Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Promise Made - A Promise Kept Easter Sunday 2011

Click Here to Listen to the Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011 by Pastor Chip Moody

Scripture Reference:  Mark 16:1-8

When Mary Magdalene and the other women went to prepare Jesus’ body for permanent burial on Sunday, they were met with an empty tomb and an angel’s promise: 

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome
bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.  Very early on the first day of
the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each
other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" But when they looked
up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.  As they entered
 the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were
 alarmed. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was
crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his
 disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him,
 just as he told you.'"  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from
 the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.   [Mk. 16.1-8 NIV]

The promise is more like a prediction. Did you see it in v. 7? But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"

What do you mean “just as he told you?” You mean Jesus supposedly told them all this cross-death-rising stuff was going to happen?  He sure did. More than once, I might add.

At first he tried to ease them into the horrific reality of what was to come by giving them only as much information as they could handle. "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40).

But he eventually began to be pretty explicit about his coming demise. “They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise."  But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.”  Mark 9:30-32 NIV   

And then even more explicit still. Just after Peter made his great confession of the deity of Christ, the Bible says in Mark 8:31-32:  “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

Seems he was getting explicit enough that they were beginning to put their fingers in their ears and go “la la la la la la!”

But he finally in Mt. 20 he makes things CRYSTAL clear:

"And Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside along the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him. And the third day He shall rise again."

There it was. Crucifixion. The most notoriously cruel and humiliating form of capital punishment ever invented. Used to both execute wrongdoers by Rome, it was also a very useful tool to keep occupied people intimidated and docile. People didn’t even like to say the word “cross” (staurion). It was spoken of in hushed tones as though speaking it would bring its terror into one’s life.

And probably this is what the disciples heard most loudly. The part about rising on the third day seemed to get lost in the shock of hearing that the heroic figure they had dedicated their lives to was going to be killed. And they knew they could be next.

But looked at another way, Jesus was not making predictions. He was making a promise.  He was assuring his disciples that he was going to get killed, but they should hang on to their hope because he would be back just a mere three days later—in full bloom.

Prophecies about is crucifixion and resurrection are promises from Jesus.
    --Promises to fulfill his mission to die for the sins of the world
    --Promises to rise from death in order to verify his claim to be Messiah.
   -- Promises to those who believe in him, that following him on the
Jesus Road would mean they too, would experience resurrection unto eternal life with Jesus one day.

Jesus kept his promises, didn’t he? 

In fact the resurrection of Jesus is our best evidence that all God's promises are trustworthy.
Promises in scripture that we are loved and worth saving..
Promises in scripture that we will live forever.
Promises in scripture that peace and reconciliation with God are ours

So what do we do with this knowledge?  Believe! Follow! Worship!

What Jesus promises, he delivers. He is risen!

God gets all the glory!

Jesus  made appearances after his resurrection to a lot of people over a period of over a month. At one event, over 500 people saw him. One resurrection appearance early on has always been dramatic to me.

The disciple Thomas refused to believe the other disciples when they told him, "We have seen the Lord!" Thomas said, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it!"

When Jesus showed up when Thomas was present (and I’m pretty sure Jesus made the appearance especially for Thomas), Jesus said, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

Thomas simply said the only appropriate words for such an occasion, “My Lord and my God.”

They are the only appropriate words for us, too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Red Carpet Treatment

Click Here to Listen to the Palm Sunday Sermon for Sunday, April 17, 2011 by Pastor Rodger S. Loar

Scripture Reference: 
Luke 19:28-40 and
Luke 19:11-27

What is it about celebrities that intrigues us so much about them?  Why did thousands of teen girls turn into screaming fanatics at the sight of the Beetles.  Why do they still do it today with Justin Beiber?  What is so amazing about a sports start that makes us want their autograph?  Why does their chewing gum, locks of hair, or other personal paraphernalia command a price on ebay?  Why do millions tune in to watch the Oscars to see what their favorite star is wearing?
And, what about the dark side to celebrity? Why are there so many magazines and television shows to let us know about the latest gossip on Brad cheating on Angelina?  Why do we revel in the latest life crash by Lindsay or Charlie?  Why did O.J.’s trial halt an entire nation or Michael’s death leave so many grieving who didn’t even know him personally?
There is always a crowd to cheer the latest and greatest personality.  They pour their hopes and dreams into this cult of celebrity.  And, there are always those who cheer the downfall of a celebrity.  There is something dark about humanity that likes to see others rise to the top and then fall to their depths, whether it be actors, politicians, or even pastors.
Jesus had a crowd like this at the Triumphal Entry.  This historical event, recorded in all four of the gospels (Luke 19:28-40, Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, and John 12:12-19), tells of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem in the last week of his life on earth.  As he came into Jerusalem, many people cheered him and lined his path.  They gave him the red carpet treatment, lining the road with palm branches and even their cloaks.  But, a few short days later, these same crowds jeered him as he went to his death.
They had their expectations and he let them down.  They expected a military leader, a victorious politician, a charismatic rabbi, or an earthly king; someone who would kick out the Romans who were occupying the nation, and lead Israel back to a golden age.  Jesus, on the other hand, had so much more planned.  He was about to conquer death, forgive sins, and bring a hope for the entire world, but they were so caught up in the cult of celebrity, they missed it.
Jesus knew that they were going to be thinking this way, and so he told a story, found in Luke 19:11-27.  He told of a master that was going away for awhile, but would be back.  The master left his servants with money to invest while he was gone.  When the master got back, some of the servants had invested the money, but one had not.  He failed to follow instructions. 
Jesus was letting his followers know that he was going to be gone for a period (at this point, over 2000 years), but he would one day be back.  In the interim, each of his people would be given talents, abilities, money, possessions, and time to be obedient to God and do his work in this world.  That’s you and me and everyone else.  We are supposed to be doing the master’s work while he is gone.  He also let the crowd of people know that there would be punishment for those who were disobedient.
The crowd missed all this and many still miss it today.  They were caught up in the celebrity of Jesus.  They were caught up in their hopes for a general or politician who would be king and save them from the Romans.  And so, they were disappointed when he was crucified.
They missed the lesson that he would be gone and he would be back.  While some saw his resurrection and got the lesson, many others still miss it. 
Hopefully, you don’t miss it. 
We have been left here to be obedient to God and do his work while we are on this earth.  We are to worship him.  We are to conform our lives to his word.  We are to take care of each other, protect the innocent, feed the hungry, care for the widow and orphan, and otherwise invest the talents he gave us to do good work.
Let’s not get caught up in the cult of celebrity, building up movie stars, devoting ourselves to famous athletes, putting all our hope in politicians, or putting pastors on pedestals.  Why waste our time on these people when we know the ultimate celebrity of all.
Instead, let's give him the ultimate red carpet treatment and honor him with our very lives.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Awww, Grow Up! - Pilgrim's Regress

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, April 10, 2011 Sermon by Pastor Chip Moody

Scripture Reference:  Hebrews 5:11-14 and Hebrews 6:1-3

“Grow Up. Baby!”                

If you never thought the Bible talked about baby food, think again:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.      Hebrews 5:11 - 6:3 [NIV]

I learn some striking lessons from this passage.

It is possible to regress in our Christian walk with God.

I think it is probably also the case that if we are not progress and maturing in our obedience to Christ, we are, in fact, regressing.

By knowing and experiencing only the beginning stages of the Christian life, we cannot know how to live rightly in a wrong-filled world. 

The solid food that brings about maturity is for the purpose of helping us not only know right from wrong, but also how to apply the wisdom from God about right and wrong to our life, especially those areas of life that look gray rather than black and white. The spiritually grown up person is equipped to apply the God’s desires/his word, to extremely complicated situations in life that we face at home at work, at church, or with friends and family.

We are told to “leave elementary teachings.”

Well, like what? What teachings are elementary? Well, they are some surprisingly important doctrines and practices:
  • Repentance of sins and dysfunctions long ago forgiven by God
  • The beginnings of initial faith in God
  • Instructions about baptisms and the laying on of hands
  • The resurrection of the dead at the last day
  • Eternal judgment; heaven and hell
These are by no means unimportant doctrines. Yet the writer of Hebrews is saying that these are elementary (my dear Watson), and that we are somehow supposed to move on from these to another level of maturity. There appears to be spiritual food that is “age appropriate” for one’s progress in Christ.

It further seems that this “solid food” has something to do with applying the revealed wisdom of God to actual day-to-day living situations.

But why? 

Why indeed. Does it matter that we become people of holiness and faithfulness. We have our salvation. We have the reward of eternity in the presence of God. Why bother with holiness?  Is it worth the effort?  I’m saved; that’s enough for me. Why do I need growth?

I’m glad you asked that.

The answer has little to do with how good we can be or how much progress we make. The answer to why we should grow is about God himself; about his nature and his character. This can’t be yet one more sermon, in a seemingly endless line of them in our Christian culture these days, that is merely a moralistic admonition or ethical pep talk. The answer to “why grow” is a deeply theological one.

Here goes. God is alone worthy of our praise and worship. As the sovereign Lord of glory, he is Lord of our life, our world, our universe. Our transformation into the likeness of Jesus glorifies God.  That’s why we are to grow. It pleases our creator. My growth glorifies Him.

You see, it does not matter enough to ME to grow in Christ. I am lazy, willful, and prone to letting important spiritual matters slide by me in the rush of the urgent. But my growth DOES matters to God. And because I love him, honor him, obey him, I live to please him and enjoy him.  That is the only motivation strong enough to make me seek maturity.

God is glorified when we, his people, grow to resemble his Son.

So what does this mean for us?  

What is it that God is looking for in your life and my life?  I am reminded of what Paul writes in his letter to Ephesus:

“[God desires] that the body of Christ may be built up until we all ... become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching ... Instead, ... we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Eph 4:12-15)
What is the growth that God is looking for?  

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son . . .” (Rom 8:29)   

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory ...”  (2 Cor 3:18)

God's goal is that we become transformed into Jesus’ likeness, attaining His fullness.  Why?   Because God is glorified when we grow to resemble his Son.

So no more swearing at other drivers in rage.  NO WAIT! Let’s not trivialize this by being so shallow minded. Let’s think of what is most important to God as he has taught us in the scriptures and grow to make these the priorites of our spiritual life:

Help alleviate suffering in others.
Do something to help serve and lift up the poor and marginalized of our world.
Seek justice! No more tolerating public officials who are corrupt, or who oppress the powerless.
Seek reconciliation. No more broken relationships due to your own pride or stubbornness
Seek responsible stewardship. No more worshipping our toys, our money, our looks, our power. No more aggrandizing ourselves at the expense of others in the world who make our living-large possible.
Choosing freedom! No more choosing prisons of addiction or compulsions, or sexual irresponsibility, or out of control anger or lying, or stealing, or gossip.   

Wow. From this angle (God’s perspective), growth looks pretty good! Solid food is sounding really nutritious.

So seek the solid food!  And by your growth you, instead of being a baby on formula forever, will by growth and maturity become an example and coach to others on the Jesus road.

Years ago, Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, saw a sign by the road and said she wouldn’t mind its words being on her headstone: "End of Construction - Thank you for your patience."

There’s some wisdom there, I think.

- - -

Here is the Drama skit about maturing in prayer, performed in the Sunday, April 10 Service by our Drama Troupe:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

School is In Session

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, April 3, 2011 Sermon by Pastor Rodger S. Loar

Scripture Reference 2Peter 1:3-9

School is in Session
“School’s out for summer, School’s out forever, Schools been blown to pieces, No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.”  So goes the lyrics to Alice Cooper’s School’s Out song.   I, for one, definitely daydreamed about the school being blown to pieces as a kid, especially before math tests.
It’s easy for us, as adults, to think that we are done with school; so, there isn’t any more learning to be done.  As Christians, that just isn’t true!  Growth is still expected of us, and that takes learning.  It doesn’t matter whether you are 19, 49, or 99 years old.  God still has some growing for you to do.
Peter lays out a growth path for us in 2Peter 3:5-7.  He tells us to add to our faith, goodness; to our goodness, knowledge; to our knowledge, self control; to our self control, perseverance; to our perseverance, godliness; to our godliness, mutual affection; and to our mutual affection, love.
Faith is where it all starts.  When we believe in Christ, that isn’t the end of the journey, but the beginning.  This is the point where we start, ‘having escaped the corruption in the world’ (2:Peter 1:4).  Yet, this is also the point where many believers stop.  Like Lot’s wife, when the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, they can’t help looking back at the world they know and so they stay there, stuck between two worlds and not growing. 
We then add goodness or virtue to our faith.  This is the same word used to describe Christ in verse 3.  No one is good all the time, but you start to practice being like Christ. 
Then comes knowledge.  If we don’t know God, then how can we be what he wants us to be?  This knowledge comes primarily from studying the Bible.  It also comes from sermons and lessons, but only when you apply a discerning ear to compare what is taught with God’s word.
After we gain knowledge, we must learn self-control.  That’s a hard one in this society where we can have almost anything we want without waiting for it.  Hungry?  Microwave a pizza in a minute.  Thirsty? just turn on the tap.  Bored?  Flip on the TV and grab any movie you want from online.  Lonely?  Heck, you don’t need to work at a relationship with someone, just go online and you can find all sorts of ‘entertainment’.  Want to buy something, go to an ATM and get your money now.  No money in your account?  Swipe a credit card and pay it off someday. 
Self control must be cultivated.  You have to learn to save for things, to wait for things, to earn what is right and good or we are no better than toddlers who cry when they don’t get their every desire met instantly. 
Self control naturally leads to perseverance.  Learning to endure through the difficult can lead us to all sorts of good things, from losing weight to making it through pain and disease to surviving the death of those close to us.  Our lives don’t have to completely fall apart when things get hard, it just takes perseverance. 
Godliness is next, learning to be more and more like the holy people He calls us to be.  This comes from putting godly values into practice.  You don’t earn this one on the couch, you have to get out and do.  This is not the false holiness that so many people project, but the real holiness of making the right choices in our life priorities, in our time, and in our money.  Other people see this and can quickly tell if you really are living a holy life or if you are just living a holier-than-thou life.
Mutual affection.  Brotherly love.  Caring for one another.  Walking together.  That’s what the church is all about.  Many people try to do the hard stuff on their own.  Always smile at people and never let them know you are breaking inside.  That path is destructive.  We need each other and we must be intentional about it.  Get to know your neighbors, learn to love your fellow Christians.  Spend time, share, eat together, pray together, have fun.  It’s almost impossible to grow past a certain point if you don’t have people close to you helping you to grow.
Finally, we get to love.  This isn’t puppy love, brotherly love, erotic love, or the love you feel when you bite into a good cheeseburger.  No, this is the practical love, love in action.  This is serving others.  This is intentionally loving those people who are hard to love.  This is putting yourself on the line to touch someone else’s life.  This is serving the homeless, even if they aren’t thankful for it.  This is praying with the dying.  This is visiting the little old lady next door and listening to her tell you all of her medical problems.  This kind of love ain’t easy, but it is an incredibly important part of our growth. 
God calls us to keep growing, to keep learning as believers.  He doesn’t call us to be ‘Pew Potatoes,’ you know the type, the vegetable who sits rooted in the pew.  Far too many of us feel that our faith is about ourselves and our own comfort.  The problem is, you don’t learn and you don’t grow if you are comfortable.
It’s time to get back to school. It’s time to stretch ourselves and grow.
Summer break is over.
School is in session.

                                                                 Pastor Rodger