Overcoming the World

Posted by on April 26, 2009 under Sermons

See John 16

Click here to listen to this sermon.

This chapter reminds me of “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a comin’!” which is the title of Tony Campolo’s well-known sermon that references a sermon by his preacher, Marshal Shepard Sr. at the Mt. Olivet Church in West Philadelphia …

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a comin’. It was Friday, and my Jesus is dead on a tree. But that’s Friday, and Sunday’s a comin’. Friday, Mary’s crying her eyes out, the disciples are running in every direction like sheep without a shepherd. But that’s Friday, and Sunday’s a comin’ … Friday, people are saying, “Darkness is gonna rule the world, sadness is gonna be everywhere,” but they don’t know it’s only Friday, but Sunday’s a comin’. Even though this world is rotten, as it is right now, we know it’s only Friday. But Sunday’s a comin’.

The good news is that the cross in Friday is not the end. Sunday, the day of resurrection is coming. I want us to imagine the before and after of Friday and Sunday. Think of the cross – there is a Friday side or sorrow, suffering, fear and loss. And there’s a Sunday side where the meaning of the cross has been changed forever.

The cross is the ultimate turning point. An event of great shame and sacrifice that causes offense and fear, becomes the key to salvation and the door of hope. Using the language of John’s gospel, we might say that there is the view from below and the view from above. We see everything, the world, our life, church, even the cross from either the view from below or the view from above. Those who can see from above are those who’ve been born from above.

That’s important because historically, we live on the Sunday side of the cross. We could just set John 16 aside and say that it was written from the perspective of the Friday side when the disciples are very anxious about Jesus leaving and they will not see him anymore. But don’t forget, John wrote this Gospel on the Sunday side. He wrote it for born from above believer on the Sunday side. Why would he do that? He did that because even though we are historically on the Sunday side, in our experience, we all find ourselves on the Friday side of the cross from time to time.

John is preaching to believers beyond the first generation. He’s preaching to those who have heard but never seen. He’s preaching to you. He’s preaching to West-Ark. He’s preaching to the United States.

He says that he knows it is Friday and there is trouble in the world.

  • When the Spirit of Fear and Worry is so thick in the air that we cannot get a breath – that’s the Friday side of the cross
  • When those who hate Christ and hate the church threaten to smother those who love to talk to about Christ – that’s the Friday side of the cross
  • When the Spirit of Despair grips our chest so that we feel like we can never laugh or smile – that’s the Friday side of the cross
  • When poverty wins again because you just had a moment when you think you are going to get ahead and its slimy tendril pull you back under – that’s the Friday side of the cross
  • When the sorrow overcomes you and you turn back to the pills, the drink, the sex, the party – anything to numb the pain of loneliness and to silence the tapes playing constantly in your head mocking you in your own voice – that’s the Friday side of the cross

That’s the Friday side of the cross. We’ve all been there. Jesus said, In this world you will have trouble (16:33). Isn’t it strange how we try to avoid admitting that. Maybe we assume that good people don’t do that. Maybe we just try and put a lid on it. We want to belong to church so that we can take heart. We want to belong to church so that others on the Friday side of the cross can lift us up to the view from above – so that we can get to the Sunday side. We want to hold someone’s hand while we breathe through the pain like that woman in childbirth. We know that sorrow will turn to joy.

But Jesus is warning us that sometimes the trouble comes not from the world, but from inside the church. When the church is on the Friday side of the cross looking at the cross from below, there will be real sorrow.

Jesus told his disciples to get ready for the time when they would be cast out of the synagogue. He told them to even prepared for the fact that sincere but mistaken people would consider it a righteous act to kill believers in Jesus. This warning never expired. It applied directly to the generation of believers who worshipped in the synagogue with their Jewish brothers and sisters. They would experience sorrow and suffering from those who claimed to worship the God.

But the warning never expired. Through the ages and even in our own day we experience sorrow from within the church. The church that claims to fight and struggle in God’s name, but they cannot see the cross from above. They cannot leave Friday and get to Sunday.

  • In 1907, a Brother Harris in the Bellwood, TN Church of Christ published a letter in the Gospel Advocate. He was complaining to E.A. Elam (a member in his own congregation) because the Elam’s had adopted a child who just happened to be black. Harris asked Elam to send the girl to a different congregation so that there would be peace in the congregation. He concludes one of his letters, “I tried to write this in the spirit of Christ, I know; for I hate to see strife in the church. We would like everything to be run nicely and in order.” Brother Harris was stuck on the Friday side of the cross – he only knew sorrow and worry, he had no hope. I hope he figured out that Sunday was coming to Bellwood. Read more through this link.
  • Changing the Locks Story
  • A few years ago I visited with a woman named Darlene who was dying of cancer. Some of the members of our congregation had befriended her but she had questions and wanted to talk to the minister. She told me about her experience of Friday below the cross. Not only was her sorrow for the cancer and the pain, she was also concerned about her soul. She was afraid that God did not hear her prayers. Why? I wondered. It was because Darlene had grown up with well-meaning but misinformed people who claimed to follow God. According to them, one had to pray with tongues or with the spirit with exuberance – and Darlene just couldn’t do that. All she knew how to pray was the Lord’s Prayer. Those people who prayed so well and sincerely wanted to speak to God had cast Darlene out. They left her on the Friday side of the cross, but Darlene started talking to her Father and found out that Sunday is coming.
  • Disfellowshiping the Divorced Story – They realized that they could honor God’s ways, but did not have to add the shame and sorrow of exclusion to the sorrow of broken marriage. They decided to take heart and overcome the world.

Inside the church and outside the church we are looking for the quick fixes that will make the sorrow go away. We want the pill, the book, the verse, the plan, the cash, the bill or the amendment that will make it all go away. We want to jump from Friday straight into Sunday. Jesus doesn’t say there will be a quick fix. He says that we will see him again, not right away, but in a little while.

Jesus says that only in him can we have peace. Only in him can sorrow turn to joy. When the world cranks up its hate and fear, When the church seems to be acting like the world , When we find ourselves standing below the cross on Friday – Jesus calls to us from Sunday and says – “Take heart, I have overcome the world!”

Jesus Often Did the Unusual

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The above text is among the curious gospel statements about Jesus. Jesus and the 12 toured Jewish cities and villages teaching about the kingdom of heaven. A group of women accompanied who helped support these men by contributing from private funds. On this tour the women were among those who had been healed of demonic possession and sicknesses. Mary Magdalene also was mentioned as being among the group of women from Galilee who followed Jesus at the time of his crucifixion (see Matthew 27:55, 56; Luke 23:49).

That produces some interesting questions. Why did Jesus allow these women to associate with him in public? In Jewish society then, a woman was not to be in public with a man. This socially unacceptable practice was forbidden and contained enormous danger for misunderstanding. Whyever would Jesus permit that?

Why those kinds of women? Most of what we know about biblical references to evil spirits is speculation. Evidently, unclean spirits, demonic spirits, and evil spirits refer to the same phenomena. Though there are differing views about whom these evil spirits entered or why evil spirits entered such persons, there is common consensus that evil spirits represented Satan and his interests, not God and His interests.

Were you a person possessed of an evil spirit in Jesus’ ministry, and Jesus cast that spirit out of you, how grateful would you be? Were you a Jewish woman who was so blessed, and were you restricted in ways to express your gratitude, what would you do?

A way to express gratitude in keeping with the good received was to minister to Jesus and his work. Would you be grateful? Oh, yes! Would you wish to show your gratitude? Oh, yes! Would you wish to express gratitude in keeping with the good you received? Oh, yes! Interestingly, these women served, they served honorably, and they expressed their gratitude in serving Jesus and the 12 as these men taught about God’s kingdom. Mary had seven of these evil spirits removed!

Lessons: (1) Jesus permitted gratitude. (2) Gratitude was expressed in service. (3) No one had been too bad to help! (4) Great helpfulness produced profound gratitude! Is that also true with you?

Your Servant Is Listening

Posted by on April 19, 2009 under Sermons

1 Samuel 3

  • Samuel listens to God
    – Samuel = “God has heard”
  • Time of crisis – No word from God
  • Eli’s house will not endure
  • Samuel becomes a prophet

Shifts in Succession

The Lost Ark – chapters 4, 5, 6

    1. The loss of the Ark means that God is not with Israel
    2. It also suggests that there is a power greater than Israel
    3. Who can rescue God? God.
    4. This is similar to the Exodus (gold tribute) – Philistines learned Pharaoh’s lesson.
    5. Cows who would not be separated from calves
    6. 70 Israelites killed – Israel is not God’s keeper.
    7. This is the gospel also – Christ descended and ascended

1 Samuel 7

  • Restoration of Israel
    – Spiritual Revival (fasting, sacrifice)
    – Get rid of false gods
    – Overcome Philistia (political threat)
    – Time of peace
  • Samuel becomes a judge

Vine and Branches

Posted by on under Sermons

Read John 15:1-17.

The Connection: Vine and Branches

  • Jesus at the end of John 14 said, “Let’s get going.”
  • Jesus is the Way to the Father. His life has a purpose and we are called to follow.
  • The branches are connected to the vine

Notice that Jesus has an agenda.

  • Agenda is purpose and mission
  • Jesus is risen and that means that Jesus is active. He is not the Jesus who died and went to heaven.
  • If we are the branches and remain in him then we must follow him as he moves forward with his activity.

We are friends. We are not servants.

  • Servants do not ask questions. They do not know their master’s business. Friends are on the inside.
  • Friendship is relationship. A connection like vine and branches.
  • Friends respond to another friend out of relationship, not simply in terms of obligation or reward.
    • Good friends share their hearts.
    • Good friends can finish each others sentences.
    • Good friends draw together even when it is difficult to be friends, not just when its easy.
    • Good friends put their lives on the line – not just for ultimate sacrifice, but for daily sacrifice.
  • We are expected to act like Jesus’ friends. We are expected to be friends.

Jesus has a direction/agenda + We are his friends

  • So what is his agenda?
  • What have we seen Jesus doing?
    • Healing the sick,
    • giving sight to the blind,
    • feeding the hungry,
    • reaching out to the outcast
    • forgiving the sinful,
    • restoring people to community,
    • raising the dead.
  • And Jesus wasn’t afraid to cross longstanding boundaries to do all of this. He went into Samaria, he forgave a woman caught in adultery, he held accountable the scribes and teachers and many of them were offended because it didn’t fit their expectations.
  • To sum it up, the agenda is love. A risky, world-changing, life-changing love. Love that embodies the spirit of God

Bearing Fruit

  • We are expected to bear fruit. Jesus chose us so that we would bear fruit. Vine and branches …
  • We can do nothing apart from Christ, so we must remain in him.
  • Considering the sort of agenda that Jesus has in this world, what sort of fruit are we to bear? It would be evidence of being connected to Jesus of course.
  • Bearing Fruit means putting Jesus’ teaching into practice. When we bear fruit we show that we are Jesus’ disciples – that means follower, learner.
  • If we want to remain in his love then we will obey his commands – but not like servants. We obey like friends who regard these commands as teachings for life. Who follow because we know Jesus and are known by Jesus.
  • Jesus sums up his teaching with a single command: Love one another.
    • And he doesn’t mean a good feeling, he means the sort of relationship and action that bears fruit. Doing what Jesus did in our life and our world.
    • And he isn’t exclusive about it. It isn’t limited to “members” or the inner circle.
  • We might look at the works of Jesus and disconnect ourselves from the miraculous. But Jesus said that if trust in him then we will be able to do even greater things.
    • The point of the miracle stories is love – not power.
    • The multiplying of loaves and fishes is a means to an end and the end is compassion for those who are hungry.
    • Restoring sight to the blind man was all about glorifying God.
    • Raising Lazarus from the dead was all about the power of the resurrection life that is rooted.
  • Let’s think about what that means …
    • If you have people who work for you and you treat them more than fairly, with respect and love – that’s bearing fruit
    • If you are a father or mother and you share your faith with your children by having the sort of character and patience that they respect – that’s bearing fruit
    • If you have an opportunity to forgive someone who has done you wrong and you really do so – that’s bearing fruit
    • If you treat a friend, a co-worker, a classmate with respect rather than ridicule (to their face or behind their back) – then that’s obeying Jesus. That’s bearing fruit.
    • If you visit the house of an elderly neighbor and cast out worry or loneliness – that’s bearing fruit.
    • If you keep your heart pure and in doing so keep your covenant to your wife or your parents – that’s bearing fruit
    • If you make contact with someone you’ve wronged or insulted and re-establish a relationship – that’s bearing fruit.
    • If you show understanding and refuse to jump to anger (even when it’s a church matter) – that’s bearing fruit

So what?

  • [Apple Tree story]
  • Being healthy = bearing fruit.
  • If we are Jesus’ friends, then we will bear fruit.
  • If we do not bear fruit, then we are not acting like his friends.
  • If we don’t follow … That is if we don’t bear fruit … Then we are cut off.
  • Even if we do bear fruit then we are pruned. That’s tough, but the process leads to bearing more fruit.
  • But if we aren’t bearing fruit then we are cut off from the branch.

Lord, What Did You Intend?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

God called Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), and Abraham listened. By God’s action, Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had 12 sons, and from those 12 sons came Israel. Through Israel God sent Jesus who, by God’s intent, brought a blessing to all humans. That was God’s intent from the call of Abraham (see Genesis 12:3b, 22:18, Acts 3:25, and Galatians 3:16).

God solved a problem: the problem was produced by human rebellion that perverted His good creation. Nothing is the same since that rebellion! We could not “fix” the results of human rebellion! The human inclination continually seems to be toward evil, not God’s purposes! Too often we exploit God’s goodness as we are motivated by greed and an insatiable appetite for pleasure. What was impossible for us to solve of ourselves, God, in His incredible love, solved for us with mercy shown in divine forgiveness.

For what purpose? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the 12 sons, and Israel served God’s intent. Jesus served God’s purpose. So did the 12 apostles, Paul, John Mark, Timothy, Titus, Acquila and Priscilla, the early church, etc. What about you?

To be God’s people is bigger than a clique, a group, a society, or even a nation. To be God’s people means God is allowed to work through us to bless our relationships- family, friends, the unknowns we meet, jobs, neighbors, the church, society, the nation, and the world. Because of God working through us, all we touch is blessed because of our relationship with God. Our reason for existing: to proclaim His excellencies because He enlightens our lives. You are a Christian because you are dedicated to God working through Jesus Christ in your life. That good is produced by nothing else!

Nowhere should that be more obvious than when people blessed by divine mercy assemble to worship the patient God who gave us Jesus Christ. Do you exist to allow your life to proclaim His excellencies? Or, do you exist to attempt to use God? Can people see the benefit of belonging to God by observing your behavior and your worship? Is God’s goodness obvious in your life as you worship and as you interact?

The Easter Rescue

Posted by on April 12, 2009 under Sermons

Captain Phillips of Maersk AlabamaMaersk Alabama
Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama, was rescued today from pirates.

Only by dying could He break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could He set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15

Victorious Christ

  • Acts 2:27-34
  • 1 Peter 3:18-22
  • Ephesians 4:8-10
  • Hebrews 2:11-18

Let’s Get Going

Posted by on under Sermons

“Children’s Sermon”

  • Have the children pick up the cards with words. Each has an opposite. Let them find their opposite and pair up.
  • John’s gospel is a gospel of opposites. Explain some of them.
  • One of these is important for today and every day as we strive to be a “resurrection people”: Alive and Dead. Resurrection people live life abundantly. Jesus is alive, not dead.
  • Even though the gospel is about opposites, sometimes God creates a third way that is more than just a simple opposite. [Bring out the RISEN card.]
  • Here’s a third option that we would not normally consider. Here is a way that is only God’s Way. Jesus is risen, never to die again. That goes beyond simply being alive.

Read John 14.

Jesus went away, but he is coming back. In the meantime, he has given us another encourager. The first one was Jesus. The second is the Holy Spirit.

  1. The Spirit enables us to see Jesus. 14:19 – Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live.
    • This is a vision rooted in faith, not information or sensory input.
    • We believe that Christ is alive. So, he is with us.
    • We become aware of the presence and the activity of the Risen Jesus.
    • Phillip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
    • Jesus replied, “How long have I been with you – don’t you know me by now?”
    • Do we really know Jesus? Or do we just know about him? If we just know about him, then we cannot see him.

    “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” – 14:6-7

  2. The Spirit teaches us to hear what Jesus taught and to do it.
    • This goes back to his mother Mary who told those servants to “do whatever He says.”
    • Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative-that is, the Holy Spirit-he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. – 14:23-26
  3. The Spirit encourages us to do what Jesus does. To do what he did. We believe what Jesus taught — but more than that, we do what Jesus taught us. We believe it and we put it into action.
    • “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! – 14:12-14
    • Jesus is inviting us to do greater things than even he did on earth. He isn’t intimidated by that – his message is that since he has returned to the Father, there is a greater connection than ever between heaven and earth.
    • Jesus is beyond space and time, he is beyond life and death and through the spirit he would do great works through us – right here and now.
    • I want to show you a video that we’ve prepared that takes the words of a song called “God of This City” and makes it real for us. Understand that God can and will work through us right here and now. In the words of the song … For greater things have yet to come, And greater things are still to be done, In this city
  4. The Spirit teaches us everything and reminds us of everything that Jesus told us.
    • We live in a world that is sometimes hostile to the Spirit. We could get troubled and afraid, or we could accept the peace of mind and peace of heart that is the gift of Christ (v. 27)
    • (vv. 30-31) “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.

Let’s get going. . . .

Removing The Stinger

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Last weekend was, in specific ways, a difficult time for Joyce and me. For one thing (speaking for me), I felt very old. When I am among people ten years older, and I am the “decrepit” one, I tend to feel old! When older people feel compelled to assist me [and I need it], I tend to feel old! When people who were kids when I was a young adult have retired, I tend to feel old! Who knows-maybe I am old, even if I refuse to admit it! [No way-when I am old, I will know it (maybe)!]

It was a difficult time because three friends died. One was a friend for 35 years with no children, a husband who died years ago, and no siblings. The second was a friend who blessed us for 47 years. He left a family who loved him dearly. The third was someone we only had known 12 years, but we loved and appreciated deeply-as did many of you!

  • We were not surprised at Wilma Brummet’s death.
  • Dr. James Carr, at 95, was one of those persons you expect to keep living.
  • Retha Wood was a shock! She died so quickly! She blessed us so much with her faith, her humor, and her kindness. She was the type of person you want to say, “No! You can’t die! All of us need you too much!”

    One of the difficult things in physical life is saying “good-bye” to people we love and appreciate. Nothing makes that easy-not words, not distractions, not anything. The more we love and appreciate, commonly the more difficult death is.

    Years ago I heard of a person who spent hours catching wasps and taking their stingers out in order to play a practical joke. He scared some people silly who imagined they were in danger.

    In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God took death’s stinger out-no joke! Death is a time of grief for the physical. However, death leads to resurrection for those who die. Never forget we focus on life! Never forget we are resurrection people. Bottom line, that is why we place our hope in Jesus Christ! The danger was real, but God took care of it.

  • The Urgency of Choosing Wisely

    Posted by on April 2, 2009 under Bulletin Articles

    The choices we make in life are critical. Often what appears as a simple choice of no consequence becomes an important choice of multiple consequences. Choices made early in life seem insignificant because numerous options seem to be a part of living. “After all, we always seem to have numerous options that come with most of our decisions. If we choose poorly, big deal! We will just make another choice.”

    Choices are not as easily undone! (a) A choice resulting in an addiction [regardless of the kind of addiction] rarely is simple to abandon because it is powerful. (b) Choices that require an investment of resources often devour those resources. Would you use your credit or savings differently if five years ago you saw the recession coming? (c) Choices which require time do not return time if abandoned. Time spent is life lost!

    As life diminishes, one’s choices diminish. As time and life pass, the person is reduced to living from the choices he or she has made. How often have you met a person over fifty years of age that does not wish “I could go back and do this differently.” Fortunate is the person who has only one such thing! What we all discover is this: “I can change me right now, but I cannot change how I used the past.” Even if we have the joys of changing “now,” we still have the “sorrows” of a lost past. The joys of “now” are real, but so are the “sorrows” of a misused past.

    The Israelites knew many blessings from God: the ten miracles that released them from slavery, the crossing of the sea, the sustaining and guidance in the wilderness, and the gift of Canaan. Yet, they either took God for granted (“Look at how important we are!”), or they rebelled against God (“We will do things our way!”). The result: centuries later their descendants continued to pay for their ancestors’ bad choices.

    Choose soberly and wisely-you and your descendants will be affected powerfully by the choices you make. The more God is incorporated in your decisions, the more good choices you will make!