Archive | June, 2016

Telling your story is more important than you think

13 Jun

Hey Christian, you are witnesses of these things!

Last week on the sermon intro blog post, I suggested that one bit of Christian lingo, the word “witness,” might not mean what you think it means.

So what does “witness” mean?  Jesus says in Luke 24:36-53, that his disciples are all witnesses.

They watched his life unfold before their very eyes.  A witness is one who sees something.  In a court of law a witness tells the judge and jury what they saw.  Those disciples saw Jesus.  They witnessed his words, his works and his way.

In the same you, too, are witnesses of Jesus’ words, works and way.

In this teaching series through the book of Luke, you have had the opportunity to observe Jesus very closely.  What have you seen?

In your life, you have been able to see how God has been at work over the years.  What have you seen?

You are witnesses of these things.  Tell the story!  A witness tells the story of what they have seen.

Nike has an advertising campaign that could just as easily apply to disciples of Jesus.  I love to tell the stories of athletes and their amazing accomplishments.  I don’t know, but they get me fired up.  I witness their performance and it amazes me and I want to talk about it.  Mostly because I have played those sports many times and I know how hard it is to do what they do.

But we disciples of Jesus are witnesses of something much greater, a performance much more significant and amazing.  We are witnesses of Jesus.  His words, works and way.  We are witnesses of his life, death and resurrection, not with our eyes, but through the transformation that he has worked in our lives.  We have a story to tell!

Be ready, Jesus tells us.  At all times.  To be the best, caring, loving, gracious, fun, encouraging, helpful, friend you can be, because that too tells a story in an of itself.

And know that your story doesn’t have to be a lightning bolt or thunderclap of adventure.  Your story doesn’t have to be perfect.  Actually, it shouldn’t be perfect because none of us is perfect.  Our story includes the foibles of life.  And our story features God’s love and grace in midst of them.

Be ready.  When Jesus says that we are witnesses, we are!  We have seen him at work in our lives, and thus we tell the story of what we have seen him do.  You don’t have to memorize 10 Bible verses and some really specific sales pitch to try to get people to follow Jesus.  Instead, you are witnesses.  You tell the story of God at work in your life.  You tell the story of Jesus, his words, works and way.

How are you telling your story?

Hey Christian, “witness” might not mean what you think it means

10 Jun

We Christians use a lot of lingo.  This lingo is insider talk, words and phrases that most of us understand if we have been in churches for a number of years, but newcomers or anyone else might find this lingo confusing.  Some have even dubbed it “Christianese”.

Not sure what I’m talking about?  A friend recently directed me to this video that will introduce you to Christianese.

As you can see in the video, there are loads of Christian words and phrases that are classified as Christianese.  One was not mentioned in the video, and I would like to talk about it because Jesus talks about it in our final section of our series studying through Luke: Luke 24:36-53.  Read it and see if you can figure out which word is the lingo word.  Or just sneak a peek at the title of this post…

“Witness” is one of those Christian lingo words. In the Lancaster County town of Quarryville, for years there was a Christian Music Festival called Witness.  So perhaps when those of you from Lancaster think of the word “witness” the sounds and images of that concert are what comes to mind.  But there is a much more widespread way that Christians talk about “witness” and the act of “witnessing”.

When a Christian says the phrase “we are witnessing,” because of the way I was raised and because of my college and mission experiences, what comes to mind is people going out to share the Gospel with strangers.  Usually when you witness you have Bible tracts that you hand out.  You have memorized verses and what is called “the plan of salvation” so that you can encounter strangers on the street, or in the mall, or out and about, maybe on a college campus, wherever people are, and you can ask them if you can talk with them about Jesus.  And you hope that you can get into a conversation and share that plan of salvation with them, or at least hand them a tract that they can read later.  Most people don’t want to be bothered, and you come to expect that, but you hope to talk to at least a few.  This is what I was raised to call “witnessing.”  Is that the witnessing that Jesus is talking about here?  Nope.

There is another way we Christians use the word “witness.” And that is when we say that if you go to watch a particular movie like 50 Shades of Grey, or if you wear an immodest dress, or if you go to a bar, or read a certain book, or you name it, that behavior will ruin your Christian witness.  It is the idea that our witness is our reputation.  If we don’t have a particular kind of reputation, we won’t be credible in our attempt to talk about Jesus.  At the core, I agree.  Christians should practice what we preach.  But too often a Christian “witness” can become a very legalistic rules-based approach to following Jesus.  So is that the witnessing Jesus is talking here?  Nope.

Hey Christian, “witness” doesn’t mean what we have been told it means.  So what does “witness” mean?  Why does Jesus talk about when he gives his final instructions to his disciples?

Join us this coming Sunday, June 12th at Faith Church to learn more!

How to find the good life (is it in North Dakota?)

9 Jun

Do you want to have a good life?  Apparently you can find it in North Dakota.  I wonder what people from North Dakota have to say about that?  I’ve never been, but I often say to my wife, after dealing with some kind of difficulty in our family, finances, or jobs, that maybe we should sell it all and go live off the grid in North Dakota.  Maybe the good life is there.

When we are dealing with the messiness of life, when life seems turned upside-down, we can long for more.  We want the good life.  Are you longing for it?

Jesus’ disciples had just had their lives turned upside-down.  Life seemed like it was in a shambles.  After three amazing years, the best years of their lives, Jesus was arrested, put on trial, beaten and killed.  In a matter of a few short hours, all they worked for, all they gave during those three years, was ruined.  Now they locked themselves in a room in Jerusalem, hiding away, afraid that the religious establishment could arrest them just as easily as they came for Jesus.  Only a few of the women were courageous enough to go place the traditional burial spices on Jesus.

And those women came back with astounding news.  He is risen!

He is risen?  Dead people do not rise again.  So what could this mean?, the disciples wonder.  A stolen body?  What is going on?  He is risen?

Eventually Jesus himself shows up to two of the disciples.  You can read about it in Luke 24.  Then he shows up to Peter too.  All of sudden there is some strong evidence that he really did rise again.

But how would you feel?  Your life has just been wrecked.  You thought for certain you were living the good life.  Following Jesus, things are great.  You are riding a wave of national popularity, recognition and prestige.  You have latched on to a rising star.  Things are good.  But now all is lost, and it feels like life is a mess.  Not only the disciples, but we, too, can feel like that.  Many of us are wondering how to live the good life.  Many of us are wondering what life is all about.

It is great to hear some good news, but really, does lots of good evidence remove all doubt?  NO!  Why?  It is hard to believe in someone and give our lives to follow them when we can’t or don’t see them face to face.  It is also hard to believe in someone and follow their teachings when their teachings don’t always make sense to us.  It is also hard when we see people who say they believe in and follow Jesus and those Christians disappoint us or act in a way that is NOT as Jesus would act.

So, yes, we do still doubt.  That means to follow Jesus there is still FAITH involved.  It’s OK to doubt, to ask questions, to struggle through things with Jesus.  Jesus welcomes that.  It is a part of growing and learning, like our kids who ask “why” and “who” question as they grow and learn.

I’ve been listening to a podcast lately called The Deconstructionists, and it is two Christian guys embracing doubt and faith questions and struggles and trying to make sense of it.  They interview lots of people who are wrestling with doubt as well.  And instead of increasing my doubt, through their podcast I have found that their embrace of difficult questions actually increases my faith!  I would encourage you to listen to The Deconstructionists.

So where does that leave us?

Resurrection Sunday is the most incredible day of the year for disciples of Jesus. But it came at a cost. The only pathway to glory was through suffering. Multiple times on the day of Resurrection we see various people mention how the victory Jesus won came through pain.

We’ve heard it before in our world.  “No pain, no gain.”  People understand the principle that when you go through difficult times, you grow.  When you do the hard work of weight training, you strengthen your muscles.  I remember when I first started working out in the fall of 2009.  I went to the gym and worked out with our LBC student intern at the time, Joe.  He and his friend Matt put me through a beginner’s workout.  But even on a beginner’s level, I was so out of shape I couldn’t do much.  Push-ups, pull-ups, dips, maybe a couple of reps and sets each.  When it came to running, I was a little better.  But that night in bed, guess what happened?  My muscles were on fire.  It hurt so bad.  The soreness.  I got out Icy-Hot or something, and because I was in pain, I put on way too much cream.  It stunk up our bedroom and then we couldn’t sleep.  In time, I stuck with exercise, the pain subsided, and my abilities grew as I strengthened.

For Jesus, it was a bit like that, and yet his pain produced for us something so infinitely better: He went through the sacrifice of the cross so our sins could be forgiven.

A few years ago I was walking through our laundry room to go out to our deck to fire up the grill and make burgers.  Opening the door from the laundry room to the deck, I noticed how dirty the doors were.  Then I saw on the dryer a box of Magic Erasers.  There was one left.  So while I was waiting for the food to cook, I decided to use the Magic Eraser on the door.  You know how grimy doors can get over time.  Those Magic Erasers really cut through the dirt.

Permit me this analogy, but Magic Erasers reminded me of the death of Christ.  Did you ever use one?  You get it a bit wet, and you use it to scrub off the dirty spots.  But what happens to the eraser?  As it removes the stain, the eraser takes a beating.  In essence, it dies.  It disintegrates in your hands.

As Jesus hung on the cross, the Lord placed the guilt of the sin of all humanity on him.  And he took our sin, our stain, to his death.  He gave his body and his blood for us.

Anyone can die.  That’s nothing special.  But only Jesus lived a perfect life and didn’t deserve to die.  None of us can do achieve perfection.  We all sin, and that creates a brokenness between us and God.  The result of that brokenness is that we die and are separated from God.  But God loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us now and for eternity.  That brokenness was not acceptable to Him, so he sent Jesus to fix what was broken.  The stain of sin needed to be cleaned.  And that brings us to his resurrection.  Anyone can die, but onlt Jesus didn’t stay dead!  He defeated sin and death by rising again through the power of God.  That means there is hope in him!

In Luke 24, after Jesus broke the bread when he was talking with two disciples, he immediately disappeared before their eyes.  They finally realized who he was, that he was truly risen, and they returned at once, running I imagine, the 7 miles to Jerusalem.  I know about how fast it takes a person running a steady jog to cover 7 miles.  Around an hour.  Breathing heavy, they burst in on the disciples and declare “It is true!  The Lord has risen!”

Notice how the response has changed.

No longer is it a “He has risen?”  but it is an emphatic “It is true!  The Lord has risen.”

Because he has risen, we now have hope.

Hope that our sins can be forgiven.  Hope of a relationship with him that previously was not possible because of our sins.  Hope of being with him one day in heaven.  Hope of being with him right now, during our days on earth, able to have a foretaste of what it means to live life in his kingdom.  Hope of his resurrection power changing our lives and changing the lives of all those who follow him.

Jesus’ resurrection matters now.  God, through Jesus, is saying to all of us that he wants us to experience his resurrection power. 

It was only just beginning to dawn on those disciples what Jesus’ resurrection meant.  God was doing a new thing.  Through his resurrection he defeated the power of sin, death and the devil.  He was victorious.  His power is greater.  And he wants to change our lives as well.

I can tell you without question that living life as a child of the King is the best possible way to live.   Our world offers us so many alternatives, and they look good.  Many of you have felt firsthand in your own lives that following the way of our society has left you empty, dissatisfied, lonely, and wondering if there is any meaning to life.

Jesus comes to us and says “I hold out to you a gift.  This gift is new life as you believe in and follow me.  Because I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the life.”

This new life is what resurrection is all about.  Do you need to embrace his gift of new life?  Just like Jesus showed us, it isn’t a life of ease that he is promising, but it is the BEST possible, most abundant life.

He is risen? Really? So what?

3 Jun

“He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”

This is the call and response that we use on Easter Sunday.  But this Sunday is not Easter Sunday.  That was two months ago.  This Sunday we’re revisiting Easter again.  Why?

In the book of Acts we learn that the earliest Christians decided to meet on Sundays because Jesus’ resurrection happened on a Sunday.  Think about that.  Many cultures around the world reserve Sundays as a day off for rest and worship because nearly 2000 years ago a small group of Jesus’ followers wanted to give time every week to commemorate his resurrection.

It didn’t start off that way.  In fact those Christians were all Jews.  They lived in a culture, in the nation Israel, where Saturday was the day off for worship.  Sunday was just another workday, the first day of the work week.   So these Christians had to deal with the ramifications of their decision to worship on a day when everyone else would be working.

Did they only meet in the evening after work was done?

Or did they worship in the morning or afternoon, and thus have to say to their employers, “Sorry, but we are no longer working on Sunday mornings or afternoons,” and face the consequences?

It would have been much easier for them to worship on the Sabbath like everyone else did.  The Jewish worship day, called Sabbath, was Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.  It would have been super easy for the Christians to just worship on the Sabbath, but they chose something else.  They chose to worship on Sundays because that was the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead.

That’s why we worship on Sundays too.  But that’s not why we’re talking about the resurrection this coming Sunday. So why are we talking about it?

Maybe you’re wondering if it is because this coming Sunday will be one of our two summertime Sundays of worshiping in the park, and we wanted to focus on something special.  Nice thought, but nope, that’s not the reason either.

I have a much more mundane reason why we’re talking about Jesus rising from the dead.

You know why?  It’s what comes next.

We have been studying the life of Jesus as told to us by a guy named Luke who was one of the first missionaries.  Luke tells us right at the beginning that he did the work of a journalist and historian, trying to tell the story of Jesus’ life.  So since the last Sunday of November 2014 we have been learning about the words, works and way of Jesus.  All he taught and all he did.  So that we might learn to know him better and follow him.

Now we have come to the pinnacle moment in his life.  On this, the 70th sermon of the series, we travel back to the first Resurrection Day.  As much as we can.

But on that day, when the first disciples heard those words “He is risen!” their response was a bit different.  They didn’t say “He is risen indeed!” as we do with excitement and hope and thankfulness.  Instead, they likely asked it as a question: “He is risen?  What are you talking about?”

Good question, disciples.  What is this resurrection thing all about?  Why does it matter?  Even if we believe that it happened 2000 years ago, how does that ancient history affect us now, if at all?

Join us at East Lampeter Community Park on Hobson Road at 10am to learn more!