Sunday, May 30, 2004

I Have Something To Tell

Intro: Our story starts 30 or 40 years before the writing of Marks gospel. 1.With a man hanging on a cross. 2.They say he came back to life - the resurrection they call it 3.The stories have been told - passed down from family to family, from church to church 4.But it has now been 30 to 40 years since Jesus had left. Those who knew him best have started to pass away - and unless someone starts to record His history, the stories will be lost. 5.Four men - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - eventually write down the stories. They want to make sure that the facts are never forgotten. 6.Each author had their individual purpose for writing. They each a different audience to which they were writing. 7.The first author to record Jesus' history. And that just about defines Mark's purpose in writing - to put as much down on papyrus as he can. He omits a lot. There are so many details missing compared to the other gospels - but then he just wanted to make sure that something was written down. What if nobody wrote anything. 8.So Mark begins to write - and let us to begin to read his story. Read Mark 1:1-11 Pray Tran. Mark was young when he first became a Christian. He was invited to join Paul on one of his second trip into Asia minor - but for some reason decided to return home. It is suggested that there was somekind of argument between Paul and Mark. I don't know. But by the end of the New Testament, Mark is one of his most trusted companions. T.S. Mark begins his gospel with three independent, increasingly authoritative testimonies about Jesus Christ. I. The Witness of the Old Testament A. I don't think Mark is a very good Christian - Everyone that I know who talks about Jesus starts out with His birth. And Mark does not even mention His birth. What kind of Christian can he be? To skip the birth of Jesus - why I never? B. Yet, Mark, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, does exactly that. And maybe even more amazing than that is that he starts by quoting two men who lived 400 to 600 years before Christ. C. In some ways it is not important what Mark quotes, but that he does quote the OT. This is the first of five times in the book of Mark that the author refers us directly to the OT prophesies that point to Jesus Christ. The NT authors understood that Jesus' coming was not a singular historical event - but an event that had its roots OT promises. (Appl.) There are those who minimize the role of the OT - yet the OT does lay a foundation upon which the coming of Jesus makes sense. The OT helps us to understand the new. It contains promises, prophesies, and blessings that are only hinted at in the Old, but are fulfilled and made fully available in the new. II. The Witness of John the Baptist A. Of course the OT quotations found in these first two verses of Mark refer to the coming of John the Baptist (Ill.) John the Baptist seems a bit strange to us - He "wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey." Not the kind of person that we would expect to meet on the street. The same was true in the 1st century along the Jordan River. John has committed his life to God using a vow that was first suggested in Numbers, chapter 6 - the Nazarite vow. Another part of that vow was to never have your hair cut while living under the vow. The other famous Nazarite was Solomon - and his hair was cut and he grew weak. B. John's message has two major components: 1. The first is that that Jesus is coming - whose shoes he is not fit to untie. He does not want to the focus to be on him. It must be on Jesus. The same is true today. In the church, the focus must not be on the pastor or the lay leader or any other leader in the church. Or even the church itself. The focus must be on Jesus. And when we do that, we will grow and the church will grow. 2. But John's message had another objective - and that was to his audience. There are three words which describe his message - a. "Confession" - agreeing with God about our sin. b. "Repentance" - once we agree with God about our sin, then we have decision to make. Will we continue to sin or will decide to follow God's way? Changing our life in response to understanding God's expectations is called repentance. Literally it means to change direction - it means to do an about face and to go in the opposite direction. c. "Baptism" - Christ has called the church to baptize those who come in faith to Jesus. And he has called those who are members of the Christ's family to be baptized. (Ill.) I had been a Christian for 20 years before I was baptized. Sandra and I had worked through the problems that had plagued our marriage and God had become something fresh and new in my life. The church I was attending was scheduling a baptismal service and I decided, finally, after 20 years including 5 years in the ministry, to be baptized. I was baptized by immersion in the church's old sanctuary. I was one of 15 or so that obeyed Jesus that day. It was one the milestones that God allowed me to have as my spiritual life was being rebuilt from some very dark times. III. The Witness of God A. John the Baptist has a message - but he also has a task. He is being asked to baptize Jesus. B. We don't get the whole story here - but we do get God's response to the event. Jesus is baptized and God responds - first with a dove descending from heaven. It was the Holy Spirt making His presence known - and then there were the words - "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." C. God's response mentions both a relationship - that of a father to a son; and an attitude - that says I appreciate my Son. (Appl.) Let me suggest that God is modeling two behaviors for us. First is the attitude of a parent toward their children. We need to have a relationship, we also need to have an attitude that says we will support them whatever may come. Obviously, God has a bit easier job at parenting than we have, but yet he sets the pattern we need to follow. The second is our connection to God - As a child of God can say the same of you, "Here is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased." At some point we all find ourselves back needing to listen to John the Baptist. We need to develop habits that include confession and repentance into our daily lives. Confession, repentance, and faith begin the journey. There is something exciting about beginning the Christian life and things start out well. But then we start the day and when we realize that it is not the quite the same. When we find that our relationship with God is less than it was, it is clear who moved. And John the Baptist gives the pattern for renewing that relationship - confession and repentance. It doesn't take an altar. It doesn't take a pastor. It takes a takes a heart that wants to stay close to God. It takes time to admit that we have sinned. It takes the courage to repent and change the direction of our travel.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Missions 1-2-3

Intro: I am firmly convinced that everyone is called to serve. 1.That does not mean that everyone is going to be n the pulpit 2.That does not mean everyone will provide leadership to a local church 3.That does not mean that everyone - or even anyone - will be responsible for doing it all 4.It does meant that everyone will be serving Christ with his or gifts, talents, and passions 5.That is not new - it has been an unspoken theme of much of 2004. 6.But I want to add something new today - something that I have only mentioned in passing during the year-and-a-half that I have been here. 7.Though every Christian is expected to be involved in ministry, effective ministry has certain prerequisites. 8.Today we want to look at three of those prerequisites Read: Acts 1:1-8 Pray Tran. Paul is generally known as the first missionary. Yet he was not the only missionary from the early church. Paul's letter to the Romans was written sometime before he every visited Rome. Yet, the most theological of Paul's letters was written to an existing body of believers - somebody had taken the good news, the gospel, of Jesus Christ beyond the boundaries of what we know today as the Middle East. Some unknown disciple had taken the message of salvation to Rome - so they were able to read and understand Paul letter when it arrived. What makes for an effective ministry? How is an individual able to effectively present the claims of Jesus to a broken world. T.S. Effective ministry - whether at home or around the world - entails the prerequisites given by Jesus in Acts 1:8. I. Prerequisite # 1: Recognizing the presence of the Holy Spirit A. Something happens when we place our faith in Christ. B. At that point in time we belong to Jesus Christ (Ill.) I have a friend who is trying to buy a house. Part of that process is signing a contract. Now, I suppose, that my friend could fill in all the blanks on the contract and submit it. But until he puts his signature onto the form, it is means nothing. Once we have signed the document, included a deposit and it is witnessed by a Notary Public, the deal is said to be sealed. C. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that seals our relationship with Jesus Christ: It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free--signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. [Ephesians 1:13 MSG] (Appl.) You know those times you are driving along and all of a sudden you are aware that God is there. Maybe it was something from nature, maybe a song on the radio, maybe just a thought. The Holy Spirit is present in the life of each Christian - it is part of what defines us as Christians. II. Prerequisite # 2: Being controlled by the power of the Holy Spirit A. But the the presence of the Holy Spirit is not enough (Ill.) Most of us have known Christians who are members of the church, but their Christian life seems to go nowhere. They never seem to accomplish anything for God - even though they say they have faith. B. They are living the Christian life on their own. They are trying to be obedient to God using everything that they have - but it is never enough. (Ill.) I remember one night when I was living in Santa Rosa. I was driving home from my employer's home at Christmas time. And my car ran out of gas. I am usually pretty good about keeping enough gas in my car. But that night I ran out. I had to push my car into the parking lot of a nearby gas station - except for one problem, the station was closed. I had to call my room mate, who was supposed to be my best man in my upcoming wedding. He was also the other guy in my fianc�'s life. Until I got the proper help - first my friend and, the next day, gas, I had to do it all myself. C. Jesus promised power. But too many Christians try to live the Christian life without that power - just as I did that night 31 years ago. 1. "The thief comes only steal and kill and destroy. I have come that you may have life and have it to the full." [John 10:10 NIV] 2. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." [Matthew 28:18 NIV] D. Methodist spoke of this power as a "second blessing." Our Baptist brothers call it "Being filled with the Holy Spirit." But until we are willing to trust Christ to give us the power promised by the Holy Spirit, we are in danger, every Christian is in danger of trying to live the Christian life under his or her own power. E. And that is going to be tough. So how do we do it? Let me suggest three steps - 1.Believe what Jesus says 2.Ask him to complete his promise in you 3.Believe that he is willing and able to do so. III. Prerequisite # 3: Being in the place that the Holy Spirit puts you. A. "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth." To us these are small points on a map. Each location raises a whole series of emotions in those that follow Jesus: 1. Jerusalem - the place where Jesus was crucified. I mean, would you want to place you faith on the line in a location that had already turned their backs on the one you want to talk about? 2. Judea - Maybe a bit safer - Most of the early disciples called Judea home. But you know how hard it is to say, "I am a Christian and I think ..." to the people who know you best? 3. Samaria - Samaria is well-known as being unfriendly to the Jews. Think about the woman at the well in John 4 - she did not trust Jesus, after all he was a Jew. And the story of the "Good Samaritan" is so powerful, because the protagonist, the good guy in the story, is a Samaritan who is not expected to spend time or money helping a Jew. But he does. But that does not mean that Samaria has changed - there is a great deal of animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. Nope, I certainly would not want to go there. 4. "...the uttermost parts of the earth." Whoa, just wait a minute. I have no idea where that may be. I mean, if I take this literally, I may have to go to Greece or to Rome. B. No way - I expect that most, if not all of the disciples had a good idea of how Jonah felt when God originally said "Go to Nineveh." Now, we have to realize all this was said before any of the disciples experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, that would happen at Pentecost. C. But you need to realize that they could not be as an effective a witness until they got to where God wanted them. D. And they went - John stayed in Judea and Samaria. He was eventually exiled to Patmos where he received the prophesy we know as the book of Revelation. Peter went to Rome where, tradition tells us, he was crucified upside down on a cross. Thomas went to India. Another, we are not sure which, began the Coptic church in Egypt - which still exists today. Conclusion: I do not know the plans God has for you, but I do know that as a believer, you will be involved in ministry. Whether it is waiting tables (like Stephen the first Martyr) or traveling to the uttermost parts of the earth (like Thomas, Peter, and Paul). And I know the prerequisites for being effective: 1. Acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit 2. Be controlled by the power of the Holy Spirit 3. Be in the place God wants you to be

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Sunday, May 09, 2004

The Church: The Family of God

Intro: I want to start with a test. I want a show of hands. 1. How many of you were not raised by a family? 2. How many of you were raised by a family? 3. I was surprised to learn two things this week as I prepared this sermon 4. Much of the Bible focuses on families       Adam and Eve       Noah and his family       Abraham and his family and descendants Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (one of twelve sons)       Ruth is the story of family commitment       Esther is a story of one young woman's involvement with her family       Jesus earthly life focuses on his family - Mary is present even at the cross 5. The Greek word for family only occurs 3 times in the NT 6. Yet we know our selves as the "Family of God" 7. Concept is rooted in the fact that, as believers, we are children of God. And if we all have the same father, then we are a family. Read John 1:1 - 1:13, Romans 8:14-17 Pray I. The family is the unit for growth A. The family is designed to be a place for nurture and growth (Ill.) Though my wife and I met in Sacramento, my home town and where we both went to college, she lived 2 hours northwest in the small community of Santa Rosa. In Santa Rosa California is the one-time home of Luther Burbank. In his backyard is a plant that lives for 25 years, blossoms and dies. It puts all of its energy and resources into that one flower, that it has nothing left once it has bloomed. Not at all like raising a child. B. Nurturing is something that takes time - it does not happen automatically C. And time takes a commitment. D. That's parenting - but it is no different in the church - that means those us who are part of the church will be committed to seeing those around us grow. (Ill.) Family growth takes two forms - We have children, they get married, - over the years we see numerical growth in our family. And that of course is part of what we want to happen in the church. Even as we allow new people to enter into our families - whether through birth or marriage - we need to allow new people to enter into our church family. (Ill.) But family growth also occurs as our children age - they go to school, they have their own relationships, they leave the home, and eventually start families of their own. Spiritual growth is something we want for ourselves and for others. Spiritual growth must focus on the "I"s - 1. Imperative - we are expected to grow. We cannot merely content being where we are. 2. Intentional - we plan to put ourselves in places and situations where we will grow 3. Integrated - if every area of our lives have been tainted by the fall, then every area of our lives will need to be evaluated in terms of God's expectations for us. II. The family is a place where we can be cared for A. Another characteristic of the family is love - a love that says to each member that they are special and that they belong to the family unit. B. The church should not be any different. Each person who steps through those doors is a valued member of our community. A person loved by God - and because of that loved by us. (Ill.) When you come into our church you can expect to get a hug. Here a bunch a people that care for each other. C. But caring for one another is not just a matter of hugging each other. D. It also means holding ourselves accountable for our behavior. Interestingly, the task of holding one another accountable has it roots in the very earliest days of Methodism. In fact, it was the regularly scheduled meetings of John and Charles Wesley where they and their friends met to check up on their spiritual lives. E. What kind of questions did these men ask each other. You will find a modern version tucked inside the bulletin - these seven questions were distributed by Charles Swindoll but they are the type of questions that were asked by the early Methodists as they supported each other. Find someone to hold you accountable, find someone to ask these questions - and then answer them honestly. III. The family is also a flawed institution A. Our theology, our understanding of God, tells us that every area of our lives is tainted by the fall. If this is so, then our families are flawed - - both our human families and the church. B. This is important because we are presented with the question - Will our spiritual family, the church, be a copy of our human families, our flawed human families; or will we place our church and our human families in a position so that we are obedient to scripture? (Ill.) To the best of my knowledge, I have never seen a counterfeit dollar bill. But I understand, that a person who handles real money day in and day out, can easily spot a counterfeit. It just feels wrong. The same is the church. When someone comes into the church they can tell whether we copying our own flawed families, or are copying the real thing - to the best of our ability. C. Bottom line is this - what is going to be our standard- will it be our flawed families or will it be the Word of God. D. As we seek to understand the nature of the church in the coming weeks and months, I do hope that we will choose to let the inspired, unchanging scriptures be our standard. (Appl.) Finally, this means that we will spend time getting to know God's word. Conclusion: We have spent the last three weeks looking at the church. 1.The Church is the bride of Christ - we are being prepared for a wedding 2.The Church is the body of Christ - we to get out and do the work of Christ 3.The Church is the Family of God - we are a group of people in relationship to each other. Are you a member of the church? Do you belong to Jesus Christ?

Sunday, May 02, 2004

The Church - The Body of Christ

Intro: I am not an artist. 1. I was reminded of that this week when I had small groups giving presentations in the classroom. 2. On group asked us to get into groups of two - and assigned one of us the job of drawing, and the other one of thinking. 3. I was lucky - I was the thinker in my group. But my partner was a CS student. And I was amazed at his skill. A CS student with artistic talent seemed odd to me. 4. I think my earliest attempts at drawing a human was part of a game we all have played - hangman. 5. I am not very good at drawing a human being - even less capable at making one 6. But God was a lot better at that - early in my Christian life I learned a lesson that has stuck with me. God mad me exactly the way he wanted me - I am flawed, but if I am God's creation, then I am what he wants me to be. And he will use me - even as a broken person. Read I Corinthians 12:12-27 Pray Tran. Corinthians is one of the saddest books. Of any of Paul's writing, it is probably written to the most troubled of the early churches. And yet, even in the midst of words that generally are directed to a church that has a lot growing to do (Paul calls his teaching to the Corinthian church milk and contrasts it with the meat that he gives to others), we find some wonderful truths. T.S. As we consider the church as the body of Christ, I want to look at two truths that present themselves. Two truths that will help us to understand our role in the ministry of the church. I. Being a part of the body of Christ means we are connected. (Ill.) We are a United Methodist Church. That brings a long history of tradition - both in beliefs and practice. One of those traditions is that we call ourselves a a connectional church. A. I think this is an interesting choice of words - for it is true not only of the Methodist church, but for churches everywhere. B. Just as each of us has a single body, so is the Body of Christ - the church. And just as our body is connected with bone and tissue, so is the body of Christ. What connects the church - it is the Holy Spirit that holds us together. C. We put labels on different parts of the church - we have the Baptists, we have the Presbyterians, we have the Catholics, we have the Wesleyans, we have the Free Methodists, we have the Methodists - but they are each a part of the Body of Christ. D. Even as Paul says, "The foot cannot say, because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body of Christ", neither can I say because you are not a member of the body of Christ if you are not a Methodiest. E. There is one church - and that church is the Body of Christ. (Ill.) I had my wife bring an egg to church this morning. No matter how I divide it, it is still a single egg. But like any egg, there are three major parts - the yolk, the white, and the shell. F. Paul describes it this way, "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ." [1 Corinthians 12:12 KJV] 1. Every denomination adds something to the body of Christ 2. Every local church adds something to the body of Christ 3. Every believer adds something to the body of Christ (Appl.) Look around this morning - take a few seconds to acknowledge that each person in this room adds something to the Body of Christ. Each person in this room adds something to the church. Now take a few more seconds to acknowledge that you too add something to the Body of Christ. You add something to the church. II. Being a part of the body of Christ means we are needed (Ill.) Sandra and I are in the midst of celebrating our 6th anniversary of coming to New York. Six years ago this month Sandra made her first trip to Rochester. We flew into Rochester to search for a house. I remember during that first trip trying to find our way from North Chili to the Wegmans store in Chili Center. We made three attempts before we finally found it sitting there at the convergence of Paul Road, Cold Water Road and Chili Avenue. Now that has nothing to do with this sermon. But the other memorable event of that first year does. It was the day before Thanksgiving. Sandra had gotten out of work early and we were going to lunch. We stopped in a neighborhood restaurant and were seated at our table. As we finished lunch, I left the table to pay the bill. Sandra was following me - but missed her step. She fell to the ground with a scream. After calling her doctor, we rushed her to the hospital and found that she had broken a couple of very small bones in her foot. The next six weeks we spent manipulating a pair of crutches and a wheelchair. We found out just how important those two bones really were. A. I don't know what your role in the church is, I don't know what gifts has given you, I do know, like Sandra's foot that winter, you, your gifts, and your talents, would be missed. (Ill.) Earlier this week I was wondering what part of my body I might give up to make my life easier. At first I thought about my left hand, after all I am right handed. I could probably get by without a left hand - till I noticed that I was holding my book in my left hand. So then I thought about my nose - it is kind of ugly, and if I lost my ugly nose I might just be a bit more handsome. But then I remembered a man I knew a number of years ago who lost his nose to cancer. Nobody wanted anything to do with him. Well then what about my feet. I mean they are hurting most of the time - but then I remembered my wifes struggle with a broken foot. Nope I would not want to lose my feet. B. Just as every part of my body has a place, so every part of the church plays a role. And that role is needed. C. All of this works two ways - first God gives what we need. We each need to know that we have what it takes. And God has given just exactly what it takes to accomplish what God wants of us. D. But we are needed on another lever - God gives the chruch exactly what HE needs to accomplish what he wants. I don't know what the future of this church is - but I do know that he has given us, as a body, the gifts and talents and passions the Garland United Methodist Church needs to accomplish all that God intends for us to accomplish. Let me conclude with two applications. First, if you ever get to the point where you feel as if you are not needed - then ask who is giving that message. It is not a message that comes from God. He asks to serve - and he give us, both individually and corporately, It is a message that will seem to Second - take time to look to see where you are needed. What is your ministry within the church? Look for the places where your gifts, talents, and passions can serve God. Conclusion: The church is the Body of Christ 1. The Holy Spirit connects us together a. Whether with the church world wide b. or with our denomination c. or with our local church ------------------------------------- we are connected 2. We are needed a. Both to do what God wants us to do individually b. and to do what God wants the church to do In a few moments we will be taking communion. I fear that too often it is solely an individual event. Let me suggest that we remember that our participation in the Lord's supper is not just something we do individually, but something we share with each other here, with local churches around the world, and with Christians from the very earliest days of the church.