Thursday, May 26, 2011

Apple Cart Upsetting Christians

May 23, 2004

In early 1998 the city of Cincinnati prosecuted a woman for slipping a quarter into a parking meter a few steps ahead of the meter maid.  Because the lady did not own the car, she had to pay a hefty fine and was even threatened with jail time for her helpfulness.  Thus proving again the old saying, "no good deed goes unpunished."

Going out of your way to do something good can get you into trouble- this explains why so many people live by the slogan, "Don't get involved."

The Apostle Paul was willing to stick his neck out for Jesus; he was involved.  And he often times paid a price for his good deeds.  In II Corinthians 11 he mentions among other things, that he was flogged five times, beaten with rods three times, and jailed countless times.

If you've ever tried to confront a friends over their addiction, or an infidelity in their marriage, or tried to warn your company about illegal practices, you may have found out that you are seldom thanked for your involvement in their moral improvement.

Living like Jesus is risky business.

Read Acts 16.

What is the most "apple cart upsetting" thing you've ever done for Jesus (not counting your involvement in church wars over carpet colors)?  Paul's exorcism brought relief and freedom to a young girl, but profound economic reversals to her pimps.  The secular world does not like it when you "set free" what it thinks it owns.

The slave girl's owners rejected the message of Jesus because it cost them money.  How often does financial concern cause people to reject the message today?  Is this ever a factor for you?  And why is it upsetting news to the secular world, that Jesus offers genuine forgiveness, spiritual and mental health, and real life?  They have seen that the message of Jesus does have impact.  It means things are about to change.

Of course, Jesus intended that His influence would make a difference.  In John 17 one of His last prayers, He asks the Father, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one...as you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world."  These words lay out a fairly aggressive posture for His people.  They can not very easily be twisted into saying, "isolate yourself from the world" or "stand on the sidelines and criticize."

Are you upsetting anyone by living for Jesus?  Some who claim the name of Jesus are upsetting their neighbors by being obnoxious.  These people are embarrassing.  You see them driving down the road with a Christian bumper sticker and leaving a crowd of offended drivers in their wake.  Other Christians are more committed to denominational rules than they are to the future prospects of their friends.  These people are boorish and then whenever I hear a ball player credit Jesus for a victory, I hold my breath that we don't hear about them being arrested the next week.  There is more than one way to be an upsetting Christian.

Jesus did not call us to be obnoxious or upsetting in an embarrassing way.  He called us to be salty or zesty, not galling and distasteful.

Paul and Silas were powerfully engaged with their world, but not obnoxious.  They set the slave girl free (spiritually).  This poor girl was not only captive to her pimps, but to a demon.  She was freed and that is good news.

But the world and its pimps don't like you messing with what is theirs, so they imprisoned Paul and Silas (racial hatred had something to do with it, too), but for some reason these two men never figured out, they are in jail.  In their mind God is still competent.  They may be locked up, but somehow they still think God is wise and capable.  He is still worthy of worship.  Nothing has changed in that regard.

Life in Jesus provides a prospective that puts all adversity in a new light.  Even this trouble can be used to His advantage.  They know that they are not exempt from trouble because of their faith, but they also know that trouble can not separate them from Jesus or defeat Jesus in any way.  And so they sing out their love for Jesus.

In the darkness of midnight worship, the miracle of broken bonds and open doors happens.  The jailer has heard and seen enough.  He wants the joy and peace that Paul and Silas have. These two men have upset his view of the world and he prefers their life to his old life.

What kind of impact have we made on our world?  A General Superintendent recently observed, "the church in America is so disconnected from the world that if we experienced a great revival, the world might not even notice."

Recently in Chicago a fifteen year old was shot by gang members while playing basketball across the alley from an ER.  The ER staff refused to treat him saying it was against policy to go outside.  By the time a frustrated police officer wrangled a wheel chair and brought the boy in it was too late!

Lord, please don't let that be a picture of the church.  We feel safe inside our fellowship and we have good stuff to offer the world- if they'll just come and get it.  At times when Christians get the courage to try to develop relationships with sinners, the rest of us take shots at them. "Stay pure, you are getting polluted, let them come in for help!"

But there are the courageous exceptions, real heroes of the faith.  Recently four Christian lay-missionaries were killed in Iraq.  Main stream media said nearly nothing.  When they did say something it was to express indignation about the idea of missionaries, period.   Their comments went along the lines of, "the Bible is right behind the bombs these days."  Christian missionaries are considered religious imperialists, imposing a foreign way of life.  Why would a Christian want to engage the culture of the Fertile Crescent?

May I share a distressing news photo?  You won't have to cover your eyes, but in some ways it is as disturbing as any photo from recent scandals.  At first view you might think it looks like a Middle East Mother's day card.  You see a smiling little girl with bright eyes looking adoring into the face of her own smiling mother.  The quote that comes with the photo is spoken by the little girl (Fatima), " My mother did this because she did not want us to be punished by people.  I love my mother much more now than before."  What great thing did her mother do?  She murdered little Fatima's older sister.  Now the mother did try to avoid this gruesome act.  She made an effort to talk Fatima's sister into killing herself.  She even purchased the razor blades for her to cut her wrists, but the girl couldn't be talked into it.

The trouble started because Rofayda was gang rapped by her older brothers and got pregnant.  Consequently the neighbors started to talk and relatives stopped visiting.  So Fatima's mother one night entered her daughter's room and did the job of slitting her daughter's wrists herself.  This "honor crime" was celebrated and held up as a role model in this dark culture.  This mother and her culture are in deep bondage to hate and evil of a very demonic kind.  We could condemn them with righteous anger, but they need to know about the freedom and life in Jesus.  The four men and women I mentioned earlier got involved and tried to bring light into the dark, and like Paul, they paid a price in this world.  The secular world insults them for being imperialistic and the darkened local culture hates them for bringing change.

Paul and Silas were engaging the world and upsetting things, but not being obnoxious about personal agendas.  They did not set out to upset people, but sometimes by following Jesus other people get upset.  On the other hand, many times people are set free of their demons and darkness because someone got involved!

When was the last time someone came to you in the middle of their darkness and asked, "what must I do to be saved?"  Are you an upsetting Christan?  It is scary, but I would like to be- not obnoxiously or in an embarrassing way- not even necessarily by going to the Middle East.  Heaven knows there are millions of people in bondage all around us.  Can we be filled with Jesus in a way that makes people wonder if they can be filled with Him too?  Some will find it upsetting , but that's okay.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

To Live Forever

May 9, 2004

True story, only the names have been dropped to protect the preacher.  A patient is in the hospital for the third time battling a cancer.  The morning of his fourth day he calls his wife and tells her that he is feeling better and that he will ask the doctor if he can go home.

Midmorning the doctor comes by on his rounds.  The patient asks when he can go home.  The doctor looks up from his clip board with a quizzical expression and says, "home?  I don't expect you will be going home this time." The patient was dead within 15 minutes.

Hope is a mysterious and dynamic quality.  How are your expectations for your future impacting your life today? Or- how is the life you are living today impacting your future?  Your expectations impact your behavior today, your living today shapes your future.

I'm convinced there is one supremely important bit of information everyone needs to understand, to live right and have a blessed future.  They should know it before they ever start school.  And whether they drop out of school in the eighth grade or go on to get a PhD at Oxford, they will never learn anything more important.  That bit of information is this:  Your are going to live forever- somewhere- and there is nothing you can do about it.    When you started living, you began an unending journey.

Some folks, Marx; Freud; Nietzsche, are convinced that a belief in "life after death" is evidence of emotional weakness or cowardice.  They think that only the brave can face the reality of death being the end.

I suspect that any objective survey would find a fair number of fearful in both the believer and unbeliever camps.  At any rate this is not the smartest way to approach the issue.  If there is no life after death, I don't know how it requires bravery to admit this.  And if there is this kind of life, these brave folks who ignore it will find themselves badly prepared for it.

It seems, that a real courageous person is someone who can look at the prospects of living forever and keep his chin up.  Most people who kill themselves are looking for relief.  They are fearful about living one moment longer than they have to.  Being dead doesn't not frighten them, but being alive does.

If God, as Jesus has revealed Him to us, can be trusted, you are going to live forever and there is nothing you can do about it- except to prepare to make that life as desirable as possible.

Part of your future- depending on who you are, is described in Revelation 21.

Verses 1-2 report John's vision of a New Creation.  Our current arrangements are not going to last forever.  Peter described the change from the old to the new with these words:

Read II Peter 3: 10-13.

John sees the new creation and describes it as a beautiful bride.  Relationship (bride-groom; father-son) will be a foundational element in Heaven...relationship and beauty.  John has the most difficult assignment in the Bible: describing the indescribable.  Heaven is more beautiful than we can imagine, certainly beyond any kind of objective description.  It is the opposite of our real life experiences with evil.  In the imagination some evil fantasy promises satisfaction.  But it never works out to what the fantasy promised.  Heaven is the place of perpetual surprise!  From one blessing to another and never a moment of disappointment.

Verses 3-4 give us an unexpected picture of intimacy with God.  The passage promises that God Himself will set up housekeeping with His people in a place of companionship with Himself.  This frustrating barrier that separates the visible and invisible world will be gone.  And more amazing, God Himself will be your physican and pastor.

Every horrifying crisis or tragedy you have experienced (death of loved ones; rejection; failure) will be mended and transformed by the individual touch of God.  It says, "He will personally attend to every tear you shed."  And anything that might have lead to grief will be vanquished- starting with death, and including pain.

The intimacy of a believer's relationship with God will be intense.  It will be a the kind of frightening intensity for some.  They are becoming the kind of people on this side of judgment- that will be horrified to be that close to God.

But to those who are developing a thirst for God, to those who are "overcoming" all the temptations to find satisfaction or gratification away from God, God says, "To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life."

Appetites are pliable, mold-able, like souls.  As a child I did not like vegetables.  Thanks to parental encouragement, I am very fond of vegetables (and everything else!).  Our appetite for God and the things of God can be encouraged, "transformed" (Romans 12:2).

We can find ourselves identifying with the Psalmist (42:1-2)... as a deer pants for streams of living water, and God promises that person "the water of life."  The battle to give direction to your thirst is well worth the struggle.

Perhaps by looking at the kind of people who would be uncomfortable (or even horrified) with a close relationship with God (verse 8), we can see the positive quality that corresponds to closeness with Him.

The first ones "to the fire" are the cowardly.  The King James Version is off the mark calling them fearful.  First, because the word is not fearful, and second because even the bravest, perhaps them most of all, experience fear.

The cowardly are those, who when given a choice, would deny Jesus, in order to hang on to this life or to avoid discomfort in this life, that comes with being identified with Jesus.  God is looking for valiant, adventurous courageous folks.  Men like Abraham, ready to go on a journey, not knowing the destination, as long as God is with them.  Let others snicker or curse or abuse, I'm with God on this pilgrimage.

Unbelievers are folks who may be aware of the existence of a divine person.  But they do not trust that He is good.  And they do not believe they are irreparably sin damaged.  God is looking for those who have developed conviction; expectations about Jesus.  They are persuaded that Jesus is filled with love and is 100% reliable to keep His promises.

The vile are people attracted to the perverted and repulsive.  God is looking for those who want His help in becoming people of noble character and pure hearts.

Murderers devalue life which can only come from God.  Life is the thumb print of God.  It is His gift, and God's people treat it as a sacred sign of God's presence.

Fornicators knock down the sexual boundaries God has tried to protect us with.  They prefer a sexual free-for-all like the spirit of the age depicted in frat house movies.  His people have discovered the blessing of relational harmony.  They know that God's gift of intimacy provides its greatest blessing within the safety of God's limits.

Those who practice the magic arts try to find the answers to life in drugs and the occult.  Many times they get so lost in a fog they begin to worship false gods and idols.  God wants to help us see the mysteries of creation with sobriety and sanity that can experience the full wonder of God's Spirit.

Last on this list of those who would be a nervous wreck in God's presence are liars.  People who depend on spiritual disguises, social masks, and moral deception to lubricate their lives and to make their lives "work" without God.  These are people who are frequently posing as someone else.  God is looking for people who will take the greatest risk of all: open honesty, about who they are.  People willing to throw away their moral and spiritual camouflage and live face to face with God!

The positive side of these eight vices, represent believers who are learning from Jesus how to live an undying life; a quality of life that starts here and fits well with Heaven.  Jesus called it "eternal life."  Salvation begins with the Spirit of Jesus moving into our hearts.  Then we begin to learn and practice this eternal kind of life.  Eternal life is not something you have to wait until heave to start living.  It's getting to be late at that point!

But salvation does remind us of the huge future we have in heaven.  It does give us the hope of living this "life" forever.  If ever a doctor tells you he doesn't think you'll go home; you can tell him "home" is exactly where you're going!"

That is, if your future makes sense to you.  Is your unending future something that you are making plans for: are you making decisions today in terms of forever?  Thinking about life, with Heaven in mind, is how you incorporate your future into this week.  And how your life this week merges or blends in to your future.

Where do we get the courage to believe the huge future that John sees for God's people?  It is centered in your confidence or trust in Jesus.  If you sort of believe your vision of the future will be sort of helpful.  But if you know the greatness and love of God as it is revealed by Jesus, then you know the greatness of the future God has planned for you.  You know what it means to have "crossed over from death to life."  By knowing Jesus, you know your future.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Good Shepherd

May 2, 2004

How many of you have "days" that caused you to dream about being a three year old again?  Back in those days, if your feelings were bruised or your knee skinned, there was usually a safe person, and you could crawl on their lap and find comfort.  At three, you didn't have to worry about your ego or sexual undercurrents. You could just snuggle in and find some moments of sanctuary and healing.  That is... if you could find that safe person.

The problem for most of us is we are not three years old any more.  There is not a safe or available lap to sit on.  Finding sanctuary and love in another person is not as easy as it used to be.

Jesus came to show us that we could find healing in God and eventually with God's people.  We came because people have always had trouble trusting the goodness of God...and no wonder with His people.  Eve wondered if there was something better than "the good" that God gave.  So she committed the first sin by looking for something better than God's goodness, which she had started to doubt thanks to Satan.  That essentially is what sin is:  looking at God and saying, "You're not enough, I'm going to find some way to make my life work better without you."  It is not trusting God's goodness.

So Jesus came, in part, to show us that God really is that good, gracious, kind, and big hearted.  He can be trusted.  He told us, "God so loved the world..." By giving His Son and allowing the Trinity, that perfect community of oneness, to be disconnected, broken open...space was made for us to come in.  Not so we could become divine, but so we could sit on a safe lap, and live in a joy filled family, and find purpose and power and peace...real life.  And once again experience the goodness of God.

Jesus lived so that we could see that God's goodness could be trusted.  Not everyone saw it, but if they didn't, it was because they chose not to.

Read John 9-10.

The overall purpose of John's gospel is to show us who Jesus is and what His life means.  John's strategy uses two approaches.  He reports important signs and miracles that point to Jesus' identity, and he records extended stories Jesus told that help us understand the signs.  Jesus' stories in John are not parables!

John records seven "I Am" sayings with signs and stories.  Grammatically the "I Am" phrase reminds us of the root word in Jehovah.  It is the name of God coming from the burning bush.  Jesus, by reporting Himself to be the "I Am" in seven different ways, gives us a broader picture of God's love (bread, light, living water).  Each concept adds to our picture of God's goodness.  Each instance shows why we can trust God's goodness and kindness.

This story of the Good Shepherd ties in with the healing of the blind man and his excommunication from the synagogue.  Nearly all of the first generation of Christians were Jewish.  As they followed Jesus, they continued to be a part of the synagogue, although they became less welcome as time went by.  After A.D. 70 when the temple was destroyed, the old line Jews blamed the Christians for the disaster.  At this point Christians were formally disbarred from the synagogue.

The first readers of John's gospel, many of them Jewish, would've identified with the healed blind man.  In many ways, his story was their story.  Jesus had opened their eyes like the blind man's, and for that they were forced to leave the life they had known.

John reminds them that they will be OK because Jesus is "The Good Shepherd."  Of course this is not the first time the "I Am" Jehovah is described as a shepherd.  Everyone knows Psalm 23.  Then later in the prophecies God (as shepherd) shows up again.

In 586 BC Babylon defeated Judah.  They deported most of the nation.  During that time the prophet Ezekiel was with the displaced people and God spoke through him, ripping to shreds the leaders of Israel as horrible "shepherds" who had neglected the flock by allowing wild beasts to come in and decimate the nation.

Then God said through Ezekiel that He Himself would be their shepherd.  He said, "I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak..I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd (Ezekiel 34)."

This must've puzzled them a bit, since David had been dead, by that time, for around 500 years.  They soon came to see the other promises of a Messiah (the anointed one) as having some of the qualities of King David.   He would be of the family of David and like David in several aspects.

Now Jesus, born in the city of David and from the line of David announces, "I Am (Jehovah) The Good Shepherd."  Anyone familiar with Ezekiel would recognize the claim of God Himself being the shepherd His people had always needed.

Of course Jesus made it clear that He would be the Good Shepherd for many nations beyond Israel (John 10: 16).  The prophecy would have a broader fulfillment.

Because Jesus was "The Good Shepherd," His ministry would be unique.  His love would motivate Him to serve and even sacrifice Himself for the sheep.  This is how big hearted God is.  When the real shepherd shows up, the hired hands can go home.  But Jesus also claimed that not only would He die for the sheep, but that His death would not be a disaster for the flock (as it normally would); instead His self-giving would meet their deepest need because He would defeat death by taking up His life again.  The wolf could not keep Him dead!

Someday they are going to put what is left of you in a grave.  But that is OK because Jesus has been there already and made it spiritually "spring loaded!"

At this claim, Jesus' enemies and religious leaders suggested He was a devilish ego maniac.  Jesus had backed them into a corner.  They could not ignore Him, they had to make a decision.  He was either demonized or divine.

This accusation troubled the crowd.  Jesus did not rant and rave like an insane or demonized person.  Neither did His miracles or teaching appearance to be ego driven.  The impact He had on people who followed Him was not mind numbing, cult-like submission.  Think of the Apostle Paul who was obsessed with destroying Christians, and after Jesus touched His heart, became a great advocate for Jesus without threatening to take anyone's life.  A great sanity overcame him after he met Jesus.  Besides all this, when had a demon ever healed a blind man?

Jesus enemies tried to have a "show down."  The occasion was the annual feast of Dedication (Hanukkah).  This was the last of the feasts added to the Jewish year.  The reason it came about was because the king of Syria, Antiochus, and Epiphanies (BC 175-164) wanted to eradicate the Jews by turning them into a Hellenistic culture.

Greeks despised the ritual of circumcision, loved pork, and were "agnostic" worshipers of many gods.  When the majority of Jews resisted the cultural transformation, 80,000 were killed and about that many sold into slavery.  It became a crime to circumcise babies, and mothers who did were crucified with their babies hung around their necks.  The temple courts were turned into brothels and a sow was slaughtered on the altar in honor of Zeus!

At this time the Maccabeus rose up against the Syrian king and in an epic battle where they were far out numbered, the Jews defeated the Syrians and cleansed the temple.  They even enjoyed a short period of independence.  The Jews in Jesus day were looking for another Maccabeus- another King David to rid the land of the Roman armies.  On the holiday honoring their last moments of freedom they cornered Jesus and said, "how long will you keep us guessing?"

Jesus' miracles meet a need, they didn't create a magician's following...they were unique.  His teachings were authoritative, but He had never enlisted an army.  They wanted Jesus to tell them plainly, "Are you the Messiah (meaning 'the one that we want')?"

Jesus' reply let them know that they would have to decide based on the evidence He had already provided.  They must reexamine His miracles and listen to His teaching.  If evidence Jesus had already provided was not enough to keep their minds open- they were struggling with a hard heart, a heart filled with itself, with no room for God.

Those, however who had seen enough and come to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, they would find perfect sanctuary.  Not even Satan could get at them while in the care of Jesus.  They would enjoy the healing, nourishing, guiding presence of the Good Shepherd.

Of course that is not to say, if at any point they stopped believing in the goodness of God, that if they started to think that they could make life work better for themselves without the influence of Jesus, that they were trapped there.  Nothing outside them could harm them, but their freedom was never amputated.  That is not an operation that is performed when you are baptized.  If you ever want to get off the lap of God and find your own way again, the door is open.

Jesus never forces anyone to believe against their will, but you must believe to be saved.  The devil can never force anyone to disbelieve against their will.  You must be disbelieving to be lost.  Jesus' offer is free from any restrains, from the first to the last.

Jesus will never be a threatening, overbearing love in your life.  But He will be the Good Shepherd.  The prophet said, "We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way (Isaiah 53:6)."  Like sheep we are prone to wander, but the shepherd will come after us.  Like sheep, our instinct is to scatter and get confused in a crisis, but the shepherd will calm us down and bring us back together.  Like sheep, we are helpless against predators, but the shepherd will guard us and keep us safe.  No predator can harm us!

It might be easier as a three year old to lean on Jesus shoulder or sit on His lap to ask Him to hold you. But we all need that healing embrace and the strength of His arms to protect us.  Jesus' life is God's way of showing us how much He wants to do that for you.

God really is "that Good" and kind and big hearted and wonderful- Jesus gave His life to prove it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I Need a Sign

Easter 2nd Week - 2004

Last Sunday was Easter.  Instead of setting the alarm for 6:00am we set it for 5:15.  There were eggs to peel, a meal to prepare and music to review.  And while Penny was doing all that I was meditating with my head under the pillow.

Early on at the church building last Sunday, I noticed an increased level of excitement.  When the kids arrived, they were filled with energy.  When their drama began, the smiles on their faces were wide and contagious.  Their joy at being a part of the day warmed everyone who watched.

The breakfast was good.  Did anyone pick egg shells out of your teeth?  Actually, I did help with the eggs, so you can sue me instead of Penny for any broken teeth.  The eggs were gone by the time I got there so next year we'll have to set the alarm for 4:15 and do some more.  But I enjoyed the little smokies and strawberries and the friendship around the tables.  It was fun to listen and watch people enjoy Easter fellowship. 

And then the worship team lifted my soul right out of my pew.  I have enjoyed hearing them learn many of those songs.  And last Sunday all their previous work felt like it was focused on this day, in a way that helped me celebrate the resurrection victory.  I sensed the presence of Jesus.

It was Easter last Sunday:  It was energized - it was holy - it was fun.  But then I got up on Monday.  The newspaper reminded me that people still know how to kill each other to impress their gang family; attorneys are still postponing justice in a big trial in San Jose; terrorists are still filled with jealousy and hatred; the Giants may have Barry Bonds, but the rest of the team is mediocre.  It is going to be a long baseball season.

Then, when I came into the office and got out the P.U.S.H. (Pray Until Something Happens prayer list) to pray - there was Penny's brother, still battling the effects of his bone marrow transplant.  How long has he been on there?  There was a friend needing prayer for power to overcome drug addiction.  There was still the cirrhosis, the brain tumor, the Hodgkin's - and they all have names.  There was the reminder that our attempts to introduce people to Jesus through Alpha are not working.  And there was a reminder of two friends in broken relationships, if anything, more broken now than ever.

If Easter is victory . . . then what is different?

READ:  John 20:19-31


There are those times when I come into the study at the beginning of a new week, even after one as exciting as Easter, and I need some reassurance -- some evidence that things really are different -- that Sunday meant something.  "God, show me a sign."  That is why I like Thomas.  He needed reassurance; he had doubts, but no more than the other disciples.  They just got their evidence sooner than he did.  Thomas was one of those folks who wanted to see things clearly before he jumped out of a plane.  He would be willing to die for the right cause, but he wanted to understand the cause.  He wanted to see why he was dying.

In John 11 Jesus was making plans to move back into the Jerusalem area.  A week earlier the authorities had tried to stone Jesus but He had escaped.  Now Jesus was insisting it was time to go back.  Thomas did not expect a resurrection when they got back to Bethany.  He expected to be killed beside Jesus.  Nevertheless he was willing to walk with Jesus the whole way.  When the twelve were near rebellion at Jesus' plan, Thomas intervened.  Amidst the panic and chaos he said, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him."

Instead of Doubting Thomas, I think he should be called "Thomas the Brave".  He could also be called "Honest Thomas".  In John 14 Jesus is teaching on how to get to the Father's house.  Then Jesus acted like he was ready to change topics with a concluding remark, ". . . you know the way to the place where I am going."

While other people were trying to hide the confusion on their faces, trying to look like they knew "what was what", Thomas risked embarrassment and jumped into the middle of it with the question, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

For that question we now have the benefit of Jesus' clear statement in 14:6, "I AM the way . . .".  Some folks don't like what Jesus said, but it is not hard to understand.  The meaning is not mysterious.

Thank you for your honesty, Thomas.  Thank you for not pretending to understand, because we got an understandable answer.  Thank you.  That was Thursday night. But a lot has happened in a few days.  Thomas implies that he was in the crowded distance watching from a safe place while Jesus was being crucified.  He knew Jesus did not die from a fever like Lazarus.  Now I know that "dead is dead", but Jesus' body was crushed and ripped and drained of all its blood like a butchered animal.  And Thomas had seen it happen.  No one could possibly be more dead that Jesus was dead.

Yet now the disciples are saying they have seen Jesus.  Thomas didn't have the stomach for group grief so he had stayed by himself on that first Sunday.  That was one of his weaknesses: Preferring to handle his problems alone.  If we want to find something in Thomas to avoid and criticize, this is it.  If we are looking for a reason that Jesus let Thomas go for a whole week before giving him what he needed, this may be the place to start looking.  We need each other, and Thomas needed to grieve with his family.  He should have been there.

When the disciples caught up with Thomas, he could not believe what they were saying to him.  They certainly looked different.  But to Thomas, life was still filled with darkness and pain.  They seemed to feel better, but not Thomas!  He would not accept a half cure by getting swept up in other peoples' emotions.

Have you ever been asked to believe the unbelievable?  Resurrection is not an everyday occurrence.  It is not a once in a lifetime occurrence:  It has only happened once so far and that was 2,000 years ago.  Today it cannot be proved in a scientific sort of way - not like we can prove the theory of gravity.  Doubts about this event are normal.  Of course, Satan has his own anti-resurrection propaganda machine cranked up to full speed.  We can expect to feel his influence!  Doubts are normal.  If you never doubt unbelievable claims you would be well served to stay away from salesmen and mute all TV ads.  You're just the person they're looking for.

Thomas needed a sign.  Some of God's finest have asked for a sign.  Abraham was know as a man of great faith, but he also had moments of doubt.  In Genesis 15 God made a great promise to him and Abraham's response on this occasion was "How can I know?  How can I be certain?"  In other words, "What sign will You show me?"  On that occasion God walked the covenant of blood while Abraham was in a trance-like sleep.  It was an amazing sign.

Gideon asked for a sign -- three times!  If anyone should be labeled a doubter it would be Gideon.  First, God showed him a sign whereby he consumed a sacrifice by fire.  Gideon said something to the effect of "That was good - but I think I need more."  Then God gave a sign with the wet fleece.  Gideon asked once again; this time for the fleece to be dry.

John the Baptist asked for a sign.  Early in his ministry he was full of faith.  He boldly pointed to Jesus as "The Lamb of God who takes away the world's sin."  Tremendous insight!  There are sacrificial overtones in that statement of the lamb removing sin.  John must've been close to the big picture.  But after Herod arrested him and put him in prison, his doubts began to pester him and he sent some of his men to ask Jesus, "Are You really the One?"  Can You give us a sign, Jesus?

Thomas was not a faith midget.  We would do well to thank him for the extra facets of Jesus' teaching he brings out, both earlier in the gospel and here.  There are times when we all could use reassurance.

And Jesus showed up to give Thomas a sign - His scarred hands.  John's entire gospel is bracketed between the introductory words, "In the beginning was The Word and The Word was with God and the Word was God." and here near the end with Thomas' words in 20:28, "My Lord and my God!"  This is the first time that another person addresses Jesus as God.  This is a watershed moment!  When Thomas was sure about something - he went every foot of the way the evidence lead.  If the sign said "go this way" he went.  He recognized Jesus as (his) God!

For a full-blooded Jew - strictly and fiercely monotheistic by instinct and training - to call another human person "God" was incredible.  To the pious Jew this would be the worst sort of blasphemy, deserving the hottest hell, unless the evidence was overwhelming.  Thomas was truly converted.

Last Sunday was great:  It was fun, it was Jesus' glorifying.  But Monday came and sometimes I need a sign that what happened on Sunday is real on Monday.  Mike, where are the signs? I asked myself.

As I quietly sat there Jesus overcame my poor memory and I started to hear something that sounded like reassurance.  I remembered the challenge of sending Callie off to PLNU.  The annual tuition started at $18,000 and went up every year she was there.  Penny was at the very beginning of her nurses training and our family had two girls in college.  But then little things happened here and there.  There were grants and scholarships and credits and opportunities to take advantage of.  Never did one source alone amount to more than 30-35% of the need - but at the end of four years, Callie graduated, and within the year had the entire $80,000 paid for.  Penny had graduated without any debt.  Four years earlier, for me to have expected that to happen on one income would have been asking me to believe the unbelievable.  I heard God asking me if I saw the sign of His nail scarred hands at work in my life.

At that point my eyes where attracted to a hand written date in my prayer journal.  June 4, 2003.  I remember it still - sitting in the study, I had just finished praying when Stephanie called telling me that everyone who had been opposing the adoption of Tori was either out of the picture or had changed their minds and were going to support it.

Our family had just sat through an expensive and intimidating court room procedure and listened to a slick attorney tear our dreams to shreds and attack us in personal ways.  We had heard more made-up stories than we could keep track of.  And we had felt the full weight of a black robed judge crush our hopes and plans.

But on June 4th - attorneys and judges, lies and grief notwithstanding - it all changed.  The unbelievable had happened.  The adoption is not complete but the difference is like this:  When we left the court our hopes and dreams were killed and sealed in a little box and buried six feet under ground.  On June fourth God removed the dirt, unsealed the container and reunited us with stronger dreams and a living hope.    Do you see my scarred hands, Mike?

Then He did something like that again in November when the door opened to a sign like that with Brandan.  It is still working itself out, as all stories are and will be until we get home.  But they are signs, signs that we really do have a home to go to.

I thought of those we have seen through the years go through the waters of baptism.  Every saved soul in this room is a sign.  You are all signs that Jesus is alive.  The fact that you are here this morning is evidence that you have seen a sign and you are here to witness to the reality of Jesus.  Perhaps some of you are looking; you are more like Thomas before he saw Jesus.  That is okay.  Hang around long enough and you will meet Him too. 

Last Sunday was Easter - and because it was bigger than Monday - we are back.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

September 1, 1996

What kind of qualities are the most helpful in getting you to the top of the ladder of success?  If we take for granted that you actually have the skills needed to do the job, then you likely will be told to take the offensive, be bold, aggressive, assertive, forceful, and zealous.

It seems like businesses are looking for middle linebackers to take a killer instinct into the work place.  Governments and politicians on both sides of the issue aggressively demonize the other side.  It's hard to find anyone who really wants to play a genuinely friendly game of touch football!

The common assumption is that if you are not forceful and bold you will be ground up in the stampede.  This assumption was developed into a full blown philosophy by Fredrick Nietzsche.  Nietzsche was a German theologian Hitler studied and applied.

Nietzsche said the biggest mistake Jesus ever made was saying, "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth."  He reversed it and made his own beatitude.  It reads, "Assert yourself, it is the arrogant who take over the earth."  See how this appealed to Hitler?

I suppose most of us in our more honest moments would admit we're not especially attracted to the quality of meekness.  Most of us have experienced pushy people getting ahead, stepping on us in the process.  We don't like it.  So when things aren't going our way at home, or work, or in the neighborhood, our strategy of first resort- at least some of the time- is to push back!

But when we read in God's work that the proof of God's presence in our lives is a different response: Galatians 5:22, 23 says, "...gentleness and self-control."  The word for gentleness is the very same word for meek in Matthew 5:5

Gentleness or meekness is a symptom of being filled with God's spirit.  Does it surprise you that this is a character quality God says must be planted in your heart?  Many of us would agree if it is ever going to happen it will take an operation of God to pull it off (I can't grit my teeth and do it), but why is God so insistent on this quality?

To answer that question let's first find out what this quality does not consist of.  Then let's look at an accurate definition.  Finally we can look at its relevance to our families, neighborhoods, jobs, and our church.  How important is gentleness to our lives?

First, what it isn't: obviously it is not a know-it-all attitude; it is not demanding, dogmatic, pushy, domineering, overbearing, harsh, or abrasive.  This should almost go without saying, but sometimes when preachers are done defining and redefining, some point that seemed obvious is suddenly confusing.

But now the not so obvious: The English dictionaries define "meekness" as: shy, compliant, passive, spiritless, submissive, weak, and yielding.  It is no wonder we don't like the word.  Here we see a graphic example of how language changes.  In 1611 when the King James Version translators used the word "meekness" to translate the original word, prautes, it had a much different meaning in English.  This is why we need to keep updating our Bible translations: because language is a constantly changing thing.

Another of today's dictionary translations of meekness is timid or cowardly; but Revelations 21:8 lists eight kind of people who will go to hell.  Among them are the usual suspects: murderers, the sexually immoral, liars, but the very first quality listed is "the cowardly."  Obviously meekness or gentleness is NOT the same as a spineless, weak kneed, fainthearted doormat because those people are going to Hell!

So now we must move on to a working definition.  Aristotle defined prautes as the middle point between too much anger and too much apathy.  A meek person got angry for the right reasons, at the right time and to the right degree.  It is passion under control.

Gentleness is not weakness, rather it is a cool headed dignity, a poise, or composure that frees a person from compulsively proving how strong they really are.  It was a word used to describe a spirited animal that had been well trained.

Hadden Robinson tells about a young soldier in the Greek Peloponnesian wars who wrote his fiancĂ©e about a gift he had for her.  It was a white stallion.  He described it as "the most magnificent animal I have ever seen.  He responds obediently to the slightest command.  He allows his master to direct him to his fullest potential."  And then he wrote, "he is a meek horse."

No one would mistake this stallion for an old plow horse that would let you beat it and abuse it and it would just stand there.  He meant it was a spirited, powerful horse, disciplined and under control.  It was a powerful horse with composure!

Read Matthew 21: 1-13 (11:29)

Jesus is the perfect example of gentleness.  He was never a bully nor was He ever a doormat.  He could wash the disciples' feet, and He could rebuke them with very stinging remarks.  He was not schizophrenic.  He was all the power of God under perfect control and composure.

So what is the relevance of this quality for you and me?  I think there is a lot of evidence to prove that the arrogant and pushy do not "inherit the earth."  They may reek havoc for a while, but do they ever establish ultimate control?

Hitler applied Nietzsche's beatitude to the full and ended up in a musty, smelly bunker with his only option suicide.  Down through history nations such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome seemed invincible; leaders like Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin appeared in control.

Appearances are deceiving.  At the height of his power, Stain slept in seven different bedrooms in a randomly selected fashion- each with an elaborate locking system.  He always had five limousines travel together with the curtains drawn.  He had  a special guardian for his tea bags.  Does he sound like someone enjoying his control?  Or even in control?

Even if you want to consider an individual unknown, how far does a cocky, abrasive, know-it-all really get?  No one actually wants a rude, self-seeking person as a close friend.  Power hungry people are routinely lonely.

Pride, arrogance, or conceit is a weird disease.  It makes everyone sick except the person who has it.  And it usually puts a target on the back of that person.  As the mother whale said to her baby, "When you get to the surface and start to blow, that is when you get harpooned."

Nietzsche's beatitude is really a curse.  It is fairly accurate, even in this world to say: Cursed are the cocky, the arrogant, and the boastful; unhappy are the elbowing, the pushy, the crowding, doomed are the hot-headed, the unapologetic, and the rude- they are miserable here on earth and have no hope of heaven.

But the need for gentleness reveals our weakness.  We cannot grit our teeth, bend our back, clinch our jaw and turn ourselves into gentle people.  It is a result of the Spirit living in us.  Without the Holy Spirit, people with strength use it selfishly, and people without strength hate those who have it.  With the Spirit, you can be a content person, a person of composure, a person confident in God's resources.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Sunday

Easter 2004

In one of history's most decisive battles, Wellington faced Napoleon at Waterloo.  News of the final results came back to London by semaphore.  All England waited as the word crossed the Channel by sailboat and then overland by a relay of these signals.

From the top of Winchester Cathedral a semaphore began to spell out the message, letter by letter, "Wellington defeated..."  The next link in the relay caught this message just as dense fog settled in and obliterated the signal.  Those two words shrouded Londoners with a gloom and despair thicker than the fog.  All was lost.  Wellington defeated!

After the mist lifted, the signaler sent his message again, just to be sure it got through: Wellington defeated the enemy!  What a difference two words make.  Despair became joy.  The ego-maniacal Frenchman was defeated. England was safe!

A similar reversal happened between Friday and Sunday of Easter week.  On Saturday the message was grim, " Jesus is defeated.  The miracle worker is dead and buried.  A big boulder seals his body in a rock tomb.  It is all over."  But Sunday sunrise brought new information, "He is risen.  What He taught is true!  Death is not the final word."

But it took longer than we might expect for this good news to sink in.  Part of the problem was that nothing like this had ever happened before.  But there were other issues as well.  The Greek world which had some influence on the Jews of Jesus' day found the idea of a physical resurrection not only absurd -- to them it was considered creepy or offensive.  To them the physical body was evil, always decaying...at death the decaying process simply accelerated its work.  According to Socrates, the faster a person escaped the confines of the body for the freedom of the spirit the better.

Some Jews no longer believed in any kind of life after death; many did, but only at the very end of the age, after final judgement.  This may help us understand why Jesus' followers never got it when Jesus talked about His death and resurrection.  They presumed it was another complex parable that He frequently used.

When Jesus' followers watched Joseph and Nicodemus bury His body in the tomb, they firmly believed they would never see Him again until Judgment day.  This may help us understand why everyone involved in this event was so confused when they discovered an empty tomb on Sunday morning.

Read Luke 24:1-12.

Looking back from our side of the resurrection, and after the whole story has been told, we tend to be a little hard on the disciples and their absence of joy at the empty tomb; especially the men and the mean way they treated the women.

But if we can get into their mindset - on their side of the first report of an empty tomb - it might be easier to understand their dullness.  We might even begin to appreciate the steps they went through, going from a total absence of faith to an eventual, full blown confidence in Jesus' resurrection.

To repeat the story (and it's worth repeating) the beginning element that set the whole process in motion was the empty tomb.  All four gospels report that the women were the first at the tomb.  The women are uniformly surprised that the stone had been moved from the opening.  This was unexpected.  But much more confusing were the contents, or lack of contents inside the tomb.

Their expectation was that they would complete the burial procedure which had been cut short by the sunset on Friday evening- the beginning of the Sabbath.  Because they were planning for this task, several of the women watched Joseph and Nicodemus place Jesus' body in the tomb!  They expected to return to this same tomb and finish the funeral arrangements.

They expected to find a body. Not just any body, but Jesus' body.  They did not reckon that it would be gone.  They were certain they had gone to the right tomb.  They were almost certain that no one had stolen the body.

They presumed they would find the "remains" of Jesus.  Just as you might expect to find your bed when you turn the TV off after the late news and go down the hall to settle in.  Instead all they found were the strangely evacuated grave clothes. It would've been like laying out a man in his suit and hat on a marble slab, then coming back the next day to find the suit still there, with the socks still inside the shoes and running up the pant legs, and the tie still in a double Windsor knot under the starched collar and tucked inside the vest, with the cuffs of the shirt just below the jacket sleeves and the hat laying neatly above the tie knot by about eight inches -- but no sign of the body.

The women wondered at what they saw.  The word in verse four translated "wondering" is really a stronger word than that.  It's only used four or five times throughout scripture.  It is the same word used to describe how Herod felt after listening to John the Baptist preach (conviction, presence of truth, disturbing, yet attractive).  It is the word used to describe the feeling the disciples had when Jesus announced that one of them was a traitor (self doubt, yet hard to believe...perplexed).

When Peter saw the arrangement, Luke says he was "astonished."  He didn't know yet whether it was good or bad, but he suspected it was not a human scheme.  Even if Jesus had not really died (and no one could live through what happened to Jesus) would He have simply gotten up, dusted Himself off and walked away without disturbing His grave clothes?  The tomb was empty in an odd way.

On Thursday night and Friday morning the disciples had been unprepared for the horrifying spectacle of Jesus' arrest, torture, and death!  This crucifiction event was not a part of their plans, not a part of their faith!

In almost exactly that same way, they were unprepared for what happened Sunday morning.  They were like the scientist who recently confessed about the resurrection, "This is the sort of thing I would never believe, even if it really happened."

The second feature in the process of a new "boring" faith was the witness of angels. I wonder if those two messengers were a part of the choir that announced the good news to the shepherds at Jesus' birth?  Whether they were or not, someone's witness is usually a part of our growing faith.

The angel's message is "Wake up, you don't go to a cemetery to find a living person!"  They asked the women to remember the kind of person they had come to believe Jesus was: remember the words He spoke about His death.  If they could make themselves remember, they would recall that there was always a harmony between who Jesus was and the things He said.  If they remember who Jesus was and what He said, the empty tomb will begin to make sense.

Luke says of the women, "they remembered." Their faith was becoming real.  The men in this episode were a little harder to convince.  Like the women, they were not expecting this.  Clearly the men were not back at headquarters posturing themselves to move out into the world as the vanguard of a new faith.  Instead of telling the excited women who rushed back to the house with the news of angels and an empty tomb, "Oh sure, of course, we figured it would turn out like this!", they insulted them as if they had gone insane...they showed no sympathy!  Each of them was as skeptical as "doubting Thomas" until they had personal evidence.

The truth of the resurrection was not something that exploded full grown in their minds on Sunday morning.  Many times, saving faith starts with small steps- like a baby learning to walk.  There may be some hesitancy, uncertainty, some stumbling, but these faltering steps can lead to full blown adult walking, mature believing.

Listen to these two sentences:  The resurrection is a vast watershed in history, or it is nothing.  Once accepted as fact, it tells more about the universe, about history, and about man's state and fate than all the mountains of other facts in the human accumulation of information.

You might not guess that these words were written by the editors of Life Magazine.  Of course they were penned in 1956, before Time-Warner became one of the many apostles for a godless secular society.  They were written at a time when thinking straight (not violating rules of logic to satisfy a wish), when thinking reasonable was expected for leaders to have influence.  These words were written in a time when "the way you want life to be" is not more profoundly influential then the way life really is.

A few years ago a history book in the old USSR referred to Jesus as a myth, a non-person.  The communists were notorious for rewriting history the way they wanted it to be.  Legitimate historians from a variety of faiths laughed at this infantile projection of a wish into a text book.  There is more historical data for the person of Jesus, the carpenter/rabbi from Nazareth, than there is for Julius Caesar and Charlemagne.  Today you can't even find raving atheists on NPR denying the historical existence of Jesus.  I hope I didn't go too far with that claim.

However, most non-believers have become comfortable with the idea that Jesus was a real person and lived an interesting life and died...period.

The church is alive today to say with the angels, "Do not get comfortable with the idea that Jesus is dead."  Do not try to reconcile yourself to eternity in a cemetery.  Because of Jesus' victory over death Christians are not defined by the past or a future in a grave yard.  We are marked by the Spirit of Jesus and eternal life.

A few generations ago Simon Greenleaf, professor of law at Harvard, wrote about the reliability of the disciple's witness to the resurrection of Jesus.  He made several points:
The great truths which the apostles declared, were, that Christ had risen from the dead, and that only through repentance from sin, and faith in Him could men hope for salvation.  This doctrine they asserted with one voice, everywhere, under the greatest discouragements.  

He pointed out the unpopularity of preaching the necessity of the cross to remedy every person's moral corruption, then said:
The laws of every country were against the teaching of His disciples.  The interests and passions of all the rulers and great men in the world were against them.  The fashion of the world was against them propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive manner, they could expect nothing but contempt, bitter persecutions, imprisonments, and cruel deaths.  They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith.  If it were morally possible for them to have been deceived in this matter, every human motive operated to lead them to discover and avow their error.
He goes on for several paragraphs thinking logically.

The church was founded on this one fact:  Jesus defeated death.  If the enemies of the apostles were serious about destroying the church all they had to do to be successful was disprove the resurrection.  Failing this, all they could do was threaten, beat, flog and kill the followers of Jesus.  Their impotence and the Apostles power to die both speak volumes.

The resurrection endorses the work of Jesus on the cross.  The cross was not an accident of history that God set right by raising Jesus to life.  The resurrection assures us that we can find spiritual life a the cross.  Sin has a cure.

The cross is not medicine to deal with self-doubt or low self esteem.  The cross is not an analgesic to help us deal with a slumping stock market or the high cost of college tuition (not that these are small issues). Yet the burning core of the gospel message is that : As we stand before God we are morally corrupt, sin-filled people facing eternal damnation, but, in the shed blood and broken body of Jesus we can find the cure.  The resurrection is God's ringing endorsement of Jesus' work for us!

The cross reminds us of our spiritual bankruptcy.  The resurrection assures us of God's power. The resurrection is God's bold print on history telling us there is victory already achieved over sin and death and hell.  You and I must decide if we will exchange ungodly loyalties for a sold out loyalty to Jesus.  It is not required that this faith explode full blown in your mind and heart the first time you hear it.  But something this important, must be thought about and meditated on and given an opportunity to grow into the benchmark, the most basic part of our life that God intends it to be.

The resurrection of Jesus is God's good news for us, "This is what I want to do for you.  Will you let Me?"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I did this.

Lent #5 2004

Quentin Roosevelt left Harvard during his sophomore year to serve his country in World War I.  In 1918 Quentin, the son of Teddy Roosevelt, was shot out of the sky in one of aerial combats early dog fights.

German propagandists took photos of his battered, broken body while it was still in the wreckage.  Then, hoping to ruin American morale, they sent a photo of the picture to his mother Edith Roosevelt.  Instead of letting herself be broken and intimidated by the picture, she insisted that it be displayed over the mantel, as a symbol of her family's pride in the sacrifice and service of her son for such a noble cause.

Mrs. Roosevelt pushed aside her grief and expressed her undying love for her son- by celebrating his bravery and refusing to abandon the cause for which he died.

The Apostle Paul expressed his feelings for Jesus in a similar way when he concluded his letter to the churches of Galatia with these words, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."  What is it about a cruel method of executing felons that Christians find so compelling?

The Christian historian Luke introduces us to the hour immediately before the tortuous death of Jesus.

Read Luke 22:39-46.

Something is going on here that we can not see with our eyes.  Invisible worlds are in conflict.  If we could watch from a safe distance knowing what we know now- we would not mistake this scene for a cheap made for TV murder mystery.  This is a passage recording an event that brings us to the edge of something cosmically significant and eternally important.  There is a struggle, with the soul of the world in balance, and the battlefield is the heart of Jesus.

If you don't know it yet, know it now: you and I are key players in this drama.  We will never be objective or disinterested watchers.  It is because of you and me that Jesus has entered this battle to the death.  At some phase in eternity you (from the day of your conception to the day of your death) you were on Jesus mind.  And that experience of you in eternity in the mind of God is what has brought Jesus to this point in time.  You are involved in this

Luke tells us Jesus was on His knees.  The invisible burden was heavy.  Normally, Jesus, like all his peers, prayed standing up with his head lifted, but I have -with you- for this moment, put Jesus on His Knees.  I did that to Him!  Sin is a heavy load to bear and the Psalmist says, "Everyone has turned away...there is no one who does good, not even one."  And so now the one real exception to this rule is on His knees.

Luke tells us Jesus' involvement in this struggle was so intense His sweat and blood mingled and fell to the ground in great red splashes.  I did that to Jesus.  You did, too!  The wise man asked a rhetorical question, "Who can say, 'I have kept my way pure: I am clean and without sin?'" (Proverbs 20:9).

Some folks don't think sin is that big a deal. They believe that if God cares about such a thing as moral failure then certainly He grades on a very liberal curve.  This scene disputes that theory.  The only reason Jesus is here sweating drops of blood is because of the horror of our sin.

Who would have dared to suggest that The Father God and His Son would ever enter into a tension of different wishes?  Yet here is Jesus praying, "Father if you are willing, take this..." this is not my wish.

I did this to Jesus, and so did you!  The prophet said, "We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way."  This defines the essence of sin- choosing to do life my way instead of God's.  It describes a whole rang of attitudes and behaviors.  And this is what Jesus came to remedy.  It is so universally horrifying and awful that the same prophet said, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags."

Erasing a stain that ugly is impossible unless God does it.  And even for God it is a detestable project.  It cost God nothing, so far as we can tell, to create the wonders of the universe out of nothing. He spoke the stars into existence, the planets, life without even taxing His reserves; He didn't even break a sweat!  But to remedy the cancerous and deadly consequences of sin, it cost Him His own broken body and spilled blood.  We can see Jesus was man enough to retch at the prospect!

I did that to Him, you did that to Him.  The suffering of Jesus is described by two graphic words in this passage.  The first is cup.  Jesus prayed "take this cup from me."  Whatever it means, it is something bitter and galling.  Jeremiah spoke of "the cup filled with the wine of God's wrath."  John in the last book of the Bible warns, "If anyone worships the beast...he too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath."

This is the cup that I caused Jesus to drain to the dregs.  The Bible says, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God."  If this is true, you also caused Jesus to drink this bitter cup.

The second word describing Jesus' suffering is the word anguish.  In verse 44 the passage reads, "and being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly."  I guess I am prejudice, but I believe that Jesus was not only the wisest man who ever walked this earth, but also the bravest.  When Paul came to the end of his life he wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."  These words don't reflect much anguish- Paul was brave, but not like Jesus.  In fact, many people both Christians and non Christians have gone to their death with a brave face.  But I caused Jesus great anguish, and you did too!  The most courageous man who ever lived, was for a moment brought to His knees in anguish over the horror of my sin and yours.  It was not the death on a cross that brought Jesus to the ground in weakness.  It is what that death meant:  carrying the weight of the whole world's sin.  My sin did that to Jesus- yours did too.

But the reason you and I are here today is not because of what we have done- it is because of what Jesus has done.

This bitter cup and painful anguish, He did that for you and me.  The Bible says, "Christ (voluntarily) died for sins, once for all, the righteous (one) for the unrighteous (many), to bring you to God" (I Peter 3:18).  He did that for me...and for you!

As Jesus was praying and fighting His way through this battle field, He came out on the other side of the conflict saying, "Not my will but Yours be done."  He surrendered to His Father's will and ended the tension by agreeing with the Father.

There is more than one way to surrender.  You can surrender to inevitable defeat..."I have no hope and no fight left, you win," or you can surrender to love.  Jesus surrendered to the will of His Father, but also to the wisdom and love of His Father.

And in doing that, He volunteered to bear our sin.  The Bible says,"Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).  He did that for you and for me.  I thoughtlessly and selfishly did that to Him, but He full of love, and without regard for Himself, did that for you and me.

The suffering of Jesus shows us the shape and size of our moral corruption.  That was God's flesh and blood dying for us!  The suffering of Jesus shows us the required magnitude and majesty of our remedy.  That was God's flesh and blood broken and spilled FOR US! No other remedy would work!

In order for this generous offer to be effective, you and I must accept it.  That means we must agree with Jesus that our sins did that to Him and trust His love to come work in us to make us different people.  That is what you and I must do: confess our sin is what put Jesus on the cross; turn away from sin; trust Jesus' broken body and poured out blood to be our healing remedy; and go from here boasting only in Jesus and His merit.

Our culture has never heard the awful noise of a world wide death rattle like we are hearing today.  The arts, medicine, ethics and law, education, politics, and science all are gasping to death from a polluted, terminally corrupt atmosphere.  If there is to be any help two things must happen.  First, we must stop pretending that there is no such thing as sin and evil.  We must stop the childish notion that there is only differences of opinion and values, but no real universal moral standards!  The idea that evil is an outgrown concept, this notion is a demonic accomplishment that must be reversed if there is to be any hope for our world.

Second, the world must begin to see the life of Jesus in us.  If His great sacrifice does little to change us, why should the world be attracted to the suffering, but life-giving work of Jesus?  You and I must become more like Jesus everyday if the world will finally find Jesus appealing.