The Lighthouse

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I found a lighthouse the other day.  To get to the lighthouse, I had to drive down an unfamiliar road, past a refuse incinerator, two recycling plants, and a scrap metal buyer.  I had to drive until I reached a dead end at a beach park that no one in their right mind would desire if they sought a beach or a park.  I then had to park and walk through the park, past a smashed and burned picnic table and no less than two hypodermic needles.  Reaching the water’s edge, I had to navigate a rough shorebreak, walking carefully between waves crashing against the rocks and the roped off property of a tourist show that’s location defies reason.  After navigating the tricky shoreline, I found it amongst the weeds.  A lighthouse.  It was automated.  No charming lighthouse operator that Pete’s Dragon had taught me to expect.  Just a locked tower with a whirling light on top.

I searched for a better path out of the place, but the Coast Guard has clearly let the surrounding land go.  The weeds are high and thick, with large rocks and old concrete blocking any possible path.  “What are they thinking?”  I wondered.  Do they not realize that people like to see lighthouses?  Do they not realize that they need to make it easier for people to enjoy the lighthouse?  In the past week I have mentioned this lighthouse to two friends who each live near it.  Neither had even heard of it.  What is the Coast Guard thinking?

Their website regarding this lighthouse says exactly what they are thinking, “The light is an active aid to navigation and is not open to the public.”

There it is.  The lighthouse does not exist for tourist to come and gawk at it.  It does not exist for picturesque landscapes or vacation photos.  It exists to navigate ships.  Big ships.  Serious ships.  Ships that without navigation will meet disastrous consequences.

Serious work and comfort seldom go hand in hand. The Coast Guard has chosen to ignore comfort and ease for the tourists and instead focus on navigating ships.  The Church must forego its own comfort for the sake of her mission.  Christian, you must leave your comfort zone and be about the work of the Lord.

You are a lighthouse, not a resort.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

Matthew 5:14

My Farewell to FBC Birch Tree

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Six years does not seem like a long time until you begin to think of all the things that can happen in that time.  I’ve spent some time thinking about that and several things come to mind that make it hard to say good-bye.

I think about my first Sunday here.  Wyatt Layman was just 15 years old.  My first Sunday he hit me up to see if I was going to pay him to mow the parsonage.  Now he sits here, a new husband.  He and Audrey have spent some time teaching our young people and I know they are off to a great start.

There have been several weddings in six years.  One that really stands out was Caleb and Lyndsey.  I had just had surgery and had not done anything until it was time for that wedding.  Still on pain killers and straining my voice, I was determined to preach it.  You see, there were 6 other preachers at that wedding and each one made a point to tell me that if I could not do it, they could.  I figured if there are 7 preachers at a wedding and I’m the one that gets to preach, I better do it!  Weddings like that are fun because we see the beginnings of a new family.  Now we see little Luke, and it is a joy because I know he’ll be raised in a Godly home.

We have also experienced some funerals.  There were a lot of them in six years.  They were each a mix of celebration and sadness.  We celebrated a life; often seeing the funeral as a great testimony to a life lived for Christ.  Still, we mourned over a loss and each one I preached, I watched you and your loved ones in your sadness, and my heart broke for you too.  Each one left and impact.

Still, over these six years, the one that will stand out the most is my dad’s.  I remember one night when I got word at midnight that he had been taken to the hospital.  It was a Saturday night and I had to let Tracy know at midnight that I would not be here on Sunday morning.  A few days later, Caleb had to go to the hospital.  I was in Springfield and couldn’t come back to go with Samantha and Caleb to the ER, so I called James at 3am and he went.  I’ll never forget that the deacons at this church are the kind you can call in the middle of the night.

Then at the funeral, I remember 3 pews full of you, all there to support my family and I.  The day before, I had determined to buy a new suit.  I did not own a good black suit and I decided I needed it for my father’s funeral.  Samantha agreed and we decided that we would buy it and figure out how to move things around later.  At the funeral, Van Kitchens, pulled me aside, explained that he knew that times like that bring about unexpected expenses.  He handed me some money, and wouldn’t you know it was the exact amount of the suit?  I will never forget how God uses the generosity of this church.

In these 6 years, there have been some great times too.  I like to think of all the baptisms in 6 years.  The first to stand out in my mind is that in this time I was able to baptize my own son.  His walk with Christ began here at First Baptist Birch Tree.  Recently I was going through some records and realized that one of my first baptisms here was Cody.  Who knew what God had in store there?

Many other baptisms stand out as well.  Particularly 3 men.  Eddie, Ethan, and David.  Each of those men are so much larger than I am that I had to get some help in the baptistry.  Our churches, communities, and our nation are in desperate need for men to stand for Christ.  It is good to know this is a church moving in the right direction.

In all honesty, when I think over the past 6 years I think about my many mistakes.  If I have ever hurt or neglected you, please understand that I am sorry.  I have often lost sleep going over how I would do things differently if I could and wishing I could go back and do some things again.  Yet, in the end, just like we all do, I have to realize that the cross was enough and I rest in that grace. Of course, it was in those times that I was often greatly encouraged.  Without fail, when I began to get discouraged I would get a phone call from Norma, a card from Willie and Jolie, or a dinner invite from Brian and Marta.

Throughout these 6 years there is one thing I hope to get across.  We tend to turn being a Christian into so many things, but it is not about those things.  It is not about being good.  It is not about setting the country right.  It is about one thing:  That Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again to give us life.  That’s it.  We follow Jesus.  No more, no less.  No less because anything less than Jesus would not be enough.  No more, because what more could we want or need?  It is about Jesus.  If you have never given your life to Jesus, I hope you will consider to do so today.

And now our paths must separate.  We will certainly meet again someday, but before I go, I have one more thing to say to you as your pastor.

I want you to consider as a church what really gets you going; what gets your blood moving; what gets you excited about this church.  It isn’t necessarily classes, fellowship lunches, or special music, though those things are all good.  Over these past years, what really got you going was missions.

I remember when I first went to El Salvador.  I told you I was going so that the next time, we could go.  Many told me flat out that this church would not do mission trips.  But you did, and it was a joy to watch you go.  Remember how exciting it was.  That’s what I mean when I say it gets your blood moving.

I remember when Kacey signed up.  We didn’t know about that.  We wondered if she knew what she was getting into.  In fact, I had dramamine in my pocket, just in case we needed to knock her out on the plane.  But I will never forget how she stood up in front of those kids and taught.  The next year, I just put her in charge of the children’s ministry.  We had the chance to go to a school, and when we walked in, the kids were so excited because Kacey was there!  Kacey is going to see some amazing things when she follows God in the mission He sets before her.  And so will the rest of you.

Remember when the Texas group came?  You were pumped and excited and it was amazing to see how God moved.  That was a tough week.  There was a lot of hard work, but nobody cared about that.

The reason missions gets you going is because it is God’s heart.  When you set your mind to get involved in what God is doing, things are different.  Things get exciting then.

Matthew 28:18-20 says:  18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

It says Go.  The apostle Paul compared the Christian walk to running a race.  A race starts with the word “go.”  So, now is the time.  Go.  I’ll see you at the finish line.

 

Worth The Cost?

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Recently, Edvard Munch’s pastel, “The Scream” sold at auction for just under $120 million.  This leaves many inthe art and business world alike asking, “Is it worth it?”  The consensus seems to be no.  For art critics, there are far more memorable works.  None would place the Scream at the top of the list, which is where it is if price is the qualification.  Art critics claim that the Scream is faddish and not likely to maintain its popularity over time.  Investors point out that the chance of a good return on such a high  investment is very slim.  That is the real deciding factor here.  $120 million has been paid, and to answer the question of worth is a matter of the benefit or return that will come on that investment.  In other words, you pay if the benefit is greater than the cost.

Throughout the book of Luke, we are told of the high cost of following Jesus.  At the end of chapter 9, we learn of three men that wanted to follow Jesus only to learn that the cost was too high.  You may very well be surprised at the cost and in light of it have to ask, “is it worth it?”

The Story

57 Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:57-58, NKJV)

This man makes a big claim, to follow Jesus wherever He goes.  This is like us saying, “I surrender my life to Jesus,” or “I have died and now live in Him.”  This man gets a surprising response, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (58)  That is, there is no promise of earthly wealth or comfort.  We tend to make big claims as well, but would we make them if we knew the cost may be our comfort?  Is it worth it?

59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”  But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60, NKJV)

This man is willing to follow Jesus, but has something else to attend to first.  His father is probably not lying dead in the house waiting to be buried.  In those days, it was common for a man to work for his father then inherit everything when his father passed away.  What the man is saying is let me get things squared away.  Let me get my finances in order.  I just need to work enough so I can serve God.  (sound familiar?  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this, and even said it myself)

The response:  Let the dead bury the dead.  “You go and preach the Kingdom of God.” (60)  In other words, your gospel ministry is the top priority.  So, the decision for this man is, do I trust Jesus enough?  Following Jesus requires that level of trust.

61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62, NKJV)

This man says, “I will follow, but…”  There is always something else that we think demands our attention.  For this man it is family.  But for others it could be anything.  Any goal, work; anything that we say, “I would do anything for Jesus, if it wasn’t for…”

The response, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (62)  You cannot be focused on your Gospel ministry and something else.  When someone looks back with a plow, the plow goes off track.  Looking back does nothing for the work they look towards and it spoils the work of the plow.  Putting the hand to the plow and looking back benefits nothing!  If you think you can both follow Jesus and take care of all those other things you are sadly mistaken.  You will probably spoil both.

Where are we in this story?

To many of us, these statements make complete sense.  Why shouldn’t we have comfort?  Why shouldn’t we get things squared away first?  Why shouldn’t we be able to balance Jesus with other important things in our lives?  Yet, Jesus says that the cost of following Him is all these things.

We struggle to grasp that, so instead we substitute cheap religion.  We invest a little time, a little money, avoid a few things in our lives, say a little prayer and call that following Jesus.  Let us be clear:  Jesus set the cost much, much higher.

We must identify this cost and be honest about it.  What comforts can we not do with out?  Is it our standard of living, our security, or our health?  What things do we need to take care of first?  Are we waiting for kids to be grown and out of the house.  Are we waiting to retire?  Are we trying to get things paid off?  Finish this sentence:  I would follow Jesus now, but…”

There is your cost.  Now you must ask, is it worth it?

Another Look At The Story

The cost of following Jesus is everything, but the return is more than you can imagine.  Some will say the cost is too high.  Some will say that this isn’t the cost.  They will settle for cheap religion where the return is just as cheap.  Others will truly surrender all for Jesus only to find that he really does give more than we could possibly imagine both here and in the here after. Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to these men, but we know what happened to some others.  Paul said, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8)

Is it worth it?  Yes.  Will you count all as loss?

This is Jesus; Hear Him!

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Have you ever said the wrong thing?  Several years ago, I was on a mission trip to El Salvador.  We were touring a region of the country visiting with several local churches.  One day, we visited the pastor of a church and saw his home.  We saw the fruit trees, the garden, and a few chickens.  Three chickens to be exact.  We left to tour the town with an invitation to return for dinner.

When we returned, we all sat outside and had a wonderful, Salvadoran meal of chicken, soup, tortillas, and some fruit.  We ate this mean in the pastor’s yard surrounded by the fruit trees and a couple of chickens.  That’s two chickens.

As we ate, one member of our group said, “I didn’t see a grocery store in the village, I wonder where they went to buy this chicken?”  She then began to prod the translators to as our hosts where they went to buy the chicken for the meal.  Everyone sat quietly, stifling smiles.  Our team member was a little embarrassed to learn that the family did not purchase the chicken.  They butchered their own that afternoon.

We have probably all been in that situation.  We blurt something out without thinking, only to be embarrassed when we do.  It happens.  It happened to the apostle Peter quite a bit and in one case, shows us a little about losing our focus.

28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-31)

Some have said that what happened at that moment was one of the most significant moments in history.  It is as though we have come to the intersection of Heaven and Earth.  There, it was possible to see Jesus in His glory, as we might see Him in Heaven.  Peter would later use this incident as proof that he was not just following a fable, but that Jesus was truly God.  It was here that some realities about who Jesus is became clear.

Seeing Jesus in His glory proved to Peter that Jesus is not just human, but God as well.  He is fully God and fully human.  Further, this moment proved the eternal nature of Jesus.  Jesus often talked of Moses and others from the Old Testament as though He knew them personally.  He claimed that Moses knew of His coming.  Seeing Jesus in His glory at this moment showed that eternal reality.  There He was, speaking with Moses and Elijah in the Heavenly realm.  Finally, as Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah about his coming death in Jerusalem, we realize that His death was a part of the plan; a part of the purpose of Christ.  So, it is at this intersection of Heaven and Earth that we see the humanity and deity of Jesus, the fact that He exists eternally, and that His death was a part of His messianic purpose.

Of course, those things might not have been obvious the exact moment Peter saw them.

32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. (Luke 9:32-33)

Peter, who has been napping, suddenly wakes up and does what Peter does best:  he says the wrong thing.  He commits a faux pas; a big one.  He suggests worship for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  This is a mistake that is made throughout history.  He wants to worship what seems good, but that is idolatry.

34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” 36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen. (Luke 9:34-36)

Now, Peter, James, and John stand in the presence of God and get one instruction:  Jesus is the Son: Hear Him!

Make no mistake, what is being said here is that Jesus is set apart from all others.  He is not a creation of the father as you and I are, but rather He is the Son.  He is unique.  There is nothing like Him.  He is not just a teacher or a good example.  He is not just a prophet.  He is the Son of God and as such, we are to follow Him.

Now let us look at this from Peter’s perspective.  Consider ourselves in his place.  Luke seems to make and excuse for him.  He was asleep.  He had just awoke (note: he was awake, so he really is without excuse) and saw something he did not understand.  We have all been there.  We wake up from deep sleep and have to take a moment to know what is going on.

As I read this, I think this explains a lot of our problems as modern Christians.  We are lazy in our walk and spend most of our time napping.  Think of it this way: We taken in much more than we give out.  Just listen to how we talk about worship:  “I didn’t get anything out of that!” “I don’t like that song, I do like that song” “I don’t like that preacher.”  We make everything about ourselves and what we get.  We gorge ourselves spiritually.

Think back to Thanksgiving.  You ate and ate and ate.  You took in and took in until what?  You fell into a turkey coma.  That is what happens to us as Christians.  We take in and take in.   We stuff ourselves and fall into spiritual comas.  Then something happens.  The Spirit speaks.  God moves and suddenly we wake up and miss the point.  Instead we desire the event and we miss the point completely.

Sure, we can go into some advice about staying awake, but the most important thing to note here is the words of the Father:  “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Luke 9:35)  It is as though God is telling us to ignore everything else.  Here is Jesus, follow Him!  Nothing else is good enough.  Nothing is close enough.  Jesus is it!  Listen to Him!

Ultimately, Christian, you must focus on Christ alone.  Several years ago, a popular movement swept through Christianity called “WWJD:  What would Jesus do?”  It was an interesting question and a very weak movement.  It was weak because people became more interested in saying “What would Jesus do” than they did in actually following Jesus.  At some point, we must realize that Jesus is it and follow Him!

In Surveying the New Testament, I have learned that the largest collection of the words of Jesus is found in the book of Matthew.  Matthew wrote five sections of discourse; teachings of Jesus.  I want to challenge you this week to set aside some time to read those five sections.  They are:  Matthew 5-7, Matthew 10, Matthew 13, Matthew 18-20, and Matthew 24-25.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Let us hear Him!

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

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Some years ago, USA Today ran a story of a woman who had just attended a big evangelism crusade.  At the end of the crusade, she went forward just like many others,prayed a prayer, and accepted Jesus into her heart.  She was told that she was saved and she should never doubt that she was saved.  Later, a reporter asked her, “what does it mean to accept Jesus into your heart?”  “I don’t know,” she replied, “But I sure feel good about myself!”

The summer that I graduated seminary, I spent a week as a counselor at our association’s children’s camp.  During one of the services, a little boy came forward in the invitation, and I went to speak with him and pray for him.  I asked the boy why he came forward and he told me that his mother had died and he wanted to pray for her.  I prayed with the little boy and asked God to give him peace and help him through this sad time.  Then he went back to his seat.  Later that night, I was scolded by the camp director for not filling out a decision card for the boy.  I explained that the boy had not made any decision, he just needed to pray about his mom’s passing.  Later, I learned that the camp director filled out a card for the boy.  As far as I know, the boy’s pastor was informed that the boy had accepted Jesus so he baptized him a couple weeks after the camp.

As a youth pastor, I once had a youth group in which every teenager told me they had been saved.  Not a single one could tell me what that meant.

I can go on and on with similar stories.  It seems that people in church tend to make religious statements (like being baptized or accepting Jesus in their heart) without understanding those statements.  Our words seem almost meaningless when we say Jesus is Lord because we rarely stop to consider what that means.

 And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ Luke 9:18

Imagine it is early in the morning.  Jesus has been up for a while, spending time in prayer.  As his discipled get up and break camp, they begin to gather around him.  It is one of those moments that it is just them and Jesus.  The crowds haven’t found them yet today.  These are times when Jesus would probably answer their questions and ask them questions designed to get them to think and wonder and learn.

So He asks, “What are the crowds saying about me?  Who do they say that I am?”

So they answered and said, “John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again.” Luke 9:19

Apparently the crowds have a lot of opinions as to who Jesus is.  Some think He is John the Baptist.  That seems odd, since Jesus and John the Baptist had been in the same place at the same time once, but we need to see this from the crowd point of view.  John the Baptist had gone from something of an enigma to a local hero on a legendary scale.  John had preached that the Messiah was coming.  John had seemed like a prophet; the kind that had not been around for about 500 years.  Then, John had done something crowds tend to love: He openly criticized an unpopular politician.  Of course, in doing so, he got himself beheaded, but you can imagine how that made the crowds think about him.

It seems a lot of people were enjoying the idea that maybe such a great prophet had come back.  Herod couldn’t keep him down.  For those looking for political salvation, this would be a great story.

Not everyone was into that story though.  Some thought that Jesus was such a great prophet He just might be Elijah.  Now, Elijah (or a prophet like him) was said to come back before the Messiah.  So some think that maybe the ministry of Jesus is letting them know that salvation is just ahead.

Some are not willing to commit.  They think Jesus is a great prophet, like the great prophets we read about in the Old Testament, but not much more than that.

It is interesting to think about what everyone else thinks, but Jesus has a much more important question.

He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Luke 9:20a

Who do you say I am?  Now the question is not just guessing about the crowds, now it is personal.  Not only is it personal, but unlike when you are just in a group of people making guesses, this time there is a right answer and wrong answers.

Who is Jesus?  The disciples probably got very quiet.  You know those tricks you used in school when you tried to make sure the teacher did not see you?  I wonder if the disciples tried a few.  He could be one of these great prophets, but He claims to be more.  He could be making the way for the messiah, but He claims to be the Messiah.  Who is He?

Then Peter has an answer!

“Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” Luke 9:20b

You are the Christ!”  That means Messiah.  Peter is saying, “you are the one!”  This is a bold move of Peter.  Do not think that this is a guess based on everything that Jesus had done.  Jews believed that the Messiah was going to redeem them; save them.  It was safest to wait until this one in process before you decided someone might be the messiah.  Peter very definitively says that Jesus is the Christ!

And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one,  Luke 9:21

Just when Peter gets the right answer, Jesus tells them to keep quiet.  That strikes us as odd.  It seems that when you learn something as monumental as this, you want to make it known.  Yet, Jesus tells them not to say anything about it.  Why?  There are many theories as to why, but one I consider is that people did not understand what the Messiah was to do.  Many expected a Moses who would lead them out of bandage, or a Joshua who would reclaim their land, or a David who would establish them as a great nation.  However, the Messiah had to do something completely different.

saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.’ Luke 9:22

The Messiah had to suffer.  The Messiah had to be rejected.  The Messiah had to die.  The Messiah had to be raised again on the third day.  To say that Jesus is the Christ, would mean to accept these things.

Can you imagine being in this conversation.  I don’t mean in the crowd with the thousands listening to Jesus teaching.  Can you imagine being in that small group, seated around Him as he begins to ask you questions?

And He asks, “who do people say I am?”  Well, people say a lot of things.  Some think Jesus was a great teacher.  Some think He was inspired by God.  Some think He showed a great example with His life.  Some think He is nothing more than a fairy tale.

Then Jesus asks, “Who do YOU say that I am?”  Suddenly, the room gets very quiet.  Apparently Jesus didn’t learn the Sunday School teacher rule that if you call on someone it makes them uncomfortable.  We wonder, what is the right answer?  Suddenly someone get’s it.

“You’re the messiah!  You are the Christ!  You are the son of God!  You are the one that will save us all!”  Hey!  That is it!  That is the right answer!  We all nod in agreement, maybe even say a few ‘amens.’

But then, we have to get quiet again.  “Do not say anything” because there is something you need to know.  If you think Jesus is the Christ then you need to understand that along with that comes suffering, rejection.  It may cost your life, and He will be all you can hope for.  It is one thing to say that Jesus is the Christ or that Jesus is Lord or that you believe in Jesus.  It is another to follow Jesus even at the expense of your own life and say your only hope is Him.

When you declare Jesus as Lord, you are placing your comfort, your reputation, your life, and your hope on Him. That is the choice before us.  We have watered this down because it seemed impossible to accept.  After all, if I have to choose between two things and one of those will mean my life, I don’t make that choice.  When Peter made this statement, other Gospel writers tell us that Jesus said that Peter knew that only because the Holy Spirit told Him.  That is why we should never think of this as an impossible choice.

When the Holy Spirit reveals to you who Jesus is; when you see His love, His greatness, His truth; when you see that your sins were paid at the cross then you realize that there is nothing worth having that could keep you away.  Then when someone says, “but you might suffer,” you say, “ok.”  When you someone says, “but people will not accept you,” you say, “I only care if Jesus accepts me.”  When someone says, “this will mean your life.” You say, “I only want a life with Jesus.”  That is what it means to have your hope in Him.

So today, seek Him.  Ask Him to reveal Himself and when you see Jesus for who He really is, you will say “He is the Christ!” and follow Him with everything you have.

He Is Alive; Believe!

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Today, it is easy to go through the motions of church and Easter.  But let us imagine what it was like that first morning.  There were plenty of things to be done, but everything was turned upside down by one event.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1)

It was the first day of the week, and it was time to mourn.  Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows how this would feel.  There was that initial shock and sadness at the time of death, but now a few days later, it is time to mourn.  They were going to prepare the body and mourn.

In order to mourn properly, they needed things to go as planned.  Their main concern was how they would get that big heavy stone moved from the tomb.  However, when they arrive the notice two things.  The stone is already moved, and the body is not there.  Jesus was not in the tomb

This throws everything off.  Now they will have to find the body before they can get on with the process of mourning.

Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”(John 20:2)

The women go to get Simon.  They needed to tell the others that something was wrong.  No one knows where the body is.  We do not know what Peter was thinking.  Did he remember that Jesus had promised to raise from the grave?  He may have remembered this and it probably terrified him.  Peter had last seen Jesus as he was telling everyone that he did not know Him.  Now, if it were true that he could rise from the dead, what will that mean for Peter?

Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. (John 20:3-4)

So Peter runs.  John runs too, and makes a point to tell us that he outran Peter.

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. (John 20:6-8)

They go in the tomb.  That’s when they see what is going on.  The body is not there, for sure, but what is there is startling.  The grave clothes are wrapped neatly in its place.  This isn’t the work of someone moving the body.  They would have taken the body still wrapped up.  This is not the work of a grave robber.  Anyone trying to steal the body (as hard as that would be) would not have taken the time to fold the clothes.  It becomes clear:  Jesus is alive.  They see this before them and believe.

For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. (John 20:9)

Scripture teaches that Jesus must rise from the grave. They did not understand everything yet, but they knew Jesus was alive.  They knew this would change everything.  They would later understand that this was always part of the plan for God’s glory, but now, they just knew that Jesus was alive and that changed everything.

Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. (John 20:10)

They didn’t stay at the empty tomb.  They had to return to their lives, but their lives were never the same again.  No one could have imagined what lay ahead.

Just like Mary, John, and Peter, we have our own expectations.  Many of the concepts of this story have become just an expression for a holiday.  We approach Jesus as though He was just an idea in our head, a wild hope for something else.  When we really take time to consider the death and resurrection of Christ, we react with confusion, some with fear, but face to face with a risen Lord, the reaction is belief.

Since Jesus is alive, believe!  When you hear of resurrection, you may be confused.  When you think of death and meeting Jesus, you may be afraid.  Yet, when you see the reality of a risen Lord, you will believe.  Today, you can go through the motions of celebrating Easter.  You can do the church thing, you can visit family.  And tomorrow you can be the same.  Or, you can come to terms with the fact that Jesus is alive and never be the same again.  See your risen Lord and believe!

It Can’t Be Done!

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I recently heard a pastor talk about his golden retriever.  It is a great breed with a glorious reputation.  The golden retriever is bred to wait by a winter river; to leap into the icy waters and catch game to bring back to its owners.  Now this pastor’s dog never did any such thing.  The instincts were there, however, and each day the dog would go off in the woods and come back with a box turtle.  The pastor said it was always so proud of what it caught, that they didn’t want to tell the poor dog that there is nothing special at all about catching a box turtle.

I begin to think about that.  As a Christian, I meant for great things; miraculous thing; things that will bring glory to the One True God.  Yet, in much of my life I am satisdied doing what is most comfortable; what is easy.  I find my niche and enjoy myself.  There are times when I step out on faith and it is those times where I find myself amazed at the Lord.  It is those times where I feel like Isaiah as he stood in God’s throne room.  Still, when called to step out on a limb, I am likey to worry and say, “I can’t do that!”

10 And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. 11 But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:10-11)

The twelve returns from being sent out.  They have been healing and casting out demons.  They are amazed at everything they have been able to do.  Jesus takes them aside to deal with them.  This is a normal part of the Christian life.  There are times when we must be out on mission, but we must also regroup.  Jesus would often spend time alone in prayer.  Other times, he would gather just his immediate followers to minister to them and fellowship with them.  Still, other times he would minister to the masses.

As Jesus gathers with His followers, the masses come.  So He begins to teach and to heal.

12 When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” (Luke 9:12)

The crowds are there and the day is getting long.  A problem presents itself.  There is no food around.  If anyone is going to eat today, they will need to leave and go into the towns.  The idea is simple, let them go and get what they need.  They can always come back later.  However, if they remain, they will probably expect to be provided with some food.  The disciples see the problem and bring a solution:  send them away.

13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. (Luke 9:13-14a)

Jesus challenges them with the impossible:  “You give them something to eat”

What?  Now this is crazy.  There are more than 5000 people here.  How is it that Jesus would expect the disciples to feed them.  Forget for a moment that it cannot be done.  Is it even fair that Jesus would expect this?  After all, wasn’t this supposed to be the disciples time to refresh and renew themselves?  This should be a rest for them, and now Jesus is telling them to feed 5000 people.

They point out the obvious.  They have no more than two loaves and two fishes.  That will not feed the crowd.  They would have to go buy food, which for 5000 people would be pretty expensive.  In other words.  This is not possible.  It cannot be done.  The disciples are saying, we cannot do this!  You ask too much!  This is not my job!

But the fact is, Jesus called his followers to do the impossible.

Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” 15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.

16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. 17 So they all ate and were filled (Luke 9:14b-17a)

Jesus is unfazed by their objections.  He offers no argument, He just continues to tell them what to do.  He acts as though their abilities are not even a factor.  He tells them to prepare the people to eat.  What an interesting moment that must have been.  The people are hungry.  The disciples have no food. Yet, now they have to sit the people down to get ready to feed them.

Then, much to everyone’s surprise, there is food.  Jesus blesses the meal and the disciples begin to pass it around.  There is enough for everyone to eat until they are full.

Jesus commanded his disciples to distribute.  He multiplied the food.

and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them. (Luke 9:17b)

Twelve baskets are left over.  In other words, the disciples finish with far more than they started with.  They will not again be able to say, “we only have…”  It always works that way.  When you step out beyond your ability and act in faith, your faith is increased.

Imagine being one of the disciples.  You have a small lunch.  There are 5000 people.  The problem is simple:  There is not enough food to go around.  It is impossible to feed all of these people.  How can it be done?  Well, you can send the people home.  After all, who says you have to feed everyone, right?  Or, maybe, arrangements could be made; food could be purchased.  Then, maybe, you could feed everyone.  This is really the only way that’s going to work.

And we do the same today.  We look out at our city, our country, and our world and we see that many people need to hear the Gospel and feel the love of Christ.  The problem is simple:  you are not the person to do that!  We come up with the same arguments.  We think, its not my responsibility.  We think, maybe something could be done, but as it is, no it is impossible.

Yet, then Jesus says to do it.  When he asked the disciples to feed the people, He did not even consider what they could or could not do.  He just said, “give them something to eat.”  When He told all of his followers to Go and tell; to make disciples of all nations, he did not consider your ability either.

Thus, we struggle with the fact that Jesus seems to call us to do something that we are unable to do.

Jesus will call you beyond your abilities but well within His.  We do not find in the Bible, men and women of faith doing normal things.  We find them doing great things.  We do not look through history and see people that turned the world upside down for the Gospel by doing the same ordinary things that they always did.  Some will confuse faith and foolishness.  They will say it is foolish to do something you know you can’t do.  They are right.  But it is not foolish to follow the Lord into what we know He can do.

What is is that Jesus is calling you to that you know is beyond anything you can do?  Perhaps it is that first step of faith in beginning that relationship. Perhaps it is making your decision public.  Perhaps you have been living a safe Christian life, and you know you are called to much larger things.  You may be saying, “I can’t do that.”  You are right.  But Jesus can do whatever He calls you to do; and that is what counts.

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