Believing in Miracles

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” – Mark 16: 8

By the time you read this, we should be on the other side of Easter. In one sense, I suppose we have always been on the other side of Easter. We know the events of Jesus’ resurrection. We have celebrated Easter more than once. We come on Easter Sunday expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.

But such was not the case with most of Jesus’ followers. To them, despite Christ’s revelations about what would happen, they were caught off guard when it actually came true. They didn’t see it coming.

John 20:9         for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Luke 24:6+       Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’… 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 

Mark 16:8      they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid

At that rate, it is amazing that the Christian faith ever got off the ground. If seeing a resurrection doesn’t do it for you, I am not sure what would. It can be good to be naturally suspicious, but at some point, to be a follower of Christ, you can’t “return home”. You have to believe. After Easter, those disciples who didn’t understand at first, eventually all bought into the resurrection and believed. And not just an “I do”. The resurrection pushed them to live and die for Christ. C. S. Lewis notes that Christianity is a faith dependent on miracles. Take out the birth, life and resurrection of Jesus; and you have little left to live for. When you believe the miracle, life changes.

It is interesting to me, that one group of people did expect the resurrection. We read in Matthew 27 that the enemies of Jesus… 63said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” 64Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead” 

Of all the people, it is the opponents of Christ who knew how powerful this would be if there really was a resurrection.

Now that we are on the other side of Easter, it’s time to believe! Be not afraid!

One Word Challenge

January is just the beginning of our One Word Challenge. By now you need to have selected your word and started to live with the idea that things may change.

Jesus said:

“If you abide in me, and my [word] abides in you…you…become my disciples.” John 15:7-8

In January, you identified a word, posted an index card on the bulletin board with your word, recorded your word in a written journal (or as Katie Brown suggested, an electronic device), and told at least 5 significant others your word.

For God to be able to use that word to transform your life, you’ll need to work with it. Here are this month’s tasks:

  1. Write a prayer paragraph to God about why you chose that word.
  2. Get our a dictionary (online or otherwise) and write down 3 or more definitions of your word.
  3. Write down the synonyms, words that have similar meaning. (I know this is sounding like a language arts class, but wait for #4)
  4. Write down the antonyms, words with opposite meanings (presumably, what you are not supposed to be)
  5. Write about any experience you’re having with the word (success, failure, attempts)

“Your word for the year is different from goals and resolutions…the word is likely to be a complex concept that you will use throughout the year to explore a new aspect of your relationship with God and others. It needs to be something you will be happy to chew on for fifty-two weeks.” – Debbie Macomber

 

Go Outdoors

We are spending time in the early chapters of the Bible as we begin 2016. Genesis is considered at times to be a minefield for the faith, as devoted Christians try to make science and the powerful words of Genesis into a watershed issue. The text leaves open the door to a variety of ways the 7 days of creation can be interpreted. What it really declares is an orderly, well designed, and most of all, good world. (Note that people are not in the picture until the end.)  The image of God reminds us of our value and worth to God as well as our responsibility to represent God (be his image), in all of creation.

I believe that one of the reasons faith is such a challenge for so many in the modern world is because we have isolated ourselves from the creation God calls so good. We stay in our houses, drive in our cars, labor in our work stations, and with garages you can avoid feeling the air, touching the grass and trees , or hearing sounds that don’t come from amplification. Go outside. Try it. I must warn you, though. You might have a religious experience if you do. That was the rest of the sermon.

New Year Awareness

At the end of a year, it is hard not to reflect back on the events and circumstances that you have experienced. I often think that if I had known all that was going to happen in the year ahead, I would be both overwhelmed and terrified. I read about one person who made his New Year resolutions at the end of the year and then back dated the list now knowing all that had been achieved. It made him look like either a prognosticator or overachiever or both. However you approach the coming year, it is good to remember Jacob’s experience on his journey in the wilderness. He had an impressive blood line when it came to faith (Isaac, Abraham), but his own personal experience with God was minimal. Until, that is, he has the vision of a ladder going up to heaven and hears God’s voice. Whatever you think about the meaning of the vision pales to the power of his words when he wakes.

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it”. (Genesis 28:16)

As we head into the New Year, surely the Lord will be with you. You may or may not be aware of it, but you are never alone.

Catching Up With Your Soul

On Sunday, the choir sang “A Season of Praise” and “rocked the house” in our Eastwood Baptist sort of way. And I squeezed in one last word from Isaiah’s list of Messiah descriptors: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. This Sunday was “Prince of Peace” and I referenced Jerry Bridges’ 3 areas of peace mentioned in his book,

    The Pursuit of Godliness

.

Peace with God. Peace with Others. Peace with Self.

It reminded me of the story James Truslow Adams told of an explorer heading up the Amazon River in South America. The local guides and their team pressed on for 2 days, making great progress. The third day, the explorer awoke ready to get started only to find nothing packed, no one moving, and nothing happening. Why? The leader explained that the team was waiting. The couldn’t move farther until their souls had caught up with their bodies.

I’ve always thought that was a perfect picture of personal peace. I pray that in this season, when everything seems to be pressing on, that you find time to wait for your souls to catch up with your bodies. Or that’s what I wished I had said on Sunday.

Loving Hopelessness

On the first Sunday in Advent, following the Hanging of the Greens and other symbols, we opened the Prophet Isaiah to his collection of descriptive words for the Messiah. The first was “Wonderful Counselor” and my focus was that the goal of counseling is hope. And we have a Messiah who brings light and hope to people living in darkness.
What I thought about was how hard it is to accept good counsel, partly because we find hopelessness very compelling. It sounds so right when we fixate on our situation. There is no way out. There are no options. I am stuck and everyone else is free….Right?
The Messiah says “No”. I bring hope. Another prophet would call God’s people “Prisoners of Hope”. In all our personal and world darkness, Christ brings hope. Look for the Messiah this Advent and you will find hope. That’s what I wished I had said.

Psalm 23

We started a series on the Good Shepherd for November and it seemed right to begin with Psalm 23. The image of God as a Shepherd is an image of tranquility. Phillip Keller notes that sheep will not lay down unless they are fed, watered, not afraid of predators, and not annoyed by pests like insects. Take each one of those and maybe those are the conditions for peace and tranquility in your life too. We only worked through the first few verses.
One of the more disturbing images in the psalm is that part about a banquet surrounded by enemies. Verse 5 reads:
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Kenneth Bailey makes a connection I never noticed before. The beginning of the Psalm is about the Shepherd feeding the sheep in safety, a banquet protected by the Shepherd. The ending above is also about a banquet in the presence of enemies as well. It is what the Good Shepherd does, provide safety and protection so we can find tranquility in life. Well that’s what I wish I had said.

Waters of Blessing

We came to the end of our study of How God Grows Faith by looking at pivotal circumstances. Lois came and talked about her mission trip to Nicaragua and how that became a pivotal moment of faith. The Book of James tells us that even challenging circumstances can be growth points for us.
The Waters of Blessing trips are working to bring clean water to “villages” in that country. How can clean water be a mission for Christ. While there a many analogies in the Bible connecting water and Christianity, clean water gives and sustains life. It removes many potential illnesses. It takes away many fears.
That same Sunday, we held our annual Compassion Child Sunday that benefits Wadeline, our child in Haiti. I read a letter from her pastor telling about their village, the influence of the church and Compassion Center. And then he said the number one need in his village is clean water. Really! Water?
For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. Mark 9:41

hat’s what I meant to add last Sunday.

Servant Sunday

We celebrated Servant Sunday this past week. Did we worship? Well, we shared a meal around noon time and told what we did all morning . We sang some songs, received an offering, and gave announcements in Titus Hall before leaving to go home. We did have some folks come at 10:30am looking for an event in the sanctuary where you sit and stand, but we had to tell them that on that Sunday, we would be worshipping God with acts of service.
When Jesus talked about being a servant, he used the illustration of washing the disciple’s feet. We passed water to runners, sang for folks at Maple Downs, made sandwiches, rolled bandages, cleaned parks and more. We did foot washing stuff. We were servants. Maybe it was the best sermon I never preached. Well, that’s what I wished I had said…or not.

Growing Through Spiritual Disciplines

The third way people grow faith is through personal spiritual disciplines. Sunday was part of our study of spiritual growth based on some conversations Andy Stanley had conducted with committed Christians. We talked about daily times for prayer modeled in Mark 1 by Jesus early in the morning. We talked about reading scripture on a daily basis, as well as fasting, silence, serving, giving, and attending worship. They are all spiritual disciplines that build faith and draw us closer to God. Spiritual Disciplines are practices that we train ourselves to do now, so that we can benefit both now and down the road.

Spiritual disciplines have all the challenges of any discipline, but they are a way God builds faith in us. What I didn’t talk about was how we start a discipline. Some are convinced a person needs to get in the right frame of mind, have the right attitude and spirit. Then your motivation will allow you to easily practice your discipline. Others are convinced that it is through practice, doing the discipline, reluctantly pushing yourself to act; and then your attitude and spirit begin to embrace the full meaning and benefits of any spiritual discipline. That issue is probably unique to each person, but I do find that the latter works for me. “Just do it”.

What I didn’t count on was Michael’s comments to the children about having a desire to play the keyboard, so great a desire that even though practicing the piano was hard and challenging, that drive to be able to perform a piece was energizing. He enjoyed the discipline. It brought pleasure. That is true for spiritual disciplines as well. A daily time of prayer, a personal reading of a Gospel, regularly attending church, committing to a small group – any of those are driven by a passion to know Christ and to grow faith. It is through the disciplines that we become filled with the life that God intended.

Well, that is what I wished I had said.