Month: March, 2018

Sermon: “Beyond Reason”

 

Text:  Mark 16:1-8

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book by Francis Schaeffer entitled, “Escape From Reason.” In this book he attempts to explain the evolution of how society sees Jesus. Up until the 1800’s, Jesus was a very rational thought to most people. He was a real person who loved us in a very personal way. Our prayers were directed to someone who actually heard them and cared enough to answer them. God’s love was real and His chastisement was to be feared in a way that we fear our earthly fathers when we have misbehaved.

Then we made the mistake of trying to figure God and His Son Jesus Christ out, separate from their relationship with man. Soon, God to the researchers, became little more than an irrational concept that people held on to for comfort.

As society caught on to this new way of thinking, Jesus became just a word that elicited an emotion. They had taken His own humanity away. Reason was no longer valid when talking about things of the church.

Now, Schaeffer surmises, many people who claim Christianity merely look for the emotion of it all. Jesus is just a word that brings a spiritual high. There is little relationship involved past what ecstasy we can churn out of the experience.

He writes, “I have come to the point where, when I hear “Jesus” – which means so much to me because of the person of the historic Jesus and His work – I listen carefully because I have with sorrow become more afraid of the word “Jesus” than almost any other word in the modern world. The word is used as a contentless banner, and our generation is invited to follow it. But there is no rational, scriptural content by which to test it, and thus the word is being used to teach the very opposite things from those which Jesus taught.”

I surmise that when we take the person of Jesus away so much that we relegate Him to be just a word that brings about a certain experience we might get from other things like drugs or sex or alcohol, we also lose the hope that is inherit in our faith. We lose the Easter message of new life, at least in its truest form.

Well, I want your full attention. Are you listening? People of Redeemer, friends and relatives, Jesus is alive! Hope is alive! He’s more than just a word to elicit a response. He is real! He loves us in a very personal way with a God-sized love too large for us to even imagine. His Word is true, His promises never waiver, His love for us never lessens. His relationship with man partly defines Him because we are His creation molded in His image. To separate man from His being is to relegate Him to obscurity in the world. He is not a concept, He is our own, very personal Savior.

He didn’t come to lead a movement or to start an uprising. He didn’t come because He wanted to impress us with His mighty works. He didn’t force His way into people’s lives like a dictator might. He simply came to save us from ourselves.

You see, the people of Jesus’ time also thought they had God all figured out. They saw Him as a task-master, a rule keeper, someone who could only be reached through the keeping of His law. So, eventually the required law grew from the original Ten Commandments to hundreds. The Pharisees held everyone by a heavy yoke of requirements. Don’t eat that, stay away from this, don’t associate with him. God, then as in many cases today, had lost His personal relationship because man thought they had Him all figured out.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have a God I can figure out. If I could, he would no longer be a God because He would be no bigger than I am. We will never fully understand all of God’s divine attributes, we are just to trust in Him to be able to handle anything we might present to Him. All He asks in return is that we believe in Him and follow Him by being Christ to the world.

Isaiah knew this thousands of years ago. He wrote in chapter 61 of His book

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.”

Jesus Himself quoted those very words from the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4. After which He spoke to the people with authority saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus here is telling all of us that He is our hope. The Scripture written so long ago has been fulfilled in Him.

Jesus Christ is still alive and well providing the hope that Isaiah foresaw. He still bears the marks of the crucifixion he willingly suffered so we might receive that hope. His Word of Hope is still said as strongly as it was to Isaiah. His promises still remain for all those who put their trust in Him. He is the very definition of hope in a troubled world still trying to figure Him out apart from His creation. 

Jesus confirmed this prophecy in every deed and with every Word that He spoke. He reached out to all who were willing to listen and helped all those in need, especially the broken-hearted, the down-trodden, the dejected and the lame. He healed the sick, gave life to the dying and sometimes even the dead, and performed miracles for those in deepest despair. So many acts of Godly mercy in fact that John the Disciple says that, “Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” We marvel at what we do know, but here John say we don’t know the half of it.

Yet, even in His presence there were people who didn’t know Him. Because the Church leaders thought they had figured God Himself out, they couldn’t see what was right before their eyes. How could this be the son of God when He eats with tax-collectors and hangs out with the lowest of the low. How could this be the promised Savior who was raised in a nowhere town like Nazareth. How could a simple carpenter’s son be the long awaited for Messiah.

So, because they thought they knew God better than they actually did, they tried to destroy His one and only Son. They sentenced Him to death, had Him beaten, mocked Him as He hung on the cross, feeling smug that they had done the right thing, because, after all, they thought they knew everything they needed to know to justify their actions.

Yet, it was not they who took His life. He willingly laid it down even for them. The people who figured they had everything settled were no more than an instrument of change towards something that was much more than they ever could have imagined.

We read the Scriptures far removed from the true horror’s that were present the day our Lord died. For many, His death destroyed any shred of hope they had. They had failed to learn the lessons Christ had been teaching them the three years he was with them. They couldn’t understand how His death was all part of a much bigger plan.

The teacher who spoke of future glory was hanging on a cursed cross. The man who had healed others now took no measure to save Himself. The one who led them with promises unending now seemed to have taken them to a dead end, literally.

Now, he is dead. His body is laid in a common grave with no pageantry. The rock is rolled in front of the grave as if it were covering the simplest of people. The Pharisees assembled in all their smugness satisfied that they had put this Jesus movement to rest.

For many this burial was also the burial of hope because their hope now laid wrapped in linen atop a cold rock in the tomb. It was as if the world was falling apart. They mourned what could have been and despair filled their hearts.

But what was to come was the culmination of all of Jesus ministry. The promise given to Adam and Eve at the very dawn of time was soon to be fulfilled. After three days, Jesus would rise and with His rising, our everlasting life would be assured. Soon the world would know.

From our Gospel lesson:

“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Could the message of the angel be true? Was hope still alive? The Good News was too much for them to bear.

They left in great mourning only to be greeted in the tomb by an angel bearing the great news of Jesus’ resurrection. This was certainly not what they were expecting. They were prepared to witness their hope still locked inside the grave. They brought spices to prepare a body but now there was no body to prepare. It seemed impossible, yet it was true.

They couldn’t figure it out even after seeing it with their own eyes. They failed to understand what Jesus had been telling them for so long that the Son of Man had to die to save the world from sin and death and be raised after three days. They were confused because they thought they knew what to expect yet Jesus Christ had done the unexpected.

We hear the story every year yet many have doubts. They just can’t figure out why God would do this for us? Doesn’t He have bigger things to do? Why go through all the trouble for sinners like us?

My invitation to you is that you stop trying to make sense of what God did for us. You will never fully understand His love for you because it goes beyond imagination. You will never quite grasp how far Jesus Christ will go to have a personal relationship with you. Just believe and be saved. Trust in the one who would go to any lengths to provide you with eternal life.

The perfect sacrifice had been given to cover every sin with the Son’s righteousness. Now God could look at us through the prism of Christ and be satisfied.

If you came here this morning looking for Hope, He is here for you. Hope is alive because Christ is alive! I know it sounds a little too good to be true. It goes beyond our understanding because God is to glorious to fully understand. Just accept the God-sized gift you have been given and rejoice that you have been saved. Surrender your need to know it all because God is bigger than your understanding. All we need to know has been given to us in His Holy Word. The rest we will learn in due time and we will have an eternity to study it.

Jesus is alive!! Hope is alive!! Grab it!! It’s yours for the taking even if you don’t fully understand why. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Study: Beyond Reason

 

Bible Study Questions – Mark 16:1-8

The earliest manuscripts end Mark here. If this is truly the ending to Mark, why would he end it in such a way?

Considering the above question, why would the additional verses have been added later?

Jesus foretold His death numerous times Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:32–34. Why was the empty tomb so shocking to them then?

Why did the women visit the tomb? What does their action indicate?

Why didn’t they think about the stone until they were almost there?

Why do you think Mark chose to describe the man in the white robe as a young man instead of an angel?

In verse 6 the ESV version reads, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” The Greek reads as a title, “The Crucified One (“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One).” Why would this “title” be proper? 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2; Galatians 3:1; Revelation 5:12

Are angels always depicted as male? Zechariah 5:9-10 

Why does the angel single out Peter as the one who is especially to be told about Jesus’ resurrection?

Why do you think the women chose to tell no one, even after being told to do so? Verse 8; Mark 4:39-41; 5:15, 30-33; 6:40-50; 9:5-6; 10:32

The story implies that Jesus had better things to do then to hang around in an empty tomb until someone came. What do you think He went to do?

Why would Jesus choose to go to Galilee to meet up with His disciples? Mark 1:14, 28, 3:7, 15:40-41

Should the disciples have known to meet Jesus in Galilee already? Mark 14:28

How were all three persons of the Trinity active in Christ’s resurrection? The Father: Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30,33,34; 17:31. The Spirit:  Romans 8:11 and The Son John 2:19-22; 10:17-18.

Why is the resurrection the central pillar of Christian faith?

(Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

The Triumphal Entry

 

Text:  Mark 11:1-11

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

The excitement had hit a fever pitch. Loud Hosanna’s rise through the air towards heaven. Palm branches wave as if caught in a Summer storm. Precious clothing is being sacrificed along the path of the coming King. This is truly a celebration to remember.

Yet, instead of a white charger, this King comes through the gate riding a humble colt. Instead of trumpets proclaiming his triumphal entrance, there is little competition with the cries of Hosanna. Instead of glistening battle armor, the king wears the simple outfit of the common man.

Despite His modest appearance, however, there should be no mistake made this day. This is not just any king. This is the King of kings. The promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. Today there will be celebration for the long-awaited fulfillment of a promise made long ago.

Jesus looks at the excited crowd with mixed emotion because He knows that soon those cries of Hosanna would turn to jeers and curses. Soon the excitement at the coming of the King of kings would turn to anger and resentment spurned on by the leaders of His own church.

In one of his Palm Sunday sermons Martin Luther wrote these words: “Look at Christ. He rides not upon a horse which is a steed of war. He comes not with appalling pomp and power but sits on a donkey, which is a gentle beast to bear burdens and to work for men. From this we see that Christ comes not to terrify, to drive and oppress, but to help and to take for Himself our load.”

On this day of the arrival of the promised Messiah, He does not enter seeking the shouts of Hosanna. He knew those would simply be a temporary beginning towards a much more painful ending. He did not come hoping for “atta boys” or “thank yous”. He came seeking for something greater. He came to overcome the worldwide problem of sin, to witness the final heartbeat of unrighteousness and to bring about the desperate last gasp of terrorizing death.

We did not seek Him, He came seeking us. The death He would soon suffer was not for His own benefit but for ours. This day was a celebration to be sure, but the celebration was not really for Jesus’ sake. It was because of the coming death of those things which separate us from Him. In heaven on that day, there would be celebration, not for a victory over an earthly foe, but for the victory over sin and everlasting death. The King of kings has made His entrance! Let us all sing our Hosanna’s!! HOSANNA!!!

I’m sure many that day in crowded Jerusalem were asking their neighbor’s, “Who is this man? Why all the fuss? Is He a king?” They get caught up in all the excitement. Something special was happening. But what?

Unfortunately, today we hear much the same. “What’s all this Jesus stuff anyway?” Some will get caught up in the excitement but soon the feelings will fade and they’ll forget about Jesus once again. Some will hang on for a time, but their emotion can take them only so far. They really don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Their roots grow in shallow soil and they are soon turned away by the efforts of the prince of this world. They are just as likely to want Him crucified as the people who shouted their hate at Jesus on that fateful day over 2000 years ago.

On that first Palm Sunday, the people were looking for someone to save them from the wrath of the Romans. They were hoping for temporary relief. When Jesus was more angry at the merchants in the temple than he was about their Roman oppressors, they didn’t understand. They couldn’t see that Jesus came offering much more than they could have ever hoped for. His solution would not be a temporary one. It would have eternal ramifications. Yet the people turned on Him because he didn’t fit into their hopeful description of a Savior.

I feel that’s the reason so many still reject Him today. They want someone who will make their lives carefree and effortless. They want a Savior who will save them from their temporary battles and they can’t fathom the true beauty of what Christ won for us on the cross.

The reality even today is that Jesus is not the kind of hero many hoped He would be. He does not come with trumpets blaring but with gentleness and love. He is not one to shout down the opposition. He is one to pray for them even in their anger. He is not the kind of leader who takes score by the blood He has shed on the battlefield. He is a Savior who has Redeemed all believers by His own blood shed on the cross.

Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

It is told in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus wept that fateful day for His beloved city of Jerusalem. Its long history would be forever tarnished by the rejection he would soon have to endure. He knew the dreams of this day would soon turn into the reality of pain, death, and suffering with which Jerusalem would forever be linked.

Yet His mind would not linger there, overcome by the joy soon to be experienced on the day he would rise again.

He knew the struggles to follow would pale in comparison to the glory that would soon come. His tears would be replaced by everlasting gladness. His sorrow to eternal bliss.

Even in this way he modals for us the reaction that we should have. As much as we quake at such a terrible death, we should rejoice in death turned to life. As guilty as we are for the sins that placed Him on that cross, we should celebrate the forgiveness that was won for us that day.

Do you understand why the people were proper in being so excited for the coming King of kings? Is your excitement equal with theirs or have you become numb to it. If Jesus were to make His final entrance today, would you have palm branches at the ready or would you be wondering what all the fuss was about.

Do any of us really understand the glory, the majesty, the splendor of that first Palm Sunday? More than the power of any conquering king in all of history came the King of kings full of the divine power of love that was so great that he was willing to suffer and die on our account. It was and is a power that looks us straight in the eye, fully knowledgeable of all the sin and pain we have caused to happen, yet fully willing to cover us in His righteousness. A power that didn’t rightfully condemn us but died for us so that we might be free of all condemnation. A power that sets all believers free from death and sin and all that is within us that dehumanizes us and others.

It’s the kind of power that loosens the grip on all our worldly expectations and even allows us to see Christ’s face in the suffering, the hurting, the lost and the lowly.

That power that made His way into Jerusalem in such a humble way relates to all of us in His grace and mercy and invites us to join with Him in extending that grace and mercy to others.

No longer do we need to be afraid of suffering, of condemnation, of judgement because the Prince of Peace has promised us better things. When He entered that gate He entered our hearts forever so that we might experience purpose in life, joy in our hearts, and peace even in a broken world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God allows Himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross…and that is the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us…only a Suffering God can help.”

Even during the cries of Hosanna that greeted Him, Jesus was thinking about us and our soon to be realized freedom from sin and death. Even during the jeers and curses He endured on His way to Calvary, He looked forward to the perfect sacrifice He would willingly be victim to because of the promise it held for all mankind.

The crowds that first Palm Sunday wanted a warrior king, but Jesus came as the suffering Messiah. When they didn’t see in Jesus what they expected to see, the were easily coerced into turning their shouts of “Hosanna” into the Cries of “Crucify Him!”

Yet Jesus won more for us than anyone could ever have dreamed of. Jesus came to die on a cross so that we might all enjoy the ultimate victory. The crowd missed the point. Let’s not make the same mistake.

So, do you get it? Do you truly understand the importance of that first Palm Sunday so long ago? Is Jesus the Suffering Messiah for you or are you willing to let this day pass like so many before it without the full knowledge of the beauty in the message. Are you still looking for a Warrior King to make all your troubles go away, or are you willing to do a little bit of suffering on your own so that the message of Easter might reach the ears of the lost?

The parade is starting and the King of kings is within sight. What will your reaction be? Amen

 

 

Bible Study: The Triumphal Entry

 

Bible Study Questions – Mark 11:1-11

The section of Scripture represents a new section in Mark’s Gospel and it starts with Jesus’ Triumphant entry. Why is it proper to call it a triumph?

This was a purposeful act of Jesus to fulfill prophecy. Where do we find hints in the Old Testament? 2 Kings 9:13; Psalm 118:19-29; Zechariah 9:9

What was paradoxical (self-contradictory) about this scene?

In this scene Jesus comes riding in on a donkey (a common mount for Jewish kings) but when He comes again, Revelation says he will be riding a white charger (Revelation 19:11-16). Is there anything significant about this?

Jesus sent two of His disciples to get the colt. Why do you think He didn’t just go on His own?

Why was it important that it be a donkey that no one else had ridden? 1 Kings 1:32-35

The word kurious or “Lord” is unusual in the context of verse 3 because it implies “owner” yet points to Jesus. Why do you think Mark chose to use this word? (In verse 9 Mark uses the word adon for “Lord”)

Palm branches apparently represent victory. Where else do we here of their use to represent victory? Revelation 7:9-10

*Interesting note* This ritual was performed each year by the residents of Jerusalem at the feasts of Tabernacles and Passover for the bands of pilgrims approaching the city. This year the significance of the approaching King was fulfilled. ‘Hosanna'” The Hebrew idiom means “welcome Him.” It was part of the Hallel which was quoted every year as the pilgrims came to Jerusalem. It literally meant “save now” 2 Samuel 14:4

For most of His ministry, Jesus resisted having praise given to Him. Why does He invite it now? Luke 19:40

Why should verse 10 have made the Romans nervous? 2 Samuel 7: 1, 12, 16, 25-26; Hosea 3:5

If Jesus were among us today, would He receive a critical evaluation, or would He receive generous praise?

What do you think Jesus was thinking as He “looked around at everything” (Verse 11) Malachi 3:1-3

Why else was this scene a heroic one? John 11:57

Soon the crowds would turn on Him. How do we see this happening in the world today?

What is the principal lesson in this section of Scripture that you can use to tell others about Jesus?

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

“Follow the Leader”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father….

Please pray with me…

On Netflix, Cheryl and I have been avid watchers of a show called “The House of Cards.”  It stars my favorite actor, Kevin Spacey and he plays the president of the United States. His character achieved the position of the President through the less then honorable means of intimidation and deceitfulness. He is drunk with power, uncaring about what others may have to suffer as long as he gets his way. He’s not afraid to take a life or ruin a reputation if it’ll give him what he wants and he relishes the opportunity to let people know that he is the top dog, especially those who dislike him, of which there are many. His mantra is “I’m in charge.”

There are several ways to become a leader. The President in this television series has chosen the path of coercion and deceit. To him, the only right things are the things that serve him. He puts on a mask of servanthood to the people but inward he’s all about himself.

Jesus chose another path to leadership. He didn’t step on people to make His way to the top. He didn’t use intimidation or threats. You never once heard Him say, “I’m in charge,” because he always humbly deferred to the Father. He didn’t lead this way, because He didn’t have to. Rather, He chose to lead by His example motivated by love.

There was just something about Jesus that drew people to Him. Today we might call something like this the “it” factor, and Jesus Christ is its ultimate example. Something about Jesus made people KNOW He was a leader. The crowds followed Him because of it. The Pharisees were threatened by it and His disciples found their devotion for Him from it. Like a trusted Shepherd, the people, like sheep, found their safety and comfort in Him and they followed Him no matter what path He chose to take.

That’s the kind of leader I want to be and I know I’m not alone. I want to be someone who finds his best success in leading by the best example. I would love to be followed because I chose the right path, not because I led people through anger and threats down the wrong one. In a world where power is king, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to follow who always put your needs before their own? Yes, I desire to follow Jesus and to be a leader like He is.

In a way, people who always bark, “I’m in charge,” are admitting that they really aren’t. Because they lack the proper tools of leadership they defer to their basic instincts and rule by darkness, fear and deceit. But Jesus was different, He led by love and authority.  Matthew 7:28-29 says, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished by His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Jesus became a leader by taking on the responsibility of a servant. He knew that the leader who serves is the one who most effectively leads. In fact, one of the most consistent teachings of Christ was on our need to be servants first. Jesus made it clear in John 12:26  when He said, If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Jesus understood the important role of a servant and the power of providing a helping hand. In our Gospel lesson for this morning  Jesus says beginning with verse 42, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” You’ll find that last verse on our sign outside because that defines who Jesus was. One who didn’t come to be served but to serve, and He paid the ultimate price as a servant by offering up His own life to those He served.

Our ultimate goal in leadership should be to unlock the power of God in our lives by taking on the role of serving others. By our example we should be able to make this world a much better place.

And the only way to be the kind of leader that Christ was and is, is to let Christ do His leading through you. Paul was such a leader. In Galatians 2:20 Paul tells the church in Galatia, “I have been crucified in Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Being the kind of leader Christ was can carry with itself a burden that many are not willing to take because it goes against the world view of always looking out for #1. It’s backwards to everything the world is teaching where might is right. When His disciples asked to sit by His side in heaven, he told them they didn’t understand what they were asking. To carry on that mantle for Christ would bring with it persecution and hardship because it goes against the world’s plan of leadership. To drink the cup that He drinks or to be Baptized with a Baptism like His is to invite the evilness of the world to rally against you. Before they could take on that role, they had much to learn from Jesus about what being a leader in faith really requires.

But, even knowing this, Jesus took on that responsibility for us by acting as a servant to the people He loved by laying down His life for us. If we could all learn to lead like Jesus, we could solve a lot of the problems we find in the churches all through America and the world.

If we could effectively take on the role of servant to each other, the infighting and chasm’s we see so often in churches would be eliminated. If we were to lead by the example that Jesus Christ Himself gave us, our passions would turn from having to control to longing to help. If we chose the path that Jesus took, we would turn from our self-serving ways and make the choice to live by serving others.

But these choices are not easy ones to make and their even more difficult to live. One of the devil’s greatest tools is to convince us to think of ourselves first in all things. Serving ourselves first comes naturally to us, but always thinking of others first presents much more of a challenge.

To be the kind of leader Jesus was, takes a lot of courage and fortitude. It means taking risks in a world that will fight you every step of the way. It means daring to do the right thing even if it feels wrong according to the world’s version of righteousness.

In the series I spoke about in my opening, you see all the examples that the world uses to attain power, back room secrets and plots of revenge, late night strategies to overcome the opponent, shady deals done through bullying and extortion, promises made with no intention of keeping them. Basically, it’s reality TV. Though Jesus used none of these tactics, His style of leadership could be said to be every bit as dangerous.

The servant leader who leads like Christ knows that his role is formed by knowing the Savior and in understanding His ways. The servant leader can’t let others define who they are, they must go forth in Christ alone. It’s impossible to be the person everyone wants you to be. If you tried you’d go crazy because everyone has their own idea on what direction someone should take. As a pastor, it’s easy to get lost trying to make everyone happy, in fact that’s probably the greatest source of burnout for a pastor there is. Please pray that I always get my direction from Christ.

A servant leader knows their roles and is also aware of what they can and can’t do, they know their limits. You’ve heard the saying that 20% of the people do 80% of the work? Well in the best run operations you will find everyone working together in equal shares for the common good. That’s why we make such a big deal here when we ask everyone to do their part.

Jesus understood his roles. He didn’t try to become some powerful politician or mighty warrior because that is not what he was sent to do. He came with a better way, chosen by the Father for the benefit of us all. Even the Son of God had His roles, so He did what He was sent to do to the best of His ability.

But even Jesus knew when to say no. Sometimes He didn’t work miracles when asked. When they wanted to make Him king He refused. When He needed time to Himself with the Father, He took it.

Serving others can be very taxing because sometimes the more you serve the more those you are serving expect of you. Jesus kept a pace to His ministry that was both effective and comfortable. He didn’t run all over Israel trying to heal every sick person He could find but he made Himself available to those who came to Him in faith. When we read of Jesus we get the impression of a person who knew what He was sent to do and set His face on that goal alone.

Jesus was pro-active in His ministry. He saw the need and He fulfilled it. He defined the issues Himself and He took the initiative to answer the call and He accepted responsibility for His actions all the way to the cross.

Imagine this. The very Son of God, full of divine power and able to summon angels to do His bidding, instead took on the form of a servant because, in this way, He would also become the best leader. He filled the role of the reformer who taught people to look beyond themselves to the greater role of servant. His role of Savior was the ultimate act of unselfish love. He humbly faced the cross willing to take on the sins of the whole world because he thought of us first.

As we watched the latest episode in this series about the president, we were shocked at the direction it is now beginning to take.

We were shocked because it now looks as if the president and his wife are starting to get some morals. It’s finally coming back to them, all the terrible things they have done to get where they are. The pressure they have made for themselves is becoming overwhelming because of all the damage they have done. It’s refreshing to see someone come to the knowledge that might is not always right.

All they really needed to do to understand what true leadership was, was to read of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. In Scripture they would have seen a leader who led by love, willing to do whatever He had to do to best serve those He came to save. They would have seen a leader who so changed the world that to take all the accomplishments in all the world that were done apart from Him, it would not begin to touch those things accomplished in His name. They would have seen a leader whose face was so set on accomplishing His task that He was willing to die to make it happen.

And still today, Jesus leads. Still today we can go to our Savior in prayer and know that He will hear us. Still today we hold the promise that he died to give. Still today, we have a Savior who thinks of us first, even though we are wrapped in sin and selfishness.

God thought enough to send His son to lead us to everlasting life and he asks you here today to make the choice to follow Him.

He doesn’t promise the road won’t get a little bumpy, nor does He promise that life will be filled with roses, but he does promise us the greatest of things if we choose to follow Him. He promises that one day, we will be with Him forever, far removed from a world that preaches that might is right. Together, we can do the impossible if we choose to be a servant for Christ and to lead by His example. In this Lenten season, remember what it means to you to have Christ in your life and as we make our way to the Easter celebration, we can rejoice in the fact that Christ’s death was given because He loved us enough and was willing to serve His role as the perfect sacrifice on our behalf. His death was also our death and His resurrection sealed the deal towards our own salvation. Amen.

 

 

Bible Study: Follow the Leader

 

Bible Study Questions – Mark 10:35-45

What are the most popular current models of leaders and leadership styles?

How do you think Jesus would define leadership?

Who are some of the greatest leaders in the Bible? What characteristics do they share?  1 Samuel 13:14

What are James and John really asking in verses 35-37?  What do they really want?  What were these “seats”? 1 Kings 2:19; Psalm 110:1

James and John betray a misconception about the Messiah and his kingdom in their question. What is the misconception? Mark 8:31; James 4:3

What kind of “glory” do they envision Jesus entering into?

What is “the cup” and the “baptism” Jesus is talking about? Psalm 11:6, 75:8; Isaiah 51:17,22; Jeremiah 25:15-17, 27-28 – Job 22:10-11; Psalm 18:16; 42:7; Isaiah 43:2

What do you think Jesus mean by “to sit at my right or left is not mine to grant…it is for those for whom it has been prepared”?

Because this passage reveals to us the heart of idolatry. What is idolatry? Is it literally worshipping stone statues?

What lesson should the disciples have already learned from back in Mark 9:33-37?

How does Jesus’ understanding of greatness, power and authority differ from that of the Gentile rulers?

What is the challenge in governing Biblically in today’s society?

Why is “leadership by serving” the best method?

How do Jesus’ words to James and John change your attitude about power and authority?

What is your view of the kingdom of God today? Can you easily explain that to someone else?

What are some ways you can show leadership by serving?

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

 

“Choose Christ”

Ephesians 2:1-10 / John 3:14-21

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

At first glance at our lessons for today, one would wonder why any pastor would pick anything to speak on other than the Gospel lesson in John 3. I mean, Verse 16 is the Gospel lesson in one verse….and it’s Lent. What could be better? And to that I say your right. John 3 is an excellent source from which a sermon can originate, especially during Lent. But that is surely not the only section of Scripture that speaks of God’s infinite grace, love, mercy and peace. In fact, the committee who picked out our Bible verses today did an excellent job of finding sources that fit the season. I only say committee, because it was a bunch of Lutherans and that’s just what we do.

Our New Testament reading in Ephesians is such a section and its one of my very favorite parts of Scripture. In it we find a beautiful explanation of our utter lostness and following salvation through Jesus Christ. In it we find the paradox of works verses faith. And finally, it explains God’s infinite grace and mercy in a way that gives supreme hope to every believer. Let’s take this one step at a time.

First we’ll start with an illustration: There were two brothers, well known around town for their crooked business dealings and underworld connections.

They were as mean and cold-blooded as you could imagine. One day one of the brothers died, and the surviving brother wanted to give his dead brother a funeral fit for a king. He called the funeral home and made all the arrangements, then he called the town’s pastor and made him an offer, as they say, he couldn’t refuse. He said, “I’ll give you $10,000 to put that new roof on the church if, in eulogizing my brother, you call him a saint.” The minister agreed.

The whole town turned out for the funeral, and the pastor began: “The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a degenerate and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers and lives of countless people in this city, many of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten thing you can think of. But compared to his brother, he was a saint.”

We laugh because the pastor is talking at the expense of two known sinners. But, as vile and ugly as their lives were, at least they didn’t hide their sinfulness. It was out there in blinking neon for all to see.

The joke gets less humorous when we fit ourselves into the story. It’s much less amusing when we see where our own sin has taken us, many times in the secret lives we lead. Before Christ, Paul is telling his readers in Ephesus that they were once dead in their sins because they chose to live their lives as people of the world and not people of God.

Without Christ they were walking in the path of unrighteousness led by the devil himself. They cared more for worldly things and lived their lives as disobedient children whose father is darkness. Their thoughts were of things of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, children of wrath like all the others who claim they are in no need of a Savior.

In every life, there are things on this list that bring us discomfort. We look back on times when we were much more worldly then God has called us to be. We harken back to memories, some of them recent, when we cared more for the desires of the flesh than we did our desires to follow Christ. We remember our disobedience, our cavalier attitude towards our faith in God. We have to admit that we have been too often children of wrath and not children of a loving Lord. We laugh at the jokes of sinners getting their just desserts but we stay silent in our own secret world of sin, playing the part of a Christian but living our lives as children of the night.

In our sins we are doomed to everlasting despair, separated from God and lost to destruction. In our sins we have no hope and our only path leads to eternal damnation. In our sins, we cling to anger and deceit. We hold on to grudges and forsake forgiveness.

In our sins the only everlasting life we have to look forward to is one with eternal suffering, understanding what could have been but knowing there is no hope left to achieve it.

In our sin we are simply people of the world content with living our lives grasping at anything of the world that might bring us an instant of comfort. We look for God unaware and try to find Him in things of  human frailty. Maybe money will satisfy this yearning in my heart. Maybe this drug will placate this desire within me. Maybe sex will help me to fill the void in my soul. In our sin we remain lost, always searching for an answer that only the one true God can give.

Even as Christians, we try to manipulate God into becoming the kind of God who will look past our sins. We seek to form Him into our own image so that the desires of the flesh might get past His ever watchful eyes. We work and work to try to please Him but our faith lingers in worldly sludge. “If only he would look past my sins and see all the great deeds I’ve done,” we say as we satisfy our desires on the screen of our desktop computers or try to drown our sorrows with one last drink of gin. We are all people born into sin with no hope but the hope that comes from Christ.

Because, you see, God answered our search for salvation with the death of His only Son.

He responded to our sinfulness the only way a God of infinite grace, mercy, love and peace could, He paid the price we couldn’t pay. His infinite grace overwhelmed our sinfulness by giving us something we had no hope to earn on our own. In His infinite mercy, he held back the penalty we all deserve. With His infinite love for us, He sacrificed the one He held most dear so that we could live lives free from sin and death. And with His infinite peace He has soothed our troubled hearts. All this out of infinite wisdom that knew that love always finds a way.

Ephesians 2:5 says that, “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”

Even within grasp of our most deserved death and damnation, God made it possible for us to live again through the death and resurrection of His Son. Once we were destined for an eternal grave but now we have the promise of being raised up with Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly places. And all this because of God’s immeasurable grace, mercy, love and peace.  Romans 5:8, “…God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ died for us, even though we deserved nothing but worldly hate and everlasting despair.

My favorite two words in this section of scripture are actually the first two in verse 4, But God.” How many of us understand what God has done for us well enough that it literally changes our lives? How many of us try to understand just what an amazing gift Jesus Christ really is? We were once doomed to destruction, but God has paved a way to everlasting life in paradise for those who believe. We were lost in sin, but God provided the victory over sin by placing that sin upon His only Son so that we could put on His Son’s righteousness. We once had no hope, But God through His grace gave us infinite hope in better things to come. He could have condemned us forever, but God loved us enough to give His only Son that we might understand true freedom.

Instead of forsaken we have been chosen as worthy. Instead of living our lives as orphans with no promise, God has adopted us has as His own to live with Him forever in everlasting love. Instead of rejection, God has excepted us, even as we are. Instead of forever living lives under His wrath and damnation, we have been forgiven just in the asking. Instead of paying the price we should have paid, we have been redeemed through the blood of Christ. And all this out of divine grace, mercy, love and peace.

Where do you find yourself this morning? Can you count yourself as one redeemed or are you still searching for a god of your own design?

Are you living secret lives of sin, or have you surrendered to the one who can eliminate that sin and offer you true salvation in return? Are you here this morning hoping that your good works will help God to overlook your sinfulness or have you confessed those sins understanding your gift of complete forgiveness.

In our sins we are lost nomads looking under every rock for the satisfaction we seek, not knowing that only God can fill that void in our heart. In our sin, we are forever condemned to live lives of eternal desolation, hoping worldly Gods will suffice.

But in Christ, our hope is renewed and we look forward to life everlasting free from death, pain, sorrow and despair. In Christ we have a renewed spirit eager to face the day knowing we never have to face it alone. In Christ, we have salvation as a byproduct of our faith, from every evil force who wants to steal our very souls.

My advice, and Paul’s to the Ephesians, choose a life in Christ, rich in mercy, infinite in love, abounding in hope and covered in peace. Amen.

 

 

Bible Study: Ephesians 2:1-10

 

Bible Study Questions – Ephesians 2:1-10

What are verses 1-3 saying about desperate predicament that sinners are in?

At what time were we placed in this predicament? Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12

Why do you think Paul started with the human condition (Verses 1-3) before stating what God has done to make salvation possible?

Explain your take on the title Paul uses in verse 3 describing mankind as “children of wrath.”

What hope do the first two words in verse 4 give you? Elaborate.

What remedy do verses 4-6 give us for being dead in sin? What more do these verses tell us about God?

What attribute within God moved him toward us? Verse 4a. What other attribute of God do we desperately need? Verse 4b. How much of this attribute does God have?

In your own words, try to describe the love that God has for us. Psalm 86:5; Proverbs 8:17;    John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:7-11, 19

Explain this sentence from one of our commentaries. “God’s love is not a response, but a cause.”

Explain the contradiction of how sinners are both dead in sins, yet alive in other ways. Why is the word “dead” proper in this context?

What are the “coming ages” in which God will show His immeasurable riches of grace in kindness. What does this mean to you?

Verse 8 says that salvation is a gift from God that cannot be earned.  Why is it important that we understand this?

What can you do to keep yourself from believing that salvation is something we can earn?

The grammatical sense of the word “saved” is in the past tense. Can you explain?

What is salvation caused by? Romans 3:22-24. What is salvation definitely not caused by?         Acts 13:38-39; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:7-9; Titus 3:5.

In what way should the last phrase of verse 9 be evident in our lives?

Explain in what ways the good works in Christ differ from the ‘works’ prior to Christ, as to source, motive, substance, etc.?

As Christians with a higher calling and indebted to God’s saving grace, what do you think is the role of the church in today’s world? How do we reach out to a world in conflict?

This passage speaks of the glorious difference between what we once were, apart from Christ, and what we now are, in Christ. How can it help you relay this message to unbelievers?         John 14:6

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

“The Foolishness of God”

John 2:13-22 / 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

There are many things that I have done in my life that others may have seen as foolish. When I was young and fresh out of High School, there were many who thought that my first step would be to enroll into pre-seminary. In fact, it was so much a belief that our church LWML group had worked on raising money for my tuition and had raised enough that I wouldn’t have to worry. A man I had always admired got me to be a member of the local Junior Toastmasters organization to hone my public speaking skills. Our pastor made no secret of what a great pastor he thought I would be one day. They even had me convinced for a while that this was the course that God had chosen for me. But then I turned it all down. At first glance, that was probably a very idiotic thing to do.

At 18, I fell in love with a beautiful 17 year old girl. We dated for a while and decided early that God had sent us each other, so we were wed before she even turned 20. People said we were too young and I look at my beautiful daughter who is almost 2 years older then her mother was when she got married and I can’t imagine her being married myself. Some thought we were unwise, and maybe we were.

 

At 48, I decided to finally enter seminary. My wife had an excellent job she loved. My daughter had friends she had cherished her whole life. Our finances were tapped and we had to move to the big city of St. Louis and hope everything would go according to plan. I had a job I loved already, doing what I would be going to school to do. It sounds crazy and I’d probably think the same had it been someone else.

But by the grace of God, everything worked out. I became the pastor many in my home church thought I would be. I’m still in love and married to my teenage sweetheart and had I not gone to seminary, I wouldn’t be speaking to you today. What had seemed foolish happened to work out somehow.

So, what is a fool? Is it someone who lives outside the norms of society? Is it someone who dares to do something different, even when the risk seems insurmountable? Is it the person who does the unexpected and unaccepted? Just who is a fool?

Was Noah a fool to build a huge ship in the middle of a desert? The people all around him sure thought so, maybe even his family at times. Was Moses a fool for going back to mighty Pharaoh for his people? Many thought he was, including Moses himself. Was Ezekiel the fool for challenging the 450 prophets of Baal? King Ahab and his wife Jezebel thought he was.

Was Jesus a fool to enter the temple with a whip and chase out the money-changers? You can bet more thought Him a fool then didn’t. Sometimes what looks foolish is the sanest thing of all.

Most of the time it is to our greater advantage to avoid foolishness. But in our New Testament letter today in 1 Corinthians we learn that there is a time and place for foolishness.  As Christians we are warned in verse 18 that “The Word of God is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  People find foolish what they don’t understand. It was true in Jesus’ day and it’s still true today.

People say we are foolish to put our hope into something we have never seen. They say we are crazy to love a God whose out there somewhere. People call us idiotic for investing so much of our time, treasures and talents into what they consider a fantasy. But sometimes what people find foolish can be the sanest thing of all. The foolishness of God is such a thing.

A first glance, many of the things that God had His people do look foolish. In fact, many of us have experienced those times when we ask God, “Are you absolutely sure this is what you want?” We even give Him time to think about it don’t we, until we finally commit. But what might seem foolish, we find out later, is filled with wisdom.

That’s what God means when He says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise.” Those things that seem foolish to us are not necessarily foolish to God.

In 1 Corinthians Paul is contrasting two groups, the Jews and the Greeks and by Greeks he means mostly Romans, both unbelievers in Christ who find anything Christian to be foolish. The thought that an executed carpenter from Nazareth being the Savior of mankind seemed downright idiotic. What are these Christians thinking? How could they let their faith stray so far from reality?

They lived in a society that worshipped the achievements of man and the potential of man. They followed man’s rules and lived in manly ways. They respected those who were wise or strong or powerful, how could they come to respect this simple laborer from a nowhere town?

The rule of the day was that might was right. The mighty ruled over the weak and the scholars looked down on the uneducated. To accept that an apparent act of weakness such as being executed by hanging on a tree could be then somehow transformed into the greatest of powers of salvation for all mankind could not be believed by those who thought they knew better, including the Jewish religious leaders.

 

This was a time of “high thinking.” People were deeply involved in philosophical discussions and reason. This was a time for studying Plato, Socrates and Cicero. To think that Christ’s sacrifice is what the Jews had been waiting for, for thousands of years, was just irrational. It just didn’t measure up to the pictures in their minds they had formed of the Messiah. They were waiting for a mighty warrior king to save them from the heavy hands of the Romans, not for some small town Rabbi preaching a message of peace. To think otherwise would be foolish.

The Jews were looking for someone to shake things up in a way that was equal to the world’s idea of power. They considered themselves to be the wisest race in the world and they were more than willing to tell you why. Surly salvation would come through military might. They just could not reconcile the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to what they expected from the coming Messiah. They considered His death a failed attempt at fooling the people, just another charlatan who professed to be something He was not. How foolish do they think we are?

What neither group, the Jews or the Greeks, was ready to see is that God’s ways are not our ways. God works in ways that the world considers foolish and weak. He picks flawed people to do mighty things. He accepts the poor, the weak and the disenfranchised. He eats with sinners, He heals lepers and reaches out to beggars. He brings the chance of salvation to all people no matter their position in life, warts and all.

Christ’s sacrifice went right to the root of the problem the world was facing. It grabbed them where they suffered most. It addressed their sinful nature past, present and future. His war was not with the Romans, it was with sin. He attacked the root of all the world’s dilemma’s – evil, rebellion and deceit, and in doing so, he allowed people to experience what true freedom really is. The freedom from sin and all its trappings, the freedom from the evil that encumbered them, and He did it out of His love for us and not His hate for the Romans. Finally the light was to show in the darkness. He didn’t come to fight a temporary foe but to conquer, once and for all, the wicked darkness that had plagued mankind since Adam and Eve. The foolishness of God brought sin its death blow, allowing us to be free.

So, were those who decided to follow Jesus foolish? We know now they weren’t but when it was happening I’m sure they even felt sorry for Jesus’ disciples wondering how they could fall so far from reality as to believe the words of this simple man.

Furthermore, it seemed that those who were responding to this man were the outcasts of society with nothing else to grasp onto then the words of a man who thought He was God. They were the undesirables who others had cast off. “That’s fine, He can have them,” they would say, “no one else seems to want them.”

What they failed to understand about God is that he doesn’t play favorites. They failed to understand that God can use all people, no matter their perceived weakness, to do mighty things in the world.

It might seem foolish to us that God would choose us to do anything let alone influence others. It might seem foolish that God would use such flawed people as us to spread His good news when in His infinite power He could have found a better way. It might seem foolish that God would send His only Son to be executed in such a terrible way so that we might gain freedom from sin, but God’s ways are not our ways and He has shown us more than a few examples of how His way is the best way.

Mankind likes to tell God that they can handle it and they even try to coach Him on how to do things. Last week in our Gospel lesson, Peter thought he knew better so he saw fit to chastise Christ. Christ responds saying, “get behind me Satan!” Today we look at our own lives and can see examples how we continue to do the same things by our thoughts and actions.

Despite the scorn God gets, He continues to do things His way and we can thank Him for that. Those who are like the Romans of Christ’s day, seek salvation through their own terms, but, just as in Jesus’ time, they will be very disappointed at the results. Because their faith is put in things apart from God, that is where they will ultimately end, apart from God.

If you’ve regarded the work of God foolish in the past, hopefully now you see that His way is the only way toward salvation. Only through the sacrifice of Christ have we won the battle over evil and sin. I encourage you to put your trust in the wisdom of God and not in the foolishness of man. I encourage you to re-examine your relationship with Jesus Christ and experience the true wisdom and love of the Savior who knew exactly what He was doing when He so willingly faced the cross.

God has great plans for all of us and He has great plans for Redeemer as well. At times it might not come about in ways we might see as wise, but that’s ok because God is in control. He invites you to place your whole trust in Him because, someday we will come to understand His ways, even those ways we thought at one time to be foolish. He wants you, no matter your faults, your shortcomings or your dilemma’s. His kingdom has plenty of room for all believers, even us cracked pots. Amen

 

 

Bible Study: 1 Corinthians 18:31

 

Bible Study Questions – 1 Corinthians: 18-31

Who are “those who are perishing”? How do they see the cross? Who are the saved? How do they see the cross?

How can people hear the message of Christ differently?

How does the message of the Cross contrast with what most people consider wise?

How does the cross destroy the wisdom of men and why does God want to destroy it? How does verse 24 fit in with this verse? Isaiah 29:14, 55:8-9; Jeremiah 9:23-24

A.W. Tozer in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy” says these words, “When Christian theology declares that God is wise. It means vastly more than it says or can say, for it tries to make a comparatively weak word bear an incomprehensible fullness of meaning that threatens to tear it apart and crush it under the sheer weight of the idea.” What do you think he means?

Give current day examples of the wise, the scribe and the debater of this age.

What are some examples of the wisdom of the world (wise)? What are some of the popular Philosophies of our day?

What role do you think the media (news, television shows, movies, etc.) play in influencing us to trust the wisdom and advice of the world?

How does prayer help us combat the wisdom of the world?

Why is Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks? Why the different words?

What does the “foolishness of God” mean? Can you think of any examples of this in the Bible?

Why does God express His power and wisdom through “foolish,” “weak,” and “lowly” means?

What makes the difference with those who are called? Why is it wisdom to us and not others? Are we just smarter?

Verse 27: why? This verse seems to say that Christianity is against rational thinking. Is it?

What does it mean “the things that are not, so that he may bring to nothing (the things) that are”?

How can we boast in the Lord?

Why do some refuse to believe?

How does the wisdom of man conflict with God’s design?

The end of this chapter (vs 26-31) has two interwoven messages. They are closely related but significantly different and it is important that we understand both of them:
A) the source of our righteousness, i.e., being right with God and
B) the key Christian quality of humility.
What do these mean to you personally?

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)