As we prepare to take this journey with Jesus through the Holy Week, I just want to highlight what this journey will look like for all of us.
I. PALM SUNDAY (TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM)
Palm Sunday starts off a week of remembrance for Christians, often referred to as Holy Week. The week ends with the celebration of Easter, and throughout this week we mark the different events that led to Jesus’ Resurrection and Easter. This means that Palm Sunday is a kind of paradoxical celebration. At worship services, there is likely a festive atmosphere. I have been part of many services where children wave palm branches and parade around the worship space shouting “Hosanna!” The paradox is that we celebrate knowing full well what came next in the story, after Jesus’ triumphal entry: He was rejected, betrayed and crucified.
II. HOLY THURSDAY (MAUNDY THURSDAY)
When we read Mark 11:1-10 we realize the scenery is close to Passover. He will soon celebrate what we know as the Last supper. It is during that time Jesus changes bread and wine to His body and blood. Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus Christ’s institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper, which is described in the Christian Bible (Matthew 26:26-28)
III. GOOD FRIDAY (CRUCIFIXION)
This will be the time we reflect and ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a great and powerful thing. It’s a virtue of its own in my opinion. We must forgive in order for us to move on and grow. We must set aside hostilities and anger. We must put away the jealousy and hatred. (Mark 11:25-26). Jesus tells the criminal hanging on the cross near Him and says, Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). Good Friday is a day that proclaims God’s purpose of loving and redeeming the world through the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
IV. EASTER (RESURRECTION)
After Good Friday, we will then prepare for our Lord’s resurrection! My favorite time of the year! A time when we can reflect and say thanks Lord for forgiving our sins! What a joyous season because it’s the season to some as being born again. Easter Season is very important in the Christian calendar because it celebrates on the one hand the risen Christ with His appearances and teachings and on the other hand the beginnings of the Christian church.
As we prepare our hearts to Journey with Jesus through this Holy Week, may each of us have a wonderful Holy Week.
Luke 9: 23-24 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
Lent is a forty-day period before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday.
In the days when fire was vital for cooking and heat, a major part of housekeeping was keeping ashes under control, during times when serious problems arose that housekeeping chore would often be left undone and so a person who was in mourning or suffering distress would often have ashes on his/her face. Eventually putting on ashes became part of the mourning process. Ash Wednesday is about mourning for the sin which makes the sacrifice necessary.
Lent is a season of soul-searching, a time for reflection and taking stock. In the earliest days of the Church, lent began as a time of preparation for Easter, and by observing lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness.
The last three days before Lent are sometimes called Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), Shrove Tuesday, or Carnival. This stems from the tradition of using up the household foods that would be abstained from during lent. (Fatty foods, meat – Carnival is farewell to meat)
How can we use the 40 days of lent to prepare our hearts for Christendom’s most sacred holiday?
What do we do during the 40 days to shake ourselves from business as usual to a more spiritually attuned life?
I. Self-denial. The Christian faith is supposed to be about imitating Jesus who said some radical things. We tend to want to imitate Jesus in ways that appeal to us; we pick and choose the parts of His life we will emulate based on our own sense of what is really important.
Jesus did fast and pray throughout His ministry. He did deny Himself, He did sacrifice all. Would we be willing to go beyond the comfortable level of self-sacrifice we normally observe in order to more closely imitate Jesus; in order to prepare our hearts for Easter and the rest of our lives?
II. Self-examination. In the Lenten season, self-examination is crucial. An individual’s response to the call for purposeful reflection on one’s need for God is an important factor in choosing a discipline with which to actively observe Lent. For some, fasting is a means of self-examination and denial; yet, fasting is not an appropriate discipline for all people. The purpose of a Lenten discipline is to strip away those things which clutter one’s life or impede one from being in relationship with God. It is also a time for people to experience and reflect on the sufferings of Jesus, in light of personal sin and unrighteousness.
Christianity is about more than outward behavior, it is about the condition of the heart. We need to prepare our hearts for Easter and the rest of our lives by setting aside this time for self-examination and then where necessary, repentance and change.
III. Selfless giving.
As Christ fasted and prayed in the desert for forty days, we try to be mindful of Christ for the standards by which we live our lives, with goals of self-giving and suffering love. With such high goals, any programmatic response may seem to fall short, yet an attempt to incorporate prayer, meditation, and useful action in the path of Christ into our lives, is invaluable. Jesus wants us to give ourselves to prayer this Lenten season and throughout our journey with Him.
If people want to temporarily give up certain things for Lent as a sign of love for their Savior, that’s fine. But what Christ is really concerned about is what’s in our hearts. On Ash Wednesday, we begin that long walk to the cross, where we see just how serious and terrible our sins are. But there we also see how wonderful and deep our Savior’s love is for us. The road doesn’t end there, but at the empty tomb, where Jesus rises from the dead to prove that all of our sins have been forgiven. May God bless us as we begin our Lenten Journey. Amen!
Do we know what this is? This is one of the final statements Jesus made to His followers before His ascension back to the Father. We call this statement the Great Commission? But really what it is our calling card – our purpose statement – our elevator pitch!
I believed the church exists to introduce people to Christ, to help them experience an authentic growing relationship with Him so that they might go out in His name and repeat the process (making disciples).
In describing this text, most people would say this teaching is the purpose of the church’s existence. And certainly, I would fall into this camp. I would say that to make a disciple begins with connecting someone to Christ through salvation and then connecting them to His church for ministry care and concern.
Now depending on who you ask, you might find a wide variety of interpretations regarding what it means to “make disciples.” Many churches and pastors today believe this passage to be a command to evangelize the world. Yet while there’s certainly an evangelistic bent to Christ’s command, I believe His instructions go far beyond sharing the gospel. Let us look at this text in three ways:
I. WHAT IS A DISCIPLE?
Making disciples speaks to the idea of a learning believer – someone who is in the process of fully developing in his/her faith with love for God.
As I have been speaking about discipleship the last weeks, a disciple can be defined this way:
He/She is available to God
He/She has affection for God
He/She submits to the authority of God
He/She lives for the agenda of God
He/She waits on the assurance of God
And part of the essential disciplines to become a disciple are:
The ability to hear and distinguish God’s voice
The ability to handle God’s word
The ability to honor God’s covenant truths
A readiness to herald God’s truth, to help others at the point of their need and to serve them to God
It’s the difference between a one-time profession of faith (Member) and a lifetime of spiritual growth and increasing godliness (Disciple)
It is also the difference between someone who seeks a God relationship and someone who settles for a good religion. We are called to be developed as disciples at Cornerstone.
II. WHAT IS DISCIPLE-MAKING?
Before we can answer this question there’s a fundamental truth we all must absorb – disciples are made as one maturing disciple takes spiritual responsibility for another soul to influence them to Christ. Everything else supports the disciple-making process – the pulpit, small groups, etc.
Sadly though, it appears as if we’ve been tempted to do everything except the one thing Jesus called us to do. Did you know that Jesus never told us to…
Start Sunday School and Form classes
Create Programs and Construct Buildings
Build Colleges/Seminaries and Organize Conventions
Hold Conferences and Sponsor Events
All that is wonderful and needed. But the mission of the Christian and God’s Church is to pour the Jesus that has been pour into us into another until they are capable of doing the same for another.
For Jesus, making disciples meant repeating the process He performed with the 12 and they with others. Meaning – to be a disciple of Jesus is to make a disciple for Jesus.
Dawson Trotman in “Born to Reproduce” asked: “Men, where is your man? Women, where is your woman? Where is the one whom you led to Christ and who is now going on with them? How many persons do you know by name today who were won to Christ by you and are now living for Him? How is the life of Christ in you being multiplied through you in the world?” Those are the questions we all need to answer here at Cornerstone.
III. HOW ARE GOING TO MAKE DISCIPLES?
Cornerstone, we are not going to be consumer-driven for the best product, but culturally relevant and biblically centered. We are not going to be competitor-oriented, looking to compare with the churches down the street. We are going to be community-passionate about advancing a Kingdom one person at a time.
We are going to invert our ministry model and return to a biblical model (Cornerstone Discipleship Pathway) placing a premium on the One on One and then affording the small groups and corporate worship encounters to support the disciple-making process.
We are going to be more intentional with guests and new members, to begin with, clarity about who we are and why we do what we do as a church through our Cornerstone Connection Center, minister by Cornerstone Hospitality Team.
We are going to re-focus our small groups into churches within the church, focused on our community-at-large where ministry and connection are prioritized through community and missional service.
We are going to strive to help others learn to hear God’s voice, handle Scripture, and honor covenant so that they will herald His truth and help others to Christ. May God help us to become disciples and make disciples. Amen!
Luke 9:23 Please read the scripture linked above before reading this month’s article!
Are we just followers, or true disciples of Jesus? There is a difference! If we are a true disciple, then we have rewards in heaven. If we are just followers, we may not.
William Barclay said, “it is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, ‘’So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The scholar answered, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the church that in the church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.”
As we come into the year 2020, let me remain us that we are called to be disciples and make disciples for the Kingdom of God. To keep us focus on such mission in 2020 and beyond, Luke tells us what will be required on this path to discipleship:
I. COMMITMENT——–V. 23a
“If any want to become my followers…”
In the world that we live in today, commitment is a rare commodity. Commitment means that you will cling to something and refuse to let go of if it, no matter the cost. Too often, though, in our lifestyles, we have no idea what real commitment means. We get too comfortable in our easy chairs with our remotes, when we are called to a mission that could cost us our lives.
Have we really calculated the cost it takes to be a disciple? Can I finish the course: Can I follow Christ to the end? Commitment means that we will cling to something and refuse to let go of it, no matter the cost. That is the kind of commitment Jesus is asking of us. Remember, a disciple is a one convinced adherent of another person and commits his/her life to emulate that person.
II. CRUCIFY——–V. 23b
“Let them deny themselves…”
To whom do we belong? Are we acting like it? Are we crucifying our own lusts and desires to bring glory to the King?
Once we have calculated the cost of commitment in following Christ, we are instructed to kill our old person, and crucify our old ways of living and thinking. If we have committed ourselves to Christ, we no longer belong to ourselves. Because in the act of commitment, we are denying self, and fully giving of ourselves to Jesus.
“Take up their cross…”
The first thing that we must understand about carrying is that every disciple will have a cross to carry. It is impossible to expect to be a true disciple and be free of trials, tribulations and troubles. And when you start to truly follow Christ, you can expect them to multiply, because the devil will be there to try to stop you.
Second, we must understand that the imagery here is of a Roman crucifixion. The Roman soldiers would fix a cross beam for the convicted felon to carry on his journey to death. Every disciple must take up his own cross that God has wisely made just for us on our journey through life, until we die. We are not to bear someone else’s cross, for it is made not for us. While we can “bear one another’s burdens,” we must carry our own cross.
Taking up our cross has always meant our willingness to endure any hardship for the cause of Christ. The willingness to endure any shame, embarrassment, persecution, or hardship. It means that we will sacrifice our life and resources for the cause of Christ just as He sacrificed everything for the cause of us!
Only when a person is committed, denies himself/herself and takes up his/her cross is he/she ready and able to follow Christ. True discipleship is submission to the Lordship of Christ. To follow Christ is to put God’s plan for our life into action. It means that “wherever He leads we will go.”
If God tells us to go to the mission field, we will be following Him because He’s already there! If He tells us to teach a class, we will be following Him because He’s already prepared the lesson. If He tells us to preach the Word, we will be following Him because He’s already prepared the message.
Let us make our personal desires and goals secondary in life and make God’s will our #1, pleasing God and sharing Christ every chance we got. Looking forward to serving with you all in 2020. Happy New Year!!!
December 1, 2019 is the first Sunday of the Advent Season in the church year. The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” Jesus is coming – His arrival is just around the corner – and that is what we focus on during the Advent season. The Advent season is four Sundays long, which is why we have the four Advent candles – each candle is lit as we progress through the Advent season, until we reach Christmas, when we celebrate Christ’s first arrival as a baby in Bethlehem.
Advent is also a time for looking ahead for the second coming of Christ. “Ready”! That is the key word our gospel lesson mentioned.
Our gospel lesson says very plainly “So, you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”.
And how do we get ready?
I. Daily Preparation
We are ready for His second coming by our daily preparation. Are you preparing for this day? Or, are you procrastinating? A spiritual procrastinator is someone who’s not ready. Someone who says, “Eventually I’ll get my act together spiritually. But not right now. I have too much going on.”
Most people are still unprepared for the arrival of Christ. What about you? We struggle with this too, don’t we? “We will grow in my spiritual life,” we say, “but we will grow later.” “We will pray”, we say, “but we will figure out how to do that later”.
Advent is a time of preparation. Martin Luther talked about this as he tells us to “drown our old self daily in the waters of our Baptism and then to rise up again as a new, forgiven person living in the grace of God.”
II. Daily Repentance
We are to be ready for the coming of Christ through our act of repentance. We acknowledge before God that we need His grace through Christ, then we are symbolically drowned in the waters of Baptism and raised up to a new life.
We are to be ready by daily repentance. Repentance is the act of turning away from our sins to live a new life in Christ. And so if the second coming does come, God will see us as in our new selves, cleansed by the blood of Christ. God will recognize us because He made us clean through Jesus’ sacrifice.
Daily we must repent because daily we sin. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that we do not have to repent because we are good even for God. We are never good enough for God. We are sinful people who need the daily washing away of our sins.
C.S. Lewis said:“A Christian is not one who never goes wrong, but one who is enabled to repent and begin over again after each stumble—because of the inner working of Christ.”
III. Daily Watch
A large number of Christians today don’t believe that Jesus will come during their lifetime. A Christian is someone who is always preparing, always watchful, always ready for the moment everything stops. That doesn’t mean that we stop doing the things we do. Those religious cults that tell people to quit their jobs and sit up on a mountain and wait for the end of the world – they are way off. That’s not what Jesus means when he says to be ready.
Watching for Christ means prioritizing for Christ. We do all the things we normally do, but Jesus is number one. Our relationship with Him is not at the bottom of our list of priorities, but at the top. Worship with other Christians – at the top. Bible study with other Christians, and by myself – at the top. Prayer is not something we do for 5-10 seconds a day if we remember, but it becomes a priority. Our relationship with Jesus becomes number one in our lives – that’s what it means to be watchful, to be ready.
Advent is a time to refocus and regroup. Christ came as a baby and we celebrated. Christ will come again, of that we are assured. Christ comes into our midst today and that is where the living is today. And so, we begin Advent – as Edward Peterman puts it by “preparing for the revelation – that is, the full disclosure – of Jesus in the joy and sorrow, the laughter and the tears, the comedy and the tragedies of our daily lives here and now”. Therefore, Be Ready!!!
I Thessalonians 5:16-18: 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
When some think about thanksgiving they generally think about 3 things: Family, Food, and Football! WHAT? Yes, I’m serious. When they think of that 4th Thursday in November, those are the first things that pop in there! It is traditionally a day of being thankful for the stuff we have!
And that is the world’s perspective of thanksgiving. That could also be the reason why it is limited to a once a year event and to those things that are tangible.
In this passage, Paul tells us that true thanksgiving is a life of daily thanksliving. Paul tells us in these 3 verses to remember a few ways we can apply thanksliving in our daily life.
I. REJOICE ALWAYS ……..V. 16
Rejoicing is not always about being happy! It is about being joyful! People are naturally happy on some occasions: Birthdays, Anniversaries, heading to Disney World, are all things that make us happy! Joy is not natural, but rather supernatural.
Christian’s joy is not dependent on circumstances. It comes from what Christ has done. It is constant – does not fade away! The lesson for the church is for us to be joyful! Because it is through our joy that we are able to allow ourselves to praise the Lord in good times, and not so good times!
II. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING……..V. 17
Why is it important to pray without ceasing? It is the only way to cultivate a joyful attitude in times of trial.
It does not mean we should be on our knees 24/7!!! But that our hearts should be willing to be in constantly recurring prayer, growing out of a dependence on God. That means lifting our hearts to God whether words are uttered or not. But also allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us in all situations.
Lesson for the church is prayer is our most powerful but the most unused resource. Often, we use prayer to manipulate God and easily give up when God doesn’t answer the way we feel is right. The primary purpose of prayer is NOT to change ourselves, NOT to change our situations, but to RESPOND BACK to our Creator. It seems basic, but that’s what it’s all about—building our relationship with God.
Now Paul is about help us experience that Rejoicing Always and Pray Without Ceasing pave the way for Giving Thanks!
III. GIVE THANKS……..V. 18
People of God thanked Him for everything! Why should we give thanks to God? Everything we have, our family, job, house, finances, friends…they are all blessings given to us by the Lord. All those experiences we gain, all that is good, and even some of those things that can test us…He is present in them! Because even our problems are temporary parts to God’s larger plan for our spiritual well-being.
Lesson for the church is to ask God to forgive us for ignoring Him in our life-by not giving Him thanks all the time. We need to make thanksgiving and thanksliving a habit in our lives all the time. We should not wait for a special day, but make it a daily practice.
Therefore, we should start thanksliving because it is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus. Thanksliving is appropriate for every circumstance of daily life. It can abound in any aspect of human life. It will activate the joy of the Christian life. Because true thanksgiving is a life of daily thanksliving. Happy Thanksgiving and Thanksliving to you all!!!
It seems that some people refuse to give no matter what. I believe more people would give to God’s work through the Church if they just knew how fun it is! There is a great benefit to giving not only to the recipients of the gift, but to the givers, as well. Generosity brings great joy to everyone!
At least that’s what the believers in the First Century church at Philippi discovered. They had supported the Apostle Paul in his missionary efforts. So, Paul writes them a thank-you note, expressing his gratitude for their gifts. Only in the note, he does not tell them how much the gift helped him. No. He tells them how much their gift helped themselves!
When the Philippian believers gave, there was “fruit that increased to their credit”. And the same is true for everyone who gives. So…
GIVE AND BRING PRAISE TO GOD——–V. 10
Give and increase God’s fame in the world. Give and cause people to rejoice in the Lord. That’s what Paul did when he received a gift from the Philippian believers. In verse 10 he said, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord”. Their gift made his day. It lifted his spirit. It caused him to praise God, even though he was sitting in prison.
And do you know? Our giving will do the same. Our generosity will cause people to rejoice in the Lord and bring glory to God.
An article in The Washington Post gave the facts about what is really going on in the American Church when it comes to joyful generosity. Rob Schwarzwalder and Pat Fagan, the writers of that article said, “Broadly speaking, American churches are incredibly generous to the needs of a hurting world.” Then they presented some stats to back up that claim:
In 2009, overseas relief and development supported by all American churches exceeded $13 billion.
That compares to $5 billion sent abroad by foundations in the same year, $6 billion from private and voluntary relief organizations apart from church support, and $9 billion donated internationally by corporations.
In 2012 alone, the evangelical relief group World Vision spent “roughly $2.8 billion annually to care for the poor,” which ranks World Vision about 12th within the G-20 nations in terms of overseas development assistance.
In addition, Christian groups such as the UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), Samaritan’s Purse, Food for the Hungry, World Relief, and many others provide hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-poverty programs and disasters at home and abroad.
And don’t forget the countless hours that churches (like ours), ministries, and individual believers devote to helping the poor. They and we are involved in food pantries, mobile meals and many more caring ministries all over the country.
The generosity of God’s people all over the world is a powerful witness to the love of Christ. Our giving brings great honor and glory to the Savior we profess.
My dear friends, our generosity will do the same. Our sacrificial giving will give powerful credibility to the Savior we profess. So, give and bring praise to God. More than that…
GIVE AND PARTICIPATE IN THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL——–V. 14-15
Give and be a part of extending the good news of Jesus Christ around the world. Give and partner with those who proclaim the truth of God’s Word to a world in desperate need of Him.
That’s how the Philippian believers partnered with Paul. Paul tells them in verse 14, “you shared my troubles,” and in verse 15, “No church entered into a partnership with me… except you only.”
The words “shared” and “partnership” comes from the same root word in the original Greek language. It’s the word koinonia, and it means to have things in common or to share together. These Philippian believers shared in Paul’s troubles. They shared in his victories, and they shared in his ministry.
The Philippian believers, through their giving, were just as much a part of Paul’s ministry as he was! In other words, when Paul led somebody to Christ, they were a part of that. When Paul planted a church, they were a part of that. And when Paul stood before kings, they were a part of that too. Paul’s ministry was their ministry because they had given to support that ministry.
In the same way, when we give to support someone’s ministry through our apportionments, we’re just as much a part of that ministry as they are. When you give to support the ministry of Cornerstone United Methodist Church, you are just as much a part of this ministry as the pastor. When we give to support the spread of the gospel through our apportionments to the General Church, we are just as much involved as the one sharing the gospel in words and deeds. Our giving allows us to be a part of transforming lives for eternity!
Did you hear that? God not only made us to be recipients of His grace, but also participants in the movement of His own generosity. It’s an honor to give, a dishonor to only receive. So, give and bring praise to God. Give and participate in the spread of the Gospel. And finally…
III. GIVE AND PROFIT FROM IT YOURSELF——–V.17-19
Give and experience the fruit of your generosity. Give and discover the benefits of your liberality.
That’s what happened to the Philippian believers. In verse 17, Paul told them I don’t seek your gift, “but I seek the fruit it increases to your account.” In other words, Paul says your giving doesn’t profit me as much as it profits you! Then Paul continues in verses 18-28…
Philippians 4:18-20 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)
Their gift was pleasing to God, which not only brought praise to God; it resulted in the promise of God’s rich provision. They had supplied some of Paul’s needs. Now Paul tells them, “God will supply all of their needs.”
That’s what happened to the Philippian believers, and that same thing can happen to us when we give!
There are some who say, “I can’t afford to give. I have too many bills to pay, too many mouths to feed, too many needs.” Well, I say, “You can’t afford not to give, because God promises to supply every need of yours when you do give.” You see, verse 19 is a promise for givers! It doesn’t apply to all Christians. It applies only to those who give.
For the believer, this doesn’t usually happen; it always happens, because God promised it! “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”, not out of His riches, but according to those riches!
So, give and bring praise to God. Give and participate in the spread of the Gospel. Give and profit from it yourself. Amen!!!
Seven times on the seventh day the children of Israel marched around the city. The seven priests marching before the ark of the Lord blew their trumpets and the people shouted and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. They marched into the city and destroyed every living thing. It was a victory that some say could not happen. It was a victory that some people today deny could happen. They cannot understand how the Biblical account of the destruction of such a strong city could even be true. But the story of Joshua and Jericho teach us some valuable lessons:
Who’s In Control——–V. 1-2, 16
Joshua was given the leadership of the children of God and he would lead them into the promised land. The entrance had already been divine as they crossed the Jordan River on dry ground much like their parents crossed the Red Sea on dry ground 40 years earlier. Taking that first step into the promised land was a great victory.
Joshua new the first battle would be Jericho and that as a city it was strong. He had already had two spies check out the city and now it was time to plan the attack. Joshua 6:1-2, 16 will tell you the greatest point I will make in this lesson on victory: you need to be on the Lord’s side, the Lord on yours. Never forget who is in control.
Just a reminder, it took 40 years to enter this promised land. The last time this opportunity was offered by God, 12 spies had gone into the land and 10 of them said, “we can’t do it!” They were told of their sin and the 10 were killed by God. The people said they would go, but Moses told them that God was no longer with them. In their presumption they went to battle – and lost.
Understand that unless you are on God’s side, nothing else matters in the spiritual life of victory. Many times, I have asked God to be with me, but maybe I ought to be asking if I can be with him, no matter where He is. Living with God may take me through some stormy weather, it may take me onto a glorious mountain, but where God is, is where I want to be, for there is victory.
Doing It His Way——–V. 3-7
To live in victory is to live with God. To live with God means to live as he directs. God doesn’t always direct like we think. How many major battle plans involve marching around a city carrying a box and blowing trumpets and having people shout?
If you are going to live in victory it will require of you to walk in the pathway of faith. It takes us humbly submitting ourselves to God before God lifts us up. Sometimes I forget the humbly submitting part and just want God to pick me up and be on my side.
Our victorious life should be based upon doing the will of the Father and not ourselves. That means get beyond you and into God. Will God way always make sense? Do you not think that walking around a city sounded foolish to some? I don’t have to understand God will in order to be victorious, I just have to do it by faith.
That means taking what you learn from God through the Bible and putting it into action. Many of us hear great classes or lessons that prick our hearts, but instead of letting the guilt motivate us we wallow in self-pity. Get up, get to work, and start going God’s direction instead of your own. Let me tell you from my own personal experience, I am not very good at life’s directions.
III. Victory Belongs to Him——–V. 20-21
The challenge of a victorious life is to be the winner in the end. The way to be the winner is to fight the good fight, finish the course and keep the faith. For it is then that the Lord will give you the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8). It takes being faithful unto death, as John tells the church in Smyrna, and then you will get the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).
Dr. Alan Redpath in his commentary on Joshua suggests that many people don’t see the answers to their prayers simply because they have stopped one round short in their conquest of their personal Jericho. We may have been doing the right things, but we simply stop doing them.
Living in victory means you don’t quit. Do you remember the old song that said, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden, along with sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime.” I believe the same can be said about the Christian life. It is not always easy, it is not always spiritual high’s, it is not always Sunday. Sometimes the Monday morning blues come. Sometimes the pain comes into life. Sometimes it’s hard. Live in victory and don’t quit.
Today an attitude change can begin in your life. God wants you to live with the faith and power that may have been missing in your spiritual life. As John put it, faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Are you ready to overcome? Are you ready to live? Are you ready to be victorious? Live in the victory that God gives.
In his book on “Prayer”, E. M. Bounds emphasizes that a praying church is a successful church: “Success is sure to follow a church given to much prayer. The supernatural element in the church, without which it must fail, comes only through praying. More time in this bustling age must be given to pray by a God-given church… More heart and soul must be in the praying that is done if the church would go forth in the strength of her Lord and perform the wonders that is her heritage by divine promise.”
Every one of us has experienced the power of personal prayer. We have experienced times where we have called out to God in the secret place of prayer and He has heard and answered us in power, not for our glory but for His. There is something special when you enter God’s presence for yourself and you talk to Him in secret. It’s something we should all do and do often.
There is also power when the Church prays together as a corporate body. There is a special dynamic that comes into play when the Church comes together, united in faith and purpose to seek God’s face in prayer.
Let’s look at this passage as I share some truths on the subject “When the Church Prays”.
The Purpose of Prayer——–Vs. 1-4
There were attacks as James had been beheaded by Herod and Peter was on death row awaiting his own execution. The Jews hated the gospel and so they pressed these attacks against the Church. Herod persecuted the Church as it gave him political advantage.
There was apprehension as the Church didn’t know what the future held and as a result of this, fear and concern came upon them regarding the future of the Church.
There was and still is an adversary. Herod killed James and arrested Peter and this brought pleasure to the Jews. Both of them were responsible for the persecution but they were merely instruments in the hands of Satan. He hated the church, the gospel and the Lord that they served and we still have the same problems today. If there was a time where the Church should be united in prayer, it is now.
I want to encourage us to make the prayer for the harvest of souls a matter of urgency in our everyday living. We need to pray on a more consistent basis and using every opportunity to pray for God to do miraculous things here in our presence.
Could God do something of such magnitude that we would all be astonished? I know He can. And the secret to getting Him to do this is to have this church pray more sincerely and more often. I believe that the more we have in number in prayer the more we can show God that we as a church are sincere.
The People of Prayer——–V. 5
There is a word in verse 5 that makes a difference, the word but. The situation is desperate, but! Peter might be put to death, but! When faced with overwhelming problems the Church called out to God and prayed. Let’s examine their prayer:
It was fervent prayer. When we apply fervency to our prayers, it is a picture of the Church pouring out their hearts towards God as we seek Him to meet our needs.
It was faithful prayer. By this I mean they prayed and believed God would hear them as they prayed for Peter. Faith makes the difference between answered and unanswered prayer.
It was focused prayer. Their focus for the prayer meeting was Peter. When we ask God for specific needs in prayer and He answers, it brings glory to Him, assures us of our relationship with Him and our faith is increased. When you pray, be specific.
It was family prayer. The Church had gathered to pray for one of their own. They sought God’s help for a brother in need. How much time do we spend praying for other people? People that may be facing a life-threatening disease? Those are the people that we should be touching heaven for. There are others who are lost. We should be touching heaven for them. People that are struggling with needs, burdens and problems are the people that we should be touching heaven for. Your brothers and sisters in Christ need you to touch heaven on their behalf.
III. The Power of Prayer——–Vs. 6-11
There is no greater demonstration of the power of prayer than is given here in this passage. Try to visualize what happened.
Peter was bound with chains – there were 16 guards around him and he was sleeping between two soldiers at the time this event took place. Vs. 7. The prison door was
guarded by the keepers. Peter was in a maximum-security prison. No prison breaks happen here. But then the chains fell off Peter.
God is the master of all the chains. The doors opened before Peter and the angel. God has keys for all the locks. There is no door that God cannot open. The men and keepers of the prison didn’t even see Peter and the angel. They locked Peter in, but they couldn’t lock God out.
It was a time of powerful salvation. God intervened and saved Peter’s life because of the Church praying and asking Him to. Church, our God can do powerful things in our midst when the Church prays.
We need to be people that grab a hold of God as individuals and as a Church. The only way things will change is if we as a Church come together in unity and seek God in prayers because great things happen when the Church prays. Amen!!!
Psalm 23:1 ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
David once served as a shepherd as he tended his father’s sheep on the Judean hillsides. He knew the responsibility and the obligation and the duties of the shepherd.
If we could believe that God is our Shepherd at Cornerstone United Methodist Church; that He is going to take care of us, then we would have no need to worry about anything. We just simply be the sheep and allow God to be the Shepherd. When we make the Lord our Shepherd how is that the answer to our worries? The trust comes when we realize what a shepherd is:
A SHEPHERD PROVIDES: God will provide food, shelter, and the basic necessities for us as a church.
A SHEPHERD PROTECTS: God will defend us against the enemies that are lurking about.
A SHEPHERD GUIDES: God will lead us when we become confused and don’t know which way to go.
A SHEPHERD CORRECTS: Any problem that comes along God will correct it. The amazing thing is this: God has promised to do these four things in our lives if we will trust Him if we will allow Him to be our Shepherd.
As we travel on this new journey together, let this be God’s declaration to Cornerstone United Methodist Church:
“I will PROVIDE for you.” All of our needs will be met.
“I will PROTECT you.” Nothing will harm us.
“I will GUIDE you.” He will lead us to where we need to be.
“I will CORRECT the problems that are in your lives.” He will correct our problems.
All we need to do as a church is to let Him be our Shepherd. May God bless us as we strive to serve Him by serving others.
Twice in the last month or so the Holy Spirit has showed up in worship and interrupted my sermon.
The first time occurred in the Branch service some weeks ago. Brad, as he usually does at the beginning of the service being the worship leader, greeted us gathered there in his usual friendly and down-to-earth way. And he prayed as he usually does, inviting God to be present with us and to open our hearts to experience His power and glory. Only that morning, he confessed he felt a specific sense that there were those present who needed healing. This is interesting, because all week I had been thinking the same thing. I had felt a prompting to pray for healing in worship. In fact, I asked God that morning to show me some sign or confirmation that this was from Him and not just my idea. Well, I certainly got it! We continued on after Brad finished his prayer, singing a few songs. Then came the time of prayer. I shared my own discernment about the need to pray for healing, and so we prayed for one another. I began by asking if there were any who would like prayer. Hands immediately raised. We gathered around each of these people, laying our hands on them, interceding. Different people prayed at different times. Tears were shed. One person confessed that if we had not done this he would not have come forward for healing. We prayed for four people that morning. It was a simple thing, but there was a distinct sense among everyone that all of it was being orchestrated by the Spirit.
The second time came this past Sunday in our Classic service. I was preaching on Jesus’ parable commonly known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15. At the beginning of the sermon, I noticed a woman sitting in the back who I had never seen before. Glad she was there, I continued. About three fourths the way through, as I was preaching about “the older brother” in us, this woman raises her hand and shares that she has a confession she would like to make. To make a long story short, she bravely comes forward and shares her story with the whole congregation, specifically how she is on her way to see her mom with whom she has a broken relationship. This might be extraordinary in its own right, but what was truly amazing to me were the parallels between her story and Jesus’ parable that I happened to be preaching from that morning: broken relationship with a parental figure, inheritance, gone for many years, an older sibling. This woman truly was a prodigal at this point in her life who just happened to stop in to our church to find some gas money to go see her mother. All of this had to be the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. We prayed for her, and I wrapped up my sermon quickly. We spent some time with her after the service, and we helped her. People were moved by the experience.
Now in both these situations things did not go according to plan. In both these services I had to let go of my sermon specifically in some way. In the first, I abbreviated my sermon because of our extended time of prayer. In the second, I was unable to land the sermon the way I had planned. Now I am not complaining. When God wants to change your plans, it’s always a good idea to let God rather than fight God. But it’s not an easy thing to do. It has been said before that the Holy Spirit does work from time to time outside of our plans. When I think of the Holy Spirit’s work I often think about what Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:8: “The wind [same Greek word used for Spirit by the way] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The Spirit works in the ordinary, doing supernatural work that we often don’t see in our lives and in the world. We should never underestimate the Spirit’s presence in normal every day life. However, the Spirit does work in “wild” ways too. In fact the Celtic Christians called the Spirit “the Wild Goose” for this reason. He will always glorify Christ and move within the bounds of Scriptural truth of which He inspired the writing, but His means of doing so may surprise us. I believe the Spirit works outside of our plans from time to time, because we are often so hard pressed to push our own agendas. No matter how well-intentioned, we sometimes don’t leave room for God to work his plans. So, as uncomfortable as it is, it is a grace when the Spirit takes control in even wild ways.
I rejoice that we are seeing the Spirit move in our church, even disrupt in our church. He is forming us to be an ever more faithful community, obedient to God. Moving forward this leads us to a willingness to surrender our expectations, an openness to hear the voice of God through Scripture and prayer, and a willingness to obey the Spirit. I see him working in our various feeding ministries, among our kids, in our youth, in our bands, in our Sunday School classes, in the one-on-one discipleship relationships happening, and at our Dinner Church worship services. The Goose is on the loose!
This summer the fourth Toy Story movie is coming out. I’m sure it will be great, but the first movie will always be my favorite. Toy Story, the first full-length Pixar film, tells the story of a group of toys belonging to a little boy named Andy, and Andy doesn’t know that the toys are actually alive. The movie traces the adventure and challenges these living toys face as Andy’s family packs up and moves into a new house. One of the subplots of the film involves a new toy called Buzz Lightyear, which Andy receives on his birthday. Buzz Lightyear is the new “it” toy, a futuristic action figure, with lights and wings, sounds, bells, and whistles – so much more cool than the long, awkward, sown together Woody the Cowboy who had been Andy’s favorite toy all his life. The strange thing about Andy’s new toy is that Buzz doesn’t believe he is actually a toy. He believes he is actually a space ranger, landed on a strange planet, fighting the emperor Zerg, and that he actually can fly “to infinity…and beyond” as Buzz claims, though Woody ties to convince him otherwise. As the movie reaches its climax, Buzz comes across a Buzz Lightyear television commercial and finally realizes the truth about himself. He is in fact not a space ranger. He is a simple toy. After a spell of disillusionment and stupor, he comes to grips with it and surprisingly discovers life as a toy is actually so much better than life as a space ranger.
The Truth About Ourselves
The reason we have gathered here tonight on Ash Wednesday is something akin to Buzz Lightyear coming to recognize the truth about himself. This day we intentionally carve out time to recognize and remember the truth about ourselves. When we hear in a moment, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return”, we are reminded not that we are toys but that we are just human beings, creatures created by God out of dirt and mud. Our lives are like “grass” that “withers” (Isaiah 40:6,7). We aren’t made of plastic like Buzz, but our bodies decay and can be broken. We are mortal. No matter what we accomplish in this life, no matter what our successes, no matter our fame, it will all one day come to a close and much of it will be forgotten. And as Woody tries to explain to Buzz when he pulls off an elaborate stunt thinking he is flying: we are all just really “falling with style”.
But we will also hear something else tonight: “Repent and believe the gospel”. These were the words of Jesus’ first sermon. “Repent” means to change our mind about the way we have been living our life. We are pressed with a need to change, because there is something within us that is not right. We are still prone to and guilty of choosing to live in selfish love for ourselves and not live in the love of God. In other words, we are sinners. On Ash Wednesday we recognize we aren’t the “space rangers” we sometimes get tricked into thinking we are. We are not the heroes, and rather we have been the villains, opposed to God’s good purposes in this world and in our own lives.
Over two millennia ago this was the truth about us still: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill,” the Lord cries through the prophet Joel to His people. “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” God calls us to come to grips with the truth about ourselves. We are invited to somberly admit our slander of others even our brothers and sisters in Christ, the angry word to our spouse, our glorifying television, entertainment, or food above God, our adulterous fantasies, our name-calling, our prejudicial thoughts about people with a different skin color than our own, our broken promises, our many failures to love, or anything else that we truly want God to change. The ashes on the forehead will mark us as spiritually bankrupt and in need of complete God-change.
A year ago on Ash Wednesday, my kiddo did not want ashes put on his forehead, even from me. There was something that was too frightening to him about it, too much strange or unknown about it. It was outside of his comfort zone. But being marked as broken and sinful before a holy God should make us all uncomfortable shouldn’t it? And would that all of us have the same reverent caution tonight as we receive these ashes.
The Good News
Here’s the good news. Jesus came to save us from our sins. Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18). According to Colossians 1:14, it is in Jesus we find redemption and forgiveness for sin, offered to us as a gift at the cost of Jesus’ life not our own. Praise God for His mercy on us!
But it is only through these ashes that we find this gift. The turning point came for Buzz Lightyear when Woody looks him in the eye and says, “Look, over in that house is a kid who thinks you are the greatest, and it’s not because you’re a space ranger, pal. It’s because you’re a toy! You are his toy!” Everything changes for Buzz. Purpose and hope fill his spirit. Suddenly Buzz comes to realize what he was made for and more importantly who he was made for, but only when he learned the truth about himself.
Remarkably, the same is true for us. When we come to recognize the truth about ourselves symbolized in these ashes, we find the life-transforming love of God. We begin to truly discover Who we were made for and what we were made for as we experience the unconditional love of God, a God Who’s love for us has not changed in our brokenness and sin. Pastor and writer, Tim Keller, says, “To be fully loved but not fully known is superficial. To be fully known and not loved is our greatest fear. To be fully known and fully loved is a lot like the love of God.” Unless we come to God humbly and repentant we never get a chance to receive the fullness of God’s mercy and love. According to his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul struggles and strives and sacrifices everything to bring us this message: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God”. It’s only on our knees in the posture of humility and repentance that we can see the love of the cross in all its wonder through which God forgives us our sin and the empty tomb in all its glory through which God frees us from the power of sin. As Jesus says about his parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee: “the humble will be exalted.” The journey to Easter begins now, not in bright and cheery celebration (though that will come) but in the gray ash that speaks the truth about ourselves. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Edwin Friedman, famous writer and sociologist, explains that for the longest time in the racing world no one could run the mile in four minutes or less. Many great runners had tried it. The great Swedish runners such as Gunder Haag and Arnie Anderson couldn’t break it. Many sports writers were beginning to think it wasn’t possible for a human being to break that record.
Then on May 6, 1954 at Oxford University, an Englishman named Robert Bannister broke the record. Two months later Bannister did it again. Over two decades later John Walker from New Zealand became the first man to run the mile under 3:50. American Steve Scott holds the record now with 136 sub-four-minute miles, and Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco holds the record for the fastest mile run at 3:43.13.
Friedman points out that something called “the emotional barrier” was broken with Bannister’s 1954 run. Once that happened more and more runners began to believe that the four-minute mile was possible, and consequently more people began to run it. In 1994, an African runner beat a world record. One of his running-mates was interviewed afterwards by eager reporters amazed by what his mate did, and of his friend the fellow African runner said, “He is not caught up in the mythology of Wester runners.” What’s possible is limited by what was imagined to be possible.
Friedman’s point was not that anyone can break a running record if he or she just puts his or her mind to it. His point is that we are often shackled by our own limited imaginations, what he calls “an emotional barrier”. This barrier can lower our expectations and cause us to miss all that is truly possible. I believe that the Church is often limited by this emotional barrier: a limited view of what God is able to do in our lives, communities, cities, and world. We don’t expect much from God, and we don’t expect much to happen through us. So nothing much happens.
Jesus expected much more for His Church. He sent the disciples out, commanding them without batting an eye to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers, and proclaim the Kingdom (Matthew 10:7-8). He was heard saying things like “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27) and “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greaterthings than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 12:12). God is after all the God of ninety-nine year-old Abraham, timid Moses, and young David all through which we see God do extraordinary things in seemingly impossible circumstances. God tends to be most active where people are more open and expectant to God’s supernatural work. These “greater things” Jesus speaks of may not make us look like world-beaters in the eyes of others, and these things may not happen instantly or perhaps even in our lifetime; but God will accomplish the vision and passions we let Him place deep within us.
What if God intends to transform the schools around us in radical ways or the run-down apartment complex up the street or the lives of our homeless friends with cardboard signs or our own hurts and addictions? We know from the Scriptures that these are exactly the types of things God is in the business of doing, yet the problem might be our own limited and stunted expectation.
Try praying this: “Lord, what do you want to do? Show me. Amen.”
The black mark lays in the middle of the parking lot at the church I had previously served as pastor, the remnant of a tire peeling out. It’s not very big, but it will certainly be there for a long time. I never heard one remark, complaint, or cry about it, but it is unavoidably seen. It obstructs no one from parking vehicles, but the mark does disrupt the sheen of the recently paved concrete.
The mark exists because of an outdoor basketball goal placed on the lot. The goal draws all sorts of folks from the community to play when the weather is warm. For a number of days in a row last summer we saw a dozen or so high school students gather to play, driving their big trucks on to the property. We often heard the sudden rumble of engines and the screech of tires late in the night when the games were done, and one night their excitement and competitiveness left its mark.
A deep mandate woven into the Bible and into the call of a believer in Jesus is the welcoming of our neighbors, showing hospitality. It is much more than simply having them over. It is a significant declaration that they are safe as they are in your presence, warts and all.
The reality is hospitality is going to leave a mark.
Like that church parking lot to truly practice hospitality one has to be willing to withstand tire tread, have coffee spilt on the carpet, hear language that violates your sensibilities, or even be criticized. It is an act of sacrifice to show this hospitality, but it is a redemptive sacrifice. Jesus shows us this. The truth is we have peeled out all over the Son of God Himself, marking Him when He had opened His life to us and shown the world divine and holy hospitality.“
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed,” Isaiah declares about Jesus. He goes on to say that Jesus remarkably did not show outrage against it, but He patiently endured it.
As Christ’s act of sacrificial hospitality brought peace and healing I trust that, by God’s grace and work, so too ultimately will ours. So when the family down the street comes over for dinner and one of their three kids breaks the leg of a patio chair while playing, patiently remember that it’s not broken in vain.
I recently read an online article written by a woman (let’s call her Heather) who found herself in a fight with her husband one afternoon. The article was describing the way that she and her spouse sorted out quarrels. Rather than scream and cuss and throw things at each other, this couple ignores each other. The way Heather described it: they literally pretend the other is invisible. They walk through the room without acknowledging one another’s presence. They don’t bring the other a cup of coffee in the morning. They certainly don’t say a word to one another while the fight is on. They go about their day as independent agents as if the other person does not exist.
In this particular case, they went to bed in silence, pressing on in their ignoring of one another, and they woke up the same way. It was later that morning, when both had gone to work, that the quarrel was finally resolved. Heather received a text message from her husband that simply read, “I love you.” Heather replied the same, and the fight was over.
As to the wisdom of this way of fighting in relationships, I have my questions. There are certainly times when in a relationship, be it married or friendship or family, people need a break from each other. However, there is a trend in scripture toward calling the people of God to graciously and gently talk things out quickly. Paul, for example, writes, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:25-27).
That being said, what strikes me about this article is Heather’s declaration toward the end that her husband was “the winner” in this – the one who gave in, bit the bullet, broke the silence, reached out in concession. In a lot of relationships, he would have been considered “the loser”. Like in a staring contest, he blinked first. But not in this relationship and not in God’s kingdom. There is something profoundly of Christ in this definition of winners and losers. Jesus says the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16). He is capturing for us the notion that the values of God’s world often appear upside down compared to the values of the broken world we live in. It is the humble, the peace-making, the conceding, the giving, and forgiving that truly understand God’s reality and live as Jesus’ disciples. By contrast, it is the proud, stubborn stonewallers who are considered the winners in a broken world. Jesus invites his disciples to apply God’s values to their relationships. He expresses something of the inner attitude of a disciple in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:38-42):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Is there a fight in your life you need to win? Go win it.
Above the dry-erase board in Ms. Buntin’s eighth-grade classroom in Taft Middle School are posted four statements:
I didn’t get it.
I need more practice.
I can do it.
I can teach it.
Obviously, these are displayed to give students who struggle with learning a pathway to tackle their math assignments. I like these. We see something similar in our progression with Jesus as disciples.
Statement Number One: I didn’t get it.
This is where we all begin. We begin on the outside looking in when it comes to our faith in Jesus. Whether it’s not understanding most of the bible you read or struggling to love your neighbor or giving up that sin habit or your inability to ever get some practice of prayer going in your life, every disciple has started here. But the good news is this is exactly the right place to begin. We recognize right off the bat the important truth that being a disciple is profoundly dependent on God helping us out. Jesus said that “the poor in spirit” become a part of what God is doing in the world (Matthew 5:3) – the dependent not the independent, the needy not those who have it all together. Following Jesus is a partnership with Jesus. Don’t try to follow Him without asking for His help. If you find yourself here with Jesus, let Him know you don’t get it. Admit it to a fellow disciple, and watch God’s grace take it from there.
Statement Number Two: I need more practice.
At some point, however, God will invite you to take a step. You’ve probably heard something like this before: significant things take practice, mess-ups, and do-overs. This applies to our relationship with Jesus Christ as well. Like all good things worth doing, following Jesus will take some work (2 Corinthians 6:4-10), but it is the most rewarding work you will ever do (Mark 10:29-30). In faith we take a step to come closer to Jesus, whether it is carving out five minutes a day to read your bible, designating a time in the morning to pray, or serving someone intentionally once a week. Lately, Jesus has been leading me to embrace the practice of evangelism in my life. This is challenging for me for a few reasons, but I have taken the step of talking with someone outside of our church about Jesus at least once a month. Your step will most likely be different but take the step.
Statement Number Three: I can do it.
Then one day you find yourself following Jesus. The truth is you’re already being a disciple when you admit your need for God’s help (statement one) and when you take that first step (statement two). But sure enough, God will give you what you need to sustain disciple practices in your life, along with your own willingness. More importantly, your passion for following Jesus will grow. You will not only find yourself with the ability to do it, but you will desire to do it. Jesus has that effect on people who come closer to Him (Philippians 3:7-8).
Statement Number Four: I can teach others.
Here’s the sweet-spot. This is the great goal of following Jesus: to help others follow Jesus. Everything Jesus did with His disciples was designed to equip them to make and train disciples themselves with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:15-17). How wonderful is it that we can help others come closer to Jesus, and that we’re called to do it! At this point, you pick a few people, or even one person, to take under your wing and teach them about how you pray, tips on reading your bible, or helping others share their faith. This is called “multiplication”: disciples multiplying themselves. This is Jesus’ method of changing lives and changing the world.
Where are you in this? Is faith in Jesus like a Ugaritic textbook or something? Are you taking those first few wobbly steps in a disciple practice? Are you coming into a nice stride, perhaps having a consistent time with God every day or walking confidently in obedience? Are you thinking about who you might help to be a disciple? Go make Ms. Buntin proud.
The question is not “what” is on your list? So, I’m not talking about a to-do list or a grocery list.
Who is on your list?
The “who” I’m talking about are those people in your circles who have not yet become followers of Jesus, those who have yet to repent and believe in the saving work of Christ, those who have not yet come to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The “who” I’m talking about are those people you know who have not come to know the love of a Father in heaven, those who are not Christians, those who are lost and in need of a Savior, who might be a coworker, who might be a neighbor, who might be an uncle or sister.
And the “list” I’m talking about is a prayer list of these “who’s”. A short list of names (two or three), real people, you are bringing before the Father consistently each week or each day even. This is a list of persons, specific names, you are praying over for two things. First, pray that they would have an “awakening moment” in which they somehow have a profound encounter with the love of Christ or recognize their need to get their life right with God. Second, pray that those on this list would have a “believing moment” in which they are truly ready to turn from their old way of living life and center their whole life around Jesus and surrender to Him, beginning their journey of discipleship.
Who’s on your list?
We often underestimate the significance of prayer in evangelism, but prayer and evangelism are intimately tied together. I am becoming convinced that we have such a hard time sharing our faith evangelistically because we do not first pray. By prayer, we not only ask God to work and move in the lives of those we are praying for, but it
also prepares our hearts to be ready and open to sharing our faith with them. Many of us (including myself) often struggle with sharing our faith, even with those we know, because of fears of awkwardness or rejection. As we commit to praying for these people, God pours His love into our hearts and that love begins to overcome our fear. Beau Crosetto, on page 23 of his book Beyond Awkward, writes, “God is calling you to reach specific people he wants to be in relationship with. People you are perfectly designed or positioned to reach-even though you don’t know the Bible inside out, or your testimony isn’t smooth, or whatever you feel excludes you from being used by God in this way.” Are you praying for these people? Are these people on your list?
A few weeks ago on St. Patrick’s Day, sitting on the porch of our large shed in the backyard I told my son the story of a young man named Patrick who had been kidnapped by raiders and taken to a large island called Ireland where he was forced
to work the rugged and hilly landscape as a shepherd for a number of years. I told him about how he met Christ on those cold nights, shivering and crying out to God for help. I shared about that providential opportunity that came before him after a long time away to board a boat that would take him back home to Britain. I also shared how it wasn’t long after arriving back home that he felt a divine urging to go back to Ireland and preach the gospel to the very people who were once his captors. I spoke of the bravery and faithfulness of Patrick that, as some have said, changed the heart of the whole nation.
When I finished the story, my son labeled it a “mean story” because of the villains in it, referring to the raiders who stole Patrick away. I think I would label the story a “love story”.
I am moved by the story of the man we simply refer to as Saint Patrick. He was tough as nails after being kidnapped and enslaved, yet going back to the very violent rabble of humanity that enslaved him in the first place. He goes down in history as one of the most effective and successful evangelists the Church has ever known. It’s a story of courage, a story of heroism, a story of survival, and, yes, a story with villains. But we cannot overlook the underlying theme throughout the whole story: love.
Patrick was able to speak the gospel so effectively to the Irish, not because of clever analogies and three-leaf clovers. The Irish were willing to listen to him, because of his authenticity and the fact that he wasn’t afraid of them. In fact, he was able to address their fears. What made him so effective was his ability to see and understand the deepest anxieties of the Irish folk, anxieties that had been haunting them for centuries. Seeing and understanding these things Patrick was able to speak directly to them and show how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus gave them a hope so they wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore.
There is no other explanation for the special connection Patrick fostered with the Irish than love. That’s what he possessed for them, and that’s what the Irish saw in Patrick.
I see love all over this story. It is love that made Patrick so effective and so able to reach the Irish. It was love that helped him speak about the gospel in ways no one had ever done. It was love that stimulated his creativity in profound ways. It was the love of God in him that enabled him to stand fearlessly before the Irish and proclaim Jesus. Love gives special sight.
Love enables awareness to the most important and significant things. Love gives that special insight that people may truly see and truly hear. Love truly convinces and truly convicts, because love comes from God (1 John 4:7). Patrick was a great evangelist because he was a great lover.
So how are we asking God to foster His love within us as we seek to make disciples and share the gospel with our neighbors?
On the Possibility of Following Jesus by Pastor Chris Symes
A few weeks ago in Sunday morning worship, I preached from Mark chapter eight, verses thirty one through thirty-eight, in which Jesus says this:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (V. 34)
Jesus makes nothing easy here. There is no spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down. His call to a potential disciple is clear, concise, and challenging. I preached about my own struggle with the difficulty of this passage and the all-or-nothing surrender it calls me to. I explored how it is a calling modeled after Jesus’ own extravagant sacrifice on the cross and how such a gift to us demands nothing less than a willingness to give our own lives in response. I examined the first step, deny yourself, and how plain hard even this first part is. I ended the sermon by leaving us with a sense of urgency at responding to this, the very urgency Jesus has in this teaching to us.
But there is a single word here, that I think we often overlook, and it’s a word I failed to really take into account in my sermon. It’s a single word of Jesus that does not lighten the challenge of this calling or make it easier to hear. But I do believe it gives us a starting point for actually taking this teaching into our lives. It helps us begin somewhere. Do you know what that one word is?
That one word is “wants”. Let’s hear Jesus words again: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Before we can get to the difficulty of denying ourselves, before we come to the daunting calling to take up our cross, before we follow Jesus, there is a preliminary question: Do we want to follow Jesus? It sounds obvious, but I don’t think it always is. Many people believe intellectually in Jesus, but they don’t necessarily want Him. A person may recognize the importance of Jesus, but that does not mean the person desires Jesus. This is a problem, because as your desires go so goes you. Without our desires changing, we can never hope to grow and never hope to follow Jesus. Jesus implies, DESIRE PRECEDES DISCIPLESHIP. Therefore, we must take a very real and honest look at the preliminary question: Do I want to follow Jesus?
How do I know that I want to follow Jesus? And if I know that I don’t, how do I go about changing what I want when I really don’t want to? These are challenging questions, but there is great news! God intends to change your desires if you let Him; that’s part of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives. This is how God makes us into new creations, and the place where this begins is in honest prayer. Honest and sincere prayer is the incubator of transformation, a tremendous means of grace by which you open your life up to God for Him to do His work within you. In other words, if you are honest enough to admit that you don’t want to follow Jesus, that’s a great first step! Declare that to God. Speak openly and honestly to Him one morning before you go to work or pick up your grandkids. Tell Him like it is. You won’t offend Him; He already knows your heart, and He will appreciate your honesty. There is something about honest prayer that breaks barriers preventing change from happening deep within us.
Wanting to follow Jesus won’t make the demands of Jesus’ call to a disciple easy, but it makes following Jesus possible. As a person’s desires go, so goes the person (James 1:14-15). What’s more, you are never alone in this calling. God through the Holy Spirit is right there with us constantly, and you are united in covenant with brothers and sisters who come alongside of you and encourage you as well.