore it – he cares, he cries, he grieves!

    "For he has not ignored the suffering of the weak. He has not turned and walked away. He has listened to their cries for help."– Ps. 22:24
    If it has accomplished anything, it has served as a message to awaken the CHURCH to the reality of suffering. And if we realize the suffering of Christ, let us also recognize the suffering of others.

  3. Entrust and Endure

    Matthew says that after Jesus said My God, My God he shouted then gave up his spirit. What did he shout?
    Luke says that these were his final words – Then Jesus shouted, "Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!" And with those words he breathed his last. – Luke 23:46

    It certainly fits with the spirit of Psalm 22 – You heard their cries for help and saved them.
          They put their trust in you and were never disappointed.

The Good News

At the heart of the gospel response is God’s solidarity with the suffering.
Christ is a sympathetic priest who was tested and suffered – just like us. (Heb. 4:14-5:7).
The apostle Peter reminded the suffering Christians of his day that they could cast all their anxiety on God "because he cares." (1 Pet. 5:6-10).
We are not alienated from God when we suffer, rather we are drawn closer to his love. No suffering can separate us from the love of God. (Rom. 8:38-39).

  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s faithful love is transforming. Love and suffering are part of being human. Paul, Peter and James all agree that the experience of suffering can lead to maturity – Jesus embraced human suffering so that we might embrace his love. (See Rom. 5:3-5; 1 Peter 5:6-10; 2 Peter 1:5-11; James 1:2-7).

The Church of the Suffering Servant

Though we know very little about Simon from Cyrene in the gospels, his role in the event is a powerful symbol. Here is a man who is forced to carry the cross of Jesus. The portrayal of Simon in the movie is comment on the church and our culture. At first Simon wants nothing to do with the cross. He wants to deny it and refuse to accept it. But he is forced to carry it by the brutish Romans who insist on the way of violence. Simon is changed as he finds that Jesus even cares for him. Jesus could have let Simon carry the cross – his own cross – alone, but Jesus steps in and the image of Simon and Jesus bearing a cross side by side is an image for the church. Jesus and us bearing one another’s burdens!

Like Jesus, we must be a friend to others in the midst of suffering. The church must refuse to ignore suffering. We are called to provide a place where suffering, especially unmerited suffering, is met with unmerited grace extended by the Suffering Servant who invites us into the suffering of others and promises to meet us there.
Such a church is the embodiment of good news.

When my wife suffered unexplained seizures in the summer of 1999 I also suffered from the anxiety of uncertainty. I felt our love threatened by forces beyond our control. I shared my concern with my brothers and sisters in the church everywhere. I was blessed by the testimony of a woman who had also suffered with unexplained illness. Rather than ignore our suffering, she shared her story and her gospel. Her word of good news however was not simply that God healed her, but also that God gave her strength to endure.

I understood that the gospel response is not just the elimination of suffering, but the sufficient love and grace not to be destroyed by it. Our suffering would have been magnified if it had been denied. If we had no place in the community to share this burden. If we had been told to shelve our pain and anxiety.

Jesus does not ignore the suffering. He embraces the cross. He expresses the faith that God’s love can transform the suffering. We share that faith and say to all – We have a friend in Jesus who does not deny pain and suffering. We pledge ourselves to the hurting as a community formed beneath the cross of Jesus and sharing in His strength to endure.

    Invitation Song #800 – “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

    Closing Prayer and Sending Out

May God’s Hand Be With Us!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Acts 2:46,47 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 8:1-3 And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

Acts 11:22 The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.

One of the things I stress to us is this fact: the New Testament church was a community. Christians depended on each other, formed deep relationships with each other, identified through Christ with each other, rejoiced together, and supported each other in times of pain and suffering. They were not perfect or ideal. Yet, because of Christ, they had an incredible bond that was (1) real and (2) sustained by the resurrected Jesus Christ. Because they were devoted to God, they were devoted to each other.

I want personally to thank all of you for continuing to move us in the direction of a personal community of believers rather than an impersonal institution. Are we perfect? No. Do we have lots of flaws? Yes. Are we growing in the ability to care and bond? Yes–in so many ways!

Thank you, ladies, for your example as you often lead the way in closeness and caring! I frequently am amazed at the outreach and closeness in WINGS classes. The spirit of unselfish caring is obvious among the quilting ladies. So many ladies are unselfishly active in the education program. Ladies do so much to make Care Groups and Life Groups possible.

When I hear young ladies affirm in troubling moments that help “is there for them”; when I see how responsive our ladies are to special needs; when I know how much studying ladies do on a weekly basis; when I hear about how much praying ladies do for specific needs and situations, I am deeply encouraged. Why? These are expressions of community! They exist because the concern and bonding are genuine!

I am encouraged by many of the men as well. So much happens to express caring, to address needs, to extend helpfulness to people, and to encourage those with struggles.

We live in an evil world and an uncertain society. Common values seem to stress money, pleasure, success, exploiting the dependent, and selfishness. May it be increasingly obvious that we are a people guided by God, and God’s influence centers us on people. Faith in God results in caring about people! “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

A Transition: The Relationship Between Being and Doing

Posted by on March 21, 2004 under Sermons

For about two months we have focused on the concept of worship. These were our emphases in our lessons:

    Lesson #1 asked you to focus on Cain’s attitude and note how his attitude affected his worship.

    Lesson #2 continued our examination of the relationship between a person’s heart and worship God accepted as honoring Him. We examined Isaiah 1.

    Lesson #3 examined the basic characteristics of worship of the holy God.

    Lessons #4 and #5 focused on the truth that God first acts, and then asks us to respond to his acts. Worship is one form of our response.

    Lesson #6 examined the relationship between seeing God as our Creator and giving Him worship.

    Lesson #7 examined the moods of worship in Israel and noted those moods ranged from joyous celebration to intense mourning.

    Lesson #8 focused on the fact that a Christian subscribes to two forms of worship: collective worship where we as a community praise God, and daily lifestyle where we as an individual honor God each day of physical existence.

    Lesson #9 noted that Israel depended on the same person, place, and acts Christians depend on: a high priest, a tabernacle, blood, and a sacrifice for sins.

In these lessons I hope you took note of something frequently appearing in our readings: acceptable worship depends on who we are as a person. There has always been a powerful bond between worshipping God and personal behavior. Take careful note of that bond as read together Amos 5:14-27.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live; And thus may the Lord God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the Lord God of hosts May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, the Lord, “There is wailing in all the plazas, And in all the streets they say, ‘Alas! Alas!’ They also call the farmer to mourning And professional mourners to lamentation. “And in all the vineyards there is wailing, Because I will pass through the midst of you,” says the Lord.
Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, For what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light; As when a man flees from a lion And a bear meets him, Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall And a snake bites him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, Even gloom with no brightness in it?
“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. “But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves. Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

According to Israel, things were wonderful! Prosperity was everywhere! Luxurious living was common among the wealthy! They were so secure in their lifestyle that Amos’ prediction of an exile was unthinkable! In their circumstances, there was no way they could experience an exile! They were on top of things! Life was good and secure! They had “a handle” on everything!

They thought if they could go through the proper ceremonies in worship, God did not care how they lived. That was idolatry at its worst!

Oh, but God cared deeply how they lived! Basically God made two observations. (1) You live very wickedly as you take advantage of others. (2) Your “correct” worship deeply offends Me.

Their “correct” worship offended God because of their evil behavior.

Now I would like for you to read with me Matthew 23:25,26.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”

  1. What we do in our daily behavior must arise from who and what we are.
    1. There are not two separate issues in life.
      1. Worshipping and how we worship is not separated from who we are as persons.
      2. No one, not even the person who has been baptized into Christ, can separate how he/she lives as a matter of daily behavior from worshipping God.
      3. Worship cannot be separated from behavior.
      4. Behavior cannot be separated from who and what we are inwardly
    2. Any attempt to separate those two realties [the lifestyle we live and our worship] is merely a human, artificial, meaningless separation.
      1. We cannot rebel against God in our lifestyles and honor God in our worship.
      2. To attempt to do so is to insult God!
      3. God knows what is on the inside of a person.
        1. If the lifestyle of person does not match his/her heart, God is not deceived.
        2. God is truly honored in a person’s worship only if that person honors God in his/her life.

  2. Think about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 23:25,26.
    1. The context:
      1. The time of Jesus’ death is very near.
      2. Jesus has spent his entire ministry trying to “get through” to Israel as a nation and to Israel’s leadership.
      3. From early in Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders known as the Pharisees were committed to trying to discredit and destroy Jesus.
        1. Jesus was committed to teaching them.
        2. They would attack Jesus; he would ask them to think about specific scriptures.
        3. They would attack Jesus; he would perform a miracle to verify that God sent him.
        4. Every time he tried to open their eyes, they simply became more angry.
      4. Why did they hate him so much?
        1. His knowledge of scripture and knowledge of God led him to completely different values and conclusions.
        2. He repeatedly told them that God’s number one priority was people.
        3. They concluded that God’s number one priority was “correctness.”
        4. And they defined “correctness” as being their conclusions.
    2. As Jesus nears the end of his physical life, he declares the Pharisees failures.
      1. Remember who the Pharisees are.
        1. They have an earned reputation for beings experts in the details of scripture, the Law, and approved custom.
        2. Jesus himself said in the beginning of this passage:
          Matthew 23:2,3 “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”
          1. “They know scripture.”
          2. “They do not know God.”
          3. “Listen to them when they speak from scripture, but do not follow their lifestyle.”
      2. They had lots of knowledge, but their motives were horrible.

  3. These people were obsessed with religious appearance.
    1. They were not concerned about who and what they were, but how they appeared to others.
      1. As a result, it was “what showed on the outside to others” that got all their attention.
      2. They were concerned about being “correct” outwardly.
        1. “You must not eat anything but kosher food.”
        2. “You must go through the proper ceremony and ritual of washing your hands prior to eating.”
        3. “You must wear tassels on the hem of your garment.”
        4. “You must wear phylacteries on your forehead and arm.”
      3. Thus people could see them doing all these “correct” externals and say, “My, how religious they are!”
      4. Yet, they could do all these externals to appear very religious in others’ eyes, and be rotten on the inside.
        1. They could be filled with motives of greed and lust, but that did not matter.
        2. They could be controlled by hate and malice, but that did not matter.
        3. They could take advantage of defenseless widows, but that did not matter.
        4. They could take bribes, but that did not matter.
      5. People could see the food they ate, see them wash their hands, see their tassels, see their phylacteries; but they could not see their greed, their lust, their taking advantage of the helpless, or the bribing.
        1. They thought what people could not see was unimportant.
        2. However, they were deceived.
        3. God saw, and God is as concerned with internals and with externals–in fact, externals are meaningless if they do not reflect internals.
      6. Listen to the words of Jesus:
        Matthew 6:1-6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Focus yourself on being, and the doing will honestly reflect who you are.

“Whose Son are You?”

Posted by on under Sermons

The Passion of the Christ

Order of Worship and Discipleship:


    Song #4 – “To God Be The Glory”
    Song #147 – “I Stand Amazed”
    Song #287 – “There Is A Redeemer”
    Song #176 – “Lamb of God”

    Communion – I John 5:9-11

    Song #679 – “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus”
    Song #162 – “All Hail The Power Of Jesus Name”


Scene from the Passion of the Christ – Whose son are you?

  • Mel Gibson uses artistic license when portraying Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • He adds the presence of Satan, who tests Jesus with questions that make him doubt his purpose and identity. They are questions aimed at making him feel alone, abandoned, a failure. In response to Jesus’ "Abba, Father" prayer, the evil one asks "Who is your Father? Whose son are you?"
  • In interviews, Gibson has said that this opening scene sets the stage for the battle about to take place. "This is the coin toss before the game." Gibson has caught the drama of the Garden very well; for it is there that Jesus goes through anguish, but it is also there that he shows great resolve because he knows who he is! He knows that he is the son of God.

The questions that Satan asks are consistent with Satan’s tempting of Jesus when he fasted and prayed in the wilderness before his ministry …

Read Matthew 3 – 4

  • At his baptism, Jesus was affirmed by God – "This is my son, in whom I am pleased!" In the wilderness, Jesus is tempted to define "Son of God" in his own way. (When’s the last time you were tempted to turn stone to bread?) Jesus is being tempted to use his power for self-fulfillment and to establish his own identity rather than rely on God. This is the struggle between the things of men and the things of God.
  • Even good friends and disciples suggest ways that Jesus can fulfill his sense of self. And this too must have been a temptation for him – because Jesus calls Peter "Satan" when Peter suggests that Jesus should be who he wants him to be.

Read Matthew 16 and note three points …

1. Who Do You Say That I am? When Jesus asked his disciples "But who do you say that I am?" Peter must have thought, "I know this one." He spoke up – "You’re the Christ! The Son of the living God." Peter was right – wasn’t he? Well of course he was. Jesus was the Son of God. Peter understood that Jesus was who he said he was. But he didn’t understand what that meant – for Jesus and for him.
After his testing, Jesus knows what it means to be the Son of God. It means God defines him and fulfills him – not others and not even himself. And being the Son of God means being tested and opposed by those who are threatened by God. It means a path of suffering, rejection, execution and then – and only then – resurrection.

2. Thinking the things of men, not the things of God This defeatist talk doesn’t seem right to Peter, so he attempts to debate Jesus on the meaning of Son of God. And Peter gets quite a rebuke. Jesus has asked Peter "Who Do You Say that I am?" Not, "Tell me who I am." Because Jesus listens to God for the answer to that. Peter is not qualified to tell Jesus who he is, because he is thinking the things of men, not God.

3. Whoever tries to save his life will lose it … Jesus asked his disciples the question (Who do you say that I am?), not for his benefit, but for theirs – because their answer to that question will determine who they are. And they will be fulfilled by following the Son of God and learning from his example. They will not be fulfilled by saving their own lives – or even trying to save Jesus’ life. This is the paradoxical nature of the way of the cross. Emptiness is the result of attempts at self-fulfillment, but fulfillment is found by emptying ourselves and following Christ …

Who Do You Say that I Am?
I remember that Sunday night at Winslow we were singing "Just As I Am – without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me." It was August almost 25 years ago and I had decided to be baptized. Of course I waited until the second verse – not that I was shy, I just thought it good form – the first verse is just warm-up – the thinker verse. But I had been thinking about this for some time. So I would step out into the aisle when we sang . . ."Just As I am and waiting not . . ." well that wasn’t quite true. I had waited all through the sermon for this moment. I knew before the sermon that I would be doing this, but I thought it good form to listen. I thought the preacher might like to think someone responded to his sermon. So in the second stanza I stepped out into the aisle. After our song, the minister and I stood before the congregation. He talked a bit and then placed his hand and my shoulder and asked "Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" I know my response was positive, but I don’t remember my exact words, whether I just said "yes," or "I do" or if I got fancy and said "I do believe Jesus is the Son of God." But after I answered I heard an Amen and we went off behind the baptistery to put on our baptism clothes as someone started singing "Trust and Obey."

Do you remember your "good confession?" However your baptism took place – at camp, at church, in a river – at some point someone asked you "Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?" And because of that confession of faith you were baptized. That’s a common point that most of us share. And I wonder if any of us really understood the gravity of that confession? Did we grasp the full significance of what we were affirming? Did we realize that when we agreed that Jesus was who he said he was, we also agreed that we were who he said we were? When we gave our good confession, we weren’t just making statement about who Jesus was – we were making a statement about who we were, and whose we were?

I remember back at Winslow how one of our ministers used to respond to the confession of Jesus made by those wanting to be baptized. (He used to call it the "good confession." – How wonderful) And he always blessed the one who made that confession and would say "They crucified Jesus for saying that, but you say it that you may receive eternal life." Not that I disagreed with the statement, but I always wondered "Why does Jesus get crucified for saying that, but not us?" Well, I was probably thinking too hard about something very beautiful and poetic that our minister was saying for the moment – but in time I learned that Jesus indicates that in a sense we do get crucified for confessing that Jesus is the Son of God – because he says we have to take up a cross!

Who Does He Say You Are?
Whoever wants to save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. When I hear this verse I often wonder if I am doing enough to lose my life. I wonder if I need to sell my possessions or leave my comfort and go to the mission fields. Do you ever think about that? I admit I’m not sure I understand this burden of losing my life. But I do know the burden of trying to save my life. It’s the burden of trying to make my life meaningful to me and affirmed by others … We all know something about the burden of trying to save our lives

  • In his ABC interview with Diane Sawyer, Mel Gibson had this to say on the emptiness of self-gratification: He spoke of his fame, wealth, success, and pleasure and his struggle with addiction and self-destructive behavior – "I have been to the pinnacle of what secular utopia has to offer . . . it leaves you empty – the more you eat, the emptier you get." He represents those who try to find meaning and fulfillment in wealth, fame, and excess.

But it’s not just those who live the wild life who find self-gratification less than fulfilling. … Some of us feel the emptiness of trying to find fulfillment with more socially acceptable pleasures and achievements. But these are just as unsatisfying – maybe even more so because we don’t intuitively recognize that our noble efforts to "save" our own lives through work, health, reputation, family and even church can leave us just as empty.

From our earliest years we are trained to provide for our future. We must obtain the best education and opportunities. We should invest what we have wisely. Like a precise chemical formula, we must be careful to add the appropriate amount of risk to the appropriate amount of stability to achieve maximum benefit. The years we spend in school and business are our only opportunity to provide for our future as well as the future for our family. The prize is retirement. But even in retirement we know something about the burden of saving our lives. Health becomes more of a concern. Are we eating right? Do we exercise like we should? Did we elect the right people to secure our benefits? Are we seeing the right doctors? We strive to stack up accomplishments to gain identity and affirmation. We join a civic club, serve on city council, the school board, coach little league, teach Sunday School, serve in a soup kitchen. We save ourselves with a makeover. We wonder if we are too fat or too thin? Are we taking care of our skin? Are we wearing the right clothes? Do we have the right hairstyle for our body type? Did we buy the right house? Are we in the right neighborhood? Are we in the right school district? And if we can’t save our lives, maybe our children can? Maybe we can save our lives through them? Are we doing all we can to ensure the health and education of our children? Are they safe? Are they being taught right? If the children are our future, then are they capable of saving it? Even if we give our lives in service to others – our spouse, our children, the church, the needy, we may discover that the emptiness and remains. For others can fail and disappoint us. Here is a most horrible emptiness, for we thought that the emptying of ourselves would result in fulfillment through the lives of others, but we may find we just feel sucked dry. Indeed, we know something about trying to save our lives – we know it doesn’t ultimately work.

The emptiness we feel is that we know that all of our good deeds and efforts to make something of ourselves are a mask for the inner-self that we fear no one will accept or love.
When the human spirit seeks a self in any created thing and makes that thing the ultimate source of life and meaning, then the spirit is trapped and suffocated – cut off from the source of life. The way of the cross is not just a religious twist on self-fulfillment – because the problem with self-fulfillment is "self" part. If you’re empty, you need something greater than you to get filled up. This is why the love of God is good news. He knows the inner-self and can see through our false self-image. His love fulfills to overflowing. He loves us enough to give us a name, to tell us who we are and to show us, in Jesus, what it means to shed the false self-image we are constantly making over and instead reflect the image of God we have as humans he created.
1 Corinthians 4 (MSG) –All of our successes and failures do not get the last word about who we are – not from anyone else or even ourselves. God does. Believing in the Son of God is the real life, because he loves you and believes in you.
God knows who we are – and he shows us in Jesus what we can be. Believing in something greater than ourselves is the way to fulfillment, but we must be willing to set aside that which distracts and deceives and imitate Christ. That can be tough because we are so conditioned to "save" our lives. The way of the cross is difficult for a people who are constantly being told in our self-satisfying secular utopia that we can name a star after ourselves or patent our own personalized cell-phone ring. But if we really want to be fulfilled we have to be willing to learn from the teacher …

  • I remember as a child trying to work in my Father’s workshop and he would try to show me how to paint and saw and do other things. But I was there just to have fun, so I would get ahead of him and start doing my own thing. My father said, "How can I show you the right way if you want to do things your way?" My father could have given up on me if he knew that 1) I just wasn’t able to learn and 2) if he didn’t love me. But he knew what I was capable of doing and he loved me. Learning and growing meant putting aside "my way" and learning "the right way" so that the "right way" would become "my way."

When Jesus was baptized he heard a voice from heaven, "This is my son, whom I love, and with him I am pleased." We hear those words from heaven and they are the words that call us to be baptized. "You are my son, my daughter – I love you." How can we not respond to that love and set aside the name we are trying to make for ourselves and receive the name of our heavenly Father who loves us and believes in us enough that he risks his life so that we might have life.

    Invitation Song #538 – “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less”

    Closing Prayer

What Is Your Reaction: To Follow or To Destroy?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Matthew 8:19, Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”

Matthew 12:14, But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

Israel reacted to Jesus. We react to Jesus. You react to Jesus. At issue is not, “Will we react to Jesus?” At issue is, “How will we react to Jesus?”

Assume the Jewish scribe heard Jesus’ sermon and witnessed his acts prior to declaring a desire to follow Jesus anywhere. Remember, this educated, specialized, informed man was knowledgeable. Perhaps he was inspired by Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Perhaps he was in the multitude who witnessed the leper cleansed, the paralyzed man restored, the sick healed, and demons cast out. He was impressed! Boldly he announced to Jesus his willingness to follow Jesus anywhere!

There are no assumptions about what the Pharisees witnessed–they heard Jesus and witnessed his miracle. However, they focused on the wrong thing. They did not see Jesus’ miracle because they were blinded by when he did it. Blinded is too weak a word–they were obsessed with when Jesus healed the man with a withered hand.

They were absolutely certain Jesus was wrong! He could not possibly be right! These genuine experts in scripture knew Jesus could not be right! Devotion to God’s will demanded they expose Jesus for the “masquerading fraud” he was! Were not the Ten Commandments explicit about keeping the Sabbath day holy? How could someone speak for God and dishonor the Sabbath?

In an attempt to expose this “fraud,” they asked Jesus if it was in agreement with the Law to heal on the Sabbath. Their conviction: healing on the Sabbath was in violation of God’s Law if the healed person’s life was not in immediate jeopardy.

Jesus answered by restoring the man’s withered hand to a functioning, healthy hand. After healing the man, Jesus said, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.”

The scribe heard and saw Jesus and wished to follow him. These Pharisees heard and saw Jesus and wished to destroy him. Both heard, both saw, and both reacted. Yet, the reactions were opposite. The scribe was attracted. The Pharisees were repulsed.

Jesus does not specialize in telling us what we want to hear or in “performing” for us. Jesus tells us what we need to hear and does what is in our eternal best interest. If you are around Jesus long enough to hear and observe, you will react.

You will react because Jesus will (1) tell you how to be the human God envisions and (2) how to surrender to God’s purposes. Not only does he tell us, but he also shows us. Being the human God wished cost Jesus his life as he surrendered to God’s purposes. However, that was fine. He focused on the eternal, not this world. Where is your focus?

The Route Is the Same

Posted by on March 14, 2004 under Sermons

Allow me to begin by calling to your attention two commonly held views regarding worship prior to Jesus’ resurrection. These views are relatively “modern” views.

View one: worship prior to Jesus’ resurrection could only be described as primitive acts by primitive people who were showing just how uneducated and uninformed they were. Their whole concept of priests, the slaughtering of animals, the blood rituals, the preparation of parts of the carcasses for burning, the following of different sacrificial rituals for different needs all scream out just how primitive they were. In Jesus Christ we moved away from such primitive, uneducated worship forms.

View two: worship as it exists under Jesus Christ as Lord and worship as it existed prior to Jesus’ resurrection are totally different. Those two forms or expressions of worship could be compared to two parallel lines with a lot of distance between them. They have a lot of similarities. They are going in the same direction. Yet, basically, they are very distinct and quite independent of each other. While it is okay to look at their similarities, they should never be considered as connected or as a continuation of each other.

I want to begin our thinking with view two and then focus on view one.

  1. Should we who are Christians in the twenty-first century look at worship prior to Jesus resurrection as something totally different and never a continuation or extension of each other?
    1. Should we look at them as parallel lines with a wide distance between them?
      1. Should we see Jewish worship coming to an abrupt halt when people are converted to Jesus Christ?
      2. Should we see Jewish Christians deliberately separating themselves from Jewish communities because they were in total disagreement with them about everything including worship?
      3. I want to share some things with you this evening that I shared with you previously.
        1. I do not seek to get you to agree with me, but I do ask you to think.
        2. As you think, I want you to keep focused on scripture instead of what you always just accepted as fact.
    2. You are very familiar with the fact that people who were not Jews were not required to convert to Jewish practices and customs in order to become Christians.
      1. That is very obvious in scripture, and it is something that most Bible students have long understood.
        1. We were taught that understanding.
        2. Two sources of scripture that make this very obvious are Acts 15 and the letter of Galatians.
      2. We understand and accept this without question because most of us are gentiles.
    3. I call to your attention another fact from scripture that is just as obvious, but we either have been taught it is unimportant or taught to be blind to this fact: just as gentiles did not have to become Jews to be Christians, neither did Jews have to become gentiles to be Christians.
      1. A Jew did not have to abandon Jewish culture and Jewish rituals in order to become a Christian who accepted the resurrected Jesus as Lord.
      2. There is obvious documentation of this fact in scripture.
      3. After Acts 2 and the conversion of 3000 Jews and proselytes, the first incident Luke records in Acts is two apostles, Peter and John, going to the Jewish temple to pray.
        1. This is an infinitely Jewish act at an infinitely Jewish place that observed the Jewish time table for daily afternoon prayer in the temple area.
        2. Much of what occurs in Acts 4 and 5 has to do with this Jewish temple incident.
        3. The point made is (1) “Jesus is what God promised us and what we as Jews should focus on” not (2) “Judaism is an evil thing with which Christians can have no association.”
      4. When the non-Christian Paul wanted to arrest Jews who as believers belonged to Jesus Christ, where did he go? Listen to Acts 9:1,2:
        Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
      5. When Paul began his work among the gentiles, the relationship between Jewish converts and gentile converts became a major religious issue, the “hot button” issue in the community of Christians.
        1. When he and Barnabas came back from their first mission trip to the first known, sizable gentile congregation [in Antioch], an enormous debate was in progress: must gentiles become Jews in religious practices/perspectives to be Christians? Must they be circumcised and follow the customs of Moses?
        2. The issue is not Jewish Christians abandoning Jewish ways; it is “must gentiles do things the way Jews do them.”
        3. Note verse 19 says that gentiles who are turning to God should not be troubled with doing Jewish things Jewish ways.
        4. Also note what verse 21 reads:
          For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.
        5. This is Christian leadership among Jewish Christians affirming the work and purpose of Jewish synagogues in maintaining Jewish ways among the Jewish people–it is not a rejection of Jewish synagogues but an affirmation of them.
    4. When the Christian Paul went to a new city, where is the first place he went?
      1. He always went to the Jewish assemblies at the synagogue.
      2. Why?
        1. Early in my life I was taught these were the reasons:
          1. This is the place that people knew and studied scripture [that is true, but that is not the reason scripture gave].
          2. This is the place where people knew the living God [that is true, but that is not the reason scripture gave].
          3. If he convinced the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, there would be an immediate, great force of teachers [that is true, but that is not the reason scripture gave].
        2. Then what is the reason scripture gave?
          1. Consider the words of Paul himself:
            Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
            Acts 13:46 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.
          2. Consider the words of Peter spoken to Jews in Acts 3:25,26:
            It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”
      3. In Acts 18:18, long after Paul became a Christian, long after he did mission work among the gentiles, we read this statement about Paul’s actions:
        Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.
        1. The Jewish Christian, Paul, who was a missionary to gentiles, did a very Jewish thing–he took a Jewish vow.
        2. The cutting of the hair was a key element in the Nazarite vow.
        3. Paul did not bind Jewish behavior on gentiles, but as a Jew he was free as a Christian to continue to follow Jewish behavior.
      4. In Acts 21 the Christian Paul gave a report on his work among the gentiles to the Jerusalem elders and leaders. Listen carefully to the reaction of the Jewish church leaders to a matter that concerned them.
        Acts 21:20-24 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.
        1. The Jewish church leaders were concerned because Paul was accused of teaching Jews to forsake circumcision and Jewish customs.
        2. That accusation was very serious. Thousands of Jewish Christians were zealous for the law.
        3. This was the Jewish leaders recommendation: be the sponsor of four Christian men who have taken a Jewish vow.
          1. Purify yourself with them [Jewish purification code], and pay their expenses to take the vow.
          2. Then everyone will know the accusation is false: though you teach gentiles about Jesus, you continue to be [personally] true to Jewish customs.
      5. Just the evidences in Acts confirm that Judaism and Christianity are to be seen as a “continuous” line, not “parallel” lines that are never connected.

  2. If you think that worship before Christ was at best primitive and uneducated, and that worship of the resurrected Jesus has nothing in common with Israel’s primitive, uneducated worship, I would like you to consider some emphasizes from scripture.
    1. Just like Israel, we depend on a high priest.
      1. A high priest represented Israel to the holy God.
      2. A high priest represents us to the same holy God.
      3. Listen:
        Hebrews 2:14-18 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
        Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
        Hebrews 5:7-10 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
        Hebrews 7:26-8:2 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.
    2. Just like Israel, we are dependent on God’s tabernacle and a gift of blood.
      Hebrews 9:11,12 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
      Hebrews 9:24-26 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
    3. Just like Israel, we are dependent on a sacrifice.
      Hebrews 10:10-14,18 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 18 … Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.
    4. Just like Israel, we have relationship with the holy God because of a sin offering.
      Hebrews 13:10-16 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Worship in Israel was never based on the primitive, but on an understanding of the holy God. Worship among Christians is based on the same understandings of the same holy God.

“What is Truth?”

Posted by on under Sermons

The Passion of the Christ

Order of Worship and Discipleship:


    Song #647 – “Soldiers of Christ, Arise”
    Song #652 – “We Have Heard the Joyful Sound”
    Song #238 – “You Are the Song That I Sing”
    Song #294 – “You’re the One”

    Brief Scripture Reading

    Song #287 – “There Is a Redeemer”

    Communion – John 6:58; John 6:55-56

    Song #622 – “Ring Out the Message”
    Song #290 – “Shine, Jesus, Shine”

(John 18:28-40)
Jesus as Teacher/Revealer/Reconciler

Pilate – I’ve met him before. He’s as familiar as me. He can convince himself that he has contributed to the construction of the world he occupies, but somehow he doesn’t feel at home in it. There are moments when he recognizes that that is just a veneer covering the reality that he’s just another part of the huge, cosmic system. That the world he thought he constructed is just an illusion.

Pilate is a truth seeker. He’s looking for something real and with substance. Something that reveals the mystery of the universe.

We are truth-seekers. We ache not for truth, but the truth.

  • Factual truths are all around us and it is easy enough to discern these – Everyday our science and experience opens up another truth.
  • The truth is the revelation of mystery. It is seeing the world truthfully – the way God sees it.
  • Perhaps the reason we are all truth seekers is that we’ve been lied to. I don’t simply mean that somewhere along the way some politician, used car salesman, or preacher lied to us. I don’t even mean that someone we love – a parent, a husband, a wife, a child, – has lied to us. No, these are symptoms of the broken world we live in. And another way to describe our sinful state is to say "we’ve been lied to." For the whole problem begins with a single lie.

      Think about that. There’s no cosmic battle between Satan and God in the garden. Adam doesn’t mount a rebellion. Eve is no evil witch commanding the powers of darkness. The tragic moment hinges on a lie that really doesn’t seem all that bad. It’s a lie that says – "Hey, there’s another way of looking at this Eve. I’m just saying, you’ve got options. Look here, Adam, I’m just saying maybe it’s time to trust in yourself and grow up a little. You don’t have to believe me, but I’m just telling you what I heard – I mean is that really what you heard God say? I’m just saying, maybe there’s another way to look at this."

And that’s how the lie spreads like a virus. Finally, there are so many different ways of perceiving the world, that we cannot see or hear clearly anymore and suddenly it strikes us – Everything we call our world and home is an illusion, a subtle distortion of the truth. We live in a virtual reality – which amounts to an illusion; an imitation of the truth.

  • I want to mention a movie (that I do not necessarily endorse) that made quite an impact when it was released in 1999. The science-fiction thriller The Matrix contained more that wanton violence and ultra-cool special effects. One of the reasons it may have resonated so deeply with our culture was the premise that the world we live in isn’t the "real world." That it is an illusion, or as one character, Morpheus, puts it – "[The world we perceive] is the world that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us to the truth."
  • Maybe this movie touched a nerve with so many because we have in fact been separated from the truth by illusion and delusion?

But what if there is no true reality? When Pilate asks, what is truth? He may be asking with hope that this bruised man in the chains with the Galilean accent might actually be able to reveal it – and he may also be making a statement with his question that there really isn’t such a thing as truth. The only truth is that which we make for ourselves.

  • And if we embrace the second option, we are always separated from the world. If I am the beginning and end of truth, then perhaps all of the world is a lie, a figment of my own imagination. And if my truth is supreme, then your truth is supreme too – even if it is something radically different. And so my truth – my way of seeing the world – is no more or less valid than the new age vegetarian communist, feminist. My truth is no more or less valid than the conservative capitalist, fundamentalist, imperialist. As long as I have an "ist" I can make my own truth! But then we see again that if noting is ultimate truth, then the truth is there is no truth – and how can that really be truth – and we’re back on the hamster wheel again.

This is all because of the lie – the illusion – the veil, the cataract that clouds our vision. God’s love – his good news, is this – he restores our sight so we can recognize the truth. He restores our sight by reconciling us. So the separation into our own personal truth is transformed by relationship

  1. This truth is more than just a set of propositions, laws, and intellectual arguments. Some might say, "Well, it’s in the good book!" Sure, the Bible reveals truth, but it does more than just boil it down to five principles. It records a story. It is the witness of a God yearning for his children to come home. They’re in a far country full of empty lies.
  2. Telling the truth is important – but since we’ve been lied to so much we need more than just a telling. Have you ever tried to teach a child how to do something simply by telling them. Children don’t always read instruction books. I can remember buying Wyatt his first Lego toy. He was frustrated because he couldn’t put it together. He was frustrated and had Lego pieces scattered everywhere. He didn’t like the Lego. It’s broken! There’s a piece missing. I showed him in the book. That didn’t make any sense. The pictures in the book are 2-d and these Legos are 3-d. So, I finally said, “Let me show you how to do it.” I got down on the floor and picked up the pieces and with my hands and his hands working together I helped him build his Lego. Here I was, a grown man sitting on the floor playing with Legos. But I showed Wyatt how to do Legos and now he can build anything at all!
  3. In the beginning, God told us how to be human. But we saw things differently and now there’s a mess. God gave us the instruction book, but it was true, but it was 2-d and we’re 3-d. So God came down into our world. He appeared to us as a man. And Jesus was God here to show us how to do human.
  4. Truth isn’t discovered in a fact or formula. Truth isn’t discovered in a legal courtroom, a legislative assembly, or a scientific laboratory. Truth isn’t even discovered through meditation, prayer, or by coming to church – unless one encounters Jesus Christ. For truth is revealed in a person – Jesus. And truth is discovered in a relationship with him. And our discovery begins if we see the world like Jesus. Then we are on our way home.
    • In the movie, Pilate asks his wife Claudia, "How do you know the truth?" She replies, "If you will not hear the truth, how can I tell you?"
    • Pilate assumes that there is some label, some reducible element that makes something true. He thinks he will find the truth in a fact or a philosophy. But recognizing the truth means knowing the one who is the source of truth.

The Gospel cannot be reduced to a formula like E=mc2. No offense to other religions, but the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot even be reduced to a confession such as "Namu amida butsu" or "There is one God and Mohammed is his prophet." There just isn’t an equivalent to that in Christianity – but haven’t we tried? I understand how it’s helpful to condense biblical teaching to four spiritual laws or even five steps of salvation. But reducing the gospel truth down to a formula like that apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ misses the truth. Jesus didn’t come among us to amend the instructions and simply announce that there’s an easier take on the 10 Commandments that reduces it to two. In his words, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world-to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."

Jesus is the truth – He IS the way, the truth, and the life. John 8:32– Jesus’ disciples know the truth and the truth has set them free. The truth they know is more than fact – it’s a person. And a reunion with the Father, the restoration of our home-world, comes through a relationship with Jesus. And our confession, repentance, and baptism are not simply religious obligations we’d better perform if we want to be secure in the next life. In John’s gospel, Jesus uses a rather unique image to describe himself – a door. "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture." – John 10:9. In baptism, we unite with Jesus – there’s relationship. It’s the loose plank in the fence through which we can escape the false world of the lie and enter into the kingdom or truth.

Jesus invites us. Not to sign up for an exemption from hell. Not to the big house in the sky where we all float around like wisps of smoke. Not even to our evolution to divine beings (trying to become gods is what got us into this mess!) – but Jesus uncovers the mystery and casts light on the illusion – he shows us the door – he shows us the way home – he invites us into his life – even now. He calls us to be born again into the new humanity (John 3). He shows us what it means to be truly human. Jesus is truth.

    Invitation Song #628 – “Will You Not Tell It Today?”

    Closing Prayer

To Others, Unbelievable; To Us, Reality

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:1, 2

Those experiencing life among peoples in other nations are awed at the way they “see” American prosperity. In third world countries, the American lifestyle and home equipment is beyond comprehension–power, cooking stoves, refrigerators, air conditioners, hot water, etc. In many European nations (including Eastern Europe), people cannot comprehend the affordable food available to typical Americans. In numerous cultures only the extremely rich can afford to eat as the average American eats.

Thus a third world parent who loves his/her child dearly might beg a returning American, “Take my child to America with you!” Or, a well-to-do Eastern European recipient of “southern hospitality” here cannot respond “in kind” when the American visits.

Their common perspective: “Americans are incredibly happy because they have so many material things.” Try to explain to people in unimaginable poverty or to people who never have things available we take for granted the reality of pain in America. It is impossible! They, as too many Americans, think happiness is found in possessions. They, as too many Americans, think possessions and lifestyle make unhappiness impossible. They, as too many Americans, conclude the key to happiness is material well being. They, as too many Americans, think, “If I had all I want, I would be happy.” Often they, as we, want to fill empty lives with things. We know the emptiness, and we are confused because “things” do not fill it.

There is so much pain and hurt in America! What pain and hurt? The pain and hurt of failed relationships (marriages in misery; divorce; alienation between parents and children). The pain and hurt of mortality (ask any older person–aging is not a joyful experience, even if you get rid of arthritis and wear Depends!) The pain and hurt of sickness and death (being sick is no fun, and dying hurts many people beside the one who ceases to live physically). The pain and hurt of injustice (there are tons of ways to make victims). The pain and hurt of loneliness (feeling like no one cares is awful!). Lengthen the list: hopelessness, injuries, addictions, failed expectations, disappointments, etc.

Christians have a unique voice too rarely heard in our culture. We should be (must be!) the community who cares! We have a way to love and be there for each other because God teaches us how to love and be there. Want to see God’s love and concern? Look at Jesus! Through Jesus, God reveals life’s true focus. Being a Christian, being a part of the Christian community, does not remove all hurt and pain. It shows us how to care for those in hurt and pain. In that community, God Himself shows His people how to love and care. This is the courageous voice we must share with America–and beyond!

Jesus: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” Luke 6:32

The Two Aspects of Worshipping

Posted by on March 7, 2004 under Sermons

If Christians from the first century world were to worship with us today on Sunday mornings, they would find those worship assemblies quite strange and unfamiliar. Christians of the first century would feel as uncomfortable and “out-of-place” in our worship assemblies as we would in theirs about 2000 years ago.

  1. Our four-part harmony in singing would be strange to them. As I understand it, having different parts and having what we regard as harmony among those parts is relatively a “new” development. Among Christians around 2000 thousand years ago, what we regard to be harmony did not exist. Many of us would not even find their songs melodious. To us it would sound more like a reading or even a prayer. While the sounds made in their music would be strange to our hearing, the sounds made in our music would sound strange to their ears. [Even were it all in English.]

    The focus and subjects of our songs compared to the focus and subjects of their songs are different. In the few songs we have from early churches, the focus is primarily on Christ and sometimes on God. Some of our favorite songs focus on us, our dreams, our hopes, our anticipations. Likely they would find that a strange focus.

    The purpose of our songs would be strange to them. To us, songs are primarily inspirational. To them, songs were a means of confessing their faith in Christ or teaching others about Christ.

  2. They would find our communion quite strange. Let’s just say that the emphasis they placed on communion and the ways they took communion were likely quite different from our emphasis and the way we observe communion.

  3. They would find assembling in a church building quite strange. In the Roman empire, Christianity as a religion was illegal. In places where Christians were considered undesirable and dangerous, Christians of necessity had to be quite cautious about where they gathered. Where there was little or no opposition to them, they could be more open.

    They gathered in a variety of circumstances for worship. If you were converted from a Jewish background and history, you might gather in a Jewish home or in a synagogue. If you were a Christian converted with a pagan background and history, you might gather in a home, in a synagogue, or in a secretive place such as the catacombs.

    Since the major issue about Jesus among Jews was, “Is he the Messiah God promised?” and since the scriptures of the first century church were the Hebrew Bible [Old Testament to us], it was compatible for converts with a Jewish background [Jews, proselytes, God-bearers] to gather in synagogues since that would be the depository of scripture and the center of Jewish discussion about Jesus’ identity.

To me, the bottom line is this: first century Christians would not feel like they had worshipped if they came to our worship assemblies, and we would not feel like we had worshipped if we attended their worship assemblies. The differences in each setting would distract the visiting group.

  1. There is a significant change between then and now that has a powerful influence on our perception of Christianity and Christian worship assemblies.
    1. Christians existed in the first century as an identifiable community who took care of each other.
      1. They fed the widows (Acts 6).
      2. They adopted widows for total care when they had no family to care for them (1 Timothy 5:8-12).
      3. They took care of orphans (James 1:27).
      4. They opened their homes to each other (2 John 9,10).
    2. That situation reminds me in many ways of the small rural church of my childhood.
      1. I can remember when several families pooled together their Sunday lunches and had their own “small group meetings” on Sunday afternoon.
      2. I can remember when we “were there” for each other, doing what we could to be of help in times of crisis.
      3. I can remember the strength of the bond that tied us together as a functioning community of Christians who cared about each other.

  2. If this sense of community with its bonding and closeness is to exist, at least two things must be true.
    1. The congregation must be a community, not an institution.
      1. We must know each other.
      2. We must care about each other.
      3. We must help each other.
      4. The bond of genuine love must be strong among us.
    2. As a congregation, we individually must maintain a strong relationship with God.
      1. We must feel a joyful dependence on God–and see our dependence as a good thing!
      2. We must want to be Christians–we are attracted to God’s holiness!
      3. We are committed to being Jesus’ disciples–we willingly let Jesus teach us who we are, how we live, and how we think.
      4. We as a people are committed to being a particular kind of people, not just doing certain things.
      5. Our highest priority in life must be to walk in God’s paths, to behave like God’s people.

  3. How does this relate to worship? We offer God worship in two basic ways.
    1. We worship God collectively, together, as a people.
      1. That obviously occurred in the New Testament among Christians.
      2. It began in Acts 2 and continued to be reflected in the epistles–groups of Christians met together to gladly praise God for His gift of Jesus Christ.
      3. For the sake of illustration, I call your attention to 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
        1. Read with me and note one thing–the importance of their sense of togetherness in taking the Lord’s supper.
        2. Verse 17: the Corinthian Christians being together caused problems–their assemblies made Christians weaker, not stronger.
        3. Verse 18, 19–their worship actually emphasized and advanced their divisions.
        4. Verses 20, 21–instead of their being together affirming their commitment to each other and God, it only stressed their differences.
        5. Verse 22–their agenda in being together failed to emphasize their closeness as a people in Christ [despising the church of God is despising ourselves as Christ’s body].
        6. The purpose is not to satisfy a physical need for food, but to affirm your sense of community as God’s people.
        7. Verse 33–you cannot achieve God’s objective in the Lord’s supper if you do not care about each other being a part of the remembrance.
      4. Communion had two objectives:
        1. To remember what God and Jesus did for us in Jesus’ death.
        2. To affirm our relationship with each other in Christ.
        3. The Lords’ supper was to affirm a sense of belonging among ourselves, a sense of caring and togetherness, a sense of community in Christ.
    2. We as Christian persons worship God individually on a continuing, daily basis.
      1. Read with me Romans 12:1,2
        Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
      2. My personal understanding is this: they collectively were urged to accept a personal responsibility.
      3. This presentation of the physical body to God is to be on a daily basis–the injunctions that follow in Romans flows from this presentation.
      4. I make the presentation because I am moved by the enormity of God’s mercy.
      5. I make my physical body a holy sacrifice–I consciously climb up on the altar to sacrifice myself every day.
      6. By my desire, God redefines who and what I am.
      7. He gives me a new way to think and His will becomes my priority.
      8. God helps me define what is good, what is acceptable, and what is “on target” in life (focuses life).
    3. Thus worship involves two considerations in a Christian’s existence.
      1. It is a collective act in which I appreciatively declare my dependence on God and my oneness with God’s people; it is my commitment to the community of Christians.
      2. It is a daily individual act in which I surrender myself to God.
        1. All my obedience flows from this surrender to the holy God.
        2. This worship defines who and what I am in all my relationships and all interactions with other people–those who are Christians, and those who are not.

There are two questions each of us should focus on as Christians:

  1. What do I declare in my group worship?

  2. Every day do I climb on the altar and surrender myself as a holy sacrifice to God?

“Are You a King?”

Posted by on under Sermons

The Passion of the Christ

Order of Worship and Discipleship:

    Song #49 – “Great and Mighty is He”
    Song #96 – “I Stand in Awe”
    Song #97 – “I Sing Praises”


    Song #103 – “He Has Made Me Glad”
    Song #113 – “His Grace Reaches Me”


    Song #961 – “There is a Balm in Gilead”

(Luke 23)

Pilate with Jesus in 'The Passion' movieIn   The Passion of the Christ   movie, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, interviews Jesus who has been arrested and charged with treason. If Jesus claims to be the ruler of Judea, then he represents a political threat to Rome. So Pilate, who more than anything wants to remain uninvolved but also wants to avoid a riot, asks Jesus the all important question: Are You a King, then?

Reading of Luke 23:1-38

Kingdoms in Conflict







The powers at the time of Jesus (Luke 3): Luke’s complicated description of all the power players gives us a glimpse of the tense and complicated political, social, and religious environment during the ministry of Jesus. Luke description is introduction to say that into this tension and turmoil the Kingdom of God breaks in through the preaching and ministry of John who paves the way for Jesus.

Romans like Tiberius and Pilate maintained the peace of the empire through fear, coercion, and advanced technology. If you sided with Rome, life could be very, very good. But if you challenged Rome in any way, life could be very, very bad. Hail Rome for giving us fresh water through the aqueducts – but let’s not mention the fact that it is built by slaves!
Jewish leader like Herod and Philip ruled through privilege. They had Roman connections and alliances on their side. But since they were lesser powers in service of Rome, their privilege and security was easily threatened and they didn’t want to lose their lifestyle – so Herod the Great made sure to eliminate all threats even if it meant slaughter.
Religious leaders like Annas and Caiaphas earned a measure of respect in avoiding the corruptions of Herod and the political rulers of Judea. Their good lifestyle took work but it paid off. Maintaining the truth and the stability of their heritage occupied their time and passion – and if that meant they had to be exclusive and cautious then that was a small price to pay for truth.

These power-players all had their own agendas. And sometimes they were compatible but sometimes they were conflicting.

Our experience of conflicting powers: Is it really that hard to imagine the world Luke describes? Is it really that hard to imagine the world of conflicting powers that Jesus’ lived in? Isn’t this still our experience today?
We are entertained by shows that place people in situations in which they must cheat, lie, and takes sides against one another. How revealing that we call these reality shows. Is this how we perceive reality?

It is reflected in our catch-phrases:

  • Life’s Not Fair!
  • Survival of the Fittest.
  • Good guys finish last!
  • It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

These clichéd statements confess to the conflict woven into the fabric of our world. We accept as fact that there must be winners and losers. We will even compartmentalize our rules for life so that we think that compassion and the golden rule are high principles to live up to, but when it comes to business, politics, and security a different set of rules applies.
          The powers of business in this world are ordered upon conflict between management and labor. Communism is really just oppression. It doesn’t work, so consumer capitalism is the only thing that does work – it’s not perfect, but it’s all we got.
          The powers of politics in this world are based on conflict between special interests. Monarchies are always corrupt. That doesn’t work, so a two-party system that encourages bickering and debate is the only that seems to work. [How many sigh saying is it election year already?] It’s not perfect, but it’s all we got.
          The powers that involve our security seem to thrive on conflict. All of us have secret codes and passwords and ID numbers – and our security depends on who knows and who doesn’t. Our security may depend on being first in line, getting on the right side of the fence, killing the killer before he kills us. Our security in our social world may depend on what we tell others (or don’t tell others) who we befriend and who we don’t befriend. Hey, it’s not perfect – but it’s all we got. That’s just the way it is. Conflict is part of life.

          We may feel that way when we’re on the up-side of the contest, but how do we feel when we’re on the down side? How do we feel when greedy CEO’s embezzled our money and ruined our fortunes for the future? How do we feel when our political system alienates us and favors injustice? How do we feel when we are excluded and uninformed because we are no longer as valuable as we once were?
          Maybe it’s not always easy to swallow the bitter reality of this world in conflict? And does God really have anything to do with this? Where’s God in this conflict? Is he indifferent? Is he so spiritual that the earthly powers don’t really concern him?
          But what if God has stepped into the fray? (The in-breaking rule of God)

We often think that Jesus and Pilate are just "following the script" that God wrote for this moment. Jesus is a victim of the corrupt sinful system of this world. He gets chewed up and spit out by the forces of darkness because God abandons Jesus to evil. But is that really how it was? Let’s take a different perspective and consider what powers and forces hostile to God and Christ are at work leading up to this moment. What evil explains the fact that an innocent man who came to save the world is being condemned to death? What explains Jesus’ seeming reluctance to fight back?

Jesus is not on trial for what he did, but for who he is. Pilate doesn’t think that Jesus has done anything "against the law." But law-breaking isn’t the issue. Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God. It’s not a geographical, institutional, or political kingdom. Kingdom means "rule" or "reign" and it refers not merely to the visible evidence of that rule, but the authority of the ruler and the extent of the ruler’s power. But just because this "rule of God" isn’t limited to geography, politics, or institutions doesn’t mean it has no impact on those. In fact the rule of God extends over everything. It is a higher authority that tests and challenges everything in creation.
So even though the kingdom that Jesus proclaims is spiritual and not of this world, it threatens the powers and dominions that have something invested in the world order as it is – even if it isn’t perfect. [They are so threatened that they would prefer a terrorist set loose than see Jesus alive. Even Pilate goes along with this madness!]

Jesus has stepped into the ring – in this case history – (the world as we have known it and do know it.) He has crossed a line in the sand – and doing so makes enemies – It threatens those powers and kings and authorities that try to rule instead of Christ or even those that try to rule alongside of Christ.
Jesus is a threat because he is aligned with the rule of God. His very being puts him into conflict with that which is against God. Jesus is standing at Ground Zero of the conflict between God and the forces that have conspired against God. Yet, he chooses to offer few words in his defense.

"Yes it is as you say" is his answer to Pilate’s question. Why?

  • The only way for Jesus to escape the trial is to change who he is – to become something that does not threaten the power-players.
  • Jesus knows that Pilate and the priests will do whatever they want with whatever he says. Jesus knows that he is King, but Pilate and the Jewish leaders have to do more than say it or write it on a sign  - they have to submit to it! And there’s the conflict. This is the battlefield.

With a word, Christ can end the whole sorry affair. But there’s no victory in that. The weapon of Christ is not force or coercion. Christ fights with weapons that the enemy cannot manage – confidence, truth, love. Confidence in God to preserve his life, the truth about the rule of God, and love enough to invite others – even enemies – into that kingdom.

  • Jesus isn’t the one who needs to speak a word to save his life. It’s Pilate, and the Jewish leaders, and the disciples and the crowd that need to be to saved. They need to choose sides. Jesus is inviting them to say "He is King!" and mean it. How they say it, makes all the difference.

Jesus is no victim. He goes to the cross a warrior-king. He lays down his life freely to conquer the true enemy of evil … The real enemy is not Pilate, Caiaphas, or Herod. It’s not Rome or the Sanhedrin. It’s not Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals; it is not Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden. It’s not the slanderer who tells lies about you or the hacker who put a virus on your computer. They are the victims! They have aligned themselves with false powers – pretend authorities!

  • The real enemy is sin and all its products: injustice, hatred, murder, idolatry, abuse, corruption, etc. Indifference in the face of injustice or hunger is unloving and affiliation with the enemy. Adopting the enemy’s means to defeat it is alliance with the enemy. But love means stepping into the fray and sacrificing self for the liberation of captives. A heroic faith will risk self in an effort to be on God’s side because the gospel is that whatever the enemy may do to us, God will win.Mary in 'The Passion' movie
  • Victory – not a Victim. The victory of the cross is portrayed in the movie in a scene in which Mary asks the question: “Why is this night unlike all others?” The answer comes from the Passover ritual "Because once we were slaves but now we are set free."
  • The tenth-century Anglo-Saxon poem The Dream of the Rood describes the cross as a heroic, kingly victory."He is a young and confident champion striding from afar … Vigorous and single-minded, he strips himself for battle and a kingly victory. The action is entirely his, an eager sacrifice; there is no question at this point of his being nailed to the cross. Instead he climbs to embrace it." Read Colossians 2:15.

Here’s the good news: Our King went to battle to overthrow the lesser powers – and he won!

At the cross:

  • The Romans who ruled with fear thought they were ridding themselves of a renegade – but Christ wasn’t afraid of them.
  • The Jewish elites who were convinced they had the final say on truth thought they had silenced a scandal – but Christ knew the truth.
  • The crowds, the thieves, and the disciples who struggled daily to preserve their lives wondered why he didn’t save himself – but Christ was resisted the power of self-preservation and saved us from evil with love.

What Does it Mean? In Revelation, persecuted Christians are encouraged with the good news of Christ’s ultimate victory (Revelation 19), the defeat of God’s enemies (Revelation 20) and the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). Those are visions and promises of a triumphant future that served as good news for the followers of Christ, but they were a far cry from the difficult fight that these believers lived with daily. So between their present reality and the bright future, Christians were called upon do their part for the war effort. What that involved can be read in the Letters to the Seven Churches (Revelation 2-3), but in general it meant staying faithful and being willing to die for Christ (Revelation 13:8-10). To do that was to be like Christ, the Lamb that was slain, who understood that love meant doing his part to be loyal to God and defeat the foe.

  • Return of the King – "Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage." – C. S. Lewis
  • Reading of Acts 4:27-34 – Luke continues the story of the living Christ by showing how the rule of Christ the King is breaking into the world. In Acts 4 he shows how the confidence, truth, and love of Christ that overcame the kingdoms of Pilate and Herod. There’s a portrait of a community that participates in the life of Christ. They’re not afraid when they’re threatened. They are not deceived by the darkness and deception of evil. And they are able to establish loving relationship in which no one is needy because others sacrifice in love as Christ their King did for them. That’s the kingdom sabotage and in flies right in the face of the powers that oppose Christ’s rule.

The earliest confession of the Christian church was "Christ is Lord (King)!" These were more than words, this was a expression of an allegiance that sometimes alienated Christians and threw them into conflict with the powers and victims of the enemy. But those who made that confession were no victims. They had already died with Christ and they had already inherited the Kingdom of God. The received it as a generous gift.

  • Maybe you would like to invite Jesus into your life. Well, he has a better offer. He’s already stepped into the conflict of our lives and he invites us to participate in his life. By the authority and name of Lord Jesus you can enter into the kingdom of God. Death to the old conflicts and fears! A new life under a new rule with a new hope (Romans 6)! Now that’s good news!

      Invitation Song #972 – “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian”

      Closing Prayer