Archive for May, 2016

Faith Like a Centurion

sf_Freedom 6This week we look at the story of Jesus healing the servant of a centurion. In Luke 7:9 we find Jesus describing the faith of this centurion when he says; “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Faith is what heals this man’s servant, but there is more to this story.

The Jewish elders are asking for this healing to take place because the centurion deserves it. He did this wonderful thing, he built them a synagogue, therefore he “deserves” to have his servant healed. His works equal what he is due from Jesus.

Maybe the centurion hears about the rationale the elders gave Jesus for the healing and could be why he sent some of his friends out to tell Jesus that he wasn’t worthy for all of this. You see, the centurion realizes this healing is coming only on the authority of Jesus Christ, only by his grace, not by any works.

Ephesians 2:8-9; “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so no one may boast.” Not because he built a synagogue, not because he friended the Jewish people, not because he stood up for what is right, not for any of the other hundreds of things he had done, but because Jesus Christ has the authority and the grace to do so. That is what the centurion had faith in, not in himself, but in the power of the Word of Jesus Christ.

“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” This faith of a centurion, this humble, grace filled faith is what Jesus is proclaiming as a greater faith than he has witnessed so far. So how do we live into that faith, how do we exemplify this faith in our lives?

I think we do this by doing just as the centurion has done. He thinks of others before himself.  He didn’t care what might happen to him or what others thought of him, he was interested in saving his servant, his friend, and that meant calling on the one with more authority than he would ever have. It meant relying on the grace and love of Jesus Christ. It meant having faith in something greater than himself.

How often are we just the opposite, we rely on ourselves. We feel that we are the ones in charge and if anything is going to happen, it’s because we decide it will. We take the bull by the horns and control our own destiny.

But here is where we find ourselves in trouble, here is where we get our priorities out of place, here is where we find ourselves in need of grace. No matter how much authority we have on this earth, we, like the centurion, bow in worship of the Triune God. No matter how much we think we are in charge or control, we, like the centurion, yield to the will of God in our lives.

No matter how much we try to earn our salvation, we, like the centurion, eventually realize that the grace of God is a gift given to each and every one of us, free of charge, free of payment by works, unconditionally free. God loves us so much, that his grace is lavished upon us every day. It is here that we have faith in God’s healing touch, that we have faith in God’s grace. It is here where we have faith in God’s Word, the message of salvation and ultimate healing. It is here where we have faith like a centurion.

Surprised By Hope!

Surprised by HopeWhen was the last time you were surprised, by anything? Maybe it was a surprise birthday party, an unexpected gift, and unexpected guest. It could also have been an unplanned visit to the doctor, an accident, an unwanted diagnosis. Maybe it was a phone call that brought bad news, information that you just lost a close relative.

Surprises come in all different shapes and sizes, they can be good, but they can also be bad, but none the less, they are surprises. Something unexpected, something that catches you off guard, something that even shocks you, something that brings you to your knees in prayer, crying out to God, and other times bringing you to heights of rejoicing and shouts of praise.

But have you ever been surprised by hope? Have you ever been caught off guard, broadsided, or shocked by the presence of hope in your life?

Ever had a moment when you thought for sure there was no hope in a situation, but yet it was there? There have been plenty of times in my life that I could say that hope should not have had a place in a particular situation, but yet, I had this overwhelming feeling of hope.

This past Sunday we talked about Romans 5:1-5 where Paul describes the pathway to hope. He tells us that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

Suffering produces endurance. The word endurance can be translated a few different ways and one of those, which is a little closer to the original language, is “fortitude.” This puts an emphasis on action. You see, it’s not just a passive, enduring of the situation, just waiting for it to end, riding the storm out, but it is an active word.

This word is telling us that our sufferings will produce a spirit within us that can overcome our sufferings. We don’t sit in the house while to storms are raging around us, we take action, whether its preparing before the storm, actively taking shelter, or helping afterwards. We don’t simply endure, we overcome.

Paul tells us that endurance produces character. Now something to think about the word character, this is the same word used in other places to describe metal, after it has been through the refiner’s fire. When metal has passed through the refiner’s fine, it is purified. This fire purges all the impurities from the metal making it stronger, harder, more resilient.

What happens when you heat treat metal for many of the implements that we use in farming? It makes it harder, stronger, less resistant to breakage. It is this character that we begin forming through our sufferings. We become stronger because are able to endure and overcome, which leads to a stronger will, a stronger faith, and a stronger feeling of hope.

Paul tells us that character produces hope. Have you ever wondered why people respond in different ways when faced with incredibly difficult situations? I saw this quite often during my recent clinical pastoral education class at Rockford Memorial Hospital. I saw people from all different walks of life, facing the same diseases, injuries, and surgeries.

It was amazing to see those who have produced this hope through what Paul is describing here and those who have not.

Situations arise that will either destroy us or spur us into action which ends in victory. Hope is the difference. Hope is the medicine. Hope is the answer. Sufferings produce endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

Many of us are experienced in our Christian life, we’ve lived a life full of sufferings, endured them all and hopefully produced hope from them. So I ask you again, have you ever been surprised by hope. Have you ever been surprised by the appearance of hope in a situation where you knew hope just didn’t seem to belong?

Reflect and rejoice in those times, God has provided hope.

Greater Works?

cross-and-globeJohn 14:12-14 says this; “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Greater works? Really? How are we to do greater works than Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Well let’s look at some of the things Jesus did while he was physically here on earth. Jesus ate with sinners, healed the sick, proclaimed the good news to all around him. Certainly we can eat with sinners, we do that every day, especially if we remember that we are all sinners, fallen short of the grace of God.

But heal the sick? Do we really have healing powers? Can we cure those with ailments? Think about this for a moment. When hospitals first began springing up all over, who was behind the spreading of them, the building of them, the staffing of them? It was the church. John Wesley was adamant about opening clinics and hospitals to help those who were sick. This was one of the things he started back in England when this movement began.

And now, we look around us, the medicine, healing, and curing of so many people, far greater numbers than during Jesus’ time. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to think that this is all our own doing, this healing comes from knowledge which is imparted to us by God, this healing comes from and through God, but if we look at the numbers between the healing spoken of in the Bible and the magnitude of numbers today, these are greater works.

Jesus also proclaimed the good news to those he encountered, but this was to those in the ancient near east, those from the Palestine area, this is what Jesus, in the flesh, was able to do while present on earth. But we who believe are doing greater works. Greater works because we are proclaiming the gospel message, the good news, to a greater number of people.

Through Sunday morning worship services, personal conversations, social media, or just how we are living our lives, we are proclaiming the good news to all we encounter and this is a far greater number than what we find in scripture. The sheer fact of the population allows for that.

Greater works we will do. Greater works we are doing. In all of these things, God is glorified.

All of this is done through the power of God, and this is the focus of verse 13 and 14; “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

This has to be one of the most abused passages in scripture. It sounds like all we have to do is ask for whatever we want, name Jesus in the prayer, and it will come true, our wish will be granted. “God, allow me to pass this final exam, hashtag Jesus.” Not exactly.

Asking in Jesus name is not just simply tagging him in our comments, it is asking for that which is in the will of Jesus, the will of God. The Lord’s prayer states “your will be done,” not my will, not what I want, but what you want God. We want your will to be done on earth, just as it is in heaven.

A while ago, I taught the congregation at Lanark UMC about prayer, and I brought up two little words that change how we pray; “So that.” When we ask God for things in our prayers, we need to add a “so that” and explain why we are asking for these things. This helps us focus our prayers on not just what we want or desire, but to that which helps God’s plan for our lives. This is God’s will, this is asking in Jesus name, this is where I believe this verse points to. Ask anything, in my name, in my will, and it will be done.

LighthouseIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Charles Dickens penned these word at the beginning of an incredible novel; “A Tale of Two Cities.” London and Paris, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, similarities and differences abound.

Many time we find ourselves in times and places like this, a dichotomy of lives. On one hand it seems like nothing can go wrong, but yet, everything begins to fall apart. One moment we are on cloud nine, the next, in a pit of despair.

Do you remember a time when you just felt like you were in the pit of despair? Every time I hear that phrase, I think of the Princess Bride, and the pit of despair, the place where they tortured the good Wesley to near death. But have you ever found yourself in a situation where you thought you had no hope? It was too dark, the hole was too deep, and you couldn’t get yourself out?

Do you ever praise God in those situations? Do you ever think, “thank you God for allowing me to fall into this hole where I will die, I will never get out, but thank you and God I praise you?” Why not? Why is it so hard to lift songs of praise in our darkest moments?

It goes against everything we know, everything that this world teaches us. We should never rejoice in times of trouble, that’s just wrong. But maybe the Psalms have something to teach us about that.

Many times we find the writers of the Psalms crying out to God in deep despair, about all the things going wrong in their lives. Most of these Psalms conclude with words of praise. But you see, I don’t think it’s happy, giddy, jump up and down praise, but more of a praise that throughout history God has been faithful, so we have the hope and promise that this time will be no different.

God will deliver us, and therefore we will praise the name of God wherever we are. Paul and Silas were in prison, feet shackled, and beaten, they are near death. But in this place, surrounded by prisoners who needed to hear the message of Christ, they were praying and singing hymns to God.

Suddenly, there was an earthquake. The prison shook to its foundation, the doors and shackles were opened, and everyone was free. The guard woke up with the earthquake, and after seeing that the prison doors were opened, drew his sword. He was going to kill himself.

You see, if the prisoners had escaped, the guard would have been at fault and would have had to pay with the same sentence of those who had escaped under his watch. But just as he was about to fall on his sword, Paul cried out to him, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” Wait? What?

As soon as the doors and shackles were opened, why didn’t the prisoners run free? I believe it was for this reason. Paul and Silas needed to witness to the prisoners their faith, they needed to preach the gospel message to them, they needed to offer Christ’s salvation for them, and they needed to witness this same faith and gospel to the guard at the jail.

In the worst of times, Paul and Silas witnessed to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. In the worst of times, God used their testimony to reach the lost, lonely, hurting, and hungry. In the worst of times, God’s grace reaches out to touch those in need. In the worst of times, the guard and all the prisoners were saved by the grace of God.

In our worst of times, we witness to those around us, especially if they know we are Christians, others will be watching to see how we react in these situations. We witness to God’s amazing grace and love when we are in our good times, but we witness more in our hard times.

So remember this, when you find yourself in a place where you aren’t sure if you will make it out of the hole, when you feel like things are falling apart. Hold tight to your faith, hold tight to hope in Jesus Christ, feel the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and witness to those around you and sing hymns if you want to.

Antidotes - Epilogue copyThis past Sunday we finished our series on our out of control lifestyles with a question of “now what?” To answer this we looked a passage from Mark, the story of blind Bartimaeus. I want to see how this passage speaks to us today, just after finishing our antidotes series.

The story goes, Bartimaeus is sitting on the side of the road, begging for money and food. You see he can’t work because he is blind, so begging is the only way he can support himself. He is stuck in his lifestyle and can’t get out, he can’t see anything else. He can’t see any other way of living his life.

But then Jesus comes by, and he recognizes his voice and calls out to him. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” No one hears him, so he shouts it more. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” People start to hear him, because many around him tried to shut him up. And finally, Jesus hears him and stops.

“Call him.” Oh the sweet, sweet words of Jesus, calling to Bartimaeus. Immediately, he jumps up throwing off his cloak to run to Jesus. Now understand this, after a good day’s begging, he would have his cloak filled with money and food.

He threw it off, discarding all that he had, dispersing all of that money and food, a day’s worth of wages for him, but he didn’t care. The chance to meet Jesus changes him and he leaves everything else behind, he wants to see!

Jesus asks him; “What do you want me to do for you?” I want to see. I want to see. I want to see!

“Go, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus could see! But he didn’t “go.” He followed Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus became a follower of Christ, just image the testimony he would give. Just as in the song Amazing Grace; “I once was blind, but now I see.”

Maybe this series was just that for you. You have been living your life, going through the motions, attending church, going to meetings, going to work, trying to live a good life, trying (sometimes failing) to carve some time out of your busy lives for family and for God, but you realized over these past few weeks that you truly have not been able to see all that God wants you to.

You’ve been too busy, too stressed, too hurried to be able to help, even if you wanted to. But now, you have cleared places on your plate, you’re taking your 15 minutes to listen for God, and your eliminating things to simplify your life. You now have the time and space.

Maybe over the course of this series, you came to that realization that you haven’t been able to see and you cried out to Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. Jesus turns to you, calls you by name and asks you, “What do you want me to do for you?”

I want to see, I want to see all those places you are calling me to go. I want to see all the people who you are calling me to help. I want to see my life, doing your will. I want to see.

I want to see the world around me with the eyes of Christ, to see the lost, lonely, hurting, and hungry. I want to see what you are calling me to do and to be in my community. I want to see.

Jesus looks into your eyes and heart and says; “Go, your faith has made you well.” But this “go” doesn’t mean go away. We need to act like this blind man Bartimaeus. He did not go his own way. He didn’t get healed and then decide to do what he wanted, walking away from God, no! He followed Jesus on the way. He became a follower of Christ, just as we are called today to be a follower of Christ. So go and do likewise.