Archive for April, 2012


What are You Afraid of?

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The second post resurrection saying of Jesus cuts straight to the heart of where many of us regularly live. Check this out:

Early on Sunday morning,a as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there” (Matthew 28:1-10, NLT)

Jesus second saying? “Don’t be afraid!” It’s interesting how somethings never change. What are you afraid of? Some of our fears are common place, such as snakes, spiders and mice. But many of us are gripped by fears that lie beneath the surface of our skin. What do we know about these phobias? For one, most of our fears are false. In the late 1980’s I attended a conference and heard motivational speaker Zig Ziglar say that fear was an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Not only are our fears usually false, our fears are usually negative. No one says, “I’m afraid I’m going to earn too much money” or “I’m afraid all my dreams will come true.”

How does the risen Lord help us deal with fear? There are three things from the text that are helpful to us. The first is worship. Worship is beneficial in that it increases and magnifies the greatness of God. One lesson we learn from the story of David and Goliath is that the size of your giant in life depends upon the size of your God. When we regularly engage in the spiritual discipline of worship, God becomes literally larger than life and all that life throws at us.

Not only does the practice of worship help us deal with fear, faith helps us as well. Did you notice the simple phrase, “just as He said” in the passage quoted above? Three times in the last six months of his ministry Jesus predicted that he would be killed and rise from the dead on the third day. Unfortunately the disciples forgot what Jesus had said as his claims became swallowed up in the sea of circumstances that surrounded the first Easter weekend. Until God’s voice becomes the prevailing voice in your life you will face fear after fear. In reality, we don’t overcome our fears. We replace our fears with faith in what God has said.

The final piece of the story is obedience. Jesus summonsed his followers to meet in Galilee. Why Galilee? If the disciples wouldn’t go to Galilee to see the risen Lord, they wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth on behalf of the risen Lord.

Worship, faith, and obedience. That’s how Jesus’ followers overcame their fear. After the giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, fear evaporated. While the gospels record numerous times the disciples huddled in fear, fear is virtually absent from the Acts of the Apostles. Have you ever noticed that? Do you wonder why? I think its because Jesus’ followers had such a high view of the risen Lord that no other voice mattered. Proverbs 1:7 states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. When the fear of the Lord is absent from our lives we become enslaved to lesser fears. If you’re struggling with fear, don’t focus on the fear. Focus on the God who created and sustains the universe. He’s the same God that knows you by name.

Categories : Fear, Jesus, Resurrection
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Who are You Looking For?

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It’s hard to get a clear read on the disciple’s reaction to the crucifixion. Three times during the last six months of his ministry, Jesus plainly said that he would be delivered up by wicked men who would crucify him, but that on the third day he would rise again. He didn’t make this prediction is veiled terms. He said it plain and simple.

The image that the gospel record seems to convey, however, is that the disciples and those closest to Christ were either hiding in fear or waiting for the Sabbath to pass so they could resume their ordinary existences. John chapter 20 is no exception. The chapter begins with the exciting account of the resurrection, then sharpens the focus on Mary Magdalene who had gone to the garden to finish the burial preparations for the body of Jesus.

Mary is an important character whose story is interwoven through the story of Christ. Some scholars believe that she is the woman famously “caught in adultery” in John 7:53-8:11 (look it up!). Luke reports that Jesus had at one time cast seven demons from her. She had a sketchy past, and her life of loyal devotion is evidence that she had experienced an uncommon transformation. She certainly knew Christ and was as familiar with him as anyone could have been.

The reader is surprised by her surprise that the stone has been rolled away and that the body is missing. She is confronted by a man she assumes is a gardener and inquires where the body of Jesus had been taken. It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name that she recognized the risen Lord. Sometimes the tears in our eyes can distort the images of reality right in front of us.

With one word Mary experienced a complete reversal. Who are you looking for? The good news of Easter is that Jesus remains at the tomb, challenging us to look inside and discover the power of a new beginning.

Categories : Easter, Resurrection
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The Seven NEXT Sayings of Christ

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The week after Easter I began a new series titled The Seven Next Sayings of Christ. Many are familiar with the seven last sayings of Christ He uttered on the cross. But I wanted to focus on the first post resurrection comments from Christ because I felt they were timely and appropriate for where we are in culture today.

While I take credit for the content of the sermons, I cannot take credit for the concept. I came across a book by the same title several years ago written by a pastor named Shane Stanford. I liked his approach and immediately thought it had the potential to be an important post Easter series that would lead our church up to those summer months.

For the majority of my ministry I’ve tried to plan my preaching calendar in 4-12 week increments. I like to know where I’m going, and those of you who communicate regularly know the terrible feeling that looks week in and week out at the most important book ever published and utter, “I can’t think of anything to preach.” Planning series certainly is a tremendous time saving measure, for sure. But the second major benefit it that it helps keep me balanced. Everyone has a homiletical hobby horse that comes easily or naturally. Every pastor also has subjects (ahem…stewardship) that they would simply prefer to never address. Planning helps make sure that congregations get a balanced diet.

Those of you who regularly follow my blog by dedication or by subscription know that the lion’s share of my posts are reflections of the previous week’s sermon. You are also aware of the fact that I’ve been out of routine these past couple of weeks, and for that I apologize. I hope to get caught up over the next several days and continue to share through this forum. Thank you for your support and encouraging feedback. If no one ever read it, I’d still enjoy the practice. The fact that you do read it is icing on the cake.

Categories : Preaching
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The Domesticated Church

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Last Wednesday night I spoke to the InterVarsity students at Drake University. Drake IV invited the students from Central College to come over, so we ended up having a nice sized group. Since I didn’t have an assigned topic, I chose to speak about Todd Packer. Unless you watch The Office, you’ll not know who Todd Packer is. Todd Packer is a role character that drops in on the plot from time to time. Packer can only be described by words like crude, unseemly, inappropriate, vile, profane, and irreverent. In his first appearance Todd Packer is introduced as a long time friend of Michael Scott. Packer had been on the road doing sales for Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company, but was ready to settle down and work out of the Scranton office. Michael manipulates the system to get Packer hired, and instantly he upsets the delicate balance of an already fragile office with his antics and crude behavior. When the office employees begin to voice their complaints about Packer, Michael Scott agrees that Packer has to settle down. So Michael pulls Packer aside for a heart to heart talk that goes something like this: “Todd, you’ve been an outdoor cat for a long time. Now you have to be an indoor cat.”

What Michael was saying was that Packer had to comply with the standards and norms of the office if he intended to work there. Todd Packer, however, could not be domesticated. This, in part, is what troubles the church in America. We reach out to people, inviting them to Christ, then engage them in some form of discipleship process. Many times all this does is domesticate the faith of people so they can live like “indoor cats.”

That was Jesus’ problem. Jesus refused to be domesticated. He spent disproportionate amounts of time with the marginalized and neglected in his first century world compared to the few recorded instances that He spent at “church.” He lived as an outdoor cat among outdoor cats, an act for which He would eventually be killed by the indoor cats. Undomesticated cats, after all, are disturbing forces wherever they are. Jesus was certainly no exception.

The larger conversation for me leads back to the missional church. The missional church is passionate about being God’s plan for an undomesticated world. It invites believers to live among the undomesticated, meeting them at their point of need. It’s not about gathering, its about sending.

Following my talk last Wednesday one offended student approached me to defend the practices of her church. I did not discount all of the processes she described nor did I criticize those of the congregation who faithfully ran the bases for Jesus. The missional church is not about processes, its about intended outcomes. If the goal is to gather and get bigger, its not the missional church. But if the goal is to develop and release people to be the presence of Christ in the reality of a 24/7 world, then we’re on to something. At the end of the day we’re either seeking to make people like Christ or we’re seeking to make them like us. And if the goal is to make them like Christ, the outcome is unavoidable. They will live as disturbing forces for God and for good beyond the walls of the church building.

The latest issue of Leadership Journal is devoted to articles and interviews on how social activism introduces people to Jesus. Drew Dyck offers an appropriate editorial opening to the volume, suggesting that the Church once again needs to revisit the conversation that historically has polarized the gospel and social ministry.

Dyck reminds his readers that for some time the Church has failed to find its balance between the two. In my own experience, I’ve witnessed both extremes. One one hand there is the deep commitment to make sure that the “gospel” of Jesus is clearly presented to those in the community. By gospel presentation, of course, I mean the message of the cross and resurrection is preached in a manner that leads the hearer to respond in faith through a commitment, usually made in a prayer for salvation. Hardline evangelicals have sought to reverence the Great Commission so stringently that they have omitted the physical needs of those in the community.

On the other hand is the equally deep commitment to meet the social and physical needs of people in the community. Food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, shelter for the homeless, et al, is their understanding of the gospel. Jesus modeled this, of course, and furthermore extended harsh words of judgment toward those who neglect the pleas of those trapped in cycles of poverty. “Unto the least of these” rings in the ears of those who are passionate about social justice. As far as salvation of souls is concerned, that is God’s job to deal with, being the ultimate and final judge.

For decades the American church has failed to find balance. Hardline evangelicals are becoming more aware of the necessity to respond to human need. And it appears that many who have been committed to social activism are becoming sensitive to the need to share more than cups of cold water.

What is the problem? I think both sides of the spectrum to some degree suffer from the same problem. We have forgotten who its about.

By that I mean that we have made the gospel and the social imperative about ourselves more than about Jesus or those in need. On one hand we have passionate evangelists, who feel as though they are unfulfilled unless they have some tangible marker that they can use to justify their ministry. These markers are things such as conversions, baptisms, and attendance increases. Unless there is statistical data to support their behavior and expenditures, it is counted as loss. One of my first ministry responsibilities was Recreation Ministry. We organized sports teams for all ages, many of which were very successful. These teams provided an opportunity for people in our church to invite unchurched people to take a step toward Christ. When I commented to one pastor about one particular successful season, he responded by saying, “I see your trophies, but where are your souls?”

But its not just the evangelists who suffer from myopia. Those who engage the social mandate can equally make their endeavors about themselves. When my former church began to do work on a Native American reservation, one of the first things we discovered was how insensitive many had been who had visited them. “They come in and do some things so they can go home and feel good about themselves,” they said. “They bring us worn out, used broken stuff they don’t want and then leave so they can go home and tell everyone what they did.” We learned that true compassion returns time and time again to the same places and people. Every mission trip I’ve taken, whether it be in America or internationally concludes the same way: “Will you come back?”

I’m not advocating that you or your church make a choice. It’s not either/or. It’s both /and. How can we fearlessly share the gospel AND demonstrate radical compassion? The answer may determine the future of the next generation of the church.


I AM the Resurrection and Life

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Each of us has experienced the pain that enters our hearts when someone we love passes from this life. We are too familiar with the experience of mourning: black clothes and black cars; hushed voices speaking in solemn tones; flowers whose brilliant colors are drained as we view them through and endless flow of tears. It’s hard for us to let go, and hard to say good bye. Comforters come and go, yet the grief remains fresh with strength. Finally, the inevitable silence comes. There are no more tears. Just the deafening sound of silence.

Even those of us who have found our hope in Jesus Christ still mourn, feeling the pain and anguish of loss and separation. The school bus drives down the street, yet there is no stop in front of the house. Rush hour traffic dwindles into twilight, yet no car arrives in the driveway. Busy feet rush through the back door, yet there is no kiss of welcome. And worst of all, there is an empty place at the table. Death draws clear lines of separation for people of faith and unbelievers alike.

John chapter 11 tells the story of a man named Lazarus who became very sick. His sisters sent word to Jesus, begging him to come to Lazarus’ aid. Yet the Lord delayed his arrival. Why did Jesus do that? Even the Jews who were in attendance at the funeral acknowledged that the man who could restore sight to blind eyes could have prevented Lazarus’ death (John 11:37). Yet the Lord delayed his arrival. Jesus love for Lazarus had been an open love. When Mary and Martha requested that Jesus come, the messenger reported, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3). The gospel writer also tells us, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). At the tomb of Lazarus, as Jesus joined the family and wept with them the Jews exclaimed, “Behold how he loved him” (John 11:36). Jesus’ delay was not a deficiency of love.

Martha, Lazarus sister, struggled like we struggle with separation. She boldly approached the Lord and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Lovingly, the Lord looked into her moist eyes and said, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). Martha, engulfed in the present separation of the moment was not immediately comforted. Brushing aside her tears she said, “I know–someday, a not so near and very far away someday–he will rise” (John 11:24). Jesus caught her eye again and proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Martha, filled with faith, desperately wanting to find security in Jesus simply confessed, “I believe (John 11:27).

With great reverence Jesus approached the tomb. He sighed deeply and commanded the stone to be removed. The stone that covered the tomb was a tangible reminder of separation. The stone that covered the tomb was the ongoing memorial of the separation that death had brought. It was designed to keep Lazarus from all of the family members and friends who loved him. “Take away the stone!” At the command of Jesus, the stone of separation was removed. Jesus looked up into the heavens and prayed. With a deep cry that pierced through the sorrow of separation, Jesus wailed, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43). At the powerful and loving word of Jesus the night gave way to dawning and the desperation of separation gave way to hope and togetherness.

In some rural areas of the midwest, many of the country people have a simple tradition. While the calendar marks Memorial Day, to these it is called Decoration Day. It’s a time when people go to modest cemeteries and place flowers on the stones of separation. Those marble monuments, tombstones we call them, stand on bright green grass fresh from winter’s sleep. To the right there is a stone which marks the separation of husband and wife. To the left, a stone that marks the separation of a parent and child. Across the well measured row stands another that marks the separation of friends or neighbors who took time to share both the joys and struggles of life. Those markers are bittersweet reminders. They are markers of separation indeed, but they are also reminders that Jesus has promised us that the separation that death brings is not permanent.

This past week we celebrated Easter and the resurrection of the Lord. On the first day of the week, the Bible tells us that the women made their way to the garden tomb to finalize the burial preparation for Jesus. When they arrived, the stone of separation had been rolled away. An angel of the Lord sat victoriously atop the rock. Because of Jesus resurrection, we never need to fear the stones of separation ever again. While they exist, they are not permanent. They are markers of hope that remind us of the promise that what Jesus experienced in resurrection is shared with us. There is life on the other side of death, all because of resurrection. And this is our hope!

Categories : Easter, I AM, Jesus, John, Resurrection
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Word Pictures from Psalm 30

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This week I spent some time in Psalm 30, and during my study discovered a couple of really interesting word pictures that I’d never seen before. The first one came in verse 3, which in the NLT reads, “You have brought me up from the grave, O Lord…” The imagery here by David is that of drawing water from a well.

This discovery took me back to my childhood. As a kid my parents would take me to visit my maternal grandparents who lived a very simple rural life. In fact they didn’t have indoor plumbing until I was in junior high. With no rural water co-op available, they had a well from which they drew their water. I remember watching my dad and my uncle dig the well. My grandfather, believe it or not, used a water witch to find the spot where he wanted the well dug and then the shoveling commenced. Once they dug the well they lined it with old brick and capped it with a hand crank pump. I remember taking the water bucket to the well and cranking that pump until water began to dribble out of the spout. The dribble turned into a trickle, followed by a steady stream. That picture of drawing water from a well is how David described his deliverance from illness. God “drew him up” from his sick bed and restored his health.

The second word picture came as a pleasant surprise from the most famous verse in the Psalm. Verse 5 says, “”Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” In this verse, weeping is presented as an unwelcome overnight guest that rises and departs with the break of day. The ESV captures this a bit better, translating the verse, “Weeping may tarry for the night…” This imagery changes the focus of the verse from weeping to the source of weeping, and reminds the reader that while we may experienced problems in life, those problems are temporary; they come and go. Grace is forever.

Categories : Bible Study, Psalms
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by Calvin Miller

On with Friday’s grisly business!
Let the broad arm raise the sledge!
Let the hammer ring out upon the nails.
I must not flinch with the crimson flows–
He’s only a carpenter–a craftsman who claimed too much.
“I need a black nail, soldier.”
Give me your hand, carpenter. What a strange man you are!
You stretch forth your hand too eagerly–too willingly, as though
I was going to shake it, not nail it to a tree.
Steady, man. The first stroke of the hammer is easiest for me
and hardest for you.
For me the first blow meets only the resistance of soft flesh.
The hardwood beneath drives much slower.
For you the first blow is the worse.
It brings the ripping pain and the bright gore.
The wood beneath your wrist does not feel and bleed as you do.

Categories : Uncategorized
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A Psalm for Maundy Thursday

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A Psalm for Maundy Thursday
by Joseph Bayley

Lord Jesus Christ
You sat at supper
with Your friends.
It was a simple meal
that final one
of lamb
unleavened bread
and wine.
You went out to die.
How many other meals you shared
beside the lake
fried fish and toasted bread
at Simon’s banquet hall a feast
at Lazarus’ home in Bethany
the meal that Martha cooked
on mountain slope
where You fed hungry crowd
at close of tiring day.
Please sit with us tonight
at our small meal
of soup and rolls and tea.
Then go with us
to feast of bread and wine
that You provide
because afterward
You went out to die.

Categories : Uncategorized
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Three Elements for Travel

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Do you remember your first car? Mine was a 1972 Chevy Impala, two door hardtop. It was candy apple red with a white top and black interior. I think the car stereo I installed was probably worth more than the car itself. I remember driving around on summer Saturday nights, windows down, stereo blaring, with no particular place to go. Cruising the streets of a small midwestern town was an art form. Aimlessly driving, wasting precious gas (which at that time was 54.9 per gallon), only stopping to talk to others who had stopped as well.

Life as an adult isn’t as aimless. When you grow up, you get student loans, spouses, jobs, mortgages, kids, and other demands that call for responsible behavior. As an adult, I’ve learned that there are three essential elements for travel. First, you have to have a mode of transportation. Planes, trains, and automobiles, for example. Of course walking counts, but only for trips farther than the fridge. Second, you have to have a route that helps you have direction so that you don’t get off course. Finally, you have to have a destination. Those three things are essential to travel. Unless you still enjoy the occasional aimless trek.

Those three elements of travel help me understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me ” (John 14:6). In this simple statement Jesus claimed to be our mode of transportation, our route, as well as our destination. If we lack any one of the three elements we will not find success. Lacking any one of these, I believe, also explains the spiritual aimlessness in our nation today. It takes all three, and Jesus perfectly embodies each one.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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