Archive | May, 2016

Should we wear crosses or crucifixes?

26 May

The cross. Almost every Sunday we sing about the cross.  We have crosses in our church building, and we have a cross outside our building.  How many of you are wearing a cross around your neck?

The cross is very common.

My task this coming Sunday is to talk about the cross.

Once each month we remember the cross when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Then each year we focus on the cross on Good Friday.  That was just two months ago.  Have we heard about the cross too much?  Has it gotten to the point where a sermon about the cross seems so mundane that we won’t be able to hear about the cross yet again?

What can we say about Jesus’ crucifixion this Sunday?  More than likely it has already been said.  Probably many times over.

I’m concerned, in a sermon like this, that the subject matter is so familiar that it will be easy to tune out.  You’ve heard about it so much!

I’m trying to think of something shocking to say, just so you will pay attention.  But it has already been said.

You will have to choose to pay attention because you decide that it is important.

Is it important?  The obvious answer is “Yes! Of course it is important.”  But why?  What makes the cross the important?  If you had to answer that question on an essay exam right here, right now, what would you say?  In fact, go for it.  Imagine that you are in an exam, and in the comment section below write your answer to the question: Why is the cross important?

Here’s a clue: the crosses inside and outside Faith Church are very, very nice-looking. The one inside our sanctuary is painted with gold-colored flecks so it shines if you look at it up close.  And is back-lit, so it glows.  Then there is the bright brass cross that we place on the communion table.  Also each communion table cover has gold embroidered crosses.   Very decorative.  Outside the church, we have another darker-colored cross. 

The clue is that none of these crosses look anything like the actual cross on which they crucified Jesus.  What did that cross look like?  Without any pictures of it, of course we don’t know, but we have a pretty good idea that it wasn’t gold-colored, bronze, shiny or back-lit.  Think about the cross that you are wearing around your neck.  Jesus’ cross wasn’t gold or clean like yours.

What do you think Jesus’ cross looked like?  Think about what took place on that cross.  This is why I think that crucifixes, which we usually distinguish from “crosses,” just might be really important because they remind us that Jesus was on the cross.  Growing up I was taught that we don’t use crucifixes (in other words, jewelry around our necks or crosses in our churches in which a figure of Jesus is still hanging on the cross), because we wanted to emphasize that Jesus was not still on the cross because he rose again.  But does any genuine Christian believe that Jesus is still on the cross?  Correct me if I’m missing some other significant aspect of theology that would nullify the crucifixes, but I, a firm believer in resurrection, find there to be a very helpful visual reminder to crucifixes.  I find them to be a reminder of something that will help us answer the question of why the cross is important.

Want to learn the big difference between a crucifix and a cross?  Want to learn why the cross matters so much?

Join us this coming Sunday, May 29, 2016 at Faith Church as we take a look at the crucifixion, hopefully with new eyes!  If you want to prepare, you can read all about the crucifixion in Luke 23:26-56.

How to love and be loved when you are facing hardship

23 May


Are you going through a hard time?  How are you handling it?

Some of you have seen The Passion of the Christ which vividly portrays the Roman flogging of Jesus just before they crucified him.  I remember watching that when it first came out in the theater, my stomach churning, tears flowing.  It is awful.

During his flogging Jesus doesn’t talk back, but he communicates very loudly and clearly because this was an amazing act of love.  Though the Gospel writers don’t say much about it, a Roman flogging was enough to kill some people.

But look at how Jesus handles it. Jesus is an example for us at how to handle stress, pain, anxiety, and trials.  We can complain, fuss, or get angry during the troubles and trials we face.  And here is Jesus under self-control. Taking it.

Does this mean that we should be a doormat, and just let trial and trouble bulldoze and steamroll us?

What is the balance here? Jesus allowed himself to be beaten.  Should we?

There is a major difference between Jesus’ situation and ours, and that is that Jesus’ mission was direct mission from God was to give his life.  When we are abused, it is NOT our mission from God to be abused.  Abuse is wrong.  And we must not put up with that.  We must get safe, get away from the abuse.

But what about when face the regular difficulties of life?  For example, what if we lose our job justly, perhaps because of poor performance?  Then it IS our mission to handle that in a way that is honorable to the Lord.  Another situation that many of us face might be a car accident that was our fault.  Again, it is our mission then to handle that difficult with grace.

But what about turning the other cheek?   What about pacifism?  What about Romans 13 and the God-ordained use of government to restrain evil?  These are very difficult questions that would require another blog post or ten! Staying with Jesus’ trial and flogging, we see that our Lord was on a mission from God to give his life, and he turns the other cheek.  He does not retaliate, though he could.  He could instantly eradicate all the Romans by his mighty power.  He does not.

He had to go to the cross.  No matter what the people would do to him to take him there, he was not going to reverse it.  That is another way I see the difference between what happened to Jesus and to the times when we must turn the other cheek.  Turning the other cheek is almost certainly not going to lead to our death.  Following the way of Christ might lead to death.  In many places around the world, Christians, in order to maintain faith in Christ, are put to death.

So there is Jesus, beaten, broken, shamed, rejected, falsely accused, and loving us all the way.

He did this for us.

Go back three years, to Jesus’ temptation.  Satan offered him an easy way out of his mission.  Just worship Satan, just bow down, and Satan would give him all the kingdoms of the world.  No battle needed.  No war.  Just a simple bowing down.  The temptation was great.  Satan is giving him the opportunity to be king without pain.  Jesus said “No”.

Now fast-forward back to Jesus’ trial, and we see Jesus taking the full weight of that mission upon him.  He is in the midst of the pain.

He has just a few hours before this prayed “if there is some other way, Lord, please take this cup of suffering from me.”  Now the full cup of suffering is being poured out on him.  It was not taken away from him.

Jesus endured.  He said “not my will, but yours be done,” and he took the pain because he was committed to the Lord.

That’s how much he loves us.  He was focused on the Lord’s will, on loving us.

Many years ago at Faith Church a guest teacher asked a student to walk a pathway around the classroom floor.  Easy, right?  Except that he had placed boards on the floor.  And there were nails sticking out of the boards.  And worst of all, the student was blindfolded.  Furthermore she could only walk around by following the guest teacher’s voice, while everyone in the class simultaneously, out loud, gave her competing directions. She was very brave to even attempt this!  She had to trust hard in the teacher, and listen closely for his directions.  She said that she had to really try to filter out all the other voices, and that the hardest voice to put out of her mind was her husband’s.

Jesus was laser-focused on God’s will, though the clamor from the crowd was loud and the pain in his body was screaming at him to stop.  He could have easily avoided the pain, the shame, and the loneliness by exercising some miraculous power that day.  Easy!  Call down 10,000 angels ready for war.  But he didn’t because he was focused on one thing.  The mission of God.

Let us come away from this story with a renewed appreciation for God’s love for us, for the sacrifice Jesus gave to us, so that we can remain focused on his voice. As Paul says in Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Remember the Duke Lacrosse team?  In March 2006, three of the players on the team were falsely accused of raping a girl at a party.  An investigation leading up to their trial surfaced a staggering amount of blatant prosecutorial misconduct.  Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong handled his case so egregiously that it led to his disbarment and a brief jail sentence.

How did the players handle it?  They got revenge.  They sued.  But did it help?  To mark its tenth anniversary just a few months ago news media revisited the case.  Journalists interviewed those falsely accused, and found that though a decade has passed, the accusation still stings.  Getting retribution money didn’t solve all their problems.

When you are falsely accused, look to Jesus as your example. Seek justice, and with grace and mercy, focus on God’s amazing love for you.  When we remember God’s love for us, how deeply he loves us no matter the situation, it can transform our pain and help us to respond to the pain with love, just as Jesus did.

Have you ever been falsely accused?

19 May

Have you ever been wrongfully mistreated or accused?  Have you ever been blamed for something that you didn’t do?  It is a horrible feeling.  You know that deep down inside you have done nothing wrong.  So what do you do?

Remember a few years ago when some members of the Duke University men’s lacrosse team made country-wide buzz when they were accused of raping a woman?  National news media jumped on the story very quickly, charges were doled out and just about everyone started condemning these over-privileged white rich kids for raping a poor black community college student.

The retributive attacks toward the Duke lacrosse players was swift and harsh.  The prosecutor of the case aggressively sought to win his case at trial.  Many of us watching the news shook our heads in disgust at those lacrosse players.  We bemoaned the horrible state of morality in our country.

Except there was one problem.

They didn’t do it. The case went to trial, and after a thorough investigation, it was clear they didn’t rape her.  In fact, what actually came to the surface was the staggering amount of blatant prosecutorial misconduct.  Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong handled his case so egregiously that it led to his disbarment and brief jail sentence.

Another surprise, this incident wasn’t just a few years ago.  It was ten years ago, March 2006, when it happened, and to mark it’s tenth anniversary news media revisited it.  One story has found that though a decade has passed, the false accusation still stings.

What do you do when you are falsely accused.  It is very easy to handle the accusation poorly.  The self-protective anger rises inside you, and you might respond harshly, lash out.  You might hire a lawyer, sue, get revenge.

This coming Sunday we are going to watch Jesus handle false accusation.  If you want to read ahead of time, the story is in Luke 22:63-23:25. These verses are the first indication of any harm coming to Jesus.  He takes a beating, which is physically awful.  He is falsely accused and mocked, which is emotionally awful.  And what for?  Nothing.  He was completely innocent.  He has done everything the Father asked of him.  And yet he is treated this way.

What did he do?  Jesus just stood there and took it.

What would you do?  Have you been falsely accused?  How did you handle it?

Why did Jesus just stand there?  Why did he say almost nothing?  We welcome you to be our guest on Sunday May 22, 2016 at Faith Church to learn more.

How God wants to restore you

16 May

Betrayal and denial.  Jesus experienced both, from two of his closest followers, in a matter of no more than one hour.  That had to hurt deeply. You can read the story in Luke 22:47-62.

Yesterday at Faith Church we talked about what it feels like when we have been betrayed or denied.  We also talked about how easy it is, like Jesus’ disciples Judas and Peter, to betray or deny God.  Imagine how those two guys felt when the realization of their betrayal and denial of Jesus finally broke over them.

We are told that Peter had godly sorrow that led to repentance.  After Peter denied Jesus the third time, just as Jesus said he would, Luke tells us that Peter and Jesus were in close enough proximity to one another that Jesus turned and looked right at Peter.  Imagine being Jesus at that moment.  Heartbroken.  Imagine being Peter.  Sick to the stomach at his failure, Luke tells us Peter goes away sobbing bitter tears.

Judas had a different reaction.  We have to go to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ life to learn about it.  In Matthew 27:3-5 we read: “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’  And he went out and hanged himself.”

Peter wept, and Judas admitted his sin.

But there is a difference in the nature of their actions.  Judas acted with premeditation.  Peter did not.  Judas took time to plan out his betrayal, sought out the religious leaders, received payment, set up the arrest.  Peter did nothing like this.  Peter’s denial was not premeditated or proactive.  Instead it was reactive.  It was an unplanned act, a terrible choice in the midst of a horrible situation.

Judas’ response of suicide showed he had no hope.  Why would he have no hope?  Shouldn’t he have known Jesus and the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus?  Yes, he should have.  But he didn’t, and that is revealing.  Judas didn’t really know Jesus.  Peter did.

Peter’s response is very different.  He is broken, sorrowful.

Have you ever been like Peter, caught by the proverbial crow of the rooster, reminding you of your failure?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says it perfectly: 

We can be sorry we got caught.  We can be sorry because we don’t want consequences for our actions.  When we examine our motives, we can learn that they are really messed up.

It is hard to be sorry with a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  All of us have messed up.  What does it mean to be restored?  To find restoration we can examine Peter’s story: What was it about Peter that led him to make a rebound?

This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  Do you remember what happened on Pentecost Sunday?

We read about it in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit first came to fill the disciples, while they were waiting in Jerusalem, waiting for what to do next.  The Spirit comes and they start preaching in other languages.  One guy takes the lead in the preaching.  One guy is particularly bold.

Guess who it was?  Peter.

Think about the timing.  The events of Pentecost, where Peter is so bold, are only about a month and a half after the events of his denial of Jesus.  A month and a half!

What we saw in Luke 22 is that Peter is a broken man.  He has just denied Jesus, three times, and Jesus knew it, and Peter runs out weeping bitterly.

Now a month and a half later he is preaching boldly about Jesus.

What gives?  How did that turnaround happen?

To find out we turn to John 21:15-17, a story that does not appear in Luke.

After his resurrection, the disciples went back to their jobs.  They were fisherman, and they needed to make some money, feed their families, and so they went fishing.   Jesus found them, made a fire on the beach, waiting for the disciples to return so they could eat together.  Though he had resurrected, he was about to return to his Father and turn the mission of his Kingdom over to them.  He had some unfinished business with them to care for.  The disciples return to shore, and Jesus pulls Peter aside and says “Do you love me?”

It is more precise in the original language, Koine Greek, which has a variety of words, all of which we translate with one English word: “love.”


Jesus starts in verse 15 asking Peter “Do you agape me?”  Agape is perfect love.  This is the love that is used to describe God’s love, or to describe the love we should have for one another, as stated famously in 1 Corinthians 13.

Peter responds “Lord, you know that I phileo you.”  Phileo is brotherly love, very relational.  Phila-Delphia is the City of Brotherly love.

In a way, then, while Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Peter answers very relationally, saying he has brotherly love for Jesus.

So Jesus says “Feed my lambs.”  It might sound odd to us, this shepherd language. But Jesus knows that Peter felt terrible about denying Jesus, that Peter would be wondering if he was no longer acceptable to Jesus. Perhaps Peter should forfeit his position in the inner circle of Jesus’ twelve disciples.  Jesus, who had once said to Peter “on you I will build my church”, now reinstates him: “Feed my sheep.”

Then surprisingly, Jesus asks him again, “Do you agape me?”, and Peter repeats “You know I phileo you”.  You can see Peter internally, and maybe in body language on his face, wondering, “Why is he asking me again?”  You and I know how it feels when our spouse or loved one asks, “Do you love me?” and we respond “Of course I love you!”  And then they ask again, “But really, do you really love me?”  At this second questioning, we can start to get offended, thinking that they shouldn’t have to ask a second time!  Do they not believe us?  Why would they have any reason to doubt?  Peter is starting to feel this, to think these thoughts.

So Jesus says again “Take care of my sheep.” Again, reinstating Peter.

Imagine the shock as Jesus now asks Peter a third time, “Do you love me?”  But this time Jesus has used the word “phileo”.  Now Jesus is getting very personal.

John tells us in the middle of verse 17 that Peter is hurt.  As any of us would be when we are asked to repeat ourselves a third time.  But Peter now says a third time, “You know that I phileo you.”

And Jesus says a third time, “Feed my sheep.”

Do you see what Jesus has done?  Each of Peter’s three denials have now been overturned by three “I love yous”, and by Jesus’ three reinstatements of Peter to “feed his sheep.”

Peter is restored.

Jesus is in the business off restoration.  Do you need to be restored?  If you have denied him, if you have disobeyed him, if you have been ashamed of him, you can be restored!

He loves you with Agape and Phileo, and he wants to restore you.

So come to him, like Peter, with a heart, mind and will that show your godly sorrow, and he will restore you.

That’s how Peter could preach a powerful sermon just a few weeks later.  He was restored.  And he fed Jesus’ sheep.

If you have betrayed Jesus, if you have denied him, know that he loves you.  Let him restore you.  Then feed his sheep.

Do you hurt from the pain of betrayal or denial?

12 May

Have you ever been betrayed?  Has a friend ever denied your relationship?  It hurts, doesn’t it?  I want you to think about a time that you were betrayed.  Maybe you invested a lot of time into a child or grandchild, and they turned away.  Maybe it was a friend who you thought was so close, but then you didn’t get invited to their party.  I think about people who I have invested in, who have gone away.  It can hurt.

Betrayal and Denial cut very deep.  And when we get hurt like that, we think we would never do that to them.

In the Old Testament God had been hurt bad by the nation of Israel.  He used the imagery of an unfaithful spouse.  So to show the nation how bad God hurt, he had the prophet Hosea marry a prostitute, a women who he knew would be unfaithful.  Imagine that.  It was painful for Hosea, just as Israel’s betrayal and denial had been painful for God.

This coming Sunday at Faith Church, as we continue through the story of Jesus’ life, Jesus will be betrayed.  Denied.  Who will be guilty this time?  You? Me?

We invite you to join us at Faith Church on Sunday May 15 as we look at Luke 22:47-62.

What to do when you don’t want to do what God is asking you to do

10 May

Jesus did not want to do what God wanted him to do. 

Does that surprise you?

After 33 years of life and ministry, Jesus is on the cusp of the crowning achievement of his mission.  He was going to be named “King”, but the crown wasn’t going to be so glorious.  In fact, the actual crown in his crowning achievement was an apt metaphor, as it was a crown of thorns.  Pain.  Suffering.  The weight of the world on him.  Added to the physical pain, he was also going to endure betrayal and denial from his closest friends.  Loneliness.  Agony of all kinds.  And finally, he would die.

Imagine how he must felt as he was just hours away from experiencing all that.

He felt like just about all of us would feel, that he didn’t want to go through with it.  Would you want to give yourself over to unimaginable suffering?  I wouldn’t.

So Jesus prays a prayer that makes a lot of sense to me: “Father, if it is possible, take this from me.”

Many of us can identify with that because we pray that exact same prayer ourselves, and we pray it often, maybe every time we are going through some kind of hard time.  Jesus is in a pickle. God is asking him to complete the mission for which he was born.  But the completion will require sacrificing himself, and all the pain associated with being beaten and killed.  Jesus wants to obey God, but he doesn’t want to have to experience all that.

I’ll admit that at this juncture, I’m asking the same question as Jesus, “Lord, is there no other way?”  Did Jesus have to go through that?  Did he have to die?  People have been asking that question for centuries.  It seems like a strange way to save the world.  So if that question is leaving you scratching your head, I urge you to read Hebrews 8-10, as much is said there, and more eloquently, than I will endeavor here.

Instead I want to focus on what Jesus chose to do while faced with a task that God had given him, a task that he didn’t want to do.  You and I are faced with many such tasks, though much less consequential ones, and we can feel the strain, the weight, the stress of wanting to obey God, but also of not wanting to obey him at the same time.  If obedience to God means that we will likely have to endure pain, change, give up something, or do something that we are uncomfortable with, we usually don’t want to do it.  And we pray “Lord, is there no other way?”  Or we simply procrastinate, or avoid.  We delay.

Let me ask you this: at what point does the delay become disobedience?

Jesus didn’t delay.  While he did tell the Lord his true feelings, that he didn’t want to go through with the crucifixion, take a look at his approach.  He says, “Is there any other way?”  He doesn’t say “I’m not doing this.”  He doesn’t procrastinate, to make it look like he will obey, but then not do anything.  What he does is remain up front with God by asking if there is another way.  We can learn from Jesus’ approach.  We can be honest with God and ask if there are other ways.  God may choose to say “Ok, yeah, there are other options.”

When God said that he was going destroy Israel and start over with Moses, Moses prayed “Is there any other way?”, and God said “Yeah, Moses, good point…I’ll give Israel a second chance.”  When God said that Hezekiah was going to die, Hezekiah prayed, and God said “Okay, Hezekiah, I hear you, and I’ll give you 15 more years.”

It is okay, when you don’t want to do what God wants you to do, to ask God for another way.

But there is something more.  Jesus also prays “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”  That is an intense prayer.  A dangerous prayer.  It is not just tacking an empty or perfunctory “Lord-willing” at the end of the prayer.  It is a description of a heart, mind, and will that is submitted to the Lord.  Jesus, though he didn’t want to go through with the completion of his mission, was still willing to do so!

Though he knew that it would be severe and painful, he was still willing to go through with it because God wanted him to.  Jesus placed his life in God’s hands and is basically saying “Lord, you know best.  Though this thing you are asking me to do sounds crazy, and though it will hurt like crazy, I trust that you not only have my best interest in mind, but you also have the best interest in the world in mind, and you love us.  So…since you will it, I will do it.”

When God wants us to do something we don’t want to do, we can pray for another way, but we must also pray that we are willing to do what God wants us to do. 

So what is God asking you to do that you don’t want to do?

In what ways is God asking you to change that you don’t want to?

Are you sensing that he wants you to start something?  Stop something?

Colored sand 01On Silent Sunday this past week at Faith Church we gave people an opportunity to physically express their desire to the Lord, saying to him that though it might be hard, they still want do his will.  We placed a large vase on a table in the front of sanctuary, and around the vase, we placed small cups of colored sand.  We broke the silence by praying the Lord’s Prayer together, which talks about God’s will being done, and then we sang Oceans, during which people could walk forward and prayerfully pick up a cup of sand and pour it into the vase, an act of saying to God “I give _________ to you, so that not my will, but yours will be done.”

Again, what is God asking you to do that you don’t want to do?  Will you pray like Jesus prayed?  And then will you do what Jesus did, which was to do what God wanted?

Why our worship will be silent this Sunday at Faith Church – May 8, 2016

6 May

A few years ago we started holding Silent Sunday around the time the Christian Church world-wide observes Jesus’ Ascension.  We’re told in the earliest historical account of the first followers of Jesus, the Book of Acts, in chapter 1, that after Jesus ascended to heaven, the very first act his followers decided to do was pray.

Our best calculations put about ten days between the Ascension and the day of Pentecost, and we read in Acts 1:14 that during that those ten days “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Influenced by the first followers of Jesus, and by Quaker and Taize worship, both of which include periods of silence, of listening, we give an entire worship gathering over to near total silence.

After dismissing our preschool and elementary kids to their classes, the rest of us will follow on-screen prompts, guiding us through worship for the morning.  We’ll have a couple contemplative, soft songs which we will sing audibly, quietly, but the bulk of our worship will be silent prayer, listening for the voice of God, especially through the Bible.  We will include a handful of five minute periods of total silence.

Take a look at how the passage we have come to in our study through Luke is a great fit for Silent Sunday.  In Luke 22:39-46, it is Thursday night of Passion Week.  Jesus has just eaten his final meal with his disciples.  What should have been a joyous celebration of the Jewish Passover, now had a palpable ominous tone.  Jesus talked about giving up his body, his blood, about betrayal and denial, and how they should have swords ready. Was this the moment so many in the crowds, including the disciples, had been waiting for?  The moment the Messiah would start a battle to kick the Romans out of Jerusalem?

Under the cover of night, Jesus leads his disciples out to the Mount of Olives, the same place he would lead them on Ascension Day.  But rather than round up more weapons, rather than draw plans for a coup, in verse 40 Jesus urges his disciples to pray that they will not fall into temptation.  What is he talking about?


Of what?

Jesus wanders off about a stone’s throw away, praying alone.  It is late.  We don’t know how long the disciples prayed.  Perhaps they debated amongst themselves what might be happening.  Was Jesus getting spiritually ready for battle tomorrow?  Did they try to guess which one of them was the betrayer Jesus talked about?  And what of his words to Peter saying Peter would deny him?  One disciple might have scolded Peter, and Peter might have reacted strongly, just as he did to Jesus, that he, Peter, would never deny Jesus.  One by one, as the night wears on, as Jesus is still praying, the men’s eyes droop and they fall asleep.  Is sleepiness the temptation Jesus was referring to?  They all give in.

We’ll look at this amazing passage more intently during Silent Sunday, particularly as Luke tells us precisely what Jesus prayed for.  This passage, then, is perfect for Silent Sunday.   I’ll admit, it might seem weird, strange for a church to give an entire worship service to silent prayer and meditation!  How many of us spend an hour in prayer on a regular basis??? Almost never.  So what Jesus said to the disciples is what we need to hear to prepare ourselves for Silent Sunday.

We will wrestle in prayer.  We will be tempted to feel frustrated by this long time in prayer.  We will be tempted to let our minds wander.  Our fast information society has trained us to have short attention spans.  So will you join us this Sunday at Faith Church, to fight your inner desire to be frustrated and to fight your mind that wanders?

In so doing you’ll find that your fight against yourself just might enable you to hear the voice of God like never before.