Are We Afraid of the Cross?

[Ed.  Next week the Church (the church universal) commemorates Holy Week.  Several years ago, we were have a discussion with several of our clergy friends and we were dealing with the question of Palm Sunday.  Do you celebrate Palm Sunday or do you focus on the cross?  For many Christians, they come to church on Palm Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  The next time they come to church is Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.  It is great that we have both of these celebrations, but are we missing something?  Jesus speaks of suffering to his disciples.  Paul speaks of suffering for the cause of Christ.  He even goes so far to ask, “What do we expect?” when it comes to suffering.  The cross is an essential part of the redemption of humankind.  The Bible tells us without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.  This is an essential part of the atonement – the blood that Jesus shed for us is what paid the penalty for our sins – it restores the relationship that God had planned for us all along.  That is a rather long introduction to Pam’s post this week, “Are We Afraid of the Cross?”]

Several Sundays ago, I was teaching about communion during our Elementary Worship Celebration.  I started out by talking about Lent – it is a time to remember what Christ did for us on the cross and that it is a preparation time for the Easter season.  “Communion,” I said, “Is a time we remember the last supper.”  Each child was given a picture of the last supper.  I asked if any of them knew what the picture was and when it happened. One of the children asked if it happened at Easter.”  I was happy to know that they were in the right ballpark.  Then I asked them what happened on Holy Thursday. I was sure they would not know Maundy Thursday.  The children were not aware of the events of Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.  I was surprised that children didn’t know and yet in a way I was not surprised.  As Dale mentioned during the introduction, we teach about Palm Sunday on that day, and the resurrection on Easter and forget that there were a whole week’s worth of events that happened in between.

Here are some of the events that happened from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday:

  • Jesus cleansed the temple. (Matthew 21)
  • Jesus teaches the people many parables. (Matthew 21-25)
  • Jesus was anointed at Bethany (Mark 14)
  • Jesus observes the widow’s offering (Luke 21)
  • Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room for their final meal together
  • Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him.
  • Jesus prayed and was arrested in Gethsemane.
  • Jesus endured several illegal trials.
  • Jesus was mocked and beaten.
  • Jesus was crucified.
  • Jesus was buried.

The week that Jesus spent in Jerusalem was a busy week. From the biblical accounts, he did a great deal of teaching during that final week.

Why do we focus on the bookend events of Holy Week and not the space in between?  Is it that we are afraid of the cross?  Are we afraid to speak of Christ’s suffering?  Is it that we cannot deal with the reality that Christ was beaten to within an inch of his life?  Is it the thought of the flesh hanging from his body after all those beatings?  Or the holes in his head from the crown of thrones?  Or perhaps it is the guilt that our sins put him up on the cross.  Unfortunately, when we focus on the bookend events, we miss a great deal of the story.  Over the last few years, we have put a concentrated effort on highlighting the events of Thursday and Friday, so that people understand the price that was paid through Jesus’ suffering on the cross.  Last year, we had a very meaningful Good Friday service.  This year, we are planning a Maundy Thursday service.  Events like these are great, but we also need to remember what God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy.  We (parents) are commanded by God to teach our children the things of God.   4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6.) It is important to tell our children the story of Jesus, that not only did he rise up from the dead victorious, but that he suffered for our sins – that his body was bruised and broken for us – it was literally torn in two for us.  I encourage you to spend some time in your Bibles this next week, recalling the events that happened in the space in between:  Matthew 21-27, Mark 11 -15, Luke 19-23, and John 12-19.  Let’s not be afraid of the cross of Jesus for it is in the cross and the price that was paid that our sins are forgiven.


The Reason for Communion

[audio] [video]

Yes, the old rugged cross made the difference. For those of us who are in Christ, the cross makes all the difference. This morning we want to take a look at what communion means in the life of the believer, especially in light of what we have been looking at over the past several weeks. We want to begin with Paul’s words about the Lord’s Table in 1 Corinthians 11:

23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.

27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29 For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.

31 But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. 32 Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

33 So, my dear brothers and sisters, when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other. 34 If you are really hungry, eat at home so you won’t bring judgment upon yourselves when you meet together. I’ll give you instructions about the other matters after I arrive.

This week, while Pam and I were away at FLAME, I was reminded again of the importance of communion. Paul makes it very clear that communion should not be taken lightly, that it is a serious time and a time of reflection. Paul speaks of taking communion unworthily. I know that there are some Christians who do not partake of the Lord’s Supper because they feel that they are unworthy. The older I get, the more that I realize that none of us – if we really stop and think about it – are worthy to partake in communion. This is not what Paul is talking about here. Paul it talking about those who run headlong into communion, without any thought of what communion means or what their life is like.

What was going on in the church at Corinth that Paul had to write these words? At this time in church history, the church met each week for worship and fellowship. The church was meeting in homes so fellowship would be a natural part of worship. Just as it is in our day, fellowship also included eating a meal together. From what I understand, that meal also included communion at the end, just as Jesus did with his disciples after the Passover meal. The problem became when people started consuming food like there was no tomorrow. Like many churches, this church had both rich and poor. It was possible that the poorer folks were being excluded from the fellowship because they couldn’t contribute. This is why Paul had to “lay down the law” in Corinth.

In today’s world, we don’t worry about this because the Lord’s Table has developed into what we know it today. However, the examination part is still part of the process of the Lord’s Table. Each time that we partake of the Lord’s Table you are given the opportunity to examine yourself. What is God speaking to you? What changes do you need to make in your life? What relationships are being strained? In just a few moments, I will be inviting you to the table with these words: “Those who are walking in fellowship with God and are in love and harmony with their neighbor…come.” This is part of the examination process. Our church practices “open” communion – that means that any person who has received Christ as Savior and is walking in fellowship with him and walking in harmony with their neighbor is more than welcome to participate in communion. As we participate in communion this morning, I encourage you to examine yourself. See what God would show you. Communion is a time to reflect on your life and see if you are going the way that God is calling you.

This time gives us a chance to make mid-course corrections. Imagine that it was possible to make a direct shot to the moon without orbiting the earth. Imagine also that there was no opportunity for an in-flight correction. If, in the launching the calculations were off just one degree, that space vehicle would miss the moon by almost 1.5 million miles. Imagine what happens in our own lives when we don’t take time to make mid-course corrections. Communion is a time to do that. In that process of examination we can make a new start. We can renew our dedication to the task. Perhaps sin has crept into your life. It is a time when we can move back to the center of God’s will for our lives. Yes, communion is a time for examination, but it is also a time for reflection on what Jesus did for us.

Because of Paul’s words not to enter into communion unworthily, communion often has a somber tone. I believe as we have already looked that communion is a serious time – it is a time of reflection – a time to rededicate our lives to the work of the Kingdom – a time to remove sin from our lives – a time to examine our lives. One of the reasons that it is a serious time is because we meditate on the death of Jesus. However, as I have mentioned before there is more to salvation than Jesus dying on the cross. If Jesus had simply died on the cross, his story would have ended – there would be no salvation for man – the blood that Jesus shed would have only paid the price for our sin, but we would have no power over our sin. The resurrection is a crucial piece to the story of Jesus. It is through the resurrection of Jesus that believers have the power over sin – sin does not have to control us. The songs that were chosen this morning, where chosen intentionally in light of preparing us for communion. What does communion mean to us?

First, in partaking in communion, we acknowledge that Jesus – God’s son – came to earth in the flesh. We call that the incarnation. We remember that he came to earth as a baby – that he humbled himself – that he was obedient to the Father.

Second, we acknowledge that Jesus lived on earth as a human – even though he was fully God and that he was baptized and began three years of ministry on the earth that he created.

Third, we recognize that Jesus died on the cross. That his blood paid the penalty for our sins – that his body was broken and crushed for us.

Fourth, and this one is important – we recognize that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day. He holds the keys to death, hell, and the grave. It is through the resurrection of Jesus that we have the power to live victorious lives over sin. This is great cause for celebration – for we are not bound to sin over and over again.

Fifth – we recognize that Jesus returned to heaven and will be returning for those who are in Christ some day. We are commanded to celebrate communion to remember Christ’s death until that day comes.

These are the reasons that we come together this morning – now it is time to examine our hearts as we prepare to take communion together.


Today was an interesting day over all.  First, we got a break in the weather.  Although it’s currently 81 at 9:30 in the evening.  It looks like the state decided to resurface the roadway in front of our house, which meant we couldn’t cross the road this morning without a vehicle.  Tar and hot asphalt is not a good thing to walk across.

Pam and I did a little visitation in the afternoon, including a visit to my friends at Radioshack.  It was nice to leave on good terms and I’m one of the few employees at that store to leave on good terms in the last 3 years.

This afternoon, we got ready for Mosaic.  I thought tonight was going to be more like the last few weeks with an attendance under 10, but we rebounded a bit tonight.  We had 13 with 7 staff, so we broke the 20 barrier for the first time in several weeks!  PTL!  The summer is going to be different and we plan to mix it up each week.  Tonight we started out with some a cappella music and then I taught a short lesson about what God requires of us as Christians.  It can really be summed up in Jesus’ Great Commandment — to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

The elementary students helped make bagel pizzas and the middle school and high school students made cards for one of our Wesleyan chaplains who is deployed in Kuwait.  Then they went out and played games until the pizzas were done.  Next week, we are having a movie night and we will watch “Facing the Giants.”  We’ll have popcorn and the students asked for nachos.  I’m praying that this movie will be a life changing moment for some of our students.  Would you help me pray in that direction?
Our General Conference adjourned just before noon today.  There were some interesting things on the docket this morning.  The one with the most interest for me at least this morning was a recommendation that pastors offer communion at least monthly.  I know that even before the Discipline is printed (that’s when it goes into effect) I plan on making this change.  We have been having communion at least one every two months, but with this change, we will make it monthly, plus other special times like Covenant Renewal, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Local Church Conference.

I think that’s enough for tonight.  Tomorrow looks like a busy day, with working at Salvation Army and I have to chair a board meeting tomorrow evening.  Blessings….

We Believe in Holiness

If you’ve been here for the last several weeks, you know we are looking at what it means to be Wesleyan. Adam Crooks asked this question, “Can you give your life for the Cause?” That Cause is building Christ’s Kingdom here in Preston, Martinsville/Henry County and throughout the world. If you were here the last few weeks, you could think that The Wesleyan Church is simply about social issues such as; slavery, human trafficking, taking care of the down and out, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. But if we go back to those beginning years, back in 1843, when Orange Scott and his comrades split from the Methodist Episcopal Church that was just part of the story. Orange Scott was a True Wesleyan. He even had a paper called the True Wesleyan. What was a true Wesleyan in Scott’s eyes? They were drawn by their passion for social justice in the name of Jesus Christ. Scott said, “We are anti-slavery, anti-intemperance (anti-alcohol), and anti-everything wrong” believing as Peter once said, “We must obey God rather than men.” It’s interesting to note that these men had no intentions of starting a new denomination. In fact at the close of the Civil War, many Wesleyan leaders returned to Methodism. Why? Because slavery had been abolished and they saw no reason for the continued existence of the denomination.

But there was one man, a man whose name you’ve heard before. His name was Adam Crooks. Many Wesleyan Methodists had become concerned with the direction of the mother church (Methodist Episcopal.) They had started drifting away from the teachings of their founder , John Wesley. Crooks and other like-minded men and women, saw this as an opportunity. They would raise up this little denomination (and the time was right) on the platform of preaching biblical holiness. In fact, Wesleyan Methodists were the first denomination to have a separate article of religion specifically on entire sanctification. And we still have an article on sanctification in our discipline. How does it read?

236. We believe that sanctification is that work of the Holy Spirit by which the child of God is separated from sin unto God and is enabled to love God with all the heart and to walk in all His holy commandments blameless. Sanctification is initiated at the moment of justification and regeneration. From that moment there is a gradual or progressive sanctification as the believer walks with God and daily grows in grace and in a more perfect obedience to God. This prepares for the crisis of entire sanctification which is wrought instantaneously when believers present themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, through faith in Jesus Christ, being effected by the baptism with the Holy Spirit who cleanses the heart from all inbred sin. The crisis of entire sanctification perfects the believer in love and empowers that person for effective service. It is followed by lifelong growth in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The life of holiness continues through faith in the sanctifying blood of Christ and evidences itself by loving obedience to God’s revealed will.

Not only was this new denomination passionate about social issues in the name of Christ, but they were passionate about believers living a holy life. They knew that believers who knew Christ should look and act differently than those who didn’t know Christ. In our Discipline there are several texts to back up those claims, but I want to go to Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, chapter 5. His letter gets to the heart of what it means to be separated from sin and separated to God.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.
Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have the light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead and Christ will give you light.”
So be careful how you live. Don’t’ live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whew! Let’s go back and try to unpack this in these few moments. The scriptures tell us to imitate God. So many times when we think of imitations, we think of cheap knock-offs like imitation leather or a cubic zirconium. Who in their right mind would want a cubic zirconium when you could have a real diamond? Who would want fake leather when you can have the real thing? See where this is going? Who wants to have a imitation Christian life, when you could have the real thing? God is the real deal. Christ is the real deal and the scriptures say that if we want to please God and build his Kingdom we must imitate God. About the best way I can describe this is through that old gospel song that says, “O to be like Thee! Blessed Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer; Gladly I’ll forfeit all of Earth’s treasures, Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear. Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee, Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art! Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness; Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

Can you imagine what our lives would be like if Christ’s image were stamped on ours…That we would be a perfect reflection of Christ? So many say that it’s a pipe dream, to be able to live a life the way Christ has called us to live. Can I dare ask the question, “Why would Christ call us to live something that was impossible to do?” Why would Christ want us to live in that frustration? I can imagine a God that would call us to live a holy life and then not give us the resources to live it. Paul says, “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse sin.” Some would say that we sin in thought, word, and deed every day.” Paul goes on to say, “Live as people of light, not of the darkness. That is your former life, not the one you live now.” He says to carefully determine what pleases the Lord.

I also believe that the scripture teaches that we don’t have to do it alone. Paul tells us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is why we don’t have to go it alone. Matter-of-fact, to try to live the Christian life without the guidance of the Holy Spirit IS and exercise in futility. Without the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our life we will be sexually immoral; we will be impure; we will be greedy; we will want to laugh at dirty or off-color jokes; we will want to tell obscene stories and there are a hundred other things that we will do when are lives are not filled with the Holy Spirit.

As Wesleyans we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to help us live the holy life that Christ has called us to live. It is not a pipe dream. God is calling us. As we prepare for communion this morning, here’s what I want you to do. It is always a good thing to examine ourselves before the Lord before taking communion. In just a few moments, we are going to have a time of silent mediation to do that. I want you to ask God to show you places in your life where the Holy Spirit needs to work on you and ask Him to do that. Then as you come to receive communion, give that to God and ask Him to transform you this week in that area. Try me on this, God is faithful and He will keep his promise to help you win the victory.

Moses and the Great Escape

Today we continue on our journey in the Old Testament. We are looking at the famous and infamous and discovering what we can learn from their lives. As you can tell already, we won’t be taking the stories in order – depending on the particular emphasis of that Sunday, we will look at different stories.
This morning’s adventure comes from the book of Exodus – this book is a story of God’s deliverance of His people from the hands of the Egyptians. We noted last week that civilizations for many centuries have been trying to rid the world of the Jews or Israelites. Last week, we saw that simply because of the hatred of one man, the Jews were almost eliminated from the entire Persian Empire. We saw how God delivered the Jews from the hand of Haman.
Today our story is called Moses and the Great Escape. You can follow along in the book of Exodus. How did the Israelites end up as slaves in Egypt anyhow? I thought the chosen land for God’s people was along the western shore of the Mediterranean Sea? This was the land promised to Abraham? How did the children of God end up in Egypt? The short version goes like this. We are going to look at the long version later this summer. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. He ended up being second in command and saving not only the Egyptians but the Israelites as well. It wasn’t long before a new Pharaoh was in command. He knew nothing of Joseph and despised the Israelites, therefore he put them to work, subjecting them to hard labor because he was afraid the Jews would take over the land of Egypt.
This was only the beginning. Pharaoh gave the order to kill all newborn Hebrew boys. Here’s is where we are introduce to Moses in Exodus 2. When he (he wasn’t named until later) was born, his mother hid him and when he got too big, she made a basket, lined it with tar and pitch. The put him in the basket and placed him among the reeds in the Nile River. Miriam, the baby’s sister was given the task of watching the baby.
Before long Pharaoh’s daughter and her attendants came to bathe in the river. They discovered the baby and found him crying and found compassion on him. She even knew it was a Hebrew child. Miriam thought quickly and went to the daughter and asked if she needed a Hebrew woman to nurse and take care of the baby. Miriam brings her mother to the daughter and the daughter tells her to take care of the boy and she’ll even be paid to do it. (Talk about irony – Not only is the boy’s life saved, but mom gets paid to take care of him.) Eventually the boy is brought back to Pharaoh’s daughter and given to her. She calls him Moses.
Some time later when Moses had grown, he went out to visit the Hebrews (He knew they were his people.) He saw an Egyptian guard beating on a Hebrew slave and stopped the insanity. He killed the guard and hid him in the sand. The next day Moses was visiting the people when two Hebrews began to fight. He stepped into stop the fight, when the Hebrews confronted him saying, “Who are you to judge us? Are you going to kill us like you did the guard?” Moses was taken aback. He didn’t realize anyone had seen the encounter yesterday. Pharaoh had found out and so Moses fled to Midian.
When he arrived in Midian, he sat down by a well. It just so happened some camel thieves came along, trying to steal Jethro’s sheep. Moses saved Jethro’s (a Midianite priest) daughters and the sheep. Jethro invited Moses to join the family and he gave him one of his seven daughters, Zipporah.
Several years passed. The oppression in Egypt was still severe. The Hebrews cried out to their God and God heard their call. Moses was out tending his father-in-law’s sheep when he saw the strangest sight. Here on the desert a bush was burning and yet it wasn’t being burned up. Moses was amazed and wondered what was up. Moses approached the bush and God called out to him from the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
Moses quickly replied, “Here I am.”
God replies, “Don’t get any closer. Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Moses became afraid because he was having an encounter with God. God told him of the oppression of the Hebrews in Egypt and that He wanted something done about it. Moses was the man of the hour. Moses strongly protested. He did not want to be the Hebrew spokesperson. God reminds Moses of His name, “I AM who I AM.” He gave Moses instructions to tell the people of the impending rescue and gift of the promised land. Moses wasn’t too sure of this whole plan. Finally, God convinces Moses that he is the man for the job. Moses goes back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and demand the release of the Hebrews.
Pharaoh was not amused by this upstart Moses. Just who does he think he is? I am Pharaoh. He is nothing. Pharaoh not only won’t let the people go, but he increases their workload. The Hebrew are none to happy with these proceedings. They even get mad a Moses, because their if they were overworked before, their tasks are even harder now.
Moses and Pharaoh have another confrontation. Moses tries out his staff/snake trick. Pharaoh is not impressed because his magicians can do the same thing. Pharaoh is not going to let the Hebrews go. So God sends a series of plagues on the Egyptians. It’s important to note that these plagues did not affect the Hebrews. Can anybody help me with the first nine plagues?

1. Blood
2. Frogs
3. Gnats
4. Flies
5. Dead Livestock
6. Festering Boils
7. Hail
8. Locust
9. Darkness

Pharaoh was not amused by all of this. His heart got harder with each passing plague. God was willing to give him one more chance. Moses warns Pharaoh a new plague is coming – one more severe than all the others. Moses even tells Pharaoh, what is about to happen, but no matter, Pharaoh’s mind is made up.
Here’s what Moses told Pharaoh. “At midnight tonight, I (the Lord) will pass through the heart of Egypt. All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of the lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all livestock will die. Then a loud wail will rise throughout the land of Egypt, a wail like no one has heard before or will ever hear again. But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark…All the officials of Egypt will run to me and fall to the ground before me. ‘Please leave!’ they will beg. ‘Hurry! And take all of your followers with you.” Only then will I go!”
So the gauntlet was laid down. There was a special condition that the Hebrews had to follow.
Each family had to choose a one-year-old sheep or goat with no defects. They were to kill it and take the blood and smear it on the tops and sides of the door to the house. They were commanded to roast the lamb and eat it with bitter salad greens and bread without yeast. Everything had to be roasted and consumed before morning or be burned. The Hebrews were instructed to eat the meal ready for travel. God was about to pass through the land of Egypt. God said, “But the blood on the doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
That night God passed through the land of Egypt, killing every firstborn in the land, except where there was blood on the doorposts. As God predicted there was a wailing in the land it was never heard before and never heard since. Pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to get out immediately if not sooner. As incentive to get out as quickly as possible the Egyptians gave the Hebrews clothing and articles of silver and gold. They stripped Egypt of its pride and treasury. This feast like Purim is still celebrated by Jews each year. The feast I describe is known as Passover. God said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.”
So how does that apply to us? Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his disciples when He gave us the command to celebrate the Lord’s Table in remembrance of His sacrifice. On the edge of most communion tables there is a phrase “Do this in remembrance of me.” Each time we get together to celebrate the Lord’s Table we remember the sacrifice that was paid for our sins. The lambs that were sacrificed on the night of the Passover, guaranteed the deliverance of the Hebrews. The Lamb of God was slain for our sins. For those who have received Him, his sacrifice covers their sins and gives them deliverance from sin. Each one of us is bound for death because of our sins, but because Christ’s blood was shed on the cross – because his blood has been placed on the doorposts of our hearts, we are forgiven if we trust in Him. We can have the great escape that the Hebrews did.
This morning we are about to celebrate the Lord’s Table together. We remember that Jesus shed His blood for us. We remember that Jesus died for us. We remember that Jesus rose again to save us from our sins. As we participate, we also remember that the very act of communion can change us. We are to examine ourselves, asking the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts. When our hearts are cleansed, we are made new and we are worthy of this holy sacrament.

What Do You Boast About?

What do you place your trust in? What do you place your confidence in? What do you place your hope in? What do you boast about? There is a strong correlation between what we boast about and what we place our trust in. There was a church in Galatia that had similar problems. Let’s look at Galatians 1:3-11 as a background to our message this morning.

3 May grace and peace be yours from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 He died for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. 5 That is why all glory belongs to God through all the ages of eternity. Amen.

6 I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who in his love and mercy called you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ. You are already following a different way 7 that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ.

8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other message than the one we told you about. Even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message, let him be forever cursed. 9 I will say it again: If anyone preaches any other gospel than the one you welcomed, let God’s curse fall upon that person.

10 Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.

11 Dear brothers and sisters, I solemnly assure you that the Good News of salvation which I preach is not based on mere human reasoning or logic. [i]

What does Paul consider important? What is important to Paul is this: that “Jesus Christ died for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.” This is the Good News or the gospel. It’s this gospel that the Galatians had turned away from. Paul is expressing his shock in how they turned away from such a marvelous message and are following another “gospel.”

The controversy apparently revolves around the Jews and Gentiles and the issue of circumcision. Even in the first century church legalism was a problem. This is not a new problem for the church. It has existed ever since the church began. One of the main problems with legalism is that the rules become more important than the relationship. There are still churches that operate this way. You have to act a certain way. You have to dress a certain way. Your hair has to be the right length and that depends on whether you’re a male or a female. You can only listen to certain types of music and the list goes on. Paul goes on to make the argument that what is important is not the rules or what you have to do and in the case of the Galatians, you couldn’t be a Christian unless you were circumcised. Paul tells us that no one can follow the law that is why God had to send Jesus to earth. The law was a way for man to be made righteous in God’s eyes, but it wasn’t enough. In Galatians 4:4 Paul writes, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father. Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you.

We need to make it clear that Paul is not arguing as some do today for an anything goes Christianity. Paul argues just the opposite that there are things in the life of a believer that just don’t belong. What are they? “When you follow the desires of you sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results; sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outburst of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin.” Paul continues with what the believer’s life should look like. “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law. Those who belong to Christ have nailed the passions and desire of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.”

So what do we place our trust in as Christians. We certainly don’t want to follow the sinful nature, especially if we have Christ in us. Let’s see how Paul finishes his letter and see if we can find out what we need to place our confidence, or our boasting. Let’s look at Galatians 6:12-17:

12 Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised are doing it for just one reason. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save. 13 And even those who advocate circumcision don’t really keep the whole law. They only want you to be circumcised so they can brag about it and claim you as their disciples.

14 As for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world died long ago, and the world’s interest in me is also long dead. 15 It doesn’t make any difference now whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we really have been changed into new and different people. 16 May God’s mercy and peace be upon all those who live by this principle. They are the new people of God.

17 From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus.[ii]

Paul’s prayer is my own prayer. It is my prayer for you as well. This is part of being an authentic worshiper of God. “As for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we have nailed our sins to the cross, circumcision or any type of legalism doesn’t make any difference to Christ. We can always change on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts and if the inside has truly changed, it won’t be long before the outside changes as well as you will want to please Christ in everything you do. What does make a difference is “whether we have been changed into new and different people.” This is how we worship, when we give God the honor. We worship Christ when we boast in the cross. That is what we put our hope in. That is what we put our trust in. That is what we put our confidence in. It’s the cross and only the cross.

[i][i]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.

[ii]Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.

Communion As Celebration

  1. We have been doing a lot of celebrating around here of late. Three weeks ago we celebrated the 57th anniversary of our church. Just last week we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church and the birth of the Christian church. Today continues that theme of celebration. Today we want to celebrate by taking communion together. I know that sounds strange, to celebrate communion. Most of us are well acquainted with what the elements of communion mean. The bread symbolizes Christ’s body and the juice celebrates Christ’s blood that was shed for us. Many times when we take communion we focus on the sacrifice that was paid for us by Christ going to the cross to die in our place. This usually results in a solemn service – as it should be. We are warned in the Scriptures that communion is not to be taken lightly. Paul even writes to the church at Corinth about how out of control communion has gotten there and he gives strict instructions on how communion is to be given and taken.
    However, when we take communion we are not only commemorating Christ’s death on the cross, but we are also celebrating several things. We want to take a look at those today, but we want to start with several definitions.

    Celebrate-to observe (a day or event) with ceremonies of respect, or rejoicing or to perform (a religious ceremony) or to announce publicly or proclaim or to extol; praise or to observe an occasion with appropriate ceremony.

    Communion – a possessing or sharing in common; participation; a sharing of thoughts or feelings; a religious or spiritual fellowship; a body of Christians with a common religious faith who practice the same rites or the Eucharist (the Christian sacrament commemorating Christ’s Last Supper; the consecrated elements of bread and juice used during this sacrament.

    As we take a look at these definitions, it makes it less difficult to reconcile what should be done with solemnity with celebration. When we celebrate communion, we (here is an important word, communion by its very definition is difficult to celebrate individually. Yes, there are times when because of sickness that I will serve communion to an individual, but that is the exception) observe Christ’s death and resurrection with a ceremony of respect.
    I’ve already mentioned it, but communion must be done within the community. One of the things that we are learning this week in reading our Bibles is that the early church was a wonderful community of believers. They had everything in common. One of the things that we are celebrating when we partake of communion is the body of Christ, a holy people. Let’s take a look at 1 Peter 1:13-16, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set you hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” We could take the rest of the time on this by itself. We are a holy people set apart by God for His purposes. We need to celebrate with each other that he has set us apart for his work. God has created the body of Christ to do his work. We need each other. We need to work to build his kingdom. Peter goes on in vs. 22-23, “now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God…the word of the Lord stands forever.” So we celebrate communion together as a community of believers – the body of Christ.
    Second, we celebrate communion because of what the blood of Christ has done for us. Peter writes, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect, He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for you sake.” This is cause to celebrate. We who have placed our faith and trust in Christ have gone from being enemies of God to friends of God. We have gone from sinners to saints because God has bought us back through the blood of Jesus Christ. Christ has purchased our freedom through His willing sacrifice on the cross. This is something to celebrate. We don’t have to die in our sin, because of the work that Christ has done in us. This particular point is usually why communion tends to be subdued, but think of this because of Christ’s work on the cross we are no longer tied to sin, because Jesus has ransomed us. This is reason number two to celebrate.
    Reason number three comes from the verse 21, “Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” As we gather each Sunday in this sanctuary, it really is a miniature resurrection Sunday celebration. Each week we should be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. In dying on the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sin, but in rising from the dead Jesus took the keys of sin, death and hell. John Wesley wrote, “He breaks the bonds of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free.” This all happened when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Without the resurrection there is no breaking the bonds of sin, death and hell. Without the resurrection, we have no hope of ever being resurrected ourselves.
    And this is the fourth reason to celebrate communion together. Through Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we have the hope of going to heaven with him. We have the hope as we sung this morning of reigning in the heavenly kingdom with him.

    What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see
    and I look upon His face the one who saved me by his grace.
    Then he takes me by the hand and leads me to the promised land.
    What a day glorious day that will be.

    The hope of a resurrection of these bodies gives us cause to celebrate this morning.
    In addition to the resurrection of these bodies, we have the blessed hope that Jesus is coming back again some day. In the Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth he says, “for every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” The last thing that we celebrate is that every time we take communion together we remember that Jesus is coming back again. Not only do we have hope of a glorious resurrection, but we have the hope of eternal life in God’s kingdom of heaven.
    So do we have reason to celebrate during communion? The answer is yes. What are the reasons again?

  1. We celebrate that we are a community of believers – the body of Christ
  2. We celebrate the blood that was shed for the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death on the cross
  3. We celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus, who broke the chains of sin, death and hell
  4. We celebrate the hope of heaven and eternal life
  5. We celebrate the hope of Jesus’ return for his children.Let’s celebrate together.

It’s Morphing Time

How many of you remember the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers? For those of you who don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, it was a low-budget Japanese animated classic the dubbed badly into English during the Eighties and Nineties. The storyline revolved around ordinary teenagers who in the time of crisis could “morph” into extraordinary beings. “Morph” has actually worked its way into our vocabulary and is used in computer graphics. Most of you have seen commercials where there is a face and it smoothly changes into another face. This is known as digital morphing. The way these teenagers changed into extraordinary people was by the cry, “It’s morphing time.” What is morphing? Most of you know the word metamorphosis. Most of us know the process that moves a caterpillar to a butterfly. The process is known as metamorphosis. It is a transformation. As we look at this morning’s passage we see that we are called to be transformed.

One of the questions that is being asked of us pastors this year by The Wesleyan Church is this: “Are you living the transformed life right now?” The second is related to it. “Are you leading a transforming church? These are some great questions that we need to be asking, especially in light of last week’s message. This is part of the getting back to basics approach that James would have told us to do. Are you living the transformed life right now is not only a good question for pastors, but for each of us. It’s a question that the Wesleyan Church is beginning to look at and there are changes happening that are encouraging. Remember to be in prayer for our General Superintendents (especially considering that the General Board will be electing a new GS in September to replace Dr. Holdren). Also be in prayer for Dr. Jim Dunn. I see some encouraging signs in the Department of Spiritual Formation.

It’s a beginning that the Wesleyan Church is beginning to make. There are two important things we are going to look at in our scripture this morning. The purpose in our lives as Christians and our purpose as a church lie within II Corinthians 5:11-6:2

11It is because we know this solemn fear of the Lord that we work so hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. 12Are we trying to pat ourselves on the back again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart before God. 13If it seems that we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. 14Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. 15He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.

16So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! 17What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

18All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. 20We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be reconciled to God!” 21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

6:1 As God’s partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God’s great kindness. 2For God says,
“At just the right time, I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation.

As we look at this morning’s passage we see that we are called to be transformed. Look at verse 17: 17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

We are not the same anymore. We are changed. “Are you living the transformed life right now? Most of you will remember Popeye, the Sailor Man. This spinach-eating, Olive Oyl loving hunk of a man says, “I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam.” For Popeye there was no hope of transformation. Do we as Christians make this our rallying cry? I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam.” You mean there’s no hope of transformation? Then the scriptures must be lying to us.

You remember that I said there are two things I would like to point out. Yes, we need to live a transformed life, but how do we get there? Look at verse 18, 18All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him.

We are to be Christ’s Ambassadors. We are to be representatives of the King. God sent Jesus Christ into the world to reconcile us to God. The greatest transformation in our lives should take place when we receive Jesus Christ into our hearts. We use the word saved and I realize that we are saved from sin, but we are also converted, we are transformed. You don’t hear many instant transformation stories any more. But we know God is able to transform us in an instant. That is why I believe that we don’t gradually become a Christian. There is a definitive time when we received Jesus as Savior and he starts the transformation process from what we were to Christ-likeness. What are the two important things I was getting at? They are reconciliation or redemption and transformation. Are you living the transformed life right now? What are the fruits of you living the transformed life? If you’re living the transformed life, you life should look like the fruits of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control. Are these fruits visible in your life? Let me tell you a story about Hank. Hank was a cranky guy. He did not smile easily, and when he did, the smile often had a cruel edge to it, coming at someone’s expense. He had a knack for discovering islands of bad news in oceans of happiness. He would always find a cloud where others saw a silver lining.

Hank rarely affirmed anyone. He operated on the assumption that if you compliment someone, it might lead to a swelled head, so he worked to make sure everyone stayed humble. His was a ministry of cranial downsizing.

His native tongue was complaint. He carried judgment and disapproval the way a prisoner carries a ball and chain. Although he went to church his whole life, he was never unshackled.

A deacon in the church asked him one day, “Hank, are you happy?”

Hank paused to reflect, then replied without smiling, “Yeah.”

“Well, tell your face,” the deacon said. But so far as anybody knows, Hank’s face never did find out about it.

Occasionally, Hank’s joylessness produced unintended joy for others.

There was a period of time, John Ortberg relates, when his primary complaints centered on the music in the church. “It’s too loud!” Hank protested-to the staff, the deacons, the ushers, and eventually the innocent visitors of the church.

We finally had to take Hank aside and explain that complaining to complete strangers was not appropriate and he would have to restrict his laments to a circle of intimate friends. And that was the end of it. So we thought.

A few weeks later, a secretary buzzed me on the intercom to say that an agent from OSHA was here to see me. “I’m here to check out a complaint, “he said. As I tried to figure out who on the staff would have called OSHA over a church problem, he began to talk about decibel levels at airports and rock concerts.

“Excuse me,” I said, “are you sure this was someone on the church staff that called?”

“No,” he explained, “If anyone calls—whether or not they work here—we are obligated to investigate.”

Suddenly the light dawned: Hank has called OSHA and said, “The music at my church is too loud.” And they sent a federal agent to check it out.

By this time the rest of the staff had gathered in my office to see the man from OSHA.

“We don’t mean to make light of this,” I told him, “but nothing like this has ever happened around here before.”

“Don’t apologize, “he said, “Do you have any idea how much ridicule I’ve faced around my office since everyone discovered I was going out to bust a church?”

Sometimes Hank’s joylessness ended in comedy, but more often it produced sadness. His children did not know him. His son had a wonderful story about how he met his wife at a dance, but he never told his father because Hank did not approve of dancing.

Hank could not effectively love his wife or his children or people outside his family. Whatever capacity he once might have had for joy or wonder or gratitude atrophied. He critiqued and judged and complained, and his soul got a little smaller each year.

I tell you that story from John Ortberg’s book, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” because John goes on to say. Hank was not changing. He was once a cranky young guy and he grew up to be a cranky old man. But even more troubling than his lack of change was the fact that nobody was surprised by it. It was as if everyone simply expected that his soul would remain withered and sour year after year, decade after decade. No one was bothered by the condition. In the words of James, Brothers, this ought not be. As believers we have expectations. We expect that a man like Hank would affirm certain religious beliefs. We expect that he would attend services, read the Bible, support the church financially, pray regularly, and avoid certain sins. But we don’t expect that he will progressively become the way Jesus would be if he were in Hank’s place.

As we prepare communion, I want to ask the question again, “Are you living the transformed life right now?” Transformation is expected. Someone once asked John Wesley, “How often should you serve communion?” Wesley replied, “As often as you can.” I know the arguments say we can make it a meaningless ritual, but we are supposed to pray and read the Bible continually. Does that make those processes a meaningless ritual? By no means. For Wesley, Holy Communion was the means of grace through which we are remembered to the real presence of Jesus. The reality of Jesus’ divine, grace giving presence in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, must not be minimized. While Wesley did not accept the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation, he nevertheless affirmed that Jesus was REALLY present to the believer when the believer ate and drank of the elements with faith. This means of grace Wesley identified closely with sanctifying grace … Communion provides the believer with the access to the grace which they need to literally walk the Christian walk and improve their Christianity toward the goal that God has for them in Christ Jesus. Let me ask the question that we started with, “Are you living the transformed life right now? Let’s take a moment and examine ourselves before God.