Friday, February 18, 2011

In Honor of my First Love

I know that you fully expect this blog to be yet another sermon. However, I will spare you. Instead, I want to share a blog with you about my favorite person.
My story with my favorite person started a mere nineteen years ago, and before you start doing the math- I was in the fifth grade.
My first love was actually what most people would call a secret crush. It was a beautiful dark-haired, brown eyed girl in Mrs. Barfield's fifth grade class named Emily Strickland.
Now, I wish that I could tell you a story of a smooth 10 year old that swept that pretty little girl off of her feet. But, I cannot. The fact is she was interested in her Barbies and friends, and I was too terrified to even speak to her.
I still chuckle at how pitiful I was around her. My fear of rejection, and my fear of looking goofy trying to talk to her even led to my inability to ask her to sign my class shirt.
I'm sure that our class was not the only one to have that tradition, but if this seems strange to you- on our final day of class, we would get all of our classmates to sign the back of our class shirts. My shirt proudly bore the signature of every single member of our class...minus one. You guessed it- I was too pitiful to even get close enough to her to ask for her to sign.
As time moved on, so did Emily. She and her family moved to Jacksonville with her Dad's job. And as we moved into the great challenge that is middle school, I could no longer steal glances at that pretty girl.
Life continued for the next couple of years consumed by baseball and schoolwork until that day came when I overheard a couple of girls in class talking about Emily's return.
FINALLY! She and her family had moved back with her dad's job again. But unfortunately, my fear had not subsided with age. Instead, I was still the bumbling, unable to form a coherent sentence kind-of guy around her. Well, not exactly. I would have been if I could've even opened my mouth!
Time went on, she transfered schools and our paths would not cross again until we reached high school.
Now, if anyone is looking for a way to woo a girl, let me share my methods. I can give you an abbreviated way to win a girl's heart. First, you act awkwardly shy around her so that she begins to wonder if your vocal cords ever formed. Then, we you do work up the courage to make an audible sound- laugh... at her.
Yes, I did that. We shared a tenth grade chemistry class together and it happened that she and I were lab partners for a day or two. I, unfortunately, laughed at the fact that she was struggling to draw a straight line- with a ruler. She still remembers that to this day.
My love still continued undeclared- probably for my own good following my mockery, and she became convinced that I was consumed by baseball and church.
Once again, she and I would lose our classroom connection and I was still secretly smitten with this beautiful ballerina girl.
Finally, our Junior year of high school, her friends made a semi-traditional visit to McDonalds following a Friday night football game where my friends and I just happened to be. We talked across the restaurant- not personally, because I was still scared to death, but as a group. It was that night that I knew it was more than a crush.
I shared my feelings with a friend in confidence and you can imagine how that always goes. I threatened his very life if word was ever leaked about my crush. That next Monday, he returned to the car laughing about her reaction when he spilled the beans in class. I could've killed him! But he returned bearing a phone number and instructions to call that night, so he went from heel to hero in half a second.
That dark-haired beauty and I began to share many of life's experiences that year- from Azalea Trail to prom. We wrote letters during the summer and spent countless hours on the phone most evenings.
I am still not sure when we had our first official date. Our relationship started as friends and just evolved into something so much more.
August 26, 1998 was a day that would change my life forever. Following a Wednesday night service, I escorted her to the "little red rocket" (her car) and heard the best words I think I've ever heard come out of a set of lips. She said, "I love you."
The words that I had longed to say for so long, the words that I had dreamed of hearing were finally shared. I rushed home to call her and we spent HOURS on the phone that evening.
I do believe that I should share Em's plan. She thought that we needed to wait to officially date for one month! Talk about confusion! Yet, I did my typical negotiating and worked out a three week plan instead.
On the afternoon of September 19, I carried her to the beach for a grand, formal proposal... a dating one that is. But wouldn't you know it- that same kid that struggled to get out a word for so long, didn't get that simple question out at the beach! I couldn't work up the courage, even though I knew the answer, until we were back in my car headed home.
Our story became one of two people joined at the hip- for Azalea Trail v. 2.0, the Sadie Hawkins dance that never happened, Homecoming, prom again, graduation. I knew that I had my soulmate and I simply wanted to be with her.
She left for college for a year and a half and I continued to spend gross amounts of time on the phone. In fact, my dad described me as the phone card junkie because of the way he'd find me passed out on the couch in the middle of five or six phone cards. I waited by the phone all hours of the night. And would even fall asleep with the phone on my chest- just in case she needed to talk at 3 am.
Our love continued to grow despite the distance of two states and we talked openly of marriage and our future together. I would try to schedule a trip to Mississippi every couple of months if possible for much overdue time together. Yet, that always seemed to equate to memories- somewhere on the side of the road.
One trip for a winter formal involved a thrown alternator belt. Another trip produced a worn out fan clutch. And perhaps the most memorable break down was a blown tire on the interstate while trying to beat a HURRICANE due to hit Mobile!
Our love, our relationship was always anything but boring.
At the beginning of her Sophomore year, we once again found a weekend to go to her Mawmaw's and Pawpaw's. And there we talked more about marriage. I told her in the midst of that weekend that I was going to see her dad when I returned to Panama City to ask for permission to ask Emily to be mine.
That once again led to a memorable experience. For those of you that met Emily's dad, you know how big of a man he was. He was not your wimpy, pushover kind-of guy. No. He was a six and a half foot monstrosity of a man that would've easily fit the mold of a star offensive lineman! And I had to ask this man for his daughter's hand in marriage.
Now, I shared the long guarded secrets of wooing a girl. Let me also share some lessons I learned about approaching a dad with such a big question. 1.) Don't go on Monday night! A decision of this importance need not be complicated by the fact that you are causing him to miss Monday Night football. 2.) Find escape routes in case it does not go well. Remember, you are in their home- and gun laws are very lenient on homeowners "defending" themselves inside of the walls of their home. 3.) Identify any potential weapons within reach of your father-to-be. Things that you would not ever consider before, become items of intimidation. (For example, the turning stick on a set of blinds becomes very intimidating when her dad beats it repeatedly against his palm during this conversation) 4.) Back porches are SCARY places. There, you begin to wonder if anyone would hear your cries for help! 5.) Remember that your new mom-to-be needs to be in on this conversation as well. Otherwise, you get to do this twice!
These are all lessons I learned from experience- well minus the necessity of an escape route. The truth is, as difficult as that night was, Emily's dad immediately made we feel like a welcomed addition to the family.
Our story continued down its path of unique experiences and procrastination. And then after Em moved back to Panama City, we reach that all important proposal.
I am certain that you all expect a moving and tear-jerkingly intricate proposal plan. And I do not want to disappoint, but it was simple. On September 29, 2000, I asked Emily to be mine on the way to a Rutherford football game.
Now, I didn't ask in the car. No. I drove to the mall to pick up Emily's ring after having it sized. I left her in the car and fabricated a story of needing to pay a bill. I slipped it in my pocket and ran excitedly back out. I literally drove past the stadium en route to the park on Beach Drive and asked for her hand at sunset on a bench by the beach a couple of blocks away.
We were married the following June in a beautiful "little" ceremony at Emily's home church. I say it was a little ceremony because everyone has a party of at least twenty, right? Let me prove I'm not exaggerating.

We immediately left for Tallahassee and moved into our shoebox apartment. It might have been just wide enough for us to brush past each other at its most spacious point. But, it was our castle.
Since that time, life and our love has not grown less interesting. Not at all. Instead, it has continued to grow in its unique opportunities and experiences.
We have be blessed with three beautiful kids (and no, I'm not partial). We have lived in five cities in two states. We've both changed professions. Emily has earned her AA and BSW. I returned to school- and currently hope to finish before I'm forty.
Life is good. And regardless of whether I'm wealthy or dirt poor financially, my dreams have already came true. I am a rich man because I have the love of that beautiful ballerina girl- turned gorgeous lady!
I know that this is a few days after Valentine's Day, but hey, I've always procrastinated! And it just wouldn't be right if it was on time!

Em, I love you! You have been my encourager, challenger, my partner, my motivator, and the answer to my prayers. I am still in disbelief that I have the woman of my dreams to call my wife. Looking back over some of our experiences together, I am anxious to see what the future holds for us. I know that it will be anything but boring!
You were my first love- and you will be my only, my last. Sometimes "I love you" just seems insufficient to communicate how I feel. And so, I guess I find myself a lot like that shy fifth grade boy that started this whole story. You still leave me speechless!
Happy Valentine's Day (well it's close) and thank you for being mine!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Where are the Christians that Just Love Jesus?

Over the course of these past two weeks, I have become increasingly aware of a disconnect that has plagued me for the past several months. Since moving to this beautiful place with white sands and sparkling waters, I have disengaged from so many of life's realities. I have, in some sense, lived on auto-pilot through a plethora of transitions in the life of my family and ministry. I've approached life like many do a beach vacation- sit and stare, dream, and forget about the "real world" right behind you.
To be honest, it has just been easier that way. Numbness is comfortable. It has been comfortable to just float from place to place, appointment to appointment without truly considering the gravity and implications of the things happening around me. So many times, it seems easier to ignore the responsibilities of family and ministry, than to work at them.
As I should have known, I serve a God that will only allow this to go for so long.
A couple of weeks ago, while preparing for a Wednesday prayer meeting and Bible study, I hit a spiritual wall unlike anything I had encountered in some time. It did not matter how much I researched, how deeply I delved into a passage, how many Greek word studies were done, or how many reference materials were sitting on my desk, the Bible study simply was not coming out. Hours of frustration were spent trying to force out an outline so that I could "fulfill my pastoral duty."
And then it happened. Something amazing, Something unexpected. Something profound. Something so much more important to the life of God's church here in Highland View than an overview of Biblical covenants. God spoke. He gave me what Mark Hall from Casting Crowns calls a "God-line."
In that time I heard, "The church cannot GROW if it refuses to GO."
It is simple. To most it would seem inconsequential or overtly elementary. But it is what we needed to hear as God's people. Personally, it was the wake-up call that I've needed for more than four months.
We had a wonderful worship service that evening and skipped the planned covenant study to discuss a strategy and direction to move. I cannot express the joy that I felt to see the excitement in the eyes of God's people about possibilities for ministry and service. It was an evening where I came to understand that our people simply love Jesus.
Since that time, I have regained that insatiable hunger to just make God proud. I've been reminded that because of that love we should have for Jesus, I need to stand up and get to work in our little corner of Gulf County. I've scoured the internet for days on end listening to teaching from men that I trust and respect. Over and over again, I've become more and more consumed by the majesty and splendor of the God I'm privileged to serve.
It seems as if every message God has put in my path has presented a simple picture of how much we take God for granted- and how much bigger He is than the box we like Him to stay in.
Unfortunately, as I've been shaken from this funk, I've been forced to take notice of things happening in the "Christian" church. And it seems that there is an ever-widening chasm forming between those that love Jesus and simply want to serve Him, and those in the church that are more determined to push their personal agendas and ideologies. To say that it alarms me is an understatement. I'm afraid that we are at a critical, pivotal place as a Christian people. We are quickly approaching that bursting point where everything falls apart unless we quickly find that common bond that relieves the stress caused by our own attitudes and preferences.
Now we could dedicate an entire month to addressing disagreements, problems, divisions, individual crises, etc., but I will spare you. However, there are a handful of things that I've encountered in the past few days that have burdened me deeply that simply evidence how I believe that church is risking serious disaster. Some of them are old news, some are new, some just won't seem to go away.
1.) By now, Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville is becoming old news. I am certain that there is no need to give details of how he has become such a household name. The news media has thoroughly amplified his voice for the world to hear. Obviously, the topic of holding a public burning of the Qur'an has generated a worldwide buzz as well as a slew of vehement protests.
My concern with this man, this church, and this attitude in general is two-fold. First, I understand the call of Scripture to stand against false gospels, false gods, and false prophets. I understand the need to stand on the truth. I am not excusing the actions, crimes, and persecution that has occurred in the name of Allah and Islam. However, when did Christianity devolve into a short list of things and people we are against? When did we stop sharing what we believe and Who we are for?
I question the persistent condemnation off everything we don't agree with while ignoring the hope that we hold. When is it all going to point to Jesus?
My second concern is this: when did the church become concerned with publicity and political leverage? When did we become motivated by notoriety and the opportunity to simply gain face time?
The pastor made it abundantly clear that the motivation of this act was to protest the building of the Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 attacks. (Now, please don't misinterpret this to mean that I support the building of a mosque in such close proximity to that site. I find it reprehensible) However, it is readily apparent now that this was nothing more than a political ploy, and a chance at free advertisement.
When did we become more concerned with making a point than pointing people towards our only hope?
2.) The second story that raised an eyebrow and made me begin to question when is the church going to get back to Jesus came in the form of a replay of last year's controversial burning. (or tearing) Apparently Pastor Marc Grizzard and the Amazing Grace Baptist Church of Canton, North Carolina are planning a replay of last year's Halloween festivities. Rather than burning copies of the Qur'an like Pastor Jones, they have set their sights on something a little closer to home with the Christian church. They are burning Bibles.
The church has announced that they will burn any copies of the Bible in any modern translation other than the King James Version. Just so I don't misrepresent this pastor and church, let me include part of the announcement from their website. It says:
We are burning Satan's bibles like the NIV, RSV, NLT, HCSB, CEV, NCV, NIRV, TNIV, NKJV, TLB, NASB, ESV, NEV, NRSV, ASV, NWT (Jehovah Witness Bible), Amplified Bible, God's Word Translation, 21st Century King James, Young's Literal Translation, Reina-Valera 1960, Darby, Good News for Modern Man, The Evidence Bible, Book of Mormons, The Message Bible, The Green Bible, Quran (Koran), Bible in Rhyme, Boomer Bible, and ect. As well as Greek New Testaments by Westcott & Hort, Metzger, Scrivener, Berry, Ginsburg, and Green. Also Herbrew-English Dictionaries by Brown, Driver, and Briggs. Also Greek-English Lexicons by Moulton, Thayer, Danker, and Liddell.
These are perversions of God's Word the King James Bible.
We will also be burning Satan's music such as country , rap , rock , pop, heavy metal, western, soft and easy, southern gospel , contemporary Christian , jazz, soul, oldies but goldies, etc.
We will also be burning Satan's popular books written by heretics like Westcott & Hort , Bruce Metzger, Billy Graham , Rick Warren , Bill Hybels , James White, Kay Arthur, Charles Stanley, Pat Roberson, RC Sproul, Mary Baker Edddy, Josh McDowell, Sean McDowell, Britt Merrick, Max Lucado, Randy Alcorn, John Ortberg, Michael W. Smith, John David Clark Sr., Eckhart Tolle, Joni Eareckson Tada, Sarah Young, Stormie Omartian, Joseph Maxwell, John McArthur, James Dobson , Charles Swindoll , John Piper , Chuck Colson , Tony Evans, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swagart , Mark Driskol, Franklin Graham , Bill Bright, Tim Lahaye, Paula White , T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn , Joyce Myers , Brian McLaren , James White, Dave Ramsey, Alister McGrath, Ron Hill, Denver Moore, Mary Beth Chapman, Steven Curtis Cahpman, E Stanley Jones, Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa , The Pope , Rob Bell, Erwin McManus , Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, Brennan Manning, William Young, Will Graham , and many more.

I am appalled, saddened, infuriated, dismayed. I'm heartbroken that there are those claiming membership in the body of Christ, people that go forth claiming Christ's authority that are so consumed by their own traditions and preferences.
Do I agree with everything that is written by this list of authors? Absolutely not. Are there translations that I prefer to others? Absolutely! But how arrogant can someone be to think that my God is too small- and that all of these other men were too ignorant for God to speak truth through them!
To Pastor Grizzard, if by chance you somehow stumble across this page, shame on you! How dare you, because of arrogance, and I would say ignorance, rob people of the chance to read the word of God and discover the hope it contains! Sir, I have watched people respond to the conviction of the Spirit, and the message of the gospel with a NIV in hand, a NKJV, a NASB, and any other number of other translations that you call abominations. Sir, respectfully, your God is too small. My God is mighty to save, and my salvation is based on the blood of Jesus and not archaic English language.
We could keep going. I've been saddened and dismayed at the number of churches that are launching attacks at others because of music styles, program titles, and ministry endeavors. Literally, hours could be spent on YouTube watching pastors criticize the methods of churches that they have never stepped foot in- and not for major doctrinal issues, but for minor preferential things.
We are divided over worship styles, Biblical translations, pastoral opinions, political affiliations, and everything else we can think of. And the question has to be asked: When are we going to get out of our own way? When are we going to realize that this is not all about us? When are we going to stand in awe of the majesty and wonder of our God? When are we simply going to be known as a people that are in love with Jesus?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?

The following is from Highland View Baptist Church's AM worship service on April 18, 2010.

We are going to have a little experiment this morning. For our young people that have profiles on MySpace or Facebook, many of you have participated in on of those surveys that bid you give your first reaction when you see a word. We are going to try that as a congregation this morning. So I would invite you to not be quiet in church this morning for a few moments. As I give you a word, please respond with the first thing that comes to mind.
Let’s give it a try. Grass [green?]. Sky [blue?]. Deer [yummy?]. Homework [ughh?]. Job [not bad?]. Bills [too many?]. Church [fun-sometimes?]. Let’s try a few people. Adam Sandler [hilarious?]. Bill Gaither [big hair?]. Richard Nixon [who?]. What about rock music [loud?]. Ex’s [not funny!]. Government [irresponsible?]. Temperature [cold?]. Hero [Pop?]. September 11 [war?]. And let me ask you one more. Jesus [My friend]?
There is any number of responses that we could have shared about Jesus Christ. My hope is that your initial response was a personal possessive. It is my hope that your very first thought was one of personal involvement and relationship. Hopefully, it was something like, “My Savior,” or “My God.” Maybe it was one of His many titles through Scripture that came to mind. Or perhaps you thought of the word hope or friend.
The reality is that we were required at some point to make a definitive decision in our mind about each of these things at some point. And there are options for each one of these things. For grass, you may have responded, “green.” For sky, you may have responded, “blue.” But the reality is that the grass is not always green. Sometimes it is yellow or blue or even brown. Sometimes it’s long, or maybe it’s short. It may even be dead.
With the sky, it is a similar situation. While most people say “blue,” the reality is that it can be dark or bright, cloudy or clear, pink, yellow, purple, black, or any number of colors. It can be clear or stormy.
You see, in life, we tend to reach a point where we decide what we are going to think about certain items, people and situations. We make associations.
The one I want to focus on this morning is the last name that I mentioned. Jesus. What is it that we have decided about Him?
We are going to take a few moments this morning and look at the possible responses that we could have for My Savior. And while the options are as endless as each of the other topics we discussed, I believe they all come back to one of three primary responses.
In short, we have to make a decision about the Son of God and our three options are as CS Lewis suggested: Lord, liar, or lunatic.
When we look at the claims of Christ, who He said He was, what He promised to do, and the future that He foretold, we are forced to make a decision.
We are going to look at a Biblical account of a time when Jesus requested that one of His disciples make a decision about who He was. And in the process of that examination, we are going to discuss the options that he had.

Read text. (Mark 8:27-29a)

You may recognize our text as the confession of Peter. It is that point when Peter made it well known that he knew that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of God.
While it is clear the decision that Peter made, we are actually going to consider the other options first. We are going to look at the two decisions that Peter could have reached as alternatives to his proclamation of the identity of Jesus Christ.
The first decision he could have reached was one of disbelief. He could have determined that Jesus was a…

1.) Liar
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.’ Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone me?’ The Jews answered Him saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.’” John 10:27-33
We know through the text, and through Peter’s service that this was not the decision that he made. He knew Jesus wasn’t a liar. However, it would not have been difficult to support the notion that Jesus was just an elaborate, accomplished liar and a fraud.
Really, that was the opinion of the majority of the religious elite. The passage that we just read in the book of John gives evidence of the opinion of many of the people of the time. They believed wholeheartedly that He was simply a liar and a fraud. And the average Jew, if not convinced, would have been strongly pressured by the Pharisees and Sanhedrin to reject this man. We see that they seek to kill Him for blasphemy- literally, lying.
Now, from a realist’s point of view, it seems that the claims that Jesus made were over the top. I mean, if there was a man that walked into the church today and began to make the kind of claims that Jesus made, we would throw him into the street because of our conviction that he was a conman and liar.
Just think for a moment about the things that Jesus claimed and promised. In the passage in John’s gospel, He claims that He and His Father are one. He claims equality with God, and in the process reveals that He is the Messiah. He promises eternal life to those that believe and follow after Him. There is no other man in history that could claim these things and actually fulfill them.
In addition, to someone that does not understand the identity of Jesus Christ He may seem to be an extravagant glory hound. It may seem that He was just a man looking for attention and admiration. It could seem that He desired to mislead the masses through His popularity to gain political prominence.
The first option granted to that person that has to make a decision about Christ is they can believe that He is merely a liar. And there are many people today, like the Pharisees that have taken this route.
Most people that earnestly seek after God, and have an encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ understand that He is anything but a liar. However, in our antagonistic, questioning society, there are those that believe that logic would demand that they call Him just that.
I probably shouldn’t point fingers and call names, but I am going there. The entire atheistic community has made this decision. It is the only “logical” conclusion that they can make since they believe there is no God.
In all reality, while some acknowledge Jesus as a mere man that lived on earth, by refusing to accept him as Lord, they all call him a liar.
Our first option when presented with the person and hope of the message of Jesus Christ is to simply claim that He was a sensationalist. We can make the call that while all looks good, there is no way that He can be that good and powerful, and so He has to be a liar, right?
The first possible picture of Jesus is of a liar. The second possibility was that He was a…

2.) Lunatic
“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” – Mark 8:31-32
Once again, we know the decision that Peter made about the person of Jesus Christ, but this was another option. And I believe that Peter actually teetered on the edge with believing that Jesus had a streak of this in Him.
After Peter made his confession, he followed it with a rebuke of Jesus. He argued. He basically told Jesus that He was not in His right mind if He was talking that way.
Peter evidenced that there might be those that believed that Jesus had mental issues. Peter, the servant of this man had reached a point when He believed that he had a greater mental understanding of the person and mission of Christ than even Jesus.
There might have been, and might currently be those that believe that Jesus was a lunatic. They might believe that He had a mental disorder. And after all, this is the more gracious of the options, right?
Doesn’t it sound better if we say that Jesus couldn’t help His claims? For those that refuse to believe Him, doesn’t it seem more gracious to believe that there was a physical disability that lead to His outrageous claims?
I mean, surely if a man claimed that He was the virgin born Son of God sent to earth to provide eternal life, He had to have a mental issue. (plenty of sarcasm) Surely anyone that believed that they could speak and raise the dead, tear off pieces of bread from five loaves and feed five thousand, and claimed that they would come back from the dead, had to have a few screws loose.
There are those that, when confronted with the life of Christ, choose to believe that He was not a willful misleader of people, but rather a mentally ill victim of a non-traditional family. They would probably look at the time when Mary and Joseph couldn’t find Him because He was in the temple as an occasion of abandonment that lead to mental instability. They would argue that the mobs that tried to kill Him actually fed an unhealthy need for attention and encouraged Him to make more outrageous claims.
You know, looking back at trials of Christ before His crucifixion, the Pharisees are lucky that it happened almost two thousand years ago. In all reality, if Christ’s trial happened today, He would never be put to death. In fact, He wouldn’t even serve a day in prison. Instead, they would send Him to a posh Hollywood mental health rehabilitation center. It would not take a lawyer more than a few seconds and a few quotes to convince a judge that He wasn’t a liar, but a lunatic.
When presented with the person of Jesus, you could claim that He was a liar, or maybe a lunatic. But there is also a third option. If Jesus was not a liar, nor was He a lunatic, He must be…

3.) Lord
“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘You are the Christ.’” – Mark 8:29
You know there are a couple of problems with the assumption that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic. He could not have possibly been a liar, because everything He told us has come to pass. A man that only tells the truth makes a pretty pitiful liar. Just to prove the point, someone in this room name one thing that He promised that He has not fulfilled. Name one thing that He attempted that He didn’t succeed at. Frankly, He wasn’t a liar.
Additionally, He could not have been a lunatic. In fact, we are finding through advances in science that God understands the world and its mechanics, including Jesus’ as He is God’s Son, more than scholarly society. He wasn’t crazy. Instead He had a greater understanding of the world and what was going on than everyone else. And when considering His mental health, a mentally unstable person could not have endured the agony and torment with grace and determination like Christ.
If He wasn’t lying, and if He wasn’t crazy, then it should mean only one thing for you and I- and that is we must make Him Lord of our lives.
Jesus gave the promise that anyone that followed after Him would not die, but have eternal life. He promised that He would give life and life more abundantly. He promised security, both in this life, and in the one to come. He promised that we would never be alone. He promised that we would have an advocate before Father. He promised that this world would no longer hold its power over those that surrendered to Him.
A man that can claim all of these things, and actually deliver on them demands that we offer Him our lives and devotion.
We’ve said that there are only three options. We can call Him liar, lunatic, or Lord. And if we call Him Lord, that requires that we do more than simply admit that He is a good man or even God’s Son. Rather, it demands that we surrender our allegiance and commit our obedience.
I believe that the Bible is very clear and plain about the identity of Christ. He must be Lord. And if Jesus is going to be Lord, He must be allowed to be Lord of all.
The Bible demands that we all make a decision about Jesus. We can call Him liar, lunatic, or we can crown Him Lord.
If I were to ask you now to mention the first thing on your mind if I called the name Jesus, and you were given those three options, what would you call Him?
You might say, well, preacher, there are some gray areas. You know, I have allowed Jesus to be Lord over most areas of my life, but I’m still struggling with one or two. If that is the case, you cannot call Him Lord. Rather, your life is screaming “liar or lunatic.”
Jesus demands that you let Him be Lord of all of your life. He wants more than ninety-nine percent.
Just consider this: If your wife at your twenty-fifth anniversary was to tell you that she has been faithful to you for ninety-nine percent of your relationship, has she been faithful? No! Likewise, if you say that Jesus is Lord of ninety-nine percent of your life, He isn’t really Lord.
Anytime we are confronted with the person of Jesus Christ, it is demanded that we make a decision. Is Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or will He be Lord of your life?
As we have our invitation, it is your opportunity to boldly declare that decision. You can follow Peter’s example and call Jesus “Lord.” If you’ve never called Him Lord, make today that day. Maybe you are giving Him a good portion of your life, but you are still holding out on one little area, today is the day that you let Him assume the title of Lord in that area that you’ve withheld.
What will you do with this Jesus? Is He a liar, a lunatic, or are you ready to declare Him Lord?

Pressing Toward Perfection

The following is from Highland View Baptist Church's AM worship service on April 11, 2010.

The closest I have ever come to perfection probably occurred when I was fourteen years old.
I am certain by now that many of you know how passionately I love the game of baseball. In fact, it is one thing that I miss dearly. I miss practice. I miss the sweat. I miss the muffled sounds through the ear-holes of a helmet. I miss the feeling of a ball hitting the sweet spot of the bat. And most of all, I miss standing on a mound staring down a batter.
Now, I’ve never claimed to be perfect, but one evening in 1996, I came close. That particular evening we were playing the Falcons. It had been more than seventy-two hours since our previous game, so I was OK to pitch. For some reason that evening, my fastball had a little extra pep. My curveball had a little extra break. And my changeup actually slowed down.
Through the first four innings, I recorded ten strikeouts and two putouts. There had not been a ball hit past the pitcher’s mound.
Through the fifth inning, things continued on the same path- and by the time the sixth inning rolled around, I was sitting alone at the end of a dugout. (Baseball superstition)
Finally, the game had progressed to the point if we held the other team off for one more inning, the game would be called early on account of the ten-run rule.
During, the last inning, with one out, my hope of perfection ended. A ground ball rolled through the legs of our third baseman. It was not a hard hit. It just hit a pebble and skipped off the heel of his glove.
All of that work went for not- and the record would not show perfection.
As I was working on this morning’s message last week, I began to think about that day and about our quest as a Christian people to pursue perfection.
We are called to work toward the fullness of the image of Christ. We are to continually strive toward eliminating any imperfection. But unfortunately, there are times when we hit a pebble- or a bump in the road and our best attempt at perfection fails.
And then there are times when I am reminded that even if I am perfect for one day, even if I succeed for this time- the game of life never ends.
We are a people that must constantly press toward righteousness and maturity until we reach the fullness of the stature of Christ- until we become as He is, perfect.
I do not say this in judgment or condemnation, but I am certain that there is not one person in this building that has reached the pinnacle of perfection in life. I know that I cannot claim that. And so, we have work to do. We are left with further growth and maturity to attain.
I believe that Paul gives us a great understanding as to how to strive toward our calling. He illustrates how to pursue the maturity that we should desire.

Read text. (Philippians 3:12-16)

As we look at Paul’s epistle to the church at Philippi, we find Paul’s progress and approach to Christian growth. We find a process and model to follow. Specifically, we find four steps that we must take in our pursuit of Christian maturity- and the perfection of Christ.
First, we must…

1.) Grasp Our Condition
“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature…”
Before we can go any farther than mere infancy in our Christian faith, we must truly grasp our current condition. We must see ourselves as we really are- and that is Christians that have not yet reached perfection.
Just consider the author of this letter. Consider what his identity and attitude should say to you and me.
Paul, the man that authored the majority of the New Testament said that he had not already reached the goal. He was not fully mature and perfect.
Just look with me for a moment at his list of accolades earlier in the chapter. He was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, faultless in the law, and a Pharisee. It has even been suggested that Paul may have been a member of the Sanhedrin council. Paul- in terms of Jewish law and custom was faultless. Then just to compound those accolades further, he sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the premier teacher and scholar of the time.
Paul was as close to perfection as humanity could get. However, he still insisted that he still has not reached the fullness of maturity in Christ.
Now, if Paul insists that he had not arrived, why do we act as if we have?
None of us have completely digested the fullness of the knowledge of God. We still do not understand every facet of Scripture. And even if we understood all of it, there is not one in this room that is perfect in his/her adherence and obedience to that instruction.
As Christian believers, there is a temptation to look at ourselves in comparison to the lost world around us and feel accomplished. There is always the temptation to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.
However, we must rediscover our need for growth and progression. We must rediscover true Biblical humility.
Now, I realize that most of us- if not all of us would not hesitate to admit that we are in need of growth and maturity. However, I still believe that there is a struggle at times with truly grasping our condition. There is still a temptation, even in a small fashion, to pretend that we are farther along than we are.
And I wish that I could tell you that pastors are immune to this problem. However, that is not the case.
Over the course of the past four years or so, I have enjoyed the privilege of meeting some great and godly men. I have met some men that are brilliant in their ability to dissect and understand complex theology and doctrine. However, there tends to be a rather common problem- even with men in the ministry. Rather than enjoying the things that God has revealed, and being found faithful to continue searching for a deeper understanding of God’s Word, there are many Christians, many great men of God that allow arrogance to creep in and rob them of the full potential they have in Christ.
Listen, before we can progress any farther in the fact, we must grasp our condition.
We begin our pursuit of growth and maturity by seeing ourselves as we really are- by grasping our condition, and then we must secondly…

2.) Grow Our Captivation
“…but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.”
Paul realized and readily admitted his imperfection. He noted that in spit of the nearly perfect life he lived under legalism, in spite of his best efforts, he still was not fully perfect and mature.
And in recognition of that fact, Paul said that he makes every effort to take hold of that maturity because he has been taken hold of by Jesus.
I believe that this is a beautiful image. When we progress from ink on paper, and begin to look with our mind’s eye, I see an image of Christ hand in hand with one of his children. And because He is holding on to his child, because He is walking with him, He is drawing him closer to the fullness of maturity in Him.
Paul is saying here, “Because Jesus has hold of me, because He is walking with me, I am going to take every opportunity to draw closer to Him.”
I believe that it is interesting that Paul uses the term “taken hold of” here. It tends to communicate the picture of captivity. Yet it is consistent with Paul’s presentation of himself throughout the epistles. Paul almost always calls himself a bondservant, servant, or slave of the gospel.
Paul speaks of being taken hold of, yet it is not a restrictive, demeaning captivity that we would think of. Rather, it is the idea that Paul is completely captured by the love of Christ. He is captivated.
Now, I know that you’ll grow tired of hearing about me and Emily. However, when I see this phrase speaking about being taken hold of, it makes me think of the love that I share with Em.
When we started dating, even until now, there is something about that love that has me captivated. It keeps my attention. It demands my affection. Because of that love, there is nothing that I would let stand between me and her.
I believe that is exactly the picture that Paul is presenting here. Because he is captivated by the love of Christ, he is doing everything in his power to remove any obstacles to their relationship.
We should be challenged by Paul. We too need to grow our captivation.
I know I asked this question last week, but it begs to be asked again: Where has our wonder gone? What has happened to our utter amazement with Christ’s love? We must still be so captivated by it that we are actively pursuing a relationship with Christ.
Now, let me mention briefly the easiest way to grow your captivation with Jesus. It is not through a séance or an attempt to manipulate your emotions. The easiest way to restore your captivation with God is to spend time with Him. Study His word. Pray and speak with Him. Serve Him.
Simply spending time quality time with Him will spark a renewed wonder and captivation.
If we want to grow in our maturity, if we want to pursue perfection in Jesus, we must grasp our condition. We must grow our captivation. Then we must be careful to…

3.) Guard Our Concentration“Brothers, I do not consider myself to taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead…”We must understand where we really stand in God’s eyes. We must seek to grow in our love for Him. We must be captivated by Him. And then we must be careful to guard our concentration.
Paul says that he forgets what is behind and reaches forward to what is ahead.
Now, there is a tendency to use this at New years when talking about the opportunities God grants for new beginnings. However, I don’t believe that is all it is communicating. We look at it and talk about moving on from past failures. And I believe that you can use it in that context and still maintain scriptural integrity.
Certainly our sinful pasts can be cause for crippling our service of Christ. There are plenty of people within the church that believe that they are unable to serve God- or even come to Him because of something they did in their past.
We must be willing to quit looking back to those disappointments and failure. We must move beyond those shortcomings and allow our past to be the past and not our future.
But I believe this passage is communicating more. Paul was a man that would certainly want to forget parts of his past. You may recall that Paul had a Damascus road experience where God Himself questioned Paul as to why he was persecuting Him?
Paul was convinced that he was doing God’s work and will until then. I am certain that Paul would love to forget about those that he persecuted and imprisoned. I am certain that he would love to move beyond the fact that he held the coats and cheered on those that stoned Stephen.
Yet, I believe that Paul was communicating more. When we look back at the beginning of Philippians 3, we find that section that we quoted earlier. We find that place where Paul gives us a list of his accolades and qualifications. Paul was a man that would have a great deal to boast about. He would have reason, more than any of us, to feel as if he had reached a higher plane in his Christian experience.
However, I believe that Paul was actually saying, “I forget what is behind and move forward- not because the past is all horrible and sinful, but because I cannot allow myself to boast in my accomplishments and forget I still have work to do.”
As Christians, many of you have served God faithfully for decades. You have taught classes and served the church. You have grown in your faith.
However, we cannot look back on our pasts and pretend that they are enough. Rather, we still have more climbing to do. We still have farther to go before we reach full maturity and perfection.
As God’s people, we must be careful to guard our concentration. We cannot get so caught up in the past- even in our successes and experiences that we fail to move forward now.
We must grasp our condition. We must grow our captivation. We must guard our concentration. And lastly, we must…

4.) Groan in Our Call“I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”Paul understood where he stood with the Father. He understood his condition. And because of that fact, he was actively pursuing God’s call on his life. He was groaning in that call.
When Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi, I believe that it contained both instruction and imagery.
When Paul said that he pursues as his goal the prize of God’s call in Christ Jesus, I don’t see a man that decides to begrudgingly attend a worship service. I don’t see a man that reluctantly pulls out His Scriptures to fulfill his duty. I don’t see a man that shows any hesitancy.
Rather, he is pursuing his goal. He is running after Jesus with everything that is in him. He is praying faithfully. In fact, he cannot speak to the Father enough. He is studying God’s Word. He just can’t read enough. He wishes that there was more to it. He loves teaching and just being able to say the name, Jesus.
This is a man that is excited about doing whatever God gives him the opportunity and privilege to do. He is going full-tilt toward his finish line.
And do you realize where Paul is in his race at this point?
Paul is in prison when he wrote this letter. He was in chains because of this gospel. Yet, he is still saying- whatever of my course I have left to run- I don’t care what the Romans do to me, I am going to pursue it with passion. I am going to give it my all- and I’m going to love what I’m doing.
Paul is essentially the runner that has kept his eye on the finish line- and he is groaning- he is putting every ounce of energy he has into his pursuit of the call of Christ.
You know, when I read these words, it makes me ashamed. Here I am, a free man in a country that celebrates the greatest liberties of any nation, I am called to preach the gospel- I am given the opportunity of personal relationship with Christ, with God Himself, and where is my passion? Where is the fervor in my life?
Ladies and gentlemen, we must groan in our call. We must pursue the Christian life with such energy and fervor that we have to depend on God for our strength.
I wonder what would happen if we approached our Christian calls with the same energy that we do sports, or family gatherings, or whatever our particular hobbies may be. What would life be like and what could God do if we passionately pursued him the way we do other things?
We need to be reminded this morning: We are not perfect. We have not arrived. There is still work to be done.
We must grow our captivation. We must be passionately in love with Jesus. We must keep our focus, not on our past victories or failures, but on what God has in store for us now and in the future. And we must groan in our call. We must run the race with everything we have.
So where are you this morning? How is your race going? Are you growing? Are you groaning? When is that going to change?

Sunday Is Here!

The following is from Highland View Baptist Church's AM worship service on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010.

This morning as we begin, we are going to borrow an excerpt from Dr. Tony Campolo’s modern classic.

“It’s Friday, Jesus is praying, Peter is asleep, Judas is betraying, but Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday, Pilate is struggling, the council is conspiring, the crowd is vilifying, they don’t even know that Sunday is coming.
It’s Friday, the disciples are running like sheep without a shepherd, Mary’s crying, Peter is denying, but they don’t know that Sunday’s a comin’.
It’s Friday, the Romans beat my Jesus, they robe him in scarlet, they crown him with thorns, but they don’t know that Sunday is coming.
It’s Friday, see Jesus walking to Calvary, His blood dripping, His body stumbling, and His spirit’s burdened, but you see it’s only Friday, Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday, the world’s winning, people are sinning, and evil is grinning,
It’s Friday, the soldiers nail my Savior’s hands to the cross, they nail my Savior’s feet to the cross, and then they raise him up next to criminals
It’s Friday, but let me tell you something, Sunday’s coming,
It’s Friday, the disciples are questioning “What has happened to their king?’ and the Pharisees are celebrating that their scheming has been achieved, but they don’t know it’s only Friday, and Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday, He’s hanging on the cross, feeling forsaken by His Father, left alone and dying, can nobody save Him? Oh, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday, the earth trembles, the sky grows dark, my Savior yields His spirit, It’s Friday, hope is lost. Death has won. Sin has conquered and Satan’s just a laughin’.
It’s Friday, Jesus is buried. A soldier stands guard and a rock is rolled into place, but it’s Friday, it is only Friday, Sunday is a comin’.”

As we come to our time this morning, we have reason to celebrate. We have cause to be excited. We no longer have to say, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. Instead, we can boldly proclaim, “Sunday is here! And He is risen! Death has been defeated! Our promise has been fulfilled! Hope has come!”
Through the four gospels of the New Testament, it is not difficult to discern what the authors emphasize about the life and teaching of our Christ. There are a few topics that are evident in all four of the gospels. Two of these topics are the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Last week we left with a disturbing picture of our king dead on a cross. We left a mistreated, battered man that had endured all humanity could throw at him. We left an undeserving victim crucified on a cross for the entire world to see.
Now here is where we must pick up this morning. If we simply stopped with Jesus on the cross, it would simply be a great story. Let me tell you, Satan would love to leave Jesus on the cross. However, the greatest testament of Jesus’ love and power comes not in the form of the cross, but in the empty tomb. The cross appeared to mean certain defeat for the Son of God, but the bodiless grave is the evidence of victory
We are going to use the account recorded in the gospel of Luke. However, we are going to bounce around between the four to cover some different aspects of the story not included in Luke.

(Read text. Luke 24:1-12)

When we left off last week, Jesus was pronounced dead, but not yet removed from the cross. And before we get into the story of the morning of the resurrection, I want to patch the story a bit. We are going to fill in from the time of Friday afternoon until Sunday morning.
After the death of Christ, a member of the Sanhedrin requested the body of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of this Sanhedrin group, and a secret disciple of Jesus asked Pilate for permission to remove his body for burial. Apparently, during the time of the request, Nicodemus went to purchase the materials needed. Somehow after the death of Christ, both of these men were both empowered to take a public stand for this man. If you recall, these were both men that sought Jesus in the night out of the public eye. After authorization was received, he and Nicodemus had to hurry to get the body buried so that their work would be completed before the start of the Sabbath. The Sabbath did not start at sunrise on Saturday, rather it began at sunset on Friday evening. So Joseph and Nicodemus both needed to be finished with this work and at a place of rest by the time six o’clock came.
John’s was the only gospel to relate the location of the garden in proximity to the crucifixion site. It would prove very beneficial for the gravesite to be so close to Golgotha.
The Jews did not practice embalming, but rather wrapped the bodies in linen strips with spices to cover the odor of the body. For Joseph and Nicodemus, their best effort was still done in haste and imperfect. However, it would be after the Sabbath before anyone could return to rewrap and further prepare the body. They simply did not have the time to tend to the minute details of the process.
There are certain details that we will have to gather from the other gospels as we go through this story. Matthew’s account of this preparation time explains the presence of the large stone in front of the entrance of the tomb and the women’s knowledge of where he was laid. For the women, this was a trying and confusing time. I believe part of the reason for their intention to return to the grave to tend to the spices and wrapping was due to the people that wrapped him. Joseph and Nicodemus were men that were still publicly associated with the Jewish leaders and the Sanhedrin council. The women probably wanted to tend to him because they knew that they loved him, where they were suspicious of the other men.
After these men had retired to their homes, the Sabbath was observed. For Jesus’ followers, it meant that they observed the Law. However, the Sabbath was also the day that the chief priests petitioned for the presence of a guard outside of the tomb. While Jesus friends and followers were experiencing gut-wrenching grief, the men that had conspired to kill Jesus decided that they still could not feel safe. Their work was still not done. And at their request, Pilate gave the help that they needed to do as much as physically possible to secure the burial site.
By man’s standards, every precaution had been made, every loophole tied shut, every hope of deception squashed. However, even the chief priests, the men that should have understood the power of Almighty God like none other, underestimated the delivering power of God. They should have known that any effort they pursued would fail. However, they were looking through blinded eyes. They were looking at the situation applying human knowledge where they should have pursued godly wisdom.
Jesus’ disciples and followers were not immune to this attitude either. Rather, his closest friends were planning to return to the grave in hopes to better prepare the dead body. They did not expect to find an empty tomb. They were not expecting anything out of the ordinary. They disregarded the prophecy made about his return. They expected defeat. But what they would find would change their attitudes, their understanding, and their lives.
After sunset on Saturday evening, some shops in town would have reopened for business. It is believed at this time, the women bought the spices that they intended to use for Jesus’ body. Mark tells us of their preparation after the Sabbath, and this would seem the most logical time.
Early on Sunday morning, the women arose and went to the tomb. Mary Magdelene was not the only woman to go to the tomb that morning. Rather, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna and other women were present as well. John’s gospel chooses to focus on Mary Magdelene. But even John’s gospel gives allusion to the presence of others at the tomb. In Mary’s address to Peter she says, “…and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
To join the different gospel accounts, one of two things took place. Either Mary Magdelene went ahead of the group to the tomb first, or all of the women began their journey to the tomb before daylight and arrived sometime shortly after dawn. I tend to ere more on the side of the latter.
During their journey, the women had a realization. Talking amongst themselves, they remembered the presence of the stone. And in remembering the stone, they realized that they did not bring any men with them to move the stone. They would have been unaware of the posting of the guard and the seal placed on the tomb. The last time that they were present at the tomb was Friday. The placement of the guard did not happen until Saturday.
However, during their journey something amazing happened. God, knowing the thoughts and concerns of these ladies, sent an angel to move the stone aside.
Matthew tells us of a detail that the other three authors leave out. He mentions the earthquake and the angel to roll the stone away from the opening of the tomb. It is generally accepted that the earthquake and rolling away of the stone happened during or before the journey to the tomb. The women in their reports make no mention of it- so it is generally assumed that they did not experience this part of the story.
Upon the appearance of the angel, the Roman guards became exceedingly afraid. They literally became so afraid that they fainted. Now this is an image that brings a chuckle. Here are two men that serve in the same military as the men that were so brutal in their treatment of Jesus. These are two men that are part of the most feared military regiment of their day- men renowned for their harshness and cruelty. These brawny, tough soldiers become completely paralyzed by fear.
In our mind’s eye, there are many times when we try to imagine angels. And for most people, they think of angels as wimpy, glowing individuals. People think of cuddly beings that wouldn’t hurt a fly. Unfortunately, we have a very skewed view of angels. There are many times that our envisionings could not be further from the truth. Angels are not wimpy. Rather, these are heaven’s warriors and messengers. These are the people that are entrusted with the power necessary to carry out God’s purpose. These are beings that paralyze even the toughest men. If you recall, there was an angel that killed 185,000 men in one night. They need to be feared. These are men that deliver God’s message with authority and power.
In piecing the different stories together, we think that the men awoke and fled when they realized that the stone was open and Jesus was gone. These were men that now had a new fear altogether. Their failure to perform their guard duty was punishable by death.
In the text, the women arrived, there were no guards. Rather, they arrived to find the tomb open.
Now let me clarify something else here. The angel did not come and open the tomb so that Jesus could get out. Rather, he came and opened the tomb so that Jesus’ followers could get in. Jesus was not held in by the stone. Rather, those women would have been kept out- and could not have seen the evidence of his resurrection.
As the women enter into the tomb, the do not find the body of Jesus. Their reaction is the same as what your and mine probably would have been. They were afraid and distraught. They expected to find a dead man- and instead found the empty wrapping. Their only logical explanation was to think that his body had been stolen.
I can only imagine the turmoil and chaos in the tomb. Here are a group of ladies that loved Jesus, they came prepared to show their love through preparing his body- and there is NO BODY! I can almost hear the conversation and questioning in the tomb. Can you almost sense the tenseness and worry in their voices?
Then suddenly in the midst of them appear two men- two angels. These men delivered perhaps the greatest message ever delivered. “He is not here. He is risen.”
It is amazing how seven little words can change eternity. Seven words changed the attitudes of their hearts. Seven words changed their sorrow into rejoicing. Seven words changed their eternal fate.
The angels reminded the women of Jesus’ very words. They delivered a message that would spark a memory in their mind. When the angel told reminded them of his words, suddenly their memory rushed back. Suddenly, their personal experiences with Christ were brought into focus and his very words resonated in their ears.
Well, at this point, there was no need to continue to stand around and visit in the tomb. There was no body to wrap or spices to apply. Rather, there was a mission that was entrusted to these women. They had to spread the word of what they had seen and were told.
I have to wonder as to what the journey back to town was like. Did the ladies talk amongst themselves and analyze what they heard? Did they elect a spokesperson for the group? Did they each walk and think about their individual experiences with Christ? Did they run?
We do not have a recording from their journey back, nor do we have written dialogue. However, I can almost hear the excited conversation. If they were not running, I certainly think that they were walking quite fast. There was once again excitement and reason for celebration. The heartache that they had endured just three days prior was changed and magnified into unsurmountable excitement.
When they returned to tell the disciples of what they had seen, there was a sense of disbelief. For some of those that heard the story, they simply disregarded it as nonsense. Some probably saw it as hysteria and anguish simply boiling over. However, for two men, they had to know for themselves.
Luke tells us only of Peter arising and running to the tomb. However, the gospel of John tells us that both John and Peter ran to the tomb.
I can see this scene. Here are two former fishermen. Here are two men that were the closest to Jesus being informed that he has risen. Here are two men that wasted no time in getting to the sight of this miracle.
We find that John actually beats Peter to the sight. And as Peter gets there, he finds John standing outside the tomb. I can see him trying to regain his breath. John was the first to arrive, but Peter was the first to actually enter the tomb.
How is it always Peter? I guess it was just in his personality. He was always the first- typically to stick his foot in his mouth.
Peter goes into the tomb and is joined soon thereafter by John. As they are looking around, Peter stoops down to examine the linen cloths. There where Jesus was laid was evidence of his resurrection.
If Jesus’ body had been stolen, grave robbers would not have bothered to remove the wrap, much less fold things neatly. Rather, Jesus simply came through the cloths. Much the same way that he will later do in the appearance in the upper room, he was not bound by physical matter. I believe that Jesus simply sat up out of those clothes and walked out of the tomb. He didn’t have to move the stone. Rather, he simply decided that the grave was not the place for him.
After seeing this for themselves, these men too decided that they need not waste their time looking for the dead among the dead. Luke tells us that Peter left and marveled to himself at what happened.
I believe that there is far too little marveling today. For the average Christian, the story of the resurrection is something that you hear year in and out. It is a story that is approached with familiarity and commonality.
I wish that I could remember the first time that I heard this story. I can only imagine the awe that arose within me. Even today, I can see the look of amazement and excitement in my daughter’s eyes when talking about this. So why is it that we no longer marvel at what he has done?
Just last week I said that if you ever got a real glimpse at the cross, you would never be the same. Let me amend that statement. If you ever allow yourself to experience his resurrection, you will find promise that never before existed. You will find hope in times of hopelessness- you’ll find hope for tomorrow.
Jesus died on the cross for you and I. He endured all that this world could give him. He died the most cruel death ever devised and listened to our mockery all the while. It is an amazing story. But the true beauty of the story comes in the resurrection.
You and I can die for someone. Only the Son of God could conquer death for all of us. Only Jesus would arise for us. Jesus loved us not just enough to die for us, but to return after we treated him with hatred and disregard.
What have you done since you found the empty cloths? Have you determined to surrender to the one that loved you more than life itself? Have you decided to serve the one that paid your penalty?
The story is plain and simple. And the story is still not over. The fact is that there will be a day when he comes back again. There will be a day when he calls his own out of the grave. There will come a day when he will come to take his own with him.
We must realize that we are accountable for what we have done with his death and resurrection. Have we approached it with indifference? Or has it sparked true surrender in our lives?

The Cruelty and the Compassion of the Cross

The following is from Highland View Baptist Church's AM worship service on March 28, 2010.

Palm Sunday is a day that the Christian world recognizes closely behind Christmas and Easter. Typically, this is a Sunday when most churches will be dealing with the story of the Crucifixion of Jesus. And for us, it will be no different.
At least once each year, we are forced to stop and recount our Savior’s sacrifice.
I believe that every Christian needs to have an unshakable image in the back of their mind. Certainly we want to proclaim the hope that comes through Christ. We want to claim all of the promises that He gives. We need to teach people how to apply the precepts of God’s Word to the activity of daily life. However, in our teaching, in our preaching, in our proclamation, we need not progress so far that we cannot still see the cross of Christ. If we move to the point of losing sight of that image, I believe that we discount and miss the true promise and hope of God’s Word. We cannot ignore the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, because that is the fountain from which those blessings and promises that we claim flow.
I am not pointing fingers this morning. I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty. However, I do have to ask how many of us in this room have on a necklace or piece of jewelry that has a cross on it? One of the most popular, lasting jewelry designs has been the cross. And certainly they can be designed to appear beautiful and lovely.
However, the cross has lost the stigma that it once possessed. It has become a decoration instead of a reminder.
This morning, I want us to make ourselves look at the cross. We need a fresh vision of the cross and what it represents. Now, I am not talking about our clean, polished versions of the cross, but the rough, demeaning, cruel cross on which the Prince of glory suffered.
I believe that many people can live life their own way because they have never really looked at the cross. Let me forewarn you this morning that if you get a real peek at the cross, your life can never be the same again.
I am going to do something I am not very accustomed to this morning. I am not going to go on an outline. Rather, we are simply going to tell the story. Jesus doesn’t need my outline, His cross, His sacrifice speaks louder and more plainly than anything I could concoct.
All four of the gospels record the account of the Crucifixion. All four have areas of similarity, but there are some details that are dealt with more explicitly in each book. This morning, we are going to look at Mark’s account of the cross.

(Read text. Mark 15:24-41)

There has been a great deal happen through the course of the evening before we reach the time of this passage. Jesus has been examined no less than five times by nine in the morning. This seems strangely peculiar considering the fact that law prohibited trial by night. Already, the culture understood the temptation and deception that could come in the night. Nonetheless, it did not stop the trials from happening.
We could actually speculate that things happened even more quickly than we even realize. By nine a.m., Jesus had already been scourged and led away to be crucified. Could you imagine our country if our justice system worked that quickly?
Through the course of the preceding night and the short course of that morning, Jesus has been betrayed by one of his followers and deserted by the rest. He has appeared for examination by Annas. He has been beaten, mocked and punched in the face. Then he undergoes an illegal trial by Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin Council.
The Sanhedrin did at least give nod to the policy of not conducting trials at night. They waiting for dawn to “officially” pass the verdict. However, the assignment of guilt was made far before this. At that time, the rock that the church would be built on denied his association with Christ three times. At some other point in the early hours of the morning, the former treasurer of Jesus’ group of disciples hung himself.
At some point between 5 and 6 a.m., Jesus was taken to stand trial before Pilate. Being found of no fault and longing to save himself, Pilate sent Jesus to stand trial before Herod. After Herod’s inquisition, Jesus was once again returned to stand trial before Pilate again. However, he was dressed up and mocked by Herod’s security force. Standing before Pilate once again, he is found innocent of the charges brought against him. However, a political move is made. Jesus is convicted and sentenced to death by popularity vote.
The jealous crowd, hiding behind their supposedly religious convictions, has asked that a murderer and leader of a rebellion be given to them instead of Christ.
Jesus has been led away to be scourged. Let’s not get this confused with the concept of beating. I can recall several years ago there was a conflict with a foreign country where a young man was caught in thievery. According to their judicial system, he would be caned. Jesus could only wish for that to be the case. Rome had a reputation of unsurpassed cruelty and torment.
Jesus was scourged with something commonly referred to as a “cat of nine tails.” It was a whip with a wooden handle in which metal or bone would be the tips of leather strands. A prisoner would have his hands bound above his head where his back would be exposed. An experienced scourger could rip flesh from the back, lacerate muscles, and even expose internal organs. In many instances, men were beaten to death.
Jesus was subjected to this torture before he even had to endure the cross. He was constantly ridiculed and mocked through the course of then entire process. Before being led down that road to Golgotha, the soldiers wishing to further disgrace him, hammered a crown of thorns onto his head and proceeded to mockingly bow to him.
Around the neck of this man was his identification and the charge he was convicted of. Jesus’ back was loaded and he was paraded through the streets on public display of the power and cruelty of the Roman government. The battered body of our Christ could not bear the load of the cross that he was commanded to bear. It has been suggested that the beam he would have carried could have weighed as much as two hundred pounds. The soldiers enlisted Simon of Cyrene to bear this load.
I believe that one of the things that we don’t ever think about were the lingering effects of the scourging that Jesus endured. The pain and anguish that he went through were not alleviated when he left the place of his beating. Rather, the effects simply accumulated and became more unbearable. The sweat on his back would have been excruciating. Even walking would have been a challenge like never before. The rough wooden cross beam would have scraped and splintered into his back.
As we walk up that road, I can only imagine what the atmosphere was like. What was the smell? Was the wind blowing? Did all of earth take notice of what was happening?
And then we reach Golgotha.
Each of the four gospels simply states that he was crucified. None of the authors went into detail about what the process entailed. However, I believe that you and I need to understand what he willingly endured for us.
As they laid him out and put the nail through his first wrist, he could have called an end to it, but he didn’t. Rather, with every hammer strike, he continued to illustrate the depth of his love for you and I. With every clang, with every vibration, with every nerve in him crying out, he stayed right there on that cross. He did not endure this excruciating pain once or twice. Rather, he went through this process three times. A nail was put between the wrist bones in both hands, and one through both feet.
As the cross was raised into place, it was released into the hole that was dug out for it. With an abrupt stop, every fiber of his being tensed and screamed out in pain. And there for all the Roman world to see was Jesus. This man that had healed the sick, made the lame to walk and the blind to see, and raised the dead endured the most horrible death that mankind could think of.
One of the things about this process that I cannot understand was the compassion that still filled his heart. Luke’s gospel tells us that at this point, he asked the Father’s forgiveness on behalf of those who were crucifying and mocking him.
Underneath the shadow of the cross were the guards dividing his garments. When they realized that his tunic could not be evenly divided, they proceeded to gamble for the very clothes off his back. However, he never called down a curse on those that dishonored him.
Above his head was a sign that said King of the Jews. This was the proclamation made to the entire world as to what your life amounted to.
As Jesus was spread there on that cross, we cannot begin to image the torment and anguish that he is going through. Even the very breath that he took became a chore. In order to even take a breath, he would have to put his weight on the nails through his hands and feet and push himself up to gain a breath. Several times a minute, he would endure agony all over again.
As he would push up on those nails, as he would struggle to even get a breath, there below him were the crowds yelling their blasphemous insults. There below him were those that mocked him and commanded him to show his power and come down off of that cross. Even those that were deservingly crucified alongside of him took their opportunity to hurl insults. I cannot understand how he didn’t come down from the cross and pass his judgment.
From nine in the morning until noon, he was subjected to the public display and criticism of those under the cross. For three hours, he had to listen to the most ridiculous and blasphemous of humanities’ outcries.
Mark’s gospel does not include the account of the repentant thief. However, at this point after all that Jesus has endured, one of the thieves asks for Christ’s forgiveness. I believe that was something that Jesus knew would come, and could have been a reminder of the reason he was staying on that cross.
Finally at noon, at the peak of the day, the skies turned black. For three hours, light did not exist on this earth. I don’t believe that this was darkness like what accompanies a thunderstorm. It was not even a lunar eclipse because the Passover always fell on a full moon. Rather, this was supernatural darkness. For three hours, men received a visual understanding of the darkness of their sin.
I firmly believe that the most difficult and painful part of the crucifixion still has not come. Rather, the most painful part of this crucifixion came at the ninth hour. Through the darkness, God had turned his back on his Son, unable to look at the sin that he became for you and I. Jesus was hurt the most by his interrupted fellowship with his Father.
At this point, his spirit cannot bear it any longer. He cries out to his father the way only an innocent child can cry. In Aramaic, his voiced his cry.
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
The most incredible hurt and pain of this day did not come through the scourging. It did not even happen when the nails pierced his hands and feet. Rather, the greatest pain came in that darkness when the Father had to turn his eyes from the Son. It came from the righteous wrath of God being poured out on the sin he became for you and I.
Upon hearing his cry, those present thought that he was calling Elijah. This is a part that I do not understand. I understand that Eli can be short for Elijah. However, the name El and its compounds were Old Testament names assigned to God. Eloihim was the plural name for God in the Old Testament. El Shaddai meant “God Almighty.” Elyon meant “God to be lifted up or exalted.” I believe that the miscommunication came from the religious leaders unwillingness to admit that he was God. Eloi carries with it a personal possessive- “my God”. Throughout his life, Jesus claimed unity and relationship with the Father. In fact, he always, with one exception used the phrase, “My Father.” They were unwilling to recognize his unity with God the Father.
Finally, those watching the cross were going to see a sign. However, it would come in a way that they did not expect. Rather than seeing Elijah come to his rescue, Jesus surrendered his spirit.
There is something that we need to note. Every bit of the crucifixion process was voluntary for Christ. Even his death was voluntary. Men typically hung on the cross for days. There were times when men were literally eaten by carnivorous birds and wild beasts. Most died of exhaustion, dehydration, traumatic fever, or suffocation. But that was not the case for our Lord.
John records that the Jewish leaders asked that the men’s legs might be broken in order to speed their deaths. However, when they reached Christ, it was not necessary. He was dead.
Mark tells us that “Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last.” The fact that he yelled out illustrated his strength. For someone that has been hanging on a cross for six hours, he had an amazing ability to still communicate. He did not die of suffocation or exhaustion or any other earthly peril. Rather, he offered up his spirit. Jesus willingly gave up his life. He died willingly for you and I.
The story in and of itself sounds depressing and dramatic. However, there was a great promise that accompanied his sacrifice. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two.
The veil separated the temple from the Holy of Holies. If set apart the most holy place that the priest could only enter once a year to offer a blood sacrifice for the sins of Israel. The fact was that this sacrifice was no longer needed. The blood of a lamb would no longer be required for the sins of you and I. Rather the blood of the Lamb of God covered that separation and did away with the need for that sacrifice.
I believe that the tearing of the veil from top to bottom tells us something as well. I believe that the supernatural hand of God reached down and tore down the barrier between himself and mankind. God desires our fellowship. He desires an eternal fellowship with each of us so much that he sacrificed his own son for us to have the choice and opportunity to pursue a relationship with him. He personally removed that thing that separated us from Himself.
Jesus would have died for anyone in this place this morning. If there was no one else, he would have came for you. I wonder did he see yours or my face while he was on that cross?
Jesus longs for you to join him in eternity.
He endured the agony and the stigma of the cross- because He loved you that much.
This morning, many of you have heard that story time and time again. However, even if you have heard this story a thousand times, we need to be confronted with the image of Christ on the cross. That is our source of hope. That is the basis of the promises that we claim. And in this season, we must remember to celebrate Him.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pursuing a Present Day Pentecost

The following is from the evening worship service at Highland View Baptist Church on March 21, 2010.

In a seminary missions class, Herbert Jackson told how, as a new missionary, he was assigned a car that would not start without a push. After pondering his problem, he devised a plan. He went to the school near his home, got permission to take some children out of class, and had them push his car off. As he made his rounds, he would either park on a hill or leave the engine running. He used this ingenious procedure for two years.
Ill health forced the Jackson family to leave, and a new missionary came to that station. When Jackson proudly began to explain his arrangement for getting the car started, the new man began looking under the hood. Before the explanation was complete, the new missionary interrupted, “Why, Dr. Jackson, I believe that the only trouble is this loose cable.” He gave the cable a twist, stepped into the car, pushed the switch, and to Jackson’s astonishment, the engine roared to life. For two years needless trouble had become routine. The power was there all the time. Only a loose connection kept Jackson from putting that power to work.
J.B. Phillips paraphrases Ephesians 1:19-20, “How tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.” When we make firm our connection with God, his life and power flow through us.
The question is simple. Is the power of God evident in God’s church today, or are we behaving like the former missionary and devising a plan to make things work? I fully believe that the picture of the man trying to get the car rolling through human power is fitting to describe the state of the church today. We are trying all of the popular fads of society. We are pursuing programs and gimmicks. We are catering to a generation of consumers instead of developing a family of Christian servants.
I’m afraid that much like that old car, the connection to our power source is loose at times. I believe that we could benefit from examining our connections, and tightening that relationship.
Like the car, when our connections are adequately secured, when we are joined with the source of our power, the engine roars to life. It is at that point, that we are able to be about the work that is demanded of us. When we are joined with Him, we don’t need to urging shove of those around us. Rather, God provides all the power that we need.
I want to take a few moments this evening and look at how to infuse God’s power back into the church. I want to look at the conditions that were present when the Holy Spirit arrived and God’s power emerged as a force unlike anything seen by God’s people before.
I would invite you to join with me in the second chapter of the book of Acts.

Read text. (Acts 2:1-13)

I love the story of the coming of the Spirit. I love the prospect and potential that we see as a Christian people when the Spirit comes in power. And while we cannot recreate this occasion of Pentecost, we can examine and secure the conditions that were present during this time.
Before we get into the conditions present that day, we need to consider the background of what is going on in this time. “Pentecost” actually means “fiftieth.” It is referring to what is also known in the Old Testament as the “Feast of Weeks” (Exodus 34) that is celebrated fifty days after the second day of Passover. It has also been called the “Feast of the Harvest” in Exodus 23. This was a celebration to mark the end of the grain harvest. On this Sabbath, there were two loaves of bread made from the new grain, and two yearling lambs were offered before God as a thanksgiving offering, praising God for the harvest. People were expected to attend this event, and they were required to bring a free will offering.
This event happened fifty days after the second day of Pentecost. We know that Jesus remained with His disciples for forty days following His resurrection. Understanding this, Pentecost could not have come more than ten days after Christ’s ascension. Finally at this point, the prophecy of Joel, and the words of John the Baptist were fulfilled. John said in Matthew 3:11, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
On this day when God’s people were thanking Him for the harvest, God determined that it was time to begin His harvest of souls through the church. At this point, the world and the church would never again be the same.
It is important to note that we cannot duplicate the events of that day with the birth of the church. We cannot go to Jerusalem, enter the upper room, and wait for the arrival of the Spirit. Rather, God has already given every born-again believer the gift of His Spirit. We cannot duplicate the miracles of that day. That is God’s business.
While we can’t duplicate those miracles, we can try to create the same conditions. And I believe that if we create those conditions, we will be ready when God determines to send His Spirit in power. How we need another Pentecost! If we are to find it, we need to follow the example of the early church. They were first…

1.) United in Purpose (1:4-5)
“And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The young church was assembled together with one purpose. They came together to wait to see God move.
Now, that is challenging as a Christian today. It seems that we have become so used to going through the motions. We have duties and responsibilities to fulfill, programs to run. We have appearances to make, expectations to meet, and people to support. Many churches have orders for services that seem to be handed down by God Himself. We have become some accustomed to our traditions that often we forget to wait on God.
In the pastorate, there is the temptation to think that every moment and move must be planned. I mean, no one wants to come to church and just sit in the pew. We don’t want to come and stare at the wall. We often think that we must account for every moment that we gather together. And while I believe that good planning is important, we cannot allow it to dictate whether or not God will have a welcomed time and place in His house.
I love the picture of the early church. There were certain processes and programs that they would expect. However, there was an earnest and fervent desire to see the power of God every time they came together.
In the early church, for this short period of time, I am certain that they would gather with the hope and expectation that the Spirit would arrive at that time. I’m sure that there were those that speculated together at home as to whether or not this would be the day.
I love that thought. If we are honest with ourselves, how many of us come with the hope that the music service will be lively and the preacher’s message somewhat entertaining? How many of us hope to endure the service and possibly get something out of it, but we don’t consider the possibility that God could really show up in power?
We need to become like the early church. When they assembled, it was with common purpose. It was not to conduct a program, but rather to wait together for the movement of God.
As we come together, there are certain things that must be addressed. However, we should come, not with personal agendas, but with the common desire that we will see the face of God together. We should assemble with a common purpose. In addition to being united in purpose, they were also…

2.) United in Prayer (1:14)
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
The early followers of Christ were not content to merely sit around and discuss their problems with one another. While they were probably somewhat distraught and disappointed at Christ’s return to glory, they determined that they needed to bow knee together and begin to pray.
Now, we don’t have a transcript of their prayers, but I believe that they prayed for one another. They prayed for the brothers sitting next to them and their families. They prayed for Jesus’ earthly family and the trouble and ridicule that would almost certainly follow. They prayed for God’s will and guidance in their earthly ministries.
Now, this is another scene that I love. We have been discussing and studying the disciples during Discipleship Training. And I can almost hear the voices of the men that Jesus called from their daily routines. Can you hear the words of the rugged fishermen that are concerned about how to continue? Can you hear the voice of Matthew as he realizes that he cannot return to his former life, but his new one has just taken an extraordinarily difficult turn? Can you hear the requests of the women that Jesus loved and ministered to? What about the cries of Jesus’ own brothers that recognized what was happening and the future that awaited?
I do not consider myself to be equal with the men that Jesus personally trained in His earthly ministry. However, I think that I can relate to that scene. I can remember early days in the ministry where I still trembled at the thought of standing before a crowd and proclaiming the unwavering name of Jesus. I can remember the prayer sessions that Dave and I would have for each other, and those that God had given us a ministry with.
I believe that it was a scene of uncommon honesty and unexpected power. When the early church met together, they did not simply discuss their ideas and interpretations, they determined to go together to the throne of grace.
As God’s people, if we are seeking the manifested power of the Holy Spirit, we need to follow their example again. We need to bind together with the desire for God to move and bless our brothers and sisters. We need to lift one another up and ask God’s leadership and blessing on our church family.
There is nothing that we can do that builds unity like carrying one another’s burdens to God in prayer.
If we truly desire a present-day Pentecost, we need to be united in purpose, united in prayer, and also…

3.) United in Power (v. 2:3-4a)
“Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire and one sat on each of them. And they were all filled with the Spirit…”
The early church was united in purpose and prayer, and through the gift of God, they were united in power as well.
We see in the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit that all the believers had another common element. The power of the Holy Spirit filled each of them.
We see that the Spirit came and the power of God present in the Spirit was physically evident in each of believers. It was at this point that believers were eternally marked by the God’s abiding in them
While the early church in this Pentecost was able to declare that the power of the Spirit was physically evident to those around, the present church cannot make that same claim. Rather, there are plenty that give no evidence whatsoever to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The church is not currently united in the power of God. Rather, we are separated by our petty differences. We try to accomplish the plan of God through our own devices and agendas. And we do so because so many within the average church do not have the power of the Holy Spirit. They have never surrendered their hearts and lives to God, and therefore cannot know of His power.
There are those that suggest that one problem in the church is that believers all seem to be in different stages, and that is a difficult thing. However, the true lack of common power is found in the fact that there are more than expected that have no relationship with Jesus Christ. They simply do not know who the Holy Spirit is.
I want to make certain that we understand this: Church membership does not equal the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, there are some studies that suggest more than fifty percent of an average church membership believes that there are multiple ways to heaven, all religions are essentially equal, and their works influence whether or not they may get to heaven.
If a person is not willing to cling to Christ and pronounce Him as Savior, if they do not believe that the Father is one true God, then they are not marked by the power of the Spirit.
The early church was marked by united in purpose, in prayer, in power, and lastly by…

4.) United in Performance (v. 2:4)“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Not only was the early church marked by purpose, prayer, and power, but they joined together in the work as well.
We see that they all began to speak with other tongues. They were not given the power of the Holy Spirit to merely sit on it. Rather, they were called to put it to work. Because of their obedience, and the showing of the power that was in them, men came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Listen, salvation was never meant to be taken as a “Get out of jail free” card. Rather, it was intended to be a commitment to service of our Heavenly Father. God did not save anyone to merely sit. Rather, He saved us to serve. And quite frankly, a faith that won’t serve isn’t real faith.
The question begs to be asked, “How many Christians are putting to work the power that was given to them? How many of us are actively taking the power of the Holy Spirit to the lost world? And how many of us are content to just sit and absorb the Spirit?"
I firmly believe that one of the reasons why God granted the power to the early church was because they intended to use it for God’s kingdom.
We must seek to become more like the early church. We must be a church united- in purpose, in prayer, in power, and in performance.