Monday, March 24, 2008

Perfect Expectations

I was talking with one of our members, who is a carpenter, last week about building our church. He was talking about when he could come in and lead some teams doing some finishing work in the church. And he said he will try to calm his standards when working with other people in our church. I had heard that he is very accurate and precise in his work as a carpenter. He wants it to look perfect.
My understanding is that with some carpentry you don’t have to be exact because it will be covered by drywall and paint. But the finished carpentry is visible and to look its best it needs to be cut and fit together just right. I encouraged him to not take it easy and expect the best from our people because we want the church to look great and be done well.
Jesus was also a great carpenter. He knew precisely what he had to do to offer us forgiveness for our sins. And then he sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide in living our lives. Because we have the Holy Spirit to power our living Jesus also does not lower his standards on his expectations for our lives. Jesus even says in Matthew 5:48 "You must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." Now that is high expectations.
Before you get scared away I want to say I don't think being perfect means we need to never make mistakes or sin. It is a calling to not purposefully sin. But mostly it is a calling to try to live with a perfect love that only wants God's best for everyone. If we allow God's perfect love to guide us through the power of the Holy Spirit we can strive to live as Jesus lived.
I think this is also a goal set for us because if the goal is set lower that is all we would strive for. I know personally if I lower my expectations then I usually only achieve that lower expectation. If my goal is the perfect expectation, I may not achieve perfection, but I will strive for more and give my best effort. God wants us to have goals in our lives that are above our ability so that we will need to rely on the Holy Spirit's power to achieve our goals.
So in my life I continue to strive for God to spread his perfect love as best he can in someone like me.

MISSION: What area of your life do you need the Holy Spirit's power to achieve more? Share this with someone who will encourage you to strive for more.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Is it I?

As I reflected on the Last Supper Drama presented by men from the Harlan United Methodist Church yesterday there was a question that kept getting my attention. I think it was intended that way because each disciple ended with this question as they pondered who would betray Jesus; is it I? Each disciple wondering if it was possible that they would be the one to betray Jesus.
We would think they should know whether or not they had it in them to betray Jesus, but Peter is a good example of someone who said he would not even deny Jesus and then of course he did.
Judas had some interesting thoughts. He knew that he would betray Jesus, but it was an attempt to force Jesus' hand. He wanted to make Jesus conquer the Romans, which is what was expected of the Messiah. He thought Jesus would do that before he would be killed. However, he did not understand who Jesus really was as the Messiah.
Judas also said something in his own defense. Basically he said he was not as bad as people said he was. He was just trying to help God's kingdom along in his own way. Then he said we are not as white or pure as we think we are. This also got me thinking.
Sometimes we do fall into the trap of thinking we are not as bad as some other people, so therefore we are alright. We also think we did not betray Jesus, that was Judas. But the Scriptures say "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We have sins in our lives and the reason Jesus died was not that he was betrayed. It was because of our sins. He could have called to God for protection and help and he could have been saved (this is what Judas may have wanted to happen). But instead Jesus knew he had to die for our sins as a pure sacrifice.
So to ask is it I? Am I the reason Jesus died? The answer is yes. Yes, Jesus died because of you. But this is not a yes of guilt. By knowing Jesus died because of you is not to bring guilt or shame to your life, but rather it is to bring awe. Jesus died because of his great love for you and he was willing to make the sacrifice for you. I love the saying that Christ would rather die then live without you. It killed Jesus to see you separated from God, and then from his death you were brought back to God. This Holy Week remember the suffering Jesus accepted for you, but also keep looking towards Easter.

MISSION: Each day of Holy Week reflect on the path Jesus took to the cross for you. Imagine being in the story with him.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

John 11

This chapter of John shows another illustration of what Jesus offers us. He has been using different metaphors for what it means for him to be the savior of the world like the Good Shepherd, healer of the blind, Bread of Life and Living Water. This chapter he literally gives new life to a friend, Lazarus.
I recently heard someone get corrected for saying Lazarus was resurrected. Although he was dead, he came back to life on this earth. This is resuscitation not resurrection. Resurrection is being raised to new life in heaven, not back here.
When Jesus resuscitates Lazarus it is an extreme example of the authority and power given to Jesus and this causes the Sanhedrin to begin to plan to kill Jesus. The Sanhedrin was the governing body of the Jewish people. It was a group of 71 chief priests, elders and teachers of the law. They were given their authority by the Roman government, but they were not allowed to impose capital punishment.
So the Sanhedrin begins to plot to kill Jesus and in verse 48 they tell why they want to get rid of him. They want to get rid of Jesus because they will lose their position of authority given by the Roman government and they worry the Romans will think Jesus is causing a revolution against their government and come in and kill many of the Jewish people.
This is what historically caused the crucifixion of Jesus. This is the reason the Jewish authorities wanted Jesus to be killed. They thought it was better for Jesus to die then many Jews to die when the Roman government would stop their revolt. However we know there was more going on than this. Jesus' death came because he was a needed sacrifice to cover our sins. His sacrifice was needed for our relationship with God to be renewed and restored. As we move towards Holy Week continue to remember as Jesus moves towards the cross he is going there for you and your relationship with God.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Invitation

I wonder how much we could learn from one another about making an invitation to someone to join us at church? As the pastor I do invite people to join us at our church, but I also feel an invitation is better coming from someone other than the pastor. Some may look at it as my "job" to invite people and get more people into our church. If it is my job then the invitation may not feel heart-felt like I am doing this because I am paid. (Which of course is not true because I want every to experience Christ in the church as I have.) If the invitation comes from someone else it can really be felt as an act of love and kindness.
So I want to know what the best ways are to invite someone to church. What kind of invitations have been effective or what kind of invitation worked for you? I would love to get comments back on this.
I would think you would have more success after having built a relationship with a person. Once you have gotten to know them your invitation will be received as a friend. Sometimes people need more than leaving the ball in their court. Make specific plans to be there on a set day and time and make plans to go to brunch following the service. Also sometimes connecting in something other than a worship service is best. Invite a friend to a small group so they can get to know a few people before deciding to join the larger group. We would love guests at any of our church activities.
Well, please let me know your thoughts on invitations and how we can encourage one another to invite people to SEE Christ.

MISSION: Invite someone who does not have a church home to our Easter service, March 23 at 10:00 am at the high school auditorium.

Friday, March 7, 2008

John 8

The first section of the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John is a story that often reminds me how to represent Christ to others. Here a woman is brought who was caught in the act of adultery. Their law required her to be stoned to death, but Jesus takes a different approach. He does two things seen in what he finally says to the woman. He says he does not condemn her, but he also calls her to leave her life of sin. We are to follow his example.
In our lives there will be people doing things that are not right. And honestly we have all done things that were not right. We all have sin in our lives. Jesus does not call us to run around pointing out other people's sins. We are not called to judge or condemn people for their behavior.
At the same time we are not called to ignore sin, but strive to live a life free from sin. There is a difference between not condemning someone and ignoring their sin. Ignoring sin allows that sin to continue to control a person's life. Until the sin is acknowledged it will continue to have a hold on that person. Once it is brought to light the next step is to move away from it.
Jesus here calls this woman to leave her life of sin and we are to give that same invitation to others. What we can also offer to do is walk with that person as they work to be freed from that sin. Being freed from sin in our lives can be as easy as accepting the freedom God offers and making a decision to never do it again. However, being freed from sin also can be a long journey for sins that have deeply held us away from God. Either way God invites us to journey with other sinners to more fully understand and live out the freed Christ offers us from sin.
All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but together we can overcome sin by the power of Christ's forgiving grace.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

John 6

A few Sundays ago as we were reading through the Gospel of Mark someone asked me where the salvation message was in Mark. Each Gospel tells the story from a different perspective. Mark tells a lot about the events that happened and not so much the teachings or sayings of Jesus.
Now that we are reading the Gospel of John I hope you can see that John focuses more on the teachings and sayings of Jesus. You can notice that we are six chapters in and already Jesus teaches about being born again (chapter 3), the living water (chapter 5) and the bread of life (chapter 6) as ways to understand salvation. Each teaching is a little different way to look at relying on Christ. John makes clear the message is salvation comes through Jesus Christ.
The reaction in chapter 6 to Jesus talking about being the bread of life and "eating his flesh" causes an interesting reaction. We may miss it because our minds are taught to think of communion here, but imagine not knowing about communion and being told you have to eat someone's flesh. I am not fond of cannibalism, so that would turn me away.
It says in verse 60 that some followers of Jesus said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" And that response is a fear of many pastors. My goal is to help people grow in their faith and become better disciples of Jesus, followers of Christ. However, Jesus has some hard teachings that people may say if that is what is required I am not willing to do that. People often want an easy faith. People want the basics we need to get by.
But faith in Jesus is not about getting by. Many times Jesus talks in an all or nothing mentality. God will not be satisfied until all of our life belongs to him. Does that mean he doesn't love us if we still hold back some of our life? No, he still loves you, but he also wants to call you to more.
Jesus does give some "hard teachings," but they are also life-giving teachings. When you hear a hard teaching of Jesus I encourage you not to disregard it, but try to dig into it to understand what Jesus is really calling you to and see what life it might bring in your life.

Monday, March 3, 2008


I was reflecting on what to write today and I was drawn back to the skit the youth used to open the 10:30 service yesterday (they did it at the 8:30 service two weeks ago). The skit was titled "Useless Tools" and the main point was many times as Christians we do not take the time to teach people about the tools we have as Christians. Basically we say once you are a member or attend church regularly you are finished with your faith. We stop there instead of realizing God has called all of us to be disciples, Christ followers. This is a life long process of following where Christ leads us.
As a church we do need to become more aware of this calling to be disciples. We need to offer more opportunities for people to learn and grow in their faith, to be discipled. We also need people who are willing to disciple others. Yes, this is the pastor's calling, but it is the calling of all Christ followers as well. We each really should have a person we can follow and learn from and then have someone we are teaching as well. Of course Christ is the ultimate person we follow, but he also uses the faithful to disciple others.

MISSION: Think about who has discipled you and if that is not a specific part of your relationship talk with that person to see if they would be willing to pass on their lessons of the faith to you. Also think about who you might help grow in the faith at this time.