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.

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.

To Watch and Wait

Wait a minute!   Can you guess how long a minute is?  Let’s try a little test.  Yes,  a little pop quiz.  I want you to see if you can figure out how long a minute is.  Here we go…ready….set…go!

That was probably a lot longer than most of us were used to.  I know for me, the only time minutes fly by is when I’m running, especially when I’m trying to beat a time goal.

Waiting is not something that we do well in our American culture.  After all, we have instant text messaging, microwavable foods of all kinds, instant rice, instant banking.  We are used to being able to get what we want when we want it.  There’s even a commercial.  It’s my money and I want it NOW!

Today is the beginning of the Advent season.  As you may remember from years previous, Advent is a season of preparation – more specifically – it is a season of preparation for the Lord’s coming.  As you may have guessed from the songs that we sang this morning, it is not only a season where we remember Jesus’ first coming, but remember what he had promised his followers 2000 years ago – that he was returning – that he would come again.

Earlier this week I was talking with some of our young people about the decorations this week in the church.  You may have noticed that there is little if any decoration in the church this morning, save for the blue cloth on the table and the Advent candles.  This is all by design and very intentional.  Today we begin a season of watching – a season of preparation where – yes, we prepare our hearts (as the Christmas carol, Joy to the World states) for his first coming, but we want to make sure that we are prepared for his second coming.  The people in first century Israel had been promised a Messiah – a Savior.  They were waiting, but they didn’t know exactly when this Messiah would appear.  They were tired of the constant captivities – the constant occupations of Babylon, the Meades, the Persians, the Greeks, and now the Romans.  The Jewish people were looking for someone to free them from all of that.

In a way, it’s not much different in our world today.  People are still in need of a Savior.  We are bound by so many things – we are in need of a Savior.  Yet, the people in first century Israel were unaware of the signs of his coming and we in the 21st Century are, perhaps, just as blind to the signs of His coming.

Jesus reminds his disciples in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24:36-44:

36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

I think Jesus’ words ring very true for us today.  Jesus is coming back again – whether we want him to or not.  People will not be ready.  There will even be some in the church who will not be ready.  Jesus warned us about that as well.

In many ways, we have been jaded to this fact that Jesus is coming back again.  We don’t prepare our hearts because we have heard about it all of our life.  How many of you remember the “Thief in the Night” movie?  Or perhaps you remember the “Left Behind” series.  These were attempts to get people to think about the idea that Jesus is coming back again and to be sure that their hearts are ready.

Then there are those, despite Jesus’ warnings to the contrary that think they have finally figured out when Jesus is coming back again.  Remember Harold Camping?  He said Jesus would return on May 21, 2011.  He had made several other predictions about the time of Jesus’ return that were incorrect as well.  Camping is not alone in this.  There was the infamous book, “88 Reasons Christ will Return in 1988” and many, many more.  We seem to have a fascination with Jesus’ return and yet, are we really doing anything about it.

If we look at Jesus’ own words about his return, we find these words: “42 ‘So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.’”

I think Jesus understood that we all would be concerned with the timing of this event.  After all, the Jewish people waited about 400 years between the Old and New Testaments and we have been waiting 2,000 years for his return.  Look at what happened in the first chapter of Acts.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

The two men were asking the disciples, “Why are you just standing around? Get busy, do the things that Jesus told you to do.  There is much work to do.  Wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon you and then get busy – preaching and teaching the gospel.  Go make disciples of the entire world.  Teach them everything I have told you.

What do most of us do when waiting?  Several weeks ago I ran the Richmond Marathon – 26.2 miles – (Believe it or not I paid good money to run 26 miles and experience the joy, the anguish and the excitement of running 26 miles.) This was the first time that I ever went to a race by myself.  I have always drug James and Pam with me to the various races I have run – drug is a bad word, because they usually go willingly. But I was by myself – in a unknown city – with plenty of time on my hands.  I had to go Friday night to pick up my race # and packet.  After work on Friday, I got in the car drove to Richmond, secured my hotel room, picked up my packet, picked up some dinner and then went back to my hotel room and waited.  It was crazy.  I went over every possible scenario in my mind – in fact – the waiting kept me up most of the night.  Not that I didn’t try to sleep – I really did – but sleep did not come easy.  By 5:00 AM, I was raring to go.  I got in the van and drove downtown – being I was so early, I was one of the first of 20,000 runners to show up.  Again the waiting – until 8:00 and the beginning of the race.  What did I do during most of that time – worried!  I was anxious about how I would run 26 miles for the very first time.

I’m sure the disciples felt the same way – in many ways we are much the same in our day.  We know what we are supposed to do, but we worry and fret and we don’t do what God has commanded us to do.

Jesus told us to watch and pray.  This is not a spectator sort of watching – like the fans in Richmond – no this is being awake, alert – in a state of readiness.  While we are in this state of readiness, we need to be praying.

What should we pray for?

  1. We need to pray for those who are lost – for those who aren’t ready for the return of Jesus.
  2. We need to pray for urgency – we need to get busy.  To many times we are like the disciples in the first chapter of Acts – we are just standing around waiting for the Lord to return.
  3. We need to pray that we would keep our hearts pure. Listen to Paul’s words in Romans 13:11-14

11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

Paul gives us an idea of what God expects out of the believer.  One of the things that I didn’t understand about running a marathon a year ago that I understand now is that running a marathon requires great discipline and great training.  You have to treat your body right.  Even if you do – even if you do everything right, it is possible to be tripped up – you have to be on guard at all times – you constantly have to be in preparation mode – you have to make sacrifices.  Can you imagine (and I’ve heard people who have tried) to go out and run 26 miles without any training.  It would be a disaster.  Hey it was bad enough and I had trained.  The people who do that are the people Paul talks about – participating in the darkness of wild parties, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, immoral living, quarreling and jealousy.  What does Paul tell the believer to do?  He tells them to remove the dirty clothes – put on the new shining armor of Christ.  Instead, he says, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is a sense of urgency in both the words of Jesus and the words of Paul.  Even more than urgency, there is a call to vigilance.  One writer puts it this way:

To wake up is to become aware the time has come for action. To be on watch is to sustain the response to the wake-up call over time and not lose heart. It is to wait with expectation.

The call to such expectant waiting—waiting that remembers the end– is the hallmark of Advent every year, and indeed is to characterize our lives as disciples of Jesus at all times. Yet we live in a culture in the United States that has forgotten how to wait, much less wait expectantly. We want what we want now. We expect it to arrive on time. We’re anxious if we don’t get what we want promptly and bored or annoyed if the coming is delayed. 

What are we looking for? Are we looking for the end of the world as a massive disaster, or for God’s ends to be revealed in the world and thereby already start transforming it? Signs of the “coming of the Son of Man” can happen anywhere, anytime, so look everywhere and always.

And how do we look? Are we filled with anxiety, fearful lest we miss something and find ourselves “left behind”? Have we lost faith in the coming of the Son of Man? Have we gotten bored with the looking and moved on to other things? Or have we tuned our hearts and honed our vision to discover every sign of his coming with wonder and joy, so we can offer our own witness to the coming One?

Two Questions

Two QuestionsIt seems hard to believe that District Conference happened over seven weeks ago.  District Conference was an amazing time and it became clear that God was speaking to us as a district and Pastor Barry, Pastor Pam and I felt that God was speaking to us as a church – about the importance of renewal and revival – about making the main thing the main thing.  Over the last four weeks we have been hearing about those four main things:

  1. Evangelism – God has called us to be Fishers of Men
  2. Worship – God has called us to be a worshiping church
  3. Prayer – God has called us to be a praying church
  4. Family – God has called us to be a place where relationships are important.

Last year about this time I was introduced to a book called “When Hurting Helps,” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  One of the key pieces to Parkway’s DNA is missions.  You heard about that last week.  Several months ago our missions team decided to look at this same book.  During our last meeting together, we discussed the first chapter of the book “Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?”  The first chapter of the book begins with these two important questions:

  1. Why did Jesus come to earth?
  2. What is the primary task of the church?

I know that in a congregation of this size this morning, I could ask this question to each one of you and it’s possible that each person might give me a different answer, especially to the second question.

So let’s take a look at the question, “Why did Jesus come to earth?” If you ask this question of many believers, they would say that Jesus came to earth to save people from their sins.  If you said that, you would be correct, but the answer would be incomplete.  Some of you may question why, but we will get there.

The second question asks, “What is the primary task of the church?” Like I’ve already said, the answers are all over the map on this one.  Some would say the church’s task is evangelism – some would say discipleship – some would say worship – some would say missions – some would say relationships with other believers.  Those would probably be the top answers at least.  While I was studying for ordination, I read a book “Exploring our Christian Faith.” It was written by Nazarene professors and written in the early 60’s. One of the chapters was “The Nature of the Church” and in that chapter they boiled down the purpose of the church as:

  1. Worship
  2. Evangelism
  3. Discipleship
  4. Ministry Service
  5. Fellowship

Let’s fast forward to 1995, a book was released that year called “The Purpose Driven Church.” Amazing the author came up with the same 5 purposes.  The difference is that he created systems for these 5 purposes.  If we look at Acts 2:42-47, we find these words:

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

We can see that the early church – just days after the Holy Spirit came – were involved in these purposes and yet I believe that this passage implies something even deeper.   Jesus came for something more and therefore the primary task of the church is something much deeper.

In order to explore this further, I want us to turn to Colossians 1:15-20.  We sang these words earlier in our service.  It’s appropriate that we did because the “Colossian Hymn” is another ancient hymn that is quoted by Paul in his letters.  The last time I preached, we looked at the “Philippian Hymn” that is found in Philippians 2:5-11.  The key to why Jesus came to earth and the primary task of the church is found in Colossians 1:15-20:

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.
He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Let’s dive into this passage to answer our two questions.  The first question is “Why did Jesus come to earth?”  We see from this passage who Jesus is – how he is described.  First we are reminded that Jesus is God – that he is the firstborn of all creation and that he existed before anything was created.  We are told that Jesus is the creator of the universe, the sustainer of the universe – he holds the whole universe together and he is the reconciler of the universe.  So yes, Jesus died to save our souls, but so much more importantly Jesus died to reconcile us back to God – that is to put us back into right relationship with the Father and – all that God and Jesus created.

At Christmas we sing the carol, “Joy to the World” which contains this line, “He comes to make his blessings known, far as the curse is found.” The curse that was put on Adam and Eve in the garden is universal in scope – there is decay, brokenness, and death in every speck of the universe.  Jesus – the King of kings and Lord of lords is making all things new and this is the good news of the gospel.

In my research for this sermon, I came across another Christmas carol – one that will be somewhat familiar and yet because of the changes that happen to these songs the original meaning has been lost.  It is one of my favorite carols, Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

1. HARK how all the Welkin rings (not angels – but the whole universe)
” Glory to the King of Kings,
” Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
” GOD and Sinners reconcil’d !

2. Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumph of the Skies;
Universal Nature say,
” Christ the Lord is born to Day!

3. Christ, by highest Heav’n ador’d,
Christ, the Everlasting Lord,
Late in Time behold him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s Womb.

4. Veil’d in Flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ Incarnate Deity !
Pleas’d as Man with Men t’appear,
Jesus, our Immanuel here !

5. Hail the Heav’nly* Prince of Peace !
Hail the Sun of Righteousness !
Light and Life to All he brings,
Ris’n with Healing in his Wings.

6. Mild he lays his Glory by ;
Born ; that Man no more may die,
Born ; to raise the Sons of Earth,
Born ; to give them Second Birth.

7. Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in Us thy humble Home,
Rise, the Woman’s Conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in Us the Serpent’s Head.

8. Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.

9. Adam‘s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place,
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy Love.

10. Let us Thee, tho’ lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Heav’nly* Man:

O ! to All Thyself impart,
Form’d in each Believing Heart.

 

I’ve always loved this carol, but I’ve found a new love in this carol, especially with the original lyrics – Jesus has come to restore his creation.  On Sunday mornings, we have been hearing about this during our “Faith Lessons” series.  God through Jesus is restoring Shalom back to the earth.  One of the things that we have learned over the last year, is that the Egyptians believed that God wanted to reign over chaos.  However in their scheme of things – it was Pharaoh’s job.  Can you imagine being a Pharaoh and knowing that the job of bringing peace and balance to the whole universe was on your shoulders – because you were considered God?  I wouldn’t want that kind of responsibility.

So Jesus came to reconcile the world back to himself.  That is the Good News.  Jesus gave us a great example of what the church was to be and what the church should be.  In Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist is trying to figure out if Jesus is truly the Messiah or if there is someone else.  Here is Jesus’ reply:

22 Then he told John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. 23 And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” (Luke 7:22-23)

So what do we learn here? Jesus’ deeds were essential to proving that he truly was the promised Messiah, Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom, and He showed the good news of the kingdom.

Which brings us to the second question: “What is the primary task of the church?”  The task of God’s people is rooted in Christ’s mission.  “Simply stated,” say Corbett and Fikkert “Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom in word and in deed, so the church must do the same.”

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were to be a sneak preview of the coming attraction of Jesus – they were to give their viewers an idea of what the main event would be like.  When people saw the people of Israel they were supposed to say, “Wow! These people are really different.  I can’t wait to meet their King. He must really be something special.” Hence since King Jesus would bring good news for the poor, it is not surprising that God wanted Israel to care for the poor as well. We hear these declarations over and over in the Old Testament – take care of the widows – take care of the orphans – take care of the stranger – take care of the foreigner. If you read Isaiah, one of the Lord’s accusations of Israel is they forgot to do exactly that.  Yes, they made themselves an adulterous nation – they worshiped idols instead of the true god, but they also forgot those who were downtrodden.  So what does that have to do with us?

The church is God’s people and we are more than just a sneak preview of Jesus – we are the body, the bride, and the very fullness of Christ.  When people look at the church, they should see the very embodiment of Jesus!  Wow!  I wonder just how many people see Jesus when they look at the church.

In the letter of James, we find these words, “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.

In 1 John 3:16-18 we hear these words:

16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

What is the task of the church? We are to embody Jesus Christ by declaring what He did and what He continues to do through us; declare – using both words and deeds – that Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of lords who is bringing a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace.

So what does that have to do with us?  What does that have to do with Parkway Wesleyan?  Several weeks ago we were discussing this book amongst the Global Ministry Team.  We asked ourselves the question, “How do we meet the needs of our community and at the same time – just like Jesus did – share the good news?”  We heard several great testimonies last week during the El Salvador Team presentation about the doctor and his wife and their team that not only attend to the physical and health needs of their patients, but also to the spiritual needs of their patients.  This is a great example of the church at work.

Over the past two Saturday evenings, there have been a small group of people meeting for prayer.  We have been asking God  for several things:

  1. For the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives
  2. For revival
  3. For salvation for those who don’t know Jesus
  4. For us to be able to reach our community more effectively
    1. Preaching the Good News
    2. Touching them in tangible ways.

As the praise team comes to close the service with a song of commitment, let me share one final thought:

One of the things that we talk about at Chick-fil-A all the time is creating emotional connections – creating raving fans.  What if we could do that as a church – what if we could create emotional connections as a church – what if we could create raving followers of Jesus? What would that look like?  Could we make a change in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County?  I really believe that we can.  It will take much prayer and it will require our commitment to doing the things that Jesus did.  As we close, I’d like us to sing this song that says, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.”

An Invitation to Belong

vineyard_in_montoneIf you knew that you only had a couple of hours to live, what would you say to people that are the closest to you?  Now that may sound like an odd question to start this morning’s sermon.   For most people that have lost loved ones, they remember that last conversation before their loved one died.

In John’s Gospel, we are presented with several chapters of Jesus interacting with his disciples in those last hours.  Jesus only had a few more hours with his disciples – and he knew what was coming.  The disciples and Jesus had just left the upper room, where they had eaten their last supper with Jesus.  As they walk toward the garden, Jesus teaches them one of his last lessons.  Let’s look at John 15:1

 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.

 This past fall the children of Parkway were studying the parable of Jesus on Wednesday nights.  We learned that when Jesus told stories he would use common, ordinary objects.  They would be things with which the people would be familiar.  During the story (or parable) he would then put a spiritual twist to the object.  For many years now, children’s ministry has used object lessons to teach spiritual truths.  This is what a parable is – an object lesson.

In this story Jesus is uses a vineyard.  There are two reasons for this:

1.)   There are many vineyards in Israel.

2.)   The prophets in the Old Testament would write and speak about Israel as the vineyard that God planned and yet this vineyard of Israel produced bad fruit.  Listen to the words of Isaiah 5:5-6:

Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.

When Jesus tells us he is the true grapevine, he is claiming to be the fulfillment of what God wanted Israel to be.  As Jesus continues in John 15:2-3, he explains the job of the gardener or vinedresser,

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.

As gardener or vinedresser, it is God’s job to take care of the branches on the vine by cutting off the dead branches and pruning the healthy branches.  All of this is done so that the grapevine will produce more fruit.  The job of the vinedresser is to get the grape vine to produce as much fruit as possible.

In his book Secrets of the Vine, Bruce Wilkinson describes the time he met a vinedresser.  The vinedresser explained to him some of the things that a vinedresser does to keep vine branches purified.  The grapevines natural tendency is to grow back toward the ground.  The problem with this is that the branches get muddy and moldy.  The vines are much too valuable for the vines simply to be cut off, so the vinedresser goes through the vineyard washing the branches and the leaves and stringing up the vines so they don’t touch the ground.

This is a great picture of what Jesus does with his disciples, not only the disciples of the Bible, but of us as well.  God wants to purify us because we are too valuable not to bear good fruit.  This really is a picture of how God works in the lives of believers.  Once we call Jesus our Savior, God begins pruning and cleaning us up.  In theological terms we call that sanctification. We consecrate ourselves to God and then he in turn sets us apart for his use to do his work.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, he will continue the pruning process, so that we as believers continue to bear good fruit.

So what is the secret to bearing good fruit?  Jesus tells us in the next part of John 15:4-5:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.  “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing

Jesus is tells the disciples and us that if we want to produce fruit we must stay connected to the vine. Jesus said, “if you remain in me, I will remain in you.” It is impossible to produce fruit when we are disconnected from the vine.  What’s even more is that we are reminded that without God working in our lives, it is impossible to produce the fruit that God desires.  That means we need to have a healthy relationship with him.

How do we keep this relationship with Jesus healthy?

  • by reading the Bible
  • praying
  • By spending time with other believers
  • And joining other believers each week for corporate worship.

We need to stay connected to Jesus to stay alive and healthy. Several years ago, James was doing odd jobs around the parsonage and the church.  He would pull weeds in the flower bed, washed Pastor Barry’s cars.  About this time a storm came through and blew down a tree in Pastor Barry’s yard.  He asked if James wanted to help cut down the tree and take it to the landfill.  James jumped at the opportunity.  Dale and I went over to help as well.  We were surprised when we got there because part of the tree’s leaves were dead, the other part of the tree’s leaves were alive. Here was the difference.  The part of the tree that remained alive was still connected by significant wood.  The parts that were dead, were either completely broken off or hanging on by a thread or even just by the bark.  These branches were dead because they were disconnected from the lifeline, the lifeblood of the tree and that is the root system.  This is where the tree gets its strength.  The same is with us as believers.  We get our strength in our Christian walk from being connected to Christ. It is through him we bear the spiritual fruit in our lives.

What does spiritual fruit look like?  Immediately I think of the apostle Paul and he writes of the Fruit of the Spirit.  Take a look at Galatians 5:22-23 with me:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Look at the kinds of things that a believer should be producing in their lives.  In this passage, Paul is writing about the freedom that we have in Christ.  Some of the Galatian Christians thought that because Christ gave us freedom, we were free to do anything they wanted. Paul cautions them that we need to use our freedom in Christ to produce good fruit.  Imagine if every believer produced the kind of fruit listed here in Galatians.  I really believe the world would look much different.  God wants us to produce good fruit.  God wants us to make a difference in the world we live. Let’s look at a couple of scriptures that describe what we are to do as believers to produce good fruit:

  • Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive. Titus 3:14
  • They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
    Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do.
    Psalm 1:3
  • 14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. 18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

I know there are some who will say but salvation is by grace alone through faith alone – that good works aren’t important.  I would agree that in the matter of salvation, we can’t do anything to save ourselves, it is only by grace through faith.  But I believe that God calls his people to more than that.  Check out James 2:19:

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Our good deeds do not save us, however they are the proof that God is working in our lives.  Several weeks ago, I began reading a book by Francis Chan called Crazy Love. In this book I came across a quote that describes how this works out in practical ways.

People who are obsessed with Jesus do not consider service a burden. Obsessed people take joy in loving God by loving His people.

A healthy Christian does not look for the perfect place to minister. They are willing to step through any open doors that God gives them.  There is a tendency for us to want to gravitate toward the ministry that gets us the most noticed.  Henry Blackaby, who wrote the book Experiencing God writes that this is the wrong way to go about it.  What we need to do is pray and ask God to show us where He is working and then join Him in doing His work. The places that God shows us might not be the most glamorous places.  It might not be with the most glamorous people.  He may even show us places to minister that we don’t think we could do it.  And yet, God wants us believers to join Him on His team doing the things that He asks us to do.

A couple of weeks ago in Elementary Worship Celebration, we were talking about showing hospitality to the people around us – not just our friends and family but everyone. I challenged the children to come up with ideas to minister to those around us.  One of the qualifications was that it would need to be something that they could do either with help or by themselves. Here is what they came up with:

  1. Walking for the Comfort Care fundraiser.
  2. Collecting diapers for Comfort Care and invite the church to join in the collection.
  3. Collecting new coloring books and crayons for the children who are staying at Valley Mission.
  4. Donating gently used or new stuffed animal to send to El Salvador with our mission team.

I am proud of the children in this church because I know that most of them walk for Comfort Care. Many of them have come out to our work day projects.  Last fall we had fun raking leaves at the home of one of our members.  The boys who were there even enjoyed jumping in the raked leaves with Pastor Pam as a reward for their hard work.  Some of our children have even helped at Valley Mission.

Let me challenge you with this.  When we bear fruit and do good deeds, it is to bring glory to God. Our goal should be that people will see God instead of us.  Check out what John writes in verse 8 of this 15th chapter:

 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

When we bear spiritual fruit it is a sign that we belong to Jesus and we are true disciples of Jesus.