Archive for September, 2018

Selective Hearing?

MicrophoneMark chapter 9, verses 30-32 says: “From there Jesus and his followers went through Galilee, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. This was because he was teaching his disciples, “The Son of Man will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up.” But they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.”

Let me say this, men have a certain disease, and since I am a man, I can speak with authority, conviction, truth, and honesty about this disease. It is a terrible thing to have, but it seems to affect most men, equally. So, let me say this, I have selective hearing.

I think most men have this, some women, and most kids, especially if you are a parent of a teenager you understand this. Certainly, the disciples had selective hearing; we see evidence of this throughout the New Testament. We see it here in our passage for today, although it is disguised in verse 32. “But they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.”

This is how selective hearing works. We hear what is said, but for whatever reason we don’t want to respond. Whether it is something we don’t want to do or don’t understand, we just keep quiet, giving the impression that we have not heard what was said.

However, do you hear the underlying thought of the disciples? Do you get why they don’t understand? I mean, it’s pretty obvious to us what Jesus is saying here. Someone, Judas, will betray the “Son of Man,” Jesus, and he will be killed. Then, three days later, he will rise again. Very few words, easily understood, but incredibly hard to hear for someone looking at Jesus through a different lens.

The disciples didn’t want this, they wanted the almighty, powerful, Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, speaking authority and dominance over the Romans. They wanted a king and ruler to lead them away from the oppression they were experiencing. And the key to understanding this thought is the idea of what the disciples were talking about as they were walking down the road.

Following this passage, we find the disciples walking to Capernaum, somewhat listening to Jesus’ warning them of the events that were coming. But they weren’t talking about Jesus’ teachings. They weren’t even contemplating the transfiguration which was just spoken of at the beginning of this chapter, and that was a big deal. They were thinking something completely different, maybe it was because of the Transfiguration, but they were discussing, even arguing about who was the greatest. Was Peter claiming that he was the best, or maybe it was James, John was the beloved, maybe it was him? Thomas might have been trying to devise a plan to be the underdog and slip into the greatest role when no one was paying attention.

We do this so often in our lives. We want to be the best; I mean who wants to lose. We are trained from such an early age that it’s not fun to lose, to be last. I remember playing playground games in elementary school. I dreaded them. The teacher would line us all up, letting us know that we were going to play kickball. Shouts of joy went up, from most of the kids. And then, you might all remember what happens next. Two people were chosen, and it didn’t matter which ones got to become the “team captain,” the following process was almost the same every time. Anxiety sets in and I begin to repeat over and over to myself, almost as if saying a prayer that God would hear and intervene. “Please don’t pick me last, please don’t pick me last, please, don’t pick me last.” I didn’t want to be last, I wanted to be first.

We’ve been trained by our culture and society that if we are not first, if we are not climbing the ladder of success, then we’re not playing the game right. We aren’t worth anything, or maybe that we are a failure. Success is the only option, nothing else matters. But Jesus teaches role reversal, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

The first will be last, the last will be first, but that’s not all. In order to be first in God’s view, we must not only be last in the world’s view, but we also must be a servant of all. It’s not enough just to not be in the front of the line, we must also serve those who are in line with us.

Who Do You Say I Am?

Lake with DockThere are many questions that Jesus asks in scripture, but not many carry this kind of weight with them. “Who do you say I am?” Have you ever spent some time just thinking about this question? Who do say that Jesus is? Who is he to you? I guess if we really think about it for a while, we could say that Jesus could be a few things to us. But some of them might be a bit off base. We all have views of Jesus, some aren’t quite the Jesus of scripture, the Lord and Savior of our lives. So, who do you say that Jesus is this morning?

In Mark 8:27-30 we find a two-part question. Jesus first asks who the other people say he is. He wants to know what the people outside of his disciple’s circle think of him. And then he asks Peter. He makes it entirely personal. So, why the two-fold question? Why the two-fold message? Could this be a question that looks to the effectiveness of Jesus’ ministry? Jesus asks Peter who he thinks Jesus is. He wants to know; what have you been learning? What part of my teaching has stuck? Do you really understand who I am?

Peter could have answered as the crowds, saying that Jesus was a prophet, or John the Baptist, or even Elijah, but he knows who Jesus is. The messages, teachings, healing, and actions of Jesus have taught Peter that this was truly the son of God, he is the Messiah. Peter is paying attention, and his life is being transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. He knows Jesus.

So, then the question comes to all of us. Who do we say he is? Is this just another man who seems to be wise, wants to teach us some things about peaceful living and loving our neighbors? Is this a man who is a great servant leader, one that we should try to live our lives to be like him? Or, is this man truly the son of God, the Messiah who has come to save God’s people? Is Jesus Lord and Savior over your life? Who do you say he is?

The other side of this question, actually came first. Jesus asked what the people around him thought of him. He asks his disciples who the people said he was. Why does Jesus care what others think of him? Again, I think he might be wanting to know about the effectiveness of his ministry so far. Do people think he is just a good teacher and moral example for life, or do they truly believe that he is the Messiah sent by God to redeem the world?

I wonder if the news coming back from the disciples discouraged him? I wonder if this gave him the message to step up his game. Or was it to point out to the disciples just how far they would need to go to get the gospel message across?

I guess we could look at this within the ministry of this congregation by asking the same questions. When speaking about those outside these four walls, who do they say that Jesus is? Do they know him? Have they heard the stories, the message of hope, grace, and love? Do they know who Jesus is?

We could look at this question to show us the effectiveness of our ministry. Are we doing all we can so that others hear about Jesus? Or is there more we could be doing? Who do we need to reach out to? What groups of people in our community need to hear and feel the message of love in their lives?

How do we reach them?

If the answer to the question of who Jesus is, is met with responses of just a man from history who tried to live a good life and was killed for it; or a good prophet; or a good speaker; then we’ve missed the mark. We haven’t shown people the real Jesus, and so, we need to do better at reaching out on love and kindness, taking care of the poor, the lost, the broken. We need to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world that desperately needs him.

The question to you today is; who do you say Jesus is? Once we’ve answered that question for ourselves, we can then ask the second question. Who does this community say Jesus is?

You Belong Here!

BTCS_Meme_7In 1996, a 38 year old security guard at a Pennsylvania middle school convinced Tanya Kach, 14, to leave her father and live with him. For the next 10 years, the security guard kept Tanya captive in the home that he shared with his elderly parents. To keep Tanya from running away, her captor convinced the girl that no cared that she was gone and that her parents weren’t even looking for her. He told her, “You’re stupid. You’re immature. Nobody cares about you except me.” Eventually the security guard became so confident in Tanya’s loyalty to him that he allowed her to leave the house for short periods of time while he was at work. Through these daily trips, Tanya became friends with Joe Sparico, the owner of a local deli.

In March 2006, Tanya finally confessed her true identity to Joe, who then shared the information with his son, a retired police officer. Before long, Tanya was rescued and reunited with her father. When asked about the situation, Joe said that “she wanted to be wanted, that’s all.” She wanted to belong.

Tanya’s father, Jerry, who had desperately tried to find his daughter through the years, posting her picture several thousand times on flyers and milk cartons, was overjoyed to see her. “There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think of her.” He said. “I just say thank you, there is a God – and he brought my little girl back home.” Tanya, too, was delighted to learn that her father never gave up looking for her.

This true story gives us a little insight into a couple of things. First, the reason she doesn’t immediately run away from her captor, is that she wanted to be wanted. She wanted to belong somewhere. Maybe she didn’t feel that belonging in her family. Maybe she didn’t feel that belonging at school with her friends. Who knows, but it seems as though the guard’s words made her feel like she was wanted and belonged in his family. We all want to belong. We all have that basic desire to feel loved, wanted, and that we belong to a certain group; whether it is a family, group of friends, or a social gathering.

This is how Starbucks began. They created a culture within the coffee industry. They created an image of coffee shops and how people were made to feel welcome within those circles. The branding was so strong, that people couldn’t wait to spend money to gain access to this group which they could belong. Other products do the same thing. McDonalds, Applebees, and Olive Garden are just a few of the restaurants that try to create a sense of belonging. What is Olive Garden’s catch phrase? “When you’re here, you’re family.”

Even products we buy and clothes we wear can give us a feeling of belonging. You have the Apple people, the Samsung clan. What about those old ‘member’s only’ jackets? Who had one of those? I know I did. Pepsi…or…Coke? I could talk about Nike, but that might take us in a whole different direction. We all have a deep desire to belong to something greater than ourselves. It is one of the basic needs instilled in us at a very young age.

Another thing we pick up from this story is that her father never gave up hope that his little girl would return to him. He never stopped looking. Every day, he would search, and search, hoping that this would be the day. This would be the day that she would return. And when she was reunited with her father, can you imagine the celebration? Can you see the party the father would have thrown for her?

We see this in the story of the prodigal son. He returns, and the father runs out to meet him, and then throws a huge party. God is that father. He wants to celebrate with us when we return. And he never stops reaching out to us, loving us, calling us back into a relationship with him.

I’m sure the prodigal son in our passage from Luke this morning came up with some excuses why he should go back to his father’s house. I’ve lost all the inheritance. My father doesn’t love me. I’m not worthy. His basic need for food, shelter, and belonging finally got the best of him and he returned home. And that’s when we see the amazing grace of God. First, the father sees him far off. That tells me that he is constantly out looking, searching for his son. Every day, this father stands out on the front porch, looking for a recognizable figure to appear on the horizon. And then one day, he appears.

The father doesn’t wait for the son to come close to the house, he runs out to him. No excuses are needed, no reasons are required, the son is welcomed home to the place where he belongs. He receives the family ring, recognizing his place within the family. He is home.

When you are found within your church community, you are home, in the place where you belong! Is it perfect? Is it all that it is supposed to be? No, but that’s ok. We strive to live as God calls us, but we all have faults. But that doesn’t mean we don’t forgive and welcome people back.

Hope, Grace, & Love

Hope-is-Found-Here-Sermon-SlidePaul and Silas were bound, shackled, and thrown into prison. Their crime was proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ and healing those they came across. The one for this scene was a young slave girl who had a spirit of divining within her. She would make her owners a lot of money by telling fortunes. Paul commanded the spirit to come out of her, and when it did, her owners became angry because they just lost a source of income.

Paul and Silas were then stripped of their clothes and beaten, finally, thrown into jail. Talk about a bad day. I think I’ve had bad days, but this one tops just about all of them. Here they are, thinking they have just lost everything, that they might even die in prison. The damp mustiness of the jails in ancient times might have been too much to bear. The pain of the beatings probably still stung them. And now, they are surrounded by other prisoners, capable of doing who knows what, and they are shackled to the walls. What else could go wrong?

But, even in the midst of these horrible things, we find Paul and Silas praying, even singing hymns in prison. I guess we could understand praying, as we all would probably be doing that in this situation. But they begin singing hymns, praising God! And then the others start to listen. The other prisoners begin to hear the message of Jesus Christ.

I wonder what the worship sounded like in that prison? I wonder what songs were sung, what words were spoken, what praises were lifted? When all of a sudden, the earth begins to shake. The doors to the prison shake free and open, but worship is going on. The prisoners are so involved with worship that they don’t leave.

The guard wakes up with all the commotion and notices the open door. He rushes over, thinking that everyone had run free, he is going to attempt to take his life. Paul calls out from inside, don’t do it! We’re all here! The guard, moved by all that had happened, wants to know more about this Jesus guy. He wants to know what it will take for him to be saved, to receive salvation. Paul gives him a simple statement. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

The guard took Paul and Silas home with him to meet his family, while they were there the guard bandaged their wounds and that very night, both he and his entire family were baptized. Who was this guard? What was his purpose for being where he was at that time? We don’t know as he is not named in this story. I guess we could say that who he was is not of great importance. It was all about the message. It was about the fact that anyone can be saved, anyone can receive the grace of Jesus Christ by believing in him.

This is a message of grace, hope, and love! It is a message for us today. Here’s why.

If we look at this story as an allegory into our lives today, we can see how Paul and Silas could be you and me. We are called to spread the message of Jesus in all the ways we can. We go out into a world that, more times than not, seems like a prison. We face chains every day. They may not be the physical chains that Paul and Silas faced, but they tie us down. They try to keep us from living as Christians. Addictions, temptations, and low self-images can keep us from telling and showing others what Jesus means to us. This puts up barriers, so God’s message is not heard. Please notice that these are barriers that we erect, they will never stop the flow of God’s grace to this world. God will always find a way to reach the lost and broken, the hurting and beaten down. God has such a great love for all people, that he will not stop reaching out, calling us back into that relationship.

But we can also see how we are like the guard. We might have been minding our own business, not really interested in this whole Christianity thing. But then we heard the message. It might have been a pastor, a friend, a family member, or a complete stranger that spoke God’s love either through words or actions, and we wanted to hear more. We wanted to know what it was about this Jesus guy that seemed to be pulling us closer to him. Through events and conversations, we realized that we want more, that we want to be in this relationship, and so we make the decision to believe in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Now, we want to proclaim it to the world. Where are you today? Have you made that decision? Are you ready to make the decision?

Acts 16:25-34