Empty

 

[Ed. This is the sermon that I preached several weeks ago at McCrae Brook Wesleyan Church.]

Empty – think about that word for a minute…think about the times the word empty is a disappointment. For example – an empty gas tank – I don’t think any of us like one of those.  How about an empty refrigerator? Me neither.  How about an empty cookie jar? An ice cream carton – the milk container – or how about when James and I are at work and we find box – that should have something for the store – but instead it is empty because someone took the last one and didn’t take the empty box out to the trash?  Empty is typically not a positive word.

Several weeks ago during our Skype interview, I mentioned to those gathered that I am a runner.  God has helped me go from a very unfit 45 year old (with high blood pressure and border line diabetic) to a healthy 52 year old.  I feel great and hope to run as long as God gives me breath and my legs hold out.

Not many days after our interview I went out for a run.  Staunton, VA has a beautiful park not far from downtown that has a 1.36 mile looped road.  It is away from traffic and many people use it to walk – walk their dogs – or run.  Pam and I will miss the park.

On that morning there was some activity at one of the entrances. They were doing some tree cutting.  I noticed the next time around that the main truck had moved and was heading through the park. The next time around, they were working on cutting a tree.  I thought maybe what was happening is they were doing some trimming, but as I learned on the next time around, the whole tree was coming down.  By this time my run was done, so I did my stretches.  By the time I got back to the spot in the van, they were cleaned up, but they leave the trees for anyone to take the wood.  Now is when I noticed why the tree was cut down.  From the outside it looked great.  The higher part of the trunk looked really good and so did most of the branches.  However, the trunk at the bottom was hollow or empty.

I want us to go to 1 Peter 1:13-22:

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake.

Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.

Like I said, many times we think about the word empty and it is not positive.  In the case of the tree, it was empty.  While it looked like a beautiful tree on the outside, inside it was rotting away.

This is what Peter is describing.  Our lives without Christ are empty.  As you may know, people go to all sorts of lengths to fill their empty lives.  People may try to fill their life with fame.  In our modern culture we have a common phrase that someone found their 15 seconds of fame.  Some may try fortune, but just like fame, many find that fleeting.  There are those who make fitness a priority – I don’t disagree with that – fitness has its place, but without Christ it leaves us empty.  Others may try drugs, or relationships, or alcohol, or sex or philosophy or social media or even things.  You have all heard the phrase “The one with the most toys wins!” But even that leaves us empty.  One of the wisest men in the world, King Solomon – a man who had everything was once quoted as saying, “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity!” In other words, even King Solomon didn’t find pleasure in things.  Check out the book of Ecclesiastes – Solomon describes the emptiness of life.

Without Christ our lives are empty. There is nothing that can fill this void in our lives, because God created it.  God created inside of us a place for him.  Nothing else can fill this void – as hard as we try.  God has paid our ransom to fill that void that we try to fill by ourselves.  It was a high price.  When we think of things that are valuable, we often come up with gold and silver or precious stones, but this is not how we were redeemed – this is not how we were bought back – we were paid for by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  Just 10 days ago on Good Friday, we remembered the price that was paid for our sin.  The sinless, spotless Lamb of God was chosen – long before Adam and Eve to redeem the world.  Jesus was crucified on cross to save us from what we could not save ourselves from.  He has ransomed us from the empty life.

I love symbols – one of the most wonderful symbols in the world is the cross, because it reminds me of the sacrifice that Christ paid on the cross – it reminds me of the blood that was shed for our sins.  Today the cross is empty. Late on Friday afternoon, Jesus was taken down from the cross and put into a tomb.  You see as we think about it now, empty is not such a negative word.

But – and here is where it gets really good.  Not only is the cross empty, but three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, conquering sin, the grave, death, and hell.  The empty tomb gives us life!  Think about this because of the empty cross – because of the empty tomb, we can have real life.  Jesus said that he came that we might have live and have it more abundantly or have it to the full.  I love the way the New Living translation puts it. “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” – John 10:10b

N.T. Wright has said of the resurrection, “The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and now you’re invited to belong to it.

Because of the empty cross, because of the empty tomb our lives can be made new.  We don’t have to live in the old ways.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation – the old has gone, the new has come.”

We don’t have to walk in our old ways anymore.  Do you need some Good News this morning?  Here it is: Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen!

This message gives hope to those who don’t know Jesus yet, however, I think there is more to this than just being saved.  Peter says yes your ransom was paid by Christ through his death and resurrection, so don’t live in the old, empty life anymore.  We were cleansed from our sins when we obeyed the truth.

Peter reminds us that we shouldn’t slip back into the old ways of living to satisfy our desires.  We didn’t know any better then.  We are called to live a holy life – because we must be holy as God is holy.  A Christian life that is not holy is just like that tree – it is empty – it is not full.  Jesus did not want our lives to be empty or hollow, but to be full of him.  Jesus has strong words for those who don’t produce fruit (John 15.) However, he gives us a promise, “If we remain in Him, He will remain in us.” We cannot be fruitful unless we remain in him.  But if we are severed from the vine, Jesus reminds us, that we will not produce fruit and we will be thrown away – you could say that we will be cut down, just like that tree was.

Christ reminds us that when we produce fruit – we bring glory to the Father.  Jesus in that passage in John, talks to his disciples about loving one another and loving others.  To bring this back to the 1 Peter passage, he writes,

“And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.”

I think it’s interesting…some say it’s impossible to live the holy life. Some say we sin in thought, word, and deed every day.  I find it hard to believe that God would call us to “be holy as he is holy” and not give us the power not to sin in thought, word, and deed every day.  Where is the resurrection power in that?  Where is the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives every day in that?  If Christ paid the price for our sins – If we were redeemed from our empty way of life – If God paid our ransom – If the precious blood of Christ – the spotless Lamb of God – paid our ransom for our sins – something that can never perish or fade – should that count for something – I believe with all my heart that we can be holy – because we have been redeemed to live lives that are pleasing to God – not hollow or empty  – by the precious blood of Christ and his resurrection from the grave.

So where does that leave us this morning?  What difference does it make that Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross?  What difference does it make that Jesus rose from the grave?  Does it make any difference at all that there is a resurrection?

Yes, very much so.  Paul writes in his letter to the church at Philippi, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.  I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

Paul was convinced that there was a resurrection of Christ and a resurrection of our bodies, even though he didn’t understand all the ins and outs – it remained a mystery to him.  Many times I believe that to come to Jesus or to live a life of holiness, we need to have it all figured out first.  Jesus didn’t call us to have it all figured out first.  Jesus didn’t call us to get our act together first…that’s not what the cross is about – that’s not what the tomb is about.

Paul said I want to know Christ. This is not an assent to Christ or a head knowledge of Christ.  We think we know something when we can quote all the facts about it.  You might say that I know about running.  I can tell you all the facts about running.  It wasn’t until I became a runner that I really knew running.  I became deeply intimate with running.

This is what Christ wants us to do.  Yes, he wants our head knowledge but he also wants to take that knowledge and move it – move it to our heart – where we become one with Christ.  This is what Paul was writing – to know the sufferings of Christ – to share in his death.  We don’t like to talk about these things because they are uncomfortable – but to know Christ is the only way that we can live for him. It is the only way we can experience the life that he has called us to live – It’s the only way we can experience the power of the resurrection that has redeemed us from the empty way of life.

Here is my challenge this morning.  It’s a twofold challenge:

  1. If you are here this morning as someone who has not received Jesus – someone who has never made a decision for Jesus, I invite you to come forward and accept his invitation to know him. Some will say give your life to Jesus and life will be a bed of roses – no give your life to Jesus and you will probably experience pain and happiness just like you have, but Jesus will be there helping you through it – believe me, I have been there…but it will be worth it.
  2. If you are here this morning as a believer in Jesus, but you say, I am not living in the power of the cross – I am not living in the experience of the mighty power of the resurrection and I want to. You are invited as well, to commit to the life that Christ has called you to live.  You want to know Christ is all ways.  The altar is open.
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Imitate God | Ephesians 5:1-3

Here is the sermon that I preached on Sunday at Waynesboro Wesleyan Church.  I was filling the pulpit for a good friend of mine.  The message is entitled Imitate God from Ephesians 5:1-3.  The camera work is interesting.  James was behind the camera and in the process of packing, we misplaced our tripod.

Let Everything That Has Breath

Let Everything That Has Breath Praise the Lord

Parkway Wesleyan Church

Pastors Dale and Pam Argot

July 6, 2014

 

Two weeks ago we completed a great week of MEGA Sports Camp.  Leading worship during our annual summer outreach is one of the highlights of the year for me.  “Why?” you may ask.  It’s because I love watching kids in worship.  They worship without worries.  This past year during MEGA Sports Camp it was amazing to watch not only the kids (and almost every kid in the building) and adults worship.  We had some great songs this year and even though we didn’t remember every one of the motions, we had a great time singing the songs.

 

Several months ago, I ran across an article from Childrens-Ministry-Deals.com.  The title of the article was “10 Ways Kids Worship is Better than Adult Worship.”  Pastor Pam and I have modified the list just a bit and want to present to you – direct from the office of Children’s Ministry Deals in Louisville, KY, “8 Ways Kids Worship is Better than Adult Worship:

 

  1. Shouting is expected in Kids Worship. (believe me, no one falls asleep in kids church)
  2. There are zero hand rules for kids worship. No kid thinks: “Well, if I raise my hands above my head, I might distract someone else, so I better just keep them in my pockets.”
  3. Big House, by Audio Adrenaline is ALWAYS the right song to sing.
  4. Shoes are optional.
  5. If you don’t bump into the person next to you at least once, you’re doing it wrong.
  6. No kid thinks the last song is the cue to leave early to beat traffic.
  7. If you’re swaying left, while everyone else goes right, no one notices.
  8. Volume, not vocal quality is all that matters.

As we worship through God’s Word this morning, let’s take a look at two Bible passages.  Both of them are from the Hebrew songbook, we know as the Psalms.  First, let’s look at Psalm 149:

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

O Israel, rejoice in your Maker.
    O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.
Praise his name with dancing,
    accompanied by tambourine and harp.
For the Lord delights in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice that he honors them.
    Let them sing for joy as they lie on their beds.

Let the praises of God be in their mouths,

 

 This is the glorious privilege of his faithful ones.

Praise the Lord!

Now let’s look at Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
    praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
    praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
    praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
    praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

 

Praise the Lord! This command is very clear in the scriptures that we have just read.  This morning we want to preach and teach about worship and specifically worship through music.

What is worship?  Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed toward a deity.  It is from an Old English Word meaning worship or honor shown to an object – it means to give something worth.

To take this a bit further, let’s look at Psalm 29:1-2:

29 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

What does the word “ascribe” mean?

  1. To credit or assign, attribute, impute
  2. To attribute or think of as belonging, as a quality or characteristic.

If we take this understanding of the word ascribe and apply it to the scriptures, we are given a complete understanding of what it actually means.  It means to humbly give credit and acknowledgement to God for the attributes and characteristics that already belong to him.  It doesn’t mean that we actually possess any strength or glory (apart from God) that we can bestow upon Him.

It means that we recognize that qualities of God and then we use those qualities to honor Him IN worship.  It seems a bit redundant to tell an all-powerful God that His all-powerful…but yet, that is what worship is: honoring, magnifying exalting, lifting up, and revering the target of worship, while humbling, prostrating, lowering, bowing, and diminishing oneself.  At the same time, it includes TELLING OTHERS about God’s strength and glory.

We are reminded in Psalm 19 that even “the heavens are telling the glory of God.  There is no language where they cannot be heard.”

So we know that praising the Lord is mandatory – it is commanded by scriptures. Let’s go back to Psalm 149 and see what we can find out about worship and specifically worshiping God through music.  The very first phrase tells us to “Praise the Lord.” This phrase is repeated at the end of the song.  Psalm 150 starts and ends with the same phrase.  Praising the Lord is the purpose of singing.

The psalmist goes on to say, “Sing to the Lord a new song.  Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.”  This is really helpful because it lets us know that singing is not an option in worship.  Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Psalm 33:1-3:

Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord;
    it is fitting for the pure to praise him.
Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre;
    make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.
Sing a new song of praise to him;
    play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.

Psalm 66:1-8:

Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth!
    Sing about the glory of his name!
    Tell the world how glorious he is.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    Your enemies cringe before your mighty power.
Everything on earth will worship you;
    they will sing your praises,
    shouting your name in glorious songs.” Interlude

Come and see what our God has done,
    what awesome miracles he performs for people!
He made a dry path through the Red Sea,
    and his people went across on foot.
    There we rejoiced in him.
For by his great power he rules forever.
    He watches every movement of the nations;
    let no rebel rise in defiance. Interlude

Let the whole world bless our God
    and loudly sing his praises.

 

Psalm 98:4-6

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!

 

We can see that we have a command to sing — in Psalm 149, it tells us that we need to sing publicly – in the assembly of the faithful.  It’s something that all of us can do, even if you aren’t musically talent.  The Bible tells us that we should make a joyful noise to the Lord.  If we look at the middle verses of Psalm 150, we are told to worship God with ram’s horns, lyres, harps, strings, flutes, tambourines and dancing and loud clanging, clashing cymbals.  God desires loud, exuberant praise, with many instruments.

We are told in 149:4: “For the Lord delights in his people. He crowns the humble with victory.  Let the faithful rejoice that he honors them.  Let them sing for joy as they lie on their beds.

In Psalm 150:1, we are commanded to praise God in his sanctuary. Praise him in his mighty heaven.  Not only are we to praise God corporately here in His house, but we are to praise God where ever we are and where ever we go.

Psalm 149:2 says, “O Israel, rejoice  in your Maker. O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.”

Psalm 149:6 says, “Let the praises of God be in their mouths.”

As you can see worship and singing go hand in hand.  In the last verse of Psalm 149 we see that it is a privilege. “This is the glorious privilege of his faithful ones.”

Some of you are familiar with the song “The Heart of Worship.” There is a great story that goes along with this beautiful song about worship.

The song dates back to the late 1990s, born from a period of apathy within Matt’s home church, Soul Survivor, in Watford, England. Despite the country’s overall contribution to the current worship revival, Redman’s congregation was struggling to find meaning in its musical outpouring at the time.

“There was a dynamic missing, so the pastor did a pretty brave thing,” he recalls. “He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.”

Reminding his church family to be producers in worship, not just consumers, the pastor, Mike Pilavachi, asked, “When you come through the doors on a Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?”

Matt says the question initially led to some embarrassing silence, but eventually people broke into a cappella songs and heartfelt prayers, encountering God in a fresh way.

“Before long, we reintroduced the musicians and sound system, as we’d gained a new perspective that worship is all about Jesus, and He commands a response in the depths of our souls no matter what the circumstance and setting. ‘The Heart of Worship’ simply describes what occurred.”

When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come / Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart… / I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You, Jesus

Psalm 150, verse 6 reminds us “Let everything that breaths sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!

As we close in worship, the worship team is coming forward to lead us in “The Heart of Worship.”  Let’s remember that worship is all about our Lord.

Can You Give Your Life for the Cause?

This weekend is indeed Memorial Day.  Many of us when we think of Memorial Day, think of the “unofficial” beginning of Summer.  Here in Staunton Memorial Day Weekend is when the pool opens and the annual Art in the Park Celebration.  One of the things that I have really appreciated about being in the Staunton community is the annual Memorial Day Service at Gypsy Hill Park.  By the way, if you are free tomorrow at 10, I encourage you to attend.  It is a wonderfully simple service that honors the men and women who died giving us freedom.

So Memorial Day is more than the unofficial beginning of summer, as this meme represents.  There are people all over this country who are deeply affected by the loss of a loved one who gave their life in sacrifice.

We often refer to these who gave their lives as giving the ultimate sacrifice.  I’m sure that most of you have seen this quote “Freedom Isn’t Free.” This is a very true statement.  It’s a humbling thing that a complete stranger would give up their life for your freedom, isn’t it?

Ultimately, Jesus is the one who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  The only way that we can have freedom in Christ, is that Christ gave up his very own life…not for good people…but for sinners.  He gave up his life that we may have life.  I don’t know about you, but that’s a very good cause.

One of the things that we don’t have to concern ourselves about in our day and time is the lack of good causes. Just look at just a few of those causes on the screen…as a runner, many of the races I run benefit one organization or another.  One of the reasons it was so exciting to participate in Comfort Care’s Stride this year was that I was running for a cause that I believed in – and the money that I raised (which was the most I had ever gotten – I was even supported by Wesleyan pastors across the country) went to help women and children right here in Augusta County.

The apostle Paul was a man who gave his life for the cause.  That is question that was raise over 100 years ago by Adam Crooks, who you will learn more about in just a moment.  The question in front of us this morning is, “Can You Give Your Life for the Cause?”  Let’s begin by looking at 2 Corinthians 11:16-29.  Paul is writing to the church at Corinth…he wants them to understand the importance of the Christian cause.

16I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 21To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

22What anyone else dares to boast about–I am speaking as a fool–I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 

What is Paul trying to get at here?  Well, the first thing that we notice is that he is not trying to boast.  So many times we as pastors get caught up in this.  Well, we had this many in church this last Sunday and boy are we growing.  It kind of becomes like the fishermen.  Each bragging about the size of the one that got away.  There are those who accuse Paul of doing the same thing, but he’s not.  Paul is genuinely describing some of the things he’s gone through to encourage the people to keep on keeping on.

I believe that our heritage is important.  It’s important that we tell our children.  If you asked many people my age today, they would not be able to tell you how the Wesleyan Church came about.  Now, just as Paul wasn’t boasting, neither are we.  The story of The Wesleyan Church begins with John Wesley.  John grew up in a large family and eventually he and his brother Charles came to know the Lord.  Together they wrote over 6,000 hymns.  John was responsible for much of what we know as Methodism.  However, the Methodist church in America was not true in all ways to its founder.  Wesley had been one of the first in England to oppose the slave trade.  He wrote a book in 1774 entitled Thoughts on Slavery.  The book was an early call for the Church and society to rid itself of this great evil.  So the Methodist Church, founded by John Wesley without planning to do so, had an anti-slavery legacy and they should have opposed slavery.  But you know what happens.  The Methodist Church was the largest church in America and didn’t want to rock the boat on this issue.  By the way, slavery was the issue of the day.  Matter of fact, Congress was dealing with the issue.  America was literally, legally, half slave and half free.  But the church was strangely silent on the issue.  The Methodist church did want to “rock the boat” on this divisive issue.  In fact one Methodist bishop even owned slaves.

Now most of you know the name John Wesley, but how many of you have heard the name Orange Scott.  If John Wesley was the founder of Methodism, Orange Scott was the founder of Wesleyanism.  On November 8, 1842, five ministers (Orange Scott, Jotham Horton, LaRoy Sunderland, Luther Lee, and Lucius Matlack) announce that they we withdrawing from the Methodist Church.  They had tried to reform the church from within but during the General Conference of 1836 one conference speaker wished that Scott were in heaven (A nice way of saying “drop dead.”)  What were his reasons?  There were two: 1.) the evil of slavery and 2.) the oppressive hand of the bishops.  So this new denomination would have no slave holders and no bishops, either!  To make it perfectly clear where they were coming from, they named their denominational paper The True Wesleyan.  This new church grew rapidly.  Some were drawn by their passion for social justice in the name of Christ.  Scott said, “We are anti-slavery, anti-intemperance, and anti-everything wrong!”  They also announced their intention, as a denomination, to disobey the Fugitive Slave Law which required anyone encountering an escaped slave even in the North, to return him to his owner.  You’ll remember that Peter once said, “We must obey God rather than men.”

And so this little denomination got its start.  Now if it was difficult to be a Wesleyan north of the Mason-Dixon line it was even more difficult to the South.  However, believe it or not there were those south of the border who did not believe in slavery.  Matter of fact, forty Methodists withdrew from their church and began looking for a Wesleyan pastor.  The Wesleyans did not feel they could appoint a pastor.  It would have to be a volunteer.  Adam Crooks was the man of the hour.  He said, “I will go, sustained by your prayers, and in the name of my Savior, I will go to North Carolina.”  Adam Crooks was labeled an outside agitator, a dangerous radical, and a traitor to the white race.  He was also labeled a “disturber,” and that charge was true.  He was tarred and feathered in effigy.  He was prohibited from speaking on the courthouse grounds in Forsythe and Guilford counties, despite the First Amendment right of free speech.  North Carolina judges ruled that the constitutional guarantee did not apply to “True Wesleyans.”  Crooks was dragged from the pulpit and beaten numerous times.  Twice he was poisoned and he survived an assassination attempt.  Though all of this, the question that challenged him was: “Can you give your life for the Cause.”

The church that Adam Crooks started was called Freedom Hill Church.  To be an abolitionist in North Carolina during this time was a dangerous thing.  The congregation knew this well.  There were often gunshots near the building.  Today Freedom Hill Church sits reconstructed on the campus of Southern Wesleyan University and you can still see the bullet holes from those gun shots.

Let me tell you another story of one Micajah McPherson.  Our good friend Adam Crooks was forced from North Carolina in 1851.  He had been arrested and convicted on the charge of distributing a tract on the Ten Commandments!  McPherson was a layperson who took up the mantle in North Carolina.  He understood what Jesus meant by the cost of discipleship.  He was caught by a lynch mob and hanged from a dogwood tree on his own property, because of his Wesleyan principles.  The mob returned to cut him down later, because they said they needed rope to hang another Wesleyan.  What they didn’t realize was that he was still alive.  His wife nursed him back to health, and he survived to age 85!

Let me ask you, “Can you live your life for the Cause?”  Most of us live very comfortable lives.  I never even realized what some of our founders went through.  There were many other names in the “Wesleyan Hall of Fame.”  Laura Smith Haviland, a Wesleyan Methodist from Michigan, who worked closely with Levi Coffin, the “Father of the Underground Railroad.”  It was dangerous and illegal, yet they did what was right.

There are many other stories of our Wesleyan heritage.  One of the other issues that we were on the front lines was the matter of women’s rights.  The first convention held in the United States, for the rights of women, was held in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel at Seneca Falls, NY.  In 1848, “women’s rights” was not the radical feminism of today.  What were the issues?  They were basic human rights for women, including the right to vote and in some states, to hold property in their own names.  It also involved the right to ministry.  The first woman ordained to the Christian ministry in the United States was named Antionette Brown.  Her ordination sermon was preached by a Wesleyan – Luther Lee.  The second woman to be ordained in America was more than likely a Wesleyan Methodist – lest you think that Wesleyan Methodists or the Pilgrim Holiness were late to the ordaining of women party. Our collective churches have been ordaining women for over 100 years.  According to Lee Haines, a former General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, at one point in the history of the Pilgrim Holiness Church, 40% of the clergy were women.

Wesleyan Methodists were also the first denomination in America to give an equal vote to the laity in church conferences.  It was the consistent application of a principle – the rights of slaves, the rights of women, the rights of the laity.

We are reminded in James that 27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.  This is the legacy of the Wesleyan Church.  I am encouraged as I hear younger pastors and leaders talk about the importance of preaching and teaching heart holiness – this idea that we should love God will all we have and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Here are just two examples of how the Wesleyan Church is dealing with contemporary issues:

  • Hephzibah Children’s Home is on the front lines of the human trafficking issue.  So is World Hope International – started by our current General Superintendent JoAnne Lyon.  Human trafficking really is modern day slavery.
  • The Wesleyan Church is also on the front lines of immigration reform.  Recently Dr. Lyon had a meeting along with other religious leaders at the White House to discuss what needs to happen in this area

We need to continue to fight the battle on other issues as well.  And so I ask you again, “Can you give your life for the Cause?”  This is a serious question.  We have issues on the table in America that are just as great as slavery was in the 1800’s.  One that comes to my mind is abortion.  What are we as a church doing about it?  Then there are the battle of tolerance and relativism.  Christian again are facing free speech issues just as Adam Crooks faced.    Now many of you personally won’t have to face these battles.  I may be a little older, but I know my children will face these battles.  Your children and your grandchildren will face these battles.  It’s up to us to prepare them for the Cause.  We need to live for the King.

The Wesleyan Church has a great legacy.  Parkway Wesleyan Church has a great legacy.  Our challenge today is to leave a great legacy behind us.  We have no idea what we will be counted on to do.  We may face challenges that we though we could never overcome.  John the Revelator tells us that, “The Lamb has overcome.”  We will overcome if we stay true to our mission.

Take Up Your Cross

take-up-your-cross.001Imagine with me tonight at you are with Jesus when he asks you the question: “Who do people say that I am?”  Jesus had asked this question to his disciples and they replied with the usual answers; John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, perhaps one of the prophets.  Jesus then made the question more personal.  Then he asks, “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter replies (knocks the ball out of the park) , “You are the Messiah, (the anointed One, the Christ,) the Son of the living God.”  Yes!   Peter gets it right and wins the $64,000 question.  Jesus tells him that was a great answer and that God had revealed it to him.  Yes, Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter was probably feeling pretty good about himself at that point.  But then we pick up the story in Matthew 16:22

            21 From then on Jesusbegan to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

It appears from the scriptures that Jesus is beginning to reveal who He really is and why he came to earth to his disciples.  From the scriptures, we can gather that Jesus told his disciples not only why he came to earth but what was going to happen in the coming days, weeks, and months.  While the scriptures don’t tell us if he told the disciples that he was going to be crucified, it appears from the response of Peter and then Jesus that Jesus at least gave a hint of how his death would take place.  I’m sure the disciples were none too pleased to find out that Jesus would be killed on a Roman cross.  From the way I understand it, a Roman cross with its crucifixion was and is about the most torturous way to die devised by man.  It was a slow, agonizing suffocation.  Criminals could hang on a cross for days before they died.  The criminal was stripped of his dignity by being executed publicly and naked.  Not only did Jesus tell his disciples he was going to die, but he told them how it was going to happen.  No wonder Peter responded they way he did.  Take a look at verse 22:

            22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

            Jesus and his disciple had grown close.  There is no way they wanted their leader to die in such an excruciating and humiliating manner.  Peter was in a state of denial.  Apparently, he didn’t hear the part about being raised from the dead on the third day, and the fact that all this had to happen so Jesus would fulfill the purpose for which he was sent to earth in the first place.  Jesus responds: “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

            This is a danger that all of us face when it comes to being followers of Christ.  It is easy to see things from a human point of view because we are human.  It is much more difficult to see things from God’s point of view, because we are not God.  This is where we have to pray for God to help us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is where we have to lay everything on the line.  That’s exactly what Jesus told his disciples as we continue in verse 24:

            24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.

Jesus makes it very clear that if we are going to be a Christ follower – a disciple, then we must deny ourselves – in other words, turn from our selfish ways.  Ouch!  I sure don’t like to think of myself as selfish.  I sure that you don’t like to think of yourself in that way either.  Jesus was talking to the men that he had been teaching for the last two years – Sometimes I think it would be so easy if I had been one of Jesus’ disciples.  But yet, knowing the nature of humans – the sinful nature – I know I probably wouldn’t have fared any better than they did.  Peter says, “Jesus, you don’t have to go through all that.”  Jesus reminded Peter, “that’s the way it was planned.”  Jesus reminds his disciples right then and there that they had to give up their selfish ways.  Jesus is reminding us right now that we have to give up our selfish ways – and not only that – but we have to take up our cross and follow him.

We often think that Jesus carried the whole cross from the court to Golgotha.  But he didn’t.  Criminals only carried the cross beam to the place of crucifixion.  Not that it mattered, because the crossbeam was still heavy.  Jesus had been beaten within an inch of his life.  Carrying a cross is heavy duty work.  Jesus reminds us that those who try to hang on to their life will lose it and those who lose their life will find it.  One thing that became very clear this week is that we who serve Christ – we who serve the Kingdom of Heaven live in a very backwards Kingdom.  By giving our life to Christ we gain the world – By holding back our life from Christ, we lose everything.  Jesus’ asks the question, “What good is it if you have everything you need in life and yet lose your soul?  Is all this stuff you’re trying to gain more important than your soul?  (PDV — Pastor Dale Version)

So what does that look like?  Let’s go to Paul’s letter to the church at Rome – the 12th chapter.

9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

            14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

            17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

            This is a tough scripture.  We often think that Paul was more faith and not so much works.  Paul reminds us that living our lives as living sacrifices involves hard work.  He reminds us that we are to love each other and we are to love others.  He emphasizes that we should really love them and not just to pretend to love them.  Wow!  Then, he tells us what we really need to hate and that is to hate what is wrong.  Catch that, not the people who do wrong things, but the wrong things that people do. We must hate the darkness, but the people – we are to love them – the scripture is quite clear about that.  Not only are we to hate what is wrong, but we are to cling to what is good.  What is good?  God is good – Christ is good.  We are to love each other with genuine affection.

“Bless those who persecute you.  Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.”  Paul, you can’t be serious – but Paul is serious – this is what it means to be a Christ follower.  Yes, it goes against every fiber in your body, but that is what Christ means when he says to deny yourself and follow him.  Paul gives us just a few more – be happy with those who are happy – weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with each other.  I think he’s covered that one already.

Three more:

  • Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people
  • Don’t think you know it all
  • Do all that you can to live at peace with everyone.

Are these tough or what?  Jesus reminds us, “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.”

My challenge for us during this Lenten season is for us to prepare our hearts for the Easter celebration – to take up our cross – to follow Jesus – serve Jesus – with everything that you have.