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FOLLOW ME (John 1:43-51)

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Podcast: Follow Me

When we think of Epiphany (The revelation of Christ as The Son of God) we often overlook the obvious. Traditionally January 6 is considered the day of Epiphany. However, we see Epiphany in…The Nativity (Shepherds)…The Magi…The Baptism of Jesus (John the Baptist)…We also see it in the calling of the first few disciples in John’s gospel. John begins by telling us:

 

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples… When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  John 1:35-36

 

John (the gospel writer) had already mentioned the significance of  Jesus who John testified: The Spirit came down from heaven and remained on him/he will baptize with the Holy Spirit…John had been preaching about someone who was coming to take away sin (permanently)…someone of God’s choosing..to take away those things that separate us from God. Now we are told about one of those Disciples of John-that listened to John and began following Jesus: 

Andrew, (Simon Peter’s brother), was one of the two who heard what John had said …    John 1:40 

Andrew—in Greek-Andro which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Adam. Andrew was the first disciple named to follow Jesus (in a sense the first Christian). Andrew had his own  Epiphany…because John (the Baptist) pointed him toward Jesus. When we think of our relationship with Jesus, who have been the ones pointing us toward Jesus? In addition to Andrew’s Epiphany, John also tells us: 

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah”  John 1:41 

What is the 1st thing we do when we have an Epiphany?…do we tell others? particularly those closest to us? It was obvious that Andrew & Simon were close (brothers). However, we don’t hear a lot about Andrew throughout the gospels..we do hear a lot about Simon Peter. It is similar to Albert McMakin. Albert had an Epiphany. He met Jesus through a revival in a small town in North Carolina. Albert had to tell his closest friend…who happened to be named Billy Graham. Not many people have ever heard of Albert McMakin , however because he shared his Epiphany with Billy Graham countless people have come to know Jesus. Thank God for the Andrews and the Albert McMakins in our lives. Then John tells us: 

Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “You are Simon, the son of John — but you will be called Cephas”(which means Peter ).  John 1:42

 Cephas (Aramaic) left untranslated…Peter ( & Andrew were from Galilee (as was Jesus)..Jesus addressed him in a way that any Galilean would understand. Jesus speaks into our lives the same way when he calls us. God speaks to us in a way we would uniquely understand. My  own personal calling would be defined by scholarly theologians as “providing a Hermeneutical Homiletic of Theology” if that is what God said to me I would probably not have answered that call. Instead Jesus has called me to “Present the Good News of Jesus as Revealed by the Holy Spirit.”  John goes on to tell us in this text that again the Next Day…Jesus went to Galilee (followed by these 3 Disciples)…then John continues: 

Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.  John 1:43-44 

We learn the other of John the Baptist’s disciples was Philip (who was also from Galilee). The Good Part..the Fishing Village of Bethsaida (Waterfront Property). The important thing Jesus says specifically to Philip is…”Follow Me.” The only thing is…Hadn’t  Philip already “followed Him?” He left John the Baptist (to follow Jesus)…and now had followed Jesus back to Galilee. Here’s the problem. When we think of the concept of Following someone we think of walking behind…

However, we can better understand Jesus command after translating a very long compound Greek word which ultimately means… “accompany me /on the road /by being one with me” Like a parent with a young child. Hold my hand as we walk down this road together. Isn’t that what Christ calls each of us to do? So now Philip has his own Epiphany and John tells us: 

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about  whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”    John 1:45 

Philip did the same as Andrew (and even the Shepherds before that) he found someone to share his Epiphany with. He knew Nathanael might be suspect so he invoked  the name of Moses…a type of celebrity endorsement. Now first we need to realize the name Nathanael is significant (it is NOT a Greek name)..it is Hebrew meaning-Gift of God. Having said that, Nathanael’s initial response to Philip’s Epiphany according to John is: 

“Nazareth!  Can anything good come from there?”     John 1:46 

Nazareth…not Lakefront  property…a primarily Gentile town …way off the beaten path…never mentioned in Hebrew Scripture)…besides the Messiah would have to come from Bethlehem…But Philip knew Nathanael needed to Encounter Christ.. before he could truly realize the significance of who He was..John tells us: 

Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” John 1:46-47

How many of us have had our own Epiphanies by an Encounter/s that began by someone inviting us to “come and see” (with our spiritual eyes as well as our physical eyes). Jesus (being who he is) realized Nathanael as being about God’s word..Being discerning by challenging claims through scripture. A True Israelite. Then John tells us how Nathanael responded to this Encounter: 

Nathanael replied, “Teacher, you are the Son of God – the King of Israel!”   John 1: 49 

Three things Nathanael realized about Jesus. He was a teacher (Rabbi)…I now defer/submit to you (and your instruction)…He was the Son of God (a term generally ascribed only to David)…and as the “New David” Jesus would be the King of Israel (The Awaited Messiah). All based on his understanding of scripture (including the law & prophecy). So as we encounter Jesus in our lives. As we have our Epiphanies. Will we invite others to “Come & See”..how to “Follow Christ” (accompany HIM /on the road /by being one with HIM). The Apostle Paul taught: 

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus   Romans 15:4-5 

May we like Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip & Nathanael..Come & See and receive that Encouragement..That Hope.. and that Spirit of Unity…In Christ Jesus and Follow Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WATERMARK (Mark 1:4-11)

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PODCAST: Watermark (January 8, 2012)

In the Four Gospels—John doesn’t specifically mention Jesus’ baptism. Mark gives us a very brief description (unlike Matthew & Luke that give us quite a bit of imagery in their accounts). It is in Matthew’s gospel we see a great introduction and a fuller understanding of John who would be that “Voice Crying in the Wilderness”  Matthew states:

 

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea  and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”     Matthew 3:1-2

  John was preaching (from the Greek word kēryssō). Usually meaning proclamation by  govt. official/edict. Here Matthew is describing the way in which John shared his message (as of utmost importance). John specifically mentions this proclamation was to Repentance-(Greek metanoeō). A popular understanding of Repent is to turn around (technically that is true) However, Metanoeōe means more specifically-Change your Mind/Perception. John says for the Kingdom of God is Near. The original mindset was God was up there & so was his kingdom-Jesus as coming to change all that.  Mark tells us in his gospel: 

He (John)lived in the wilderness and was preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had turned from their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.  Mark 1:4 

First, a new idea of changing your understanding: God’s Kingdom is Here. Then be Baptized . Symbolizing a transformation…from our old understanding of things that separate us from God to a new understanding of forgiveness & grace-Jesus brings in God’s Kingdom on Earth. Mark records John the Baptizer telling the crowds who were coming to be baptized/transformed: 

Someone is coming soon who is far greater than I am — so much greater that I am not even worthy to be his slave. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”   Mark 1:7-8 

Someone far greater (Greek-Ischyros)- A reference to the mythological character we know better by the Latin name Icarus. Icarus had a father who made for him wings to fly (until Icarus became prideful). Unlike this character, Jesus was coming with powers created by His Father to demonstrate and to teach to those who would follow him. John the Baptizer adds, I Baptize with water (to remind you of transformation from what separates us from God). Jesus, is coming to facilitate God living inside us in the person of the Holy Spirit (symbolized by fire)—True Transformation.  Then One Day…Mark tells us…Jesus appears. In his brief description of Jesus baptism we are told: 

And when Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open   Mark 1:10 

The Heavens…Split Open (Ripped/Torn). Mark uses this word one other time that is immediately following Jesus’ death we’re told: 

Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  Mark 15:37-38 

Jewish Tradition in mourning is to rip/tear you clothes…The word Mourning & Morning have similar means in the definition of Morning is the time just after Darkness. It is in Mourning we experience the same thing. Tearing clothes symbolized letting God’s light is. Even in the darkest times we need to turn to God to let in Light. That is what happened on the day of Jesus baptism. That is what happened on the first Christmas in Bethlehem, on the day of Epiphany with the magi who followed a star and there on the banks of the River Jordan. What followed that day as the sky was opened the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. By the grace of God this still happens as we let in His Light. Then finally Mark tells us… 

And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you.”   Mark 4:11 

When God says “fully” pleased..He means “finally” pleased…Though Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah-were great…they had their limitations. God is saying Jesus is THE ONE…(The Epiphany/Revelation as His Son). Anointed with Baptismal Waters to bring all people to God. That is why this is such an important part of who we are as Christians when we first come to acknowledge or desire to be transformed. We remember our baptism and that same anointing Jesus received. 

So, as we celebrate the opportunity Jesus provided for all of us through his Baptism. I am reminded of a friend years ago in the printing business. Talked about certain fine paper that came with a Watermark.

A Watermark is described as: A recognizable image or pattern in paper that appears as various shades of lightness/darkness when viewed by transmitted light 

Baptism is the same for us. We are marked for life with the spiritual “Watermark” of the one who saves us. It is by His Light…He ultimately transforms our lives for all to see.  

 

 

THEY WERE SORE AFRAID (Luke 2:8-15)

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Podcast: They Were Sore Afraid

At Christmastime, when we sing the hymn Silent Night, we generally think of the stable in Bethlehem & all that was going on there. In reality that night would have been  anything but quiet with a new born infant..and the animals. However  before that event Luke tells us earlier in his gospel that there were Shepherds…doing their job out in the fields. Now for first century Palestine that would have been the one of the lowest paying/ least respected job anyone could have. Yet ,for someone familiar with Hebrew Scripture many of the great leaders of the faith began as Shepherds. Moses as he was called by God in the burning bush. King David…who is credited with the 23rd Psalm: 

The LORD is my shepherd ; I shall not want . He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my  soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.    Psalm 23:1-3 KJV 

God..as a Shepherd—Lie down in Green Pastures (what the Shepherds were doing that Night)…He leads me..like a Shepherd leads his flock…and Restores the souls of His flock…Jesus reminded his followers…I am The Good Shepherd…who does ALL of these things. 

Luke continues to explain that these Shepherds were watching their flocks at night. Faithfully doing their job…when they encountered God is a great & significant way. A great lesson for us as we go about doing our day to day tasks…Do we leave room for God? Reminds me of the old Warner Bros cartoon of the Sheep Dog & the Coyote. When they were “On the Clock” they were focused on their vocation/calling. As with these shepherds, when we realize our calling from God…we are always…on the Clock. 

So, Luke tells us that there were these Shepherds..who were Living/Abiding Out In The Fields..not just working in the fields…he said living. However, a closer look at the one word Greek word (Agrauleō) that is translated here-“Living in the fields” who more literally means-out in the fields playing musical instruments” at first this makes no sense why it is translated living in the fields (if they are playing musical instruments they aren’t just working).  This would also bring to mind David, who was also Agrauleō. Before he was anointed David king, Samuel had come to Jesse to anoint one of his sons (with no success): 

Then Samuel asked,  “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,”  Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep.” “Send for him at once.”  1 Samuel 16:11 

These Shepherds are doing the same as David-Living/Abiding/Waiting. Then in the midst of the Silent Night-Luke tells us: An angel of the Lord appeared to them… Again when we see this displayed in Religious Art we see an angel floating above the Shepherds..in actuality the word used here to described this angel is the same word for Stand/Stood. One of the most prominent places we find this is in the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians church. He says:

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.   Ephesians 6:13 

 Stand-Like the Angel in the Power of God & His Powerful Spirit. We are also told that The Glory of the Lord shone around them…Every Sunday when we have an opportunity to give back to God we celebrate by additionally offering a Doxology-Praising God by looking at His Glory. The Psalmist goes as far as tying our Salvation to Glory: 

Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.   Psalm 85:9 

God’s Salvation-is near those who Fear (Awe) Him-Glory is There! The speaking of fear. I think of what Luke records in the King James Version. 

They (The Shepherds)were Sore Afraid... 

Who wouldn’t be ? That was an incredible encounter and a starting place for them and maybe for many of us. What do we fear? When we hear the news from the world in TV/Newspapers/Internet…We fear so many things (just as the shepherds did)…Luke tells us: 

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid 

What would it take to keep us from worrying? An Encounter with Christ? My hope for everyone/anyone at Christmas—No Fear  . Luke records that the angel tells them: 

 I  bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 

This Good News will bring Great Joy…for ALL people. You notice the angel didn’t say-Don’t worry-Be Happy. Happiness is fleeting feeling-it comes and it goes. Joy is the permanent  state of being we can encounter again & again thru a relationship with Christ. Jesus  reminded his followers: 

And now I am coming to you. I have told them many things while I was with them so they would be filled with my joy.”    John 17:13 

May we all be filled with His joy this Christmas Season. Then Luke tells us the Shepherds are told: 

This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.  Luke 2:12 

 

So the Shepherds are given 2 signs /signals. The word “sign” is an expression used in interpreting written documents in the ancient word… There was no punctuation. There had to be some kind of sign/signal in to indicate where words and sentences stopped /ended. The same implication is here with this message to these shepherds..this how your New Life will begin.

 First, A Baby wrapped in cloths (indicating new Life). Second, Lying in A Manger, a place Shepherds knew well that provided nutrition for their sheep. This baby will somehow feed them and all Humankind…In Bethlehem-(Meaning House of Bread). Jesus told his followers...I am The Bread of LifeLuke continues saying: 

 

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others — the armies of heaven — praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.”   

A large group of God’s messengers Praising God in Doxology as we did earlier…adding Peace on earth-To all whom God finds Favor. We recently looked at  Luke’s telling of the Annunciation of Mary and the word we learned as she was told that she was highly favored…well here it is again.  For those who are… charitoō…they will know peace. What keeps us from knowing Peace? Maybe, not realizing God’s Grace. Like the bumper sticker says: No Jesus-No Peace—Know Jesus…Know Peace… Finally, Luke records: 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”   Luke 2:15 

That is where we embark on our advent journey. Let’s go… and see. As we experience…may we be prepared for an encounter…that whatever level of fear/worry/troubles you currently possess that you can find true peace in a baby sent to bring New Life.. in a Manger that can restore and nourish Your Soul..for the Glory of God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTIANITY: BORING, UNTRUE & IRRELEVANT? (ACTS 17:22-34)

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PODCAST: CHRISTIANITY: BORING, UNTRUE & IRRELEVANT? The first session of The Alpha Course, Nicky Gumbel talks about how the church is viewed by outsiders and sometimes by many already in attendance; as Boring, Untrue and Irrelevant. I can relate to much of this as I was growing up in the church. As a kid I always liked Sunday School, VBS, Youth Activities  and Retreats. I just did not “get” church until many years later. One of the problems is that in many ways we have lost focus of what being the church should be. We now have a culture of “Christian Entertainment” that in and of itself isn’t bad. It is however, ultimately unsustainable. So we need to somehow understand our faith in terms of an adventure. Adventure-like Moses  (in the desert), David on the run from Saul), Elijah (in the hideout from Jezebel). Paul on his Mission Trips. The prophet Jeremiah addresses this in his time by stating: 

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”  declares the LORD,   Jeremiah 29:13-14 

Seek God, with all your heart…That’s an Adventure/Challenge particularly Today. Then as we consider what it is to understand Christianity to be True in the world we live in. We need to remember that The Truth Jesus is talking about/suggesting is not the scientific truth (Veritas) offered in the laboratory. Hypothesis + Physical evidence=Truth. Jesus instead is referring to revealed truth. He shares with the Samaritan Woman at the Well: 

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father  seeks.  John 4:23 

True Worshippers-(God revealed through Christ)-Spirit (The Holy Spirit) Allows us to be able to do what we can’t on our own. The Kind of Worshippers-God Seeks. In the 17th Chapter of Acts we find Paul in Athens (the center of Philosophy & Wisdom). Paul is speaking to a totally secular group of philosophers and local politicians at a place called the Areogapas. This place is the culmination of the idea Aristotle had of Ekklēsia-(peopled called together) in Koinōnia (loving fellowship) to listen to each other. The early church adopted this as their model of gathering. It is here Paul has his greatest challenge in ministry to these people who (just as today in our society) see God as Untrue &/or Irrelevant. One of the attributes of this place was a monument to the Greek gods (all of them)…and in case they left one out they had a monument for “The Unknown God” it is here Paul gives them context, He says: 

I was walking along I saw your many altars. And one of them had this inscription on it — ‘To an Unknown God.’ You have been worshiping him without knowing who he is…  Acts 17:23 

The one god you had as an insurance policy is the one True God. The same is true today. Believing in God just in case it’s true. So Paul decides to tell them about this “Unknown god” in a way they could understand. Paul knows to be able to explain Jesus to unbelievers you need to be able to tell a story. As Jesus did in teaching through parables. Like we do with our children. Often it is in those stories where we find Truth. So Paul proceeds to explain to these people…God’s Purpose, Saying: 

His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him — though he is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:27 

God’s purpose is in The Adventure of seeking him & finding him—He is not far…the Greeks believed the gods lived on Mt Olympus (160+ miles away)..Paul tells them the one true God is not far away. A new concept (one that got the philosopher Socrates killed). The Areogapas was surround by monuments to gods/things that represented God. Paul was letting them the know the presence of God. His Transforming Love. As right here among us. Paul continues this portrayal of a different kind of God stating: 

God overlooked people’s former ignorance about these things, but now he commands everyone everywhere to turn away from idols and turn to him.    Acts 17:30 

Paul who was fluent in the Greek language is now addressing these Greeks in their own language. As Paul is telling them to “turn away from idols” he is referring to the monuments there at the Areogapas. He is also using the Greek word-Agnoeō (where we get the word Agnostic). Commonly used today. For I can’t  believe fully. It is only when Christ is revealed that we can truly believe. Then there is the issue of Christianity being irrelevant. Jesus himself dealt with this among his own disciples. John’s Gospel records a conversation between Jesus and Thomas. 

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.  John 14:6 

3 very distinctive understandings of how Jesus is relevant. First, when Jesus says I Am The Way-implying He is the path for ALL of us. Particularly in our hour of need. The Prophet Isaiah described him as: 

A voice of one calling:  “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD”  Isaiah 40:3

 In the desert times in our lives. It is Christ who makes a away. He is the one who left us with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus also says I Am The TruthJesus tells all that would follow him: 

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  Mark 8:32 

Hold to my teachings-Love God…Love One Another—You will know the Truth. It’s a large part of our mission here at Splendora Countryside. That is how we realize Transformation in this community-It will and does set us Free.

Then Jesus says that I Am The Life. That word “Life” used always and often in the Gospel of John. The Greek word Zao (The Good Life). As John is opening his gospel and describing Jesus he adds: 

Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone.    John 1:4 

This Life (Zao)..in Him (Jesus)…Even the baby in a manger. It gives Light..to everyone. Why we use that imagery for our benediction as we leave this place. You are The Light of the World…(from the Sermon on the Mount). So, we consider this question that the world around us seems to ask: 

 Is there more to life than this???

 

We remember that John later records Jesus saying: 

I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. Wherever they go, they will find green Pastures… My purpose… is to give life in all its fullness.    John 10:9-10 

May we be the facilitators of this Life for our community. That when we come to know this Life we find that Christianity is Never Boring…It is the Ultimate Truth…and it is Extremely Relevant.

 

 

 

 

 

WHO ARE YOU? (Matthew 16:13-20)

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So many of the Bible’s stories are contingent on the location in which they happen. Matthew brings us to a place that was unique within the entirety of the Gospels. A location that was a Gentile/Pagan Mecca named for both the Emperor (Roman influence) & Philip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great (Greek influence). It’s here Jesus decides to take his Disciples on retreat and reveal to them who he really was. So Matthew records with this backdrop Jesus conversation: 

 

… he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  Matthew 16:13 

It reminds me of the old Game Show “Family Feud” with Richard Dawson. He would ask each family to determine what other people (who had been surveyed) thought or said according to the particular survey. Jesus speculated that in their time in Galilee surely these twelve had heard and maybe even conducted their own unofficial survey of who people thought Jesus was. Maybe we do the same in our life. How much of what we believe or maybe even our conviction come from “Conventional Wisdom” and what “They”  (whoever they is) say. One interesting note is that Jesus doesn’t ask them, “who do they say ‘I am’” (like in Mark & Luke’s accounts). Jesus instead refers to himself here as the “Son of Man.” The Greek word-(Huiros) does not necessarily mean child it usually means “essence.” So, Jesus literally implies essence of a Human. Matthew uses this expression because of the importance to Jewish believers.  In the Hebrew Scripture it is written as Ben Adam (Child of Man) or intentionally child of Adam (inheritance of the sin nature). Why Renee Magritte’s famous painting called Son of man-shows a man with the fruit (representing the sin of Adam) obscuring his vision-also what obscures ours without the help of Christ. Jesus also wanted them to know that he is the one Ezekiel is referring to in his writings: 

Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you”…”Son of man,” he said, “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a nation that is rebelling against me. Ezekiel 2:1-3 

Jesus came for those of us who would be ruled by God (Israel), yet rebel. So Jesus fields their submissions of what they have heard from people regarding who he is…the first is John the Baptist. Yet John the Baptist himself said: 

“After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”   Mark 1:7-8 

 Did the Disciples know the difference? Do we? Water Baptism is obviously important. Yet, Jesus sent/sends the Holy Spirit even today. Then they mentioned that some say Elijah…Elijah never died…Elijah was remembered every year at the Seder…they set a place for Elijah including “The Cup” in anticipation. Malachi had also prophesied: 

Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah “before” the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents. Malachi 4:5

 People in Jesus’ day believed that their “Day of the Lord was the Roman occupation. Elijah is coming back to turn hearts…it’s what Jesus does when we let him. How many “Days of the Lord” have we encountered in our lives? Have we allowed Christ to “turn our hearts?” Then finally others say Jesus was Jeremiah or one of the other prophets…In addition to the Hebrew scripture we know as Old Testament. There were many other writings that were written in Inter-testimonial times that people of Jesus day were familiar with and many believed in one we find: 

“Mother Jerusalem, take your children in your arms. Guide their steps in safe paths…I will raise your dead from their graves… Jerusalem, mother of these people, do not be afraid; I, the Lord, have chosen you. “I will send my servants Isaiah and Jeremiah to help you.  2 Esdres 2:18 

People remembered Jeremiah & Isaiah and their compassion for Israel. They saw Jesus as someone who could save them from their daily troubles (which is true). Not realizing the larger focus of his power, mission and ministry. Why we like Jesus are about Transformation. So now Jesus turns the question to then-the ones who knew him best: 

“Who do you say I am?”    Matthew 16:15 

That is the question…The same one he asks us today. Based on your relationship with him…who would you say he is? He goes by many names. When I think of this question in context to people who know us…they would say what they know based on their relationship with us. In this case Simon Peter (who had a close relationship with Jesus) was quick to respond: 

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Matthew 16:16 

The first thing Peter said was that Jesus was Messiah (Christ-Gk-version). Interestingly enough this word “Messiah” never appears in the Old Testament. It is another one of those inter-testimonial writings which stated: 

But in the day of their trouble, the world shall obtain tranquility. In his presence shall they fall, and not be raised up again…for they have denied the Lord of spirits, and his Messiah. The name of the Lord of spirits shall be blessed.   Enoch 48:10-11 

Again alluding to “Day of Trouble” and the Promise of Peace. The “They” (who fall and deny the Lord) were thought to be the Romans. However, in actuality we find that the “They” is our struggle with sin…and it is surely because of Christ that they shall fall…and because of this the Lord shall be blessed! Peter additionally states that he (Jesus) is Son of the Living God-and Idea that goes back to the idea of Essence of the Really Alive God. Even described by a secular king Darius in Babylon in Daniel: 

“I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end.”  Daniel 6:26 

A living God (on earth)-kingdom having no end. When we pray The Lord’s Prayer-do we listen to what we say…believe it? Jesus responds to Peter:

You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.Matthew 16:17 

We looked last week about this gift of prophesy that God gives us in discerning his Word and being open to revelation. Peter was. Jesus goes on to say: 

Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…    Matthew 16:18 

You are Peter (which means rock)…solid/dependable. Upon you I will build my church. Jesus uses the word church (Ecclessia) only twice ever. He is implying those who are called will be based on Peter dedication and ultimate fortitude.  Then Jesus continues: 

I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you lock on earth will be locked in heaven, and whatever you open on earth will be opened in heaven.   Matthew 16:19 

Keys to the Kingdom. Here on earth…How many doors have we unlocked in God’s Kingdom…Food Pantry…AA…Fall Festival…inviting others here? Praying with and for others? Sharing God’s Love…Peter himself tells the early church years after this encounter with Jesus (realizing he is The Rock)—he says:

And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ.   1 Peter 2:5 

Who is Jesus? What has he done in your life? Who are you because of what he has done?  Hopefully God is building Us (like Living Stones) into His spiritual temple. By the Power of His Holy Spirit and for the His Glory.

UNWRAPPING SPIRITUAL GIFTS: NON-PROPHET ORGANIZATION? (1 Corinthians 14)

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PODCAST: NON-PROPHET ORGANIZATION?

Looking at the 14th Chapter of The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, it picks up, right where the last 13th chapter leaves off (the greatest of these…) Paul says: 

Let love be your highest goal, but also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives…  1 Corinthians 14:1a 

A reminder that Agape/Unconditional Love for God & Others is Always our primary goal (what we are hoping to achieve)…yet we should all strive for special abilities (Gifts) that only the Holy Spirit can provide. Another reason why the Mission Statement of our congregation emphasizes Transformation (God’s part) & Sharing His (Agape) Love. Next we need to consider how is it that we facilitate & use the Spiritual Gifts given to us. Paul in explaining to this church in the consideration of these Spiritual Gifts-He emphasizes: 

especially the gift of prophecy. 1 Corinthians 14:1b 

We have seen in previous books that the gift of prophecy not necessarily what we might think in today’s vernacular (of predicting the future). It would have been understood from  the Greek culture of those who consulted with the Oracle…and brought “the word” back to the people. The early church adopted the same illustration, in our relationship to the one true God. So what does that mean to us in the Christian Church?  I would suggest that as Paul explained to the church in Rome how to more specifically use this particular gift. He tells them: 

God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you.  Romans 12:6 

The Greek term means—”Unhide”  God’s truth-through his Word revealed to you. Requiring 1st that that you have a relationship with Him. This is a large part of what we do in Sharing God’s Love. We also see Paul explaining earlier in this  letter to the Corinthian Church the significance of this particular gift. He Writes: 

Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it. Here is a list of some of the members that God has placed in the body of Christ: first are apostles, second are prophets…  1 Corinthians 12:27-28 

We remember-The Apostles (those sent out) & then The Prophets are those who are speaking for God (within the community of believers). We each have a sense of this by listening to God. Through prayer & relationship—primarily by & thru His Word. Biblically literate, prayerful, messengers are an important part of the body of believers. Some faith traditions believe this gift can only be realized by the Pastor. It is rather with us & me that I work (as a pastor) to equip each of you (community of believers) to accomplish this very thing—Remembering…each of you is necessary to the Body. Then Paul continues in comparing this gift to that of Tongues: 

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.  1 Corinthians 14:2 

Two things come to mind when I consider this passage. First, I am reminded of our daughter Becky as a teenager leaving messages on our home answering machine…(It was so fast and indistinguishable had to listen to message 3-4 times). Secondly, there are two types of tongues mentioned in scripture. A Prayer Language . It is often experienced by those who have never prayed/dialoged with God & then encounter the Holy Spirit (I have known many in this category). Then there are those who experience “prophetic utterances” (with interpretation required). The term for Tongues in the Greek work Glossa and generally used in the first instance (Prayer Language). A great example of this was at the conversion experience of the first Gentile (Cornelius) in Acts. Luke records: 

The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles, too. And there could be no doubt about it, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  Acts 10:45-46 

This has been my experience with new Christians. Overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. A way of praising God for setting them free-transforming their lives. Have you ever been so in Awe of God to be left Speechless? Paul instead insists to the Corinthians:

 

But one who prophesies is helping others grow in the Lord, encouraging and comforting them.  1 Corinthians 14:3 

Paul is pointing out that the gift of Tongues is for individual believers. However, the gift of Prophecy (as described in the Bible) is one that helps other grow. In a sense that is what I do on Sunday mornings. It is also what we do for each other in Sunday School & Wednesday Nights. We share what God has revealed to us through his Word—(not just our opinion or what we have heard from others). Even at times God can gives us A Word to Comfort others. Paul tells the Ephesian church that one of the key ways we share this Good News is through this gift that both  inviting & welcoming: 

You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.   Ephesians 2:19-20 

Apostles & Prophets. Those going out..and those coming in—to share the Good News. That all are Loved “unconditionally” & accepted into the body. These two Gifts are the Foundation—what we are about. Transforming Our World by Sharing God’s Love. Paul uses a helpful illustration to emphasize his point concerning the gifts of Tongues & Prophecy. He continues by saying: 

Even musical instruments like the flute or the harp, though they are lifeless, are examples of the need for speaking in plain language. For no one will recognize the melody unless the notes are played clearly.    1 Corinthians 14:7 

I know from experience (as an instrumentalist) how important coordinating both the pitch & rhythm can be.  Speaking tongues (Prayer Language) not a problem. However,  in a biblical sense of Prophecy (speaking for God), we need to be In tune-with God’s Word. The Apostle Peter says in his epistle:  

You must understand that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophets themselves or because they wanted to prophesy. It was the Holy Spirit who moved the prophets to speak from God.  2 Peter 1:20 

Even the Prophets we find in the Hebrew Bible were filled with God’s Spirit to speak His truth NOT out of their own understanding or opinion. Paul uses yet another illustration to help these early believers: 

It’s the same for you. If you talk to people in a language they don’t understand, how will they know what you mean? You might as well be talking to an empty room.    1 Corinthians 14:9 

Here I believe Paul is going farther than just Tongues. There are so many words in what I would call “Christian-ese.” For those of us who grew up in the church these words/phrases are second nature/instinctive: Redeemed, Delivered, Saved, Washed in the Blood of The Lamb. When we consider the outside world (particularly young people) and how they see us as the Church. We need to heed Paul’s advice.  Paul is telling the Corinthians (and us) if we can’t speak their language-like speaking to an Empty Room. Finally Paul tells them: 

Since you are so eager to have spiritual gifts, ask God for those that will be of real help to the whole  church.   1 Corinthians 14:12 

How can we be a Real Help to The Church-utilizing the Gifts God has given us. Powerfully provided by the Holy Spirit…Put another way..Paul tells the Ephesian Church: 

He gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.   Ephesians 4:11-12 

Equipping God’s People…To Do His Work—To Build Up the Church—By the Grace of God. There’s A Place for You…All of You—For His Glory

SPIRITUAL GIFT SERIES: GIFTED & TALENTED (1 Corinthians 12)

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One thing we have discovered the past few weeks is how often Spiritual Gifts are mentioned in Scripture. Paul discusses them with the Roman Church, the Ephesian Church… and now the Corinthian Church. The same Holy Spirit that gives inspiration to the writers of God’s Word gives us abilities to glorify him in our lives here in our community and beyond. We see in this 1st letter to the Corinthian Church Paul explaining in a very basic way the gifts that the Holy Spirit brings. He ultimately shares with them/us, why this is so important as a (Doctrine of Spiritual Gifts). He later tells them:

 Since you are so eager to have spiritual gifts, ask God for those that will be of real help to the whole church.     1 Corinthians 14:2 

Paul wants them/us to know that the Spiritual Gifts are Real & important. They actually are sent to help the whole church. Local congregation and beyond. In fact when the Apostle Peter spoke of Spiritual Gifts he emphasized a different aspect that of Stewardship. He said: 

God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Manage them well so that God’s generosity can flow through you.   1 Peter 4:10 

Stewardship-one of the most misunderstood words in all of Christendom & The Bible. Usually associates with Money…It is actually how we use ALL the gifts God has given us. Then how much we return to Him. When we join the church we asked 5 questions (in addition to accepting our baptism) will you support This Congregation with your PRAYERS…you PRESENCE… Your GIFTS (not just your Money), Your SERVICE & Your WITNESS. That is how we are grow as a church/a congregation. So God’s generosity can flow through you. Why we need to manage our Spiritual Gifts. 

Knowing our Spiritual Gifts allows us to know our specific place in ministry. Where God can use us most effectively. A couple of weeks ago we saw how Paul was encouraging the Roman church saying: 

God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching.    Romans 12:6-7

When we are specifically gifted in a certain area it is not necessarily a grueling task. It is a labor of love. I recently completed a Spiritual Gifts Inventory which was strong in the gift of Pastoring/Shepherding…I tell people the most enjoyment in any career I have had—to get to see lives transformed-Everyday! 

Another thing we need to realize is the importance of determining God’s will for our lives. How we are specifically gifted. Paul also reminds the Roman Church (& us):

Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is. Romans 12:2

 

Let God transform your life…no matter how young or old you are. Becoming a pastor at my age…people here who are becoming teachers of God’s word… and those training to be certified speakers for the UMC. Then our prayer warriors who maybe the most important job in all of the church—God’s good, pleasing & perfect will. 

So we find in our text this morning Paul telling these Corinthians why it is so important to discover and use these Spiritual Gifts: 

A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church.   1 Corinthians 12:7 

Similar to what he said earlier “as a means of helping All” In Greek the word Symphero (where we get our word Symphony). Fruitfulness in all areas. In a Symphony Orchestra-All sections are important in fact every instrument is important as it played by someone uniquely gifted and blended with other instruments/sections under the leadership of one conductor. That is what we are as a congregation as a church.

 

In realizing our spiritual gifts we need to understand the Nature of these Spiritual Gifts. Paul shares in our text: 

Now there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all.     1 Corinthians 12:4 

The understanding that is isn’t how great we are regardless of the gift we a have been given it is how Great God is & our ability to be used by God to work through us for his glory. Similar to how Jesus was part human part divine. We are all obviously human. The gifts we are given are divine as they are manifested through us. We also need to realize the difference between our Spiritual Gifts and our Human Talents. The Psalmist reminds us: 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your  works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14 

Fearfully & wonderfully made-everyone of you. Created in the image of God. To be used by Him and so he can communicate His word through us in our variety of gifts to proclaim His Love. Once we realize our specific giftedness..we need to work to put them to use and to ask God and other how to develop these gifts in concert with one another. Paul tells as he hands over his ministry: 

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on You.    2 Timothy 1:6 

Why we continue to study his word. We gather together to strengthen each other. Encourage each other. Pray for each other. As we go out. Paul wants the Corinthian Church to know: 

There are different ways God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work through all of us.   1 Corinthians 12:6 

One of the most powerful things about these gifts is the variety and diversity of these gifts that we have been given. Even right here in our own congregation. When I think about the meal that awaits us in the next room [Message delivered on a 5th Sunday with a meal following the service]. The variety and diversity in all that great food. How much greater are the Gifts he has given us in and through His Holy Spirit. Finally Paul wants the Corinthian Church to know how do we come about obtaining these gifts. he tells them: 

It is the one and only Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.  1 Corinthians 12:11 

It kind of reminds me of Angel Tree at Christmas. How generous this congregation is to so many families in our community. How grateful these recipients are who receive these gifts (especially the kids). So what about us? Are we excited to see what God has in store for us? Shouldn’t we be eager to receive these gifts from God as the people in our community accept gifts from us? So where do we go from here? Have you discovered your Spiritual Gift/s? Are waiting for God? Are You Open to His Spirit? The writers of Hebrews tell us: 

The message God delivered through angels has Always proved true…and God verified the message by signs and wonders and various miracles and by giving gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose to do so. Hebrews 2:2,4 

We will continue to open these gifts that God has given to us as individuals and a congregation. We will continue learn together how we can put these gifts to work for the good of this congregation, this community & for The Glory of God.

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