Archive | August, 2015

When peace and quiet seem impossible to come by

28 Aug

Anyone else out there feeling a longing for some peace and quiet in life?

We have our men’s retreat at Twin Pines coming up in a month, and I’m really looking forward to getting away. Up to the mountains. Last year we devoted time at the retreat for personal prayer.  I decided to pray while I hiked to the top of a ridge.  It was a blue skies kind of day where you could see for miles.  I hardly ever get that kind of time alone.

I know that it is a longing I’ve been feeling personally for a number of months now. A young man in our congregation decided to take a few months to hike the Appalachian Trail after graduating from high school.  As I look at his regular updates and pictures, I’m jealous.

The peace and quiet of nature beckons. Last year my third son and I read a series of books known by the name of the first book, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.  13 year old Brian Paulsen, surviving a plane crash, is stranded in the Canadian wilderness, and must learn to live with just a hatchet. As we read, we were spellbound by life in the wild.  Through the series, even though Brian is rescued and returns home, nature beckons.  He must return, and he does time and time again.

Nature’s call to us is so appealing because our day-to-day lives tend to be a harried, frenetic.  How many of you feel pressure from work, from school, from family, and yes, from church?  I know I do.  How often have you thought, “There’s not enough time?”  Or “I need to work more so I can make more money to pay the bills” but you know you’re already stressed out.  The solution is complex, but you know you need to get away.  Maybe you’ve got some vacation days to use or lose.

And so you make plans.  A day off, a weekend away on a retreat, a vacation.  You search online.  You invite family and friends.  You share details, book hotels, trade text messages and emails as the excitement builds.  Finally the day arrives, and you’re packing the car, gassing it up, getting everyone out the door…and your boss calls.  There’s an urgent need at work.  Really urgent.  You know the feeling.

How do you react when you’ve got a day off planned, and something comes up at work and you have to cancel your plans?

Do you ever feel irritated? Do you ever just wish for some peace and quiet?

Jesus was looking for some peace and quiet one day. In fact he got his plans set.  He wanted some time with the disciples.  They had just come back from their first ever mission trip, and Jesus wanted to take them on a retreat.  They headed off for a town 6 miles away, but one that was somewhat isolated.  Ah yes, some vacation.  Some time to revel in the peace and quiet.  Time to talk about their trip.

Guess what happens?  That’s what we’ll find out tomorrow.  Faith Church will hold another Worship in the Park, and we invite you to come along.  We meet in the middle pavilion of East Lampeter Community Park on Hobson Road.  If you’d like, you can check out Luke 9:10-17 ahead of time.

A Christian phrase that needs to be turned action – Luke 9:1-10

26 Aug

Last week I introduced Sunday’s sermon by talking about Christian phrases that need to go.  But there is one that we should keep, if and only if, it is more than a phrase.  You know that phrase “actions speak louder than words”?  It is true for so much of life, and definitely so when it comes to being a disciples of Jesus.  We live out our faith.

In Luke 9:1-10, among other things, Jesus wanted his disciples to learn dependence on him.

The phrase we need to turn into action is “Depend of God.”  It might not be on a mission trip, though those are good, but what does it mean it to depend on Jesus?  When we say “Depend on God” it should be so much more than a phrase that sounds righteous.  “Depend on God” should matter in really life.  In other words, we should be able to do actions that show we are depending on God.

How do we put ourselves in a place where God has to come through in order for us to make it, be cared for?

Is this only a reactionary, depending on God in the situations that happen to us?

Could it also be proactive? Could we do things that show that we are dependent on God? There will be times in life when we have no choice but to cry out to God, or when God must step in and rescue us. But what about when things are good?

Jesus once taught about depending on him.  To teach this he used a parable called the Vine and the Branches in John 15:1-8.  It is simple really.  A branch broken off from a tree will die because it is no longer connected to the life-giving trunk.  In our culture, an electric device will stop if disconnected from its power source.  Jesus was saying that this is a reality for his Kingdom people as well.  We must somehow be connected to his life-giving power, or we can do nothing, he said.

So what is the difference between a person who depends on his power and one who doesn’t?  I have a few thoughts:

  1. Does: Ample time spent in prayer, peaceful emotion during difficult life situations, unattached to material possessions and very generous.
  2. Doesn’t: Weak or non-existent time in prayer. Freaks-out during difficulties, focused on acquisition and ownership of material possessions, and not generous.

Which are you most like?

Luke, at verses 7-9, changes the scene and takes us into Herod’s palace. We’ve met Herod before. And in this section Luke tells us more about him including the sad fate of John the Baptist.

Herod has beheaded John. And Herod is confused because he is hearing more and more reports that a man like John has appeared on the scene. Has John come back to life? Has an old prophet come back to life?

Herod asks a question we’ve heard before. “Who is this?”

Remember the disciples on the boat when Jesus calmed the storm? “Who is this?”

It seems more people are asking the same question about Jesus. “Who is this?”

We saw over the last month that he is the one who commands the storm, who commands demons, and who even has power to raise the dead. Now today he is the one who transfers that power to others, to multiply his ministry, to raise up leaders. He doesn’t have to have all the power in his own hands. He is humble and willing to invest in others. But he wants his people do depend on him.

So this phrase we throw around: Depend on God. It is pretty important. Vital, in fact. It is imperative that we learn to depend on God. And there are some very practical things we can do to grow our dependence on God.

Go on a mission trip! Step out of your comfort zone. Give more generously, sacrificially. Spend more time in prayer.

Instead of saying it, show that you depend on God.

If you want to listen to the whole sermon, find it here.

Christian phrases that need to go, and one to keep

21 Aug

We Christians have lingo, goobledy-gook.  Christianese, some have called it.  Phrases we spout off to sound righteous, but often don’t really mean.  Most of them need to go.  Check out this video for some egregious (and hilarious) examples:

Another one of those phrases we thrown around a lot is “Just depend on God.”   In the middle of a difficult situation, “Depend on God.” When you need wisdom about a choice in life, “Depend on God.” When a relationship is experiencing brokenness, “Depend on God.” Lose a job, get in an auto accident, have to face a tough test at school, “Depend on God.” Is this Christianese, just another Christian phrase that sounds good, but really doesn’t mean a whole lot?

Like “Depend on God”, we’re also quick to say the opposite, “Don’t depend on your own strength.” A famous verse we quote is Proverbs 3:5-6 “Lean not on your own understanding”. It sounds good. When we say these phrases, we give the impression that we are really faithful people, that we are actually depending on God. It sounds like we understand that God is greater, that God has power, and that we do not have the power. That we are literally trusting in him.  But are we?

So, the concept of “Depend on God” is good. The thing is this: We throw that phrase around really easily, but what in the world do we mean? If you say you want to depend on God, which is good, how, then, do you actually depend on God? Can you tell the difference between what depending on God looks like and what depending on yourself looks like? How do you know?

What do we actually do to show that we depend on God?

This Sunday as we continue our study through the Gospel of Luke, a new phase begins in Jesus’ ministry, and it will involve this very question.  If you want to get a head start, read Luke 9:1-10, and then join us at Faith Church on Sunday at 9:30am as we’ll look into this further.

One word for the hopeless – Luke 8:40-56

19 Aug

Do you feel hopeless, discouraged or powerless?

This past Sunday we looked at two people who seemed to be powerless and hopeless.  But with one word their lives changed radically.  What one word could make such a difference?

Jesus calmed the storm with a word. He defeated demons with a word.  In our next section studying through the Gospel of Luke, 8:40-56, we see that he has power over death…with just a word.

There is no one else like him. If that truth has become old hat for you, if you’ve heard it a million times since you were in Sunday School as a three year old, and the amazement of Jesus has become boring, please hear it again for the first time.

There is no one like him. He is unique and powerful. With Jesus the hopeless still have hope!

As you read the story, did you note the one word that is central for the two people who were healed by Jesus.  Know what that one word is?

Faith.

To the lady with bleeding, he said “Your faith has healed you.”

To Jairus whose daughter was dead, he said “Believe.”

It is the same word in the original language: faith.

There are two elements to faith, and this is why the NIV is correct to use both the word “faith” and “belief” when translating the word “faith”.  The faith element relates to actions of trusting in and depending on God. The belief element relates to what we know in our minds to be true about God. Both of these elements are present in the biblical concept of faith. And both must be present in our faith in God. We believe and we trust, and we show that by the choices we make.

Like the lady who touched his robe, she believed Jesus could heal, and she showed faith by reaching out to touch him. Like Jairus, he believed Jesus could heal, so he sought out Jesus.  Even after hearing that his daughter was dead, Jairus let Jesus guide the way to his house, into the room where the girl lay dead.

A full-fledged conception of faith starts with belief of heart and mind, but it does not stop there. It is not enough to say “I believe in Jesus”.  Full-fledged faith does something about it!

Faith is belief that results in faithful action. Belief in the God of hope, leads to faithful action that shows we have hope.

But what about the many times when full-fledged faith doesn’t make everything better?  Obviously Jesus didn’t heal every sick person or bring every dead person to life.  The lady with the bleeding problem would have other ailments.  Jairus’ 12-year old daughter, even if she grew up to have a long life, would one day die. The purpose of Jesus’ miracles was not so that he could become the star doctor of Capernaum General Hospital. Instead, his miracles were signposts pointing in the direction of the Kingdom of God. You see him calm a storm, you see him cast out demons, and you see him heal the sick and raise the dead. All are signposts saying “God’s Kingdom is here. There is hope in the world!”

But what is that hope?  Is it a hope that those who have the right kind of faith will be blessed by God with perfect, easy, comfortable lives with no pain or misfortune?  Not at all.  The Lord never promised that.  As the twelve disciples would find out in their own lives, and as many faithful Christians through the years have likewise found out, we are all prone to the many forms of brokenness in our world.

So what is the benefit of pursuing faithfulness as a disciple of Jesus?  First, there is the hope of eternal life.  The miracles of Jesus are signposts to another reality, the reality of his Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.  By full-fledged faith in him, we can have hope that we are participants in his Kingdom, which includes life after death.  We will be with him in heaven.  Second, we can access what he called the abundant life.  The abundant life points to the reality that we can be participants in his Kingdom now!  It is his life flowing through and changing our lives so that we learn more and more to live now like he did.

A vital question, then, is what does it mean to live faithfully in God’s Kingdom now? Your situation might have similarities or many differences from the lady or from Jairus. But would you ask the question: “How do I show faith in Christ in the midst of my unique situation?” I would encourage you not to assume that you know how to answer that question. But instead ask that question to someone older and wiser, someone who shows faithfulness, who shows they know how to live in God’s Kingdom.

Ghost Tours & Ghostbusters: Is the Spirit Realm Real? – Luke 8:26-39

18 Aug

We were in the city of Lancaster a few weeks ago in the evening, around 8pm, and we saw a lady dressed in a costume leading a group of about 10 people. It was clear that this was a tour. But what kind of tour would be happening on a Sunday night at 8pm?

The lady was wearing a cape and carrying a black cast iron lantern. It wasn’t dark yet, but twilight was coming. Know what it was? A Ghost tour. Ghosts? In Lancaster.

When I was in high school I remember classmates talking about there was supposedly a covered bridge in the Lancaster countryside where you could see a blue light levitating in the air at a specific time.

Have you heard of Charlie Charlie, which is like a modern-day Ouija board?

And there is a new Ghostbusters movie coming out.

Is there any doubt that our culture is fascinated with spiritual things, and especially by spirit beings?

What do you think about the spirit world? For every person who thinks it is not real, that it is just the product of our emotion or delusion, there is a person who has had an experience with the power of the spiritual world. I’ve often heard people question why we don’t see the spirit world so much here in the USA, as compared to places around the world where voodoo or witchdoctors are prevalent.  Usually the answer has to do with how wealthy cultures are more scientifically aware and thus are not as prone to credit the spiritual world with causing certain phenomena, as they are to say that these supposed spiritual manifestations are just psychological. But many of us have stories of personal encounters with the spirit world, encounters that cannot easily be explained away by science.  Is it possible that we are too quick in our wealthy culture to say “we don’t see the spirit world at work in America”? Maybe we actually do see it.

So what should we think about the spiritual world? At Faith Church we have continued our study through Luke, reaching Luke 8:26-39 where Jesus encountered the spirit world.  Take a few moments to read the story, and you will see that Jesus believed that there is a spiritual world out there. In fact he interacted with the the spiritual realm through what some have called spiritual warfare.

Luke tells us that Jesus was faced with a legion of demons.  A Roman legion could have up to 6,000 soldiers!  In a battle, when the competing sides line up, and one army is larger than the other, history has taught us that the larger army usually wins.  Even a well-trained, well-equipped smaller army will have a tough time against a more numerous enemy.  Sheer volume can be overwhelming.  Luke describes for us a scene where Jesus is alone versus thousands of demons.  In any normal battle field, this would be a no-contest.

This battle actually is a no-contest, but because the battle never takes place.  Instead the legion of demons concedes defeat before Jesus says a word.  The demons recognize that their massive numbers are no match to his power.

Jesus won the victory. He is the real power. We can get fascinated by manifestations of power in the spiritual realm. Those manifestations are real, but we need to remember that our God is greater.

May God’s victory give us assurance and hope, not arrogance.  Satan is strong. The spiritual forces of darkness are not something to be toyed with. Look at what they did to this man. He was ruined. When we allow spiritual darkness to enter our lives, it has the power to ruin us, and it almost always does. Our missionary friends in Kenya told us about a situation they had to deal with at their school recently. A student shared with his classmates that Satan was telling him to do evil things. The staff took it seriously, and the boy had to leave the school so that he and his family could get counseling. It’s no joke. It’s not Ghostbusters.

But know this, our God is greater! He has won the victory over Satan. I’ve heard people say that in spiritual warfare we should pray a hedge of protection around the situation, or that we should pray the blood of Jesus over the situation. I’ve heard people say that we should confront the devil in the name of Jesus. Almost as if there is a formula about it, like we have weapons that we can fight spirit beings with. I don’t know about that. I think we should feel very cautious about the spiritual realm. I don’t think we should try to take matters of spiritual warfare into our own hands! Especially when Jesus has won the victory. Instead I recommend that you pray to him. He is the real power. Ask him for help. When you suspect spiritual warfare, call out to the one who is greater!

How understanding the Image of God can change the world – Luke Harbaugh

10 Aug

Today we once again welcome Luke Harbaugh of HOPE International who follows-up his guest post and sermon from August 2nd.

Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we occupy a privileged place in God’s creation. We have been made in God’s Image, according to his likeness, and have been endowed with qualities that nothing else in the universe can claim. In David’s words, we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” But with this blessing also comes a sacred responsibility.

In Genesis, when God commands humanity to take “dominion” over Creation, the Hebrew word radah is used. Throughout the Old Testament this word takes on several meanings, including to “rule over,” “tread down,” or “prevail against.” In this sense, humanity is to subjugate, take authority over, and impose its will upon the earth. But the word radah is also frequently connected to the responsibilities of kings and rulers, where it carries with it a sense of obligation, stewardship and the command to care for subordinates (especially the weak or poor.) In other words, God’s command to have dominion over what has been created carries a double responsibility: to take command and control of Creation, but also to care for it, steward it and use it well.

The same can be said for our own skills and abilities. God has granted each of us with a unique repertoire of gifts to take dominion over – to rule over and bend for our purposes. In the midst of this though, we also have a responsibility to use those gifts wisely, to care for and nurture them and use them for good ends. Being made in God’s image then is just as much about responsibility as it power. Part of a Christian understanding of the Imago Dei (the Image of God) is that it has become severely damaged in each of us. Sin’s presence in our lives represses God’s Image, damages the skills and gifts we have been given and bends them toward selfish gain and personal indulgence. Because of this, we approach the reality of God’s Image in each of us with the knowledge that only Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can restore it fully.

At HOPE International, we know that each of us is made in God’s Image, and we celebrate that every person is capable, dignified, worthwhile, and packed with potential. But we also know that each and every person is in desperate need of rescue. Through Christ-centered microfinance, we seek to bring men and women into a brighter future, not only through economic opportunity and education, but through a living and fruitful relationship with Jesus Christ – the full Image of the One True God.

In Malawi a woman named Jean began growing and selling assorted vegetables to provide for her seven children after her husband died a decade ago. Living in Malawi, where 88 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, Jean often struggled to put food on the table or pay school fees.

When Jean’s church partnered with HOPE and began training groups of people to save money together, she became one of the founding members of The Chivumbulutso (meaning “Revelation”) savings group. A proud pioneer of this ministry, Jean describes the financial and spiritual transformation she has experienced: “I became a Christian a long time ago and have been reading the Bible since my youth days, but it had never occurred to me that the Scripture can help me on financial matters.”

Prior to joining the savings group, Jean struggled to manage her finances, remaining in constant debt. Now, saving approximately $2 each week, she owns a piece of land for farming and has hired several workers. Jean dreams of growing her business and opening a grocery store.

Her spiritual life has also flourished through prayer and meditation on the Word of God. “My knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures as the living Word of God speaking directly to me has increased greatly through the sharing of the Word and experiences which we have at our group every time we meet,” Jean explains. Now, she views communication with God as a two-way street, saying, “God speaks directly to me through His Word while I speak directly to Him through prayer.”

Since joining the savings group, Jean’s understanding of giving has also changed. “I used to see no reason why I should give to God especially because I never knew the connection between my resources and God,” she reflects. “However, this program has helped me to recognize that God is the owner and source of all that I have and that giving back to Him is an expression of my gratitude and worship to Him.” Knowing that God will never fail, she rejoices in times of joy and hardship, faithfully relying on God to provide for her needs: “I have seen God working in my life in all circumstances. God has strengthened and encouraged me in times of need and has been with me in times of joy as well.”

Through her experience in a savings group, the Image of God has flourished in Jean in brand new ways. Her story is a reminder to us that God has given us a privileged place within Creation, endowing us each with the gifts, talents, skills, and abilities needed to carry out the mission to “be fruitful and multiply,” “subdue and have dominion” over the earth and love and care for one another. Living in poverty, Jean’s opportunities to care for her family and her community were limited, but within her others saw great potential. HOPE International, the local churches in Malawi, and the members of Chivumbulutso believed that Jean was made in God’s Image and that what she truly needed to thrive was a relationship with Jesus Christ and an opportunity to save. Since then, that Image has been brought to life within her in new and exciting ways.

This week, ask yourself how often you acknowledge God’s image in others. How could you – in your home, your workplace or your school – see the Image of God more clearly in those around you? What can you do to introduce people to the healing and saving power of Christ? How can you provide someone with an opportunity to thrive?

Editor’s Note: I am so thankful for Luke’s visit to Faith Church while I was in Kenya.  Please listen to Luke’s sermon here.