Wednesday, December 23, 2015

God Won't Give Us More Than We Can Handle

     I've been teaching a class on Sunday mornings on things the Bible doesn't say.  I admit, I stole the material from Rick Atchley.  But it is good stuff.   Last Sunday I talked of the common phrase that we use that says, "God will never give me more than I can handle."  Where does it say that?  A quick look at the verse we use is I Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.   

     There it is.  Does that sound remotely like God won't give us more than we can handle?  He said He would provide a way out of sin, but not of burdens.  In fact, a quick survey of Scripture tells us there will be suffering.  Ask Job about this.  Ask Paul.

     Paul says there were times in his life when he just couldn't handle what life handed out to him.  In II Corinthians 1:8 listen to what he says:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  

     See that?  He said they suffered far beyond their ability to endure.  They had more than they could handle.  I received a call this week from a deal soul who believed the original premise (God won't give you more than you can handle) was gospel.  The problems she had in life were handled just by repeating that mantra.  I feel like I destroyed her faith.  I read her the passage from II Corinthians, but I added verse 9 and 10 which says:

Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.  

     She seemed a little disappointed.  But she was relying on herself and not God.  God says, when all else has failed, when there is nowhere else to turn, it's God who will save us.  And Paul calls it "gracious favor" here.  When talking about his thorn in the flesh, he says, "God's grace is sufficient."

     God didn't say he wouldn't give us more than we could handle.  He did say, I will handle it for you if you just let go.  It reminds me of an song we sing...."He is able, more than able......."


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Change

     We're all resistant to change.  A friend of mine took a graduate class in ergonomics after which he decided to implement all things he had learned.  His big mistake was the changes he made were in the kitchen.  He used all of his expertise to put the dishes where the dishes should be and the glasses where the glasses should be.  He even rearranged the drawers.  Only problem, that was his wife's domain.  You don't mess with the arrangement of the kitchen especially if the wife set it up the way SHE wanted it.  Needless to say, everything was returned to its initial place regardless of the fact it may have made more sense to put it somewhere else.
     Change is a part of life.  All of us look very different from the way we looked on the day of our birth.  We've changed!  Isn't learning changing?  You learn certain facts and then you learn to apply them.  In problem solving you learn to apply what you have learned to change certain things.  Change not only is a fact of life, we must change to survive.      
     Jesus entered the world and everything changed.  Shepherds couldn't contain themselves, but had to go to Jerusalem once they were told by the angel hosts that the Messiah had been born.  Magi travelled many miles just to see the Holy One of God.  Herod murdered all the little boys of Bethlehem because of his fear of the Christ.  Simeon sees the baby Jesus in the temple and praises God and tells Him that He can now let him die.  The prophetess, Anna, calls the child "the redemption of Israel."  Twelve years later Jesus comes to Jerusalem and is left behind by His parents. They return only to find Him discussing spiritual matters with the teachers.  The Bible says they were amazed at His understanding.  Literally, the Greek language means "to lose one's wits" or "to go out of one's mind."  That's the kind of effect he had on them.  But the one that always gets me is when the chief priests and Pharisees send the temple guard to arrest Jesus.  They come back empty handed.  When questioned, their response is an interesting one.  They reply, "No one ever spoke the way this man does."
     So what does all of this mean?  My point is this.  When you come face to face with Jesus, you are changed.  If your life isn't different because of your relationship with Jesus, then you never really had a relationship with Him at all.  I'll end with this passage from II Corinthians 3:12-18:

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.  We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.  But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read.  It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Word Became Flesh

     John doesn't even mention it.  He begins with John the Baptist preparing the way and then the temptation of Jesus.  Matthew does, but not until he establishes the Jewishness of Jesus.  Luke does, but he first tells the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist.  John, however, goes back to the very beginning--to the creation.  He starts his books just like Genesis.  "In the beginning..."  I would encourage you to go right now and read John 1:1-18.
     Once you have done that, notice several words with me.  The first is WORD.

WORD--"In the beginning the Word..."  The word in the original language is logos.  To the ancient mystic it encompassed everything.  It was life itself.  It was everything under a rational structure.  It was physics and math all combined into something that made sense.  John uses the term to describe Jesus.  Jesus is the reason.  Jesus is everything.  Even Paul tries to describe Jesus in Colossians 1 by saying, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation."  He goes on to say, " him all things hold together."  My assumption is, outside of Him all things fall apart.

LIFE--John 1:4 says that in Word was life.  Not physical life.  Not the heart beating and the brain functioning.  But the best that life has to offer.  Even Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest."  John 10:10.  It's the peace that passes understanding.  It's the joy that comes when all else around us is falling apart.

LIGHT--There's nothing worse than trying to walk in darkness.  Ask any parent who gets up in the middle of the night to check on his/her child.  They are able to find the Lego with their foot every time.  Light dispels darkness, not the other way around.  Jesus is that light and He calls on us to let our lights shine.   Paul says in Philippians 2:14, 15--"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like starts in the universe."

FLESH--This is perhaps the most amazing term in this passage.  The word became flesh.  The Message paraphrases it this way, "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." When God wanted us to see what He was like, He sent Jesus to become flesh.  The apostles pled with Jesus to see God.  He told them if they had seen Him, they had seen God.  The Hebrew writer calls Jesus the "exact representation of his being."  All man, all God.  Hard to fathom, isn't it?

     But the sad thing about all this is that Jesus came and His own didn't see Him.  Only a few smelly shepherds were witnesses.  Some mystics came, but His birth was generally missed.  John said, "He was in the world and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not recognize him."  Another version said, "...but his own received him not."

     May that never be said of us.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Tomb is Empty

     One of the greatest joys of my preaching life has been to be able to talk of Jesus resurrection.  So many times we focus on His death and burial, but the most important thing was His resurrection.  Paul says so in I Corinthians 15:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and hat he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  vss. 3-8

     There are those who say the resurrection is a myth.  Let me offer four things that settle the issue in my mind.  First, it was claimed that the apostles stole Jesus body.  If that were the case, then why weren't the guards killed.  The loss of a prisoner was a capital offense.  Life for life.  Instead, the Bible says the guards were paid to say that.  Second, if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, why didn't the officials produce a body?  That would have ended all speculation there.  Three, did you see all the people to whom Jesus appeared?  Peter, the Twelve, five hundred brothers, James, the apostles, and then to Paul himself.  It would be hard to dispute that many eye witnesses.  Fourth, if this was all a hoax, why did the Twelve allow themselves to be martyred?  Why would you die for a hoax?

     In John's account of the resurrection, the word "saw" or some form of it is used three times.  Yet in the Greek language three different words are used.

V. 5--"Stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying there but he did not go in."  The Greek word for "saw" there is to see without understanding.  He was puzzled.

V. 6--"Then, following him, Simon Peter came also.  He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there."  This time the word "saw" means that it was examined for the purpose of investigation.  The word is the word we get our word "theory" from.  That makes sense, doesn't it?  Peter has his own theory about what happened.

V. 8--"The other disciple who had reached the tomb first, then entered the tomb, saw and believed."  This time, the word "saw" means to perceive with understanding.  He got it!  Jesus was alive!  He remembered all the times Jesus told them what was to happen.  How many times had he heard it?  But now it clicks!

     Doesn't this describe our Christian walk, our journey?  We see Jesus and we really don't understand Him.  We don't know why He would love someone like us.  Then we start to delve into His word and start to examine our lives and to reason why He would die for us.  Then, finally it clicks.  Although we may not completely understand, we fall at His feet and proclaim Him as our Lord.

     The resurrection was the theme of the early church and it should be ours.  Paul said it's the gospel on which we make our stand.  And Paul makes a bold proclamation that excites me and should excite you, too.  He says these words:

"By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also."   I Corinthians 6:14 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why Are We Afraid of Thanksgiving?

     I know what your first reaction to that question is.  "I'm not afraid of Thanksgiving.  I love it!"  So why do we jump across it like a narrow stream in the forest?  Summer ends and we set our sights on Halloween.  Then the next thing you see are commercials for Christmas.  Christmas trees start showing up in the stores.  Santa is on television.  The radio starts playing Christmas music.  the listings are given for all he Christmas movies to be shown on your favorite television stations.  And all the new movies come out when  At Christmas!
     A friend of mine teaches 4th grade music.  She recently said this on Facebook:

"...I think these 4th graders deserve to be heard.  My intention was just to teach them "Over the River and Through the Woods," but that led to a discussion of what families used to do together during holidays before television.  I was not prepared for the anger.  Student after student described begging their parent(s) to turn off the television on Thanksgiving so they could do something together.  Some of these were kids who like to be seen as tough.  They said that their begging did no good, and that their parents replied, "This is what we do on Thanksgiving."  They started talking together about ways to sabotage the TV watching, including unplugging it, smashing it, and setting it on fire.  When I asked them what they wished their families would do on Thanksgiving, here is what they said:  1.  Play games together.  2.  Go around the room and say nice things about each other.  3.  Give thanks for the things we have.  Food for thought..."

     Admit it.  Most of us are excited for Thanksgiving for two, maybe three reasons.  Reason #1.  Food.  We could make a list right now of what we'll be eating for the Thanksgiving meal.  Turkey, possibly ham, dressing, cranberry salad, green beans, corn casserole, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, pecan or pumpkin pie...or both.  We eat until we can eat no more.  Then we eat the leftovers fir the next several days.

     Reason #2.  Time off.  Time off from work or school.  A long weekend.  Naps.  Between meal snacks.  Another nap.

     Reason #3.  And this one isn't for everyone, but I'll say it in one  My wife and I ate with a family one time who would eat and then not eat dessert until the Dallas Cowboys scored.  (Lately, that's been a long time!)

     But why are we afraid to verbalize our thoughts and feelings?  Why can't we look our family, our friends in the eye and sincerely thank them for what they mean in your life?

     Part of this, I think, is an admission that I need you.  That we need each other.  We live in a "pull yourself up by your bootstrap" mentality that says, "I am strong.  I am tough.  You can't bring me down."  To be thankful is to admit that the score isn't even.  Someone pays for something that is your expense.  You nearly get into a brawl because you don't want them paying for your meal or your car repair or the labor costs you have incurred.

     My brother-in-law tore out a deck on the back of my house once when I couldn't help.  When I asked him what I could do to repay him, he brushed it off and said, "You don't understand.  I LIKE doing this."

     I had one of my elders who would compliment me on something I had done...a program, a sermon, a speaker I had invited in.  I would deflect the praise as best I could.  Then he would look at me and say, "Just say, 'thank you.'"

     Don't try to do anything this Thanksgiving holiday except to say, "Thank you."  Thank God.  Thank your parents if they're still around.  Thank your children.  Thank your friends.  Don't do anything else.  Just say, "Thank you."

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful."  Colossians 3:15

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Lord's Prayer

     By reading the title of this blog you might think that the subject of the day is from Matthew 6 which begins, "Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..."  Really this prayer should be aptly named the Model Prayer.  When Jesus' disciples ask Him to teach them how to pray, He used that example.
     However, in John 17 I think we find the real Lord's Prayer.  Virtually, within hours Jesus will be taken as prisoner and crucified.  His thoughts in this prayer are truly phenomenal.  I don't want to spend a lot of time in this post in the first part of this prayer.  It's the last seven verses I want to spend the bulk of our time.
     At the first He told us that knowing God was eternal life.  He really doesn't talk of Himself much, but really the success of the mission He has come to fulfill and what lies ahead for His disciples.  He spends the next part praying for His disciples.
     What strikes home in this prayer is the last part.  He says, "My prayer is not for them alone, I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message."  I wrote this in my Bible.  "My prayer is not for them alone, I pray also for Jim."  You should do the same.  Write your name in there.  Jesus prayed for you.  What's remarkable is Jesus prayed for you over 2000 years ago.  Perhaps that prayer is just now being answered by God.  It's fulfillment is coming in your life today.
     This is a good lesson for us.  Our timeline is much shorter than God's.  We want results.  We want to see an answer and see it NOW!  But can we pray a prayer that will have an effect in another 2000 years?  Are you willing to make a commitment to pray for those whom you will never know.  Perhaps it's a great grandchild or a nation searching for their God.  Maybe it will be a plea for someone on a spiritual journey many years in the future.  You keep praying the prayer.  Our God is faithful.   His answer may come long after we're gone.
   He prays for our unity.  "That will never happen," you might say.  Why not?  If Jesus prayed it, it can happen.  Perhaps if we stopped worrying about everyone else and what they are doing and concentrate on our mission, maybe we might achieve some unity.  I've noticed that most people who want to complain about my work are really not doing anything in the kingdom.  Or maybe we should be praying for those who complain about what you're doing and complaining that you aren't doing things their way.  I try to work by the Gamaliel rule.  I've written about this before.  Gamaliel was a member of the Sanhedrin.  When some of the apostles were brought in and told not to preach in the name of Jesus, Gamaliel told his colleagues to leave them alone.  If their work was of God, there was not stopping it.  If it was from somewhere or someone else, it would die out.  Good advice.
     Finally, Jesus prayed that the love God had for Him would be in us.  He asked us to be the love in this old nasty world.  When there is hate, he calls us to love.  He called on us to carry out His mission....the mission of God's overwhelming, unfailing love.
     If Jesus thinks these thoughts, this prayer is worth praying, shouldn't we be doing everything within our power to fulfill His thoughts?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Dreaming Big

     I preached from John 14 yesterday and there are so many things that could be said from that chapter.  It had to have been abundantly clear that something was about to happen to Jesus.  He told them He would die in Jerusalem.  He told the He was leaving.  He told them one of them would betray Him.  Yet they still didn't seem to get it.  But Jesus pressed on anyway.
     He told them He was going to prepare a place for them.  Not a place with mansions as we often sing.  But a place where there were many rooms.  It really fit the culture of the day when the groom would go to his father's house and add on some rooms where he and his bride could live.  His first message to His apostles in this chapter was "Don't worry, trust God."  Their future would be secure if they just trusted God.
     Of course, Thomas asks where Jesus was going.  I truly think he thought he was going to another town, another district, another province...somewhere away from them.  Thomas wanted to know the way.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  The way is not Mary.  It's not some saint.  Jesus is the ONLY way.
     The outlandish part of this chapter is found in the latter verses.  Jesus told them, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."  John 14:12-14.  Jesus told them they would do greater things.  Think about that for just a moment.  Jesus healed the blind, raised the dead, cured all kinds of illness, healed lepers, cast out demons, and many other miraculous works.  He just told the apostles they would do even greater things!  You might say this charge was for the apostles.  Was it?  Listen to what Paul said in Ephesians 3:20.  He said, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work with us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen!"  "Throughout all generations" he said.
     What does this mean?  I think He calls on us to dream big dreams.  To realize that God is in control.  We should pray outlandish prayers for phenomenal results.  Then we trust Him to see what He accomplishes for His glory.  You may ask, "How is this going to be accomplished?"  Through the Spirit that He left with us.
     I told you there were so many things from this chapter.  And I didn't even scratch the surface.  Perhaps I should dream bigger.  "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine..."

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How Does Jesus See You?

     A few years ago I heard someone use a very profound illustration.  It went something like this.  Close your eyes and imagine that Jesus and you are sitting in a room together, face to face, knee to knee.  Look at His face.  What expression is on His face?  I had people write down their reactions to that little example and the results were astounding.  Most said He was disappointed or sad.
     I would hate for us to go through life in such a way believing that Jesus has a disappointed look on His face as He looks at us.  You see, we can fix ourselves up, dress nicely, wear make-up (females only please!!), get our hair styled and look really good.  God told us long ago that isn't important to Him.
     The Israelites used that measure once when selecting a king.  Saul was handsome, head and shoulders taller than anyone else.  He looked like a king!  The last straw came when he disobeyed God when it came to the Amalekites.  It was after this that God sent Samuel out to find a new king.  He looked at Jesse's sons and they looked regal.  But God told Samuel, "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."  I Samuel 16:7b
     With that being said, what did Jesus look for in someone?  In John 4 He met a woman who had had five, count them, five husbands and was living with a guy who wasn't her husband.  Can you imagine if this woman walked into our assembly today?  We certainly wouldn't pick her to lead the women's ministry.  But Jesus saw her heart and He used her.  What about in John 8 when a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Him.  Caught, which means she probably wasn't wearing much, if anything.  Now, Jesus didn't say, "Oh, you're fine."  He did say that He didn't condemn her.  Then He told her to go and don't sin anymore.
     In Mark 10 a rich young man comes to Jesus and asks what he can do to inherit eternal life.  The Scripture says He looked at the young man and loved him.  Why did He love Him?  I think He was looking at His heart.  The young man had a choice and He chose to stay with his possessions rather than with Jesus.  On the other hand, in Matthew 23, Jesus lays out a lot of "Woe to you's."  It was the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  It was the ones who had no intention of following Jesus.  They were only in it for the prestige or the political clout they could maintain.  Jesus saw their hearts and condemned them greatly.
     So back to the original question.  How does Jesus see you?  It depends.  It depends on your heart.  And don't think you can pull something on Him.  Psalm 139 tells us that even before a word is on our tongue, God knows it.  He knows our thoughts, our motives, our very being.  My prayer for us to today is found at the end of this great chapter.  Heed and pray these words:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23, 24

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Triumphal Entry

     How fickle could they be?  At one point in Jesus' ministry, He fed a crowd of over 5000.  Soon after that, it was a crowd of 4000.  We always hear of multitudes and so many people around Him that He couldn't tell who touched Him.  The number of His followers would rise and fall.  Early in the book of John it tells of a number of them leaving because of His hard teachings.  Evidently enough left that He questioned His apostles if they also were leaving.  It was Peter who said, "Lord, to whom shall we go.  You have the words of eternal life."  
     Then, all four gospels record an event at the end of Jesus' life.  He comes into Jerusalem for His last Passover riding on a donkey.  He's not the conquering hero that many expect riding in on His white steed to lead the armies of Israel to once and for all defeat this occupying force of Romans.  Yet the 2.5 to 2.7 million people (according to William Barclay) are clamoring for a king.

"Hosanna to the Son of David."
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
"Hosanna in the highest."
"Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David."
"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord."
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest."
"Blessed os the King of Israel."

     Sounds to me as if they were wanting a king.  Jesus was willing, but not the kind of king they wanted.  He wanted to save them from their sins.  They wanted Him to save them from their captives.  Oh, if they only realized they were captives of their sins.  His offer was much more valuable than the one they wanted.  But they misunderstood.  
     Why did Jesus come into Jerusalem the way He did?  First, I think He was trying to tell them they really didn't want a king in the sense they wanted a king.  They were thinking David or Solomon.  One doesn't have to be much of a biblical scholar to realize the utter failure the Israelite kings were.  Those kings were really a concession from God.  Perhaps Jesus rode into town on a donkey to say, "I'm not like the other kings."  
     But I think the second reason why Jesus came the way He did is a little more subtle.  Right after the account in John some Greeks come to Philip and they ask to see Jesus.  Wait a minute.  Jesus' ministry was for the Jews.  Right?  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell of Jesus cleaning out the temple right after His entry.  In Mark, Jesus makes this statement.  "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."  Could it be that Jesus was saying to the world, "It is now time for salvation to come to all."?  Neither Jew nor Greek, Slave or Free, Male or Female, but it's open for all!  Jesus ushers in this new age because He knows He has come to die for all.  
     As the disciples meet in Jerusalem after Jesus' resurrection, we find there are only 120 followers.  Wow!  How sad.  Yet, the Bible does say that the road is narrow.  Few will find it.  Not because He restricts it.  But because we are too stubborn to admit our need for a Savior.
    Thank you, Lord, for coming into the city in the way you did.  May you come into our lives the same way.  Humbly.  And I pray that we will be one of those who accepts You for who You are...the Savior of the World.  Our King!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How Can I Even Come Close?

     Preachers struggle (At least I do.  I'm sure others do, too.)  with adequately proclaiming the Message.  My prayer every Sunday is an apology to God that I wasn't able to fully describe what He wanted to be proclaimed.  God is faithful and He can take the weak words of someone and make them into something relevant.  That's what I count on every time I speak.
     Last Sunday's sermon was extremely difficult for me to satisfactorily communicate--it was about God's love.  But I take heart in the fact that even the Scriptures struggle sometimes to describe His love.  Superlatives are almost always used.  "For God so loved the world..."  "See how great a love he has lavished upon us..."  "God has poured out his love into our hearts..."  The Old Testament, especially the Psalms, talk of God's unfailing love.  I was amused the other day when I read something in the Psalms where the psalmist was questioning God.  He said something like, "Has your unfailing love ceased?"  If it's unfailing, how could it cease?
     But why does God love me?  ME?  That's what I have a hard time wrapping my arms around.  In the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye says something to the affect, "Why do we do the things we do?  I'll tell you.  I don't know.  But it's tradition!"  Why does God love me the way He does?  I'll tell you.  I don't know.  But He does!  He demonstrates it by giving His own Son.  Paul tells us in Romans that nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Our problem is we oftentimes refuse to accept His love.  There's the rub.  He never quits.  We often do.  And there comes a time when even He has had enough.  Don't believe me?  Read the stories of the Israelites and see what happened to them.  He'll do the same to us, too.
     O, how He loves you!  Please.  Please.  Let's not let Him down.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Washing Feet

     I don't know why Jesus didn't just start over.  The twelve He had were incorrigible, stubborn, selfish, egotistical.....I think you get the idea.  John doesn't tell us this, but we get the message from the Synoptics.
     Let me set the scene for you.  The time for Jesus to die is fast approaching.  The Passover was a feast that all good Jews celebrated.  If you lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem, you were required to be there for the feast.  Right before the feast evidently the apostles were having a discussion.  Feud would probably be a better description of what was going on.  They were arguing among themselves who was the greatest.  Peter may have had the inside track because he seemed to be the one who had the right answers.  James and John could have made a good argument because they were there with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Matthew could have made the case that he once had lots of money, but he gave it all up to follow Jesus.  To which they all probably said, "Join the club!  We've all left everything!"
     During this "I'm better than you are" talk, Jesus gets up from the table, wraps a towel around His waist, pours a basin of water and starts washing their feet.  This is typically a job for the house slave. It was the basic bit of hospitality--much like us offering something to drink today.  It was just assumed that you would do that at the very least.  But they were too busy jockeying for position.  The Creator of the Universe, the Savior, the Messiah, the Way, the Truth and The Life got on His hands and knees and washed the dirty, smelly feet of the apostles.
     Here's how John described it.  "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power,"  (Think about that!  He had all the power in the world!  Yet, He took the role of the servant.) "and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him."  John 13:3-5
     I bet that stopped all the arguments!  But note what John said.  He had come from God and He was returning to God.  Isn't that all of us?  Didn't we come from God?  Isn't that our ultimate destination at the end of our lives to return back to God?  So what do we do while we're here on earth?  Serve.  It's what Jesus said to do.  No task is too menial.  No one is above anything that advances the Kingdom.  No matter how dirty, no matter how silly it looks.
     Friends of mine work for the corporate giant Tyson Foods.  They are a well known chicken company based in Northwest Arkansas.  All of their employees where khaki pants and khaki shirts that have their name and the company logo on it.  Even the higher ups wear the traditional garb.  One day I asked one of the chief executives why he didn't wear a suit.  He said, "Jim, let me ask you a question.  If you were wearing a suit, would you likely go into a chicken house?"  Touche!  All right, let's wrap our towels around our waists and let's start serving.  JW

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Cup

     Several images come to my mind when I think of "The Cup."  My first thought goes to the Lord's Supper when Jesus calls His apostles to drink the cup in His memory.  Another idea is that of fellowship.  Let's sit down and have a cup of coffee (or chai in my case...sorry, not a coffee drinker).  But it conjures up the image of fellowship, having something in common.
     In ancient times, it was a form of capital punishment.  If convicted you drank a cup of poison.  Socrates died in such a manner by drinking a cup of hemlock.
     James and John sent their mother to do their dirty work; they had her ask Jesus if one could sit on His right side and the other on His left side when He came into His kingdom.  Jesus asked them if they could drink the cup that He Himself was going to drink.  Mark makes it a little clearer when he quotes Jesus as saying, "Can you drink the cup I drink I drink or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?"  (Mark 10:38)
     Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus agonized in prayer over His coming death.  He prayed to God, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken away from me."  Later in the same scene, the mob comes to arrest Jesus and Peter uses his sword to cut off Malchus' ear.  Jesus says to him, "Put your sword away!  Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"
     So I get the idea that this cup image is something important.  It's used enough times for me to take heed and listen.  Is Jesus calling for a suicide pact of some kind?  My answer?  Yes and no.  His not calling for us to kill ourselves physically.  He says, we need to die to ourselves.  Paul said, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."  He also said, "I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless not I, but Christ lives in me."  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses....daily.
     William Barclay told the story of an ancient coin that was found with an image of an ox facing two things--an altar and a plough.  The inscription reads, "Ready for either."  In other words, if God asks us to sacrifice our lives even to the point of death, we are ready.  Isn't that what John says in Revelation where he said, "Be faithful unto death."?  Or, we should be ready to put on the yoke of Jesus and live "the long routine of Christian life, with all its daily sacrifice, its daily struggle, and its heart-breaks and its disappointments and its tears."  Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
     Whatever He calls us to, Jesus asks us to drink the cup with Him.   Come what may, we accept His fate as ours and serve Him all the days of our life.  Blessings on your day.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Like Little Children

In Matthew 18, the disciples come to Jesus and ask Him who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  There are several interesting things about this whole situation.  First of all, it's the wrong question.  All indications are that they were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.  Both Mark 9 and Luke 9 tell the story, but they indicate that the apostles were arguing among themselves about this very question.  Their thought process was that Jesus was going to overthrow the Romans and He would become the leader.  He would then need a Secretary of State, a Secretary of Treasury, a Speaker of the House...  They, as they often did, missed the point.  It wasn't about an earthly kingdom, it was about God's kingdom at large.

Another interesting point is, Matthew doesn't bring up the fact that they were arguing among themselves.  Mark does.  Luke does.  But not Matthew.  Mark wasn't an apostle.  Scholars feel he told the story from Peter's perspective.  Luke wrote Acts and Luke and sent them to Theophilus.  Luke was a physician, a missionary mate of Paul.  He wasn't an apostle either.  So neither of them weren't afraid to tell the story.  Perhaps, Matthew was a little too embarrassed about this because maybe, just maybe he was in on the argument.  So "let's just not bring that up."

So Jesus places a child in their midst and says that's what the kingdom of heaven looks like.  William Barclay says it may have been Peter's son.  That's an interesting twist!  He tells those who were acting like children that they need to be more like children.

In my sermon Sunday, I gave five characteristics of children that I think Jesus would want us to emulate.

A Sense of Wonder--

I think you can see all of these except for the "overlooked" one.  In his book, Jesus, A Gospel, Henri Nouwen says to be like a child is to pay attention to those who are often overlooked.  "Children should be seen and not heard," is the saying.  Yet, Jesus says they are the ones to look to as our model.

Learn from a child.  See how he still has the purity of youth and has not yet been overcome with the curse of cynicism.  Learn to trust God and to be dependent.  May we always have a sense of wonder and awe at what God has done and is  doing.  And may we follow the example of Jesus when he says he is meek and humble in heart.

Blessings to you this day.  JW

Monday, August 31, 2015

Seeking and Worrying

My sermon topics are determined months (sometimes as much as a year) in advance.  As I was preparing for last week's sermon, I realized my view on a passage of scripture has been wrong....sort of.  The passage used was Luke 12:27-32 with a parallel passage in Matthew 6:33.  Matthew says, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

As I studied the passage I looked at the context of the saying.  Take yourself to the first century when it was written.  Food was not extremely available.  Bread was a staple of life.  Many lived from one day to the next.  "Give us today our daily bread" Jesus said in the Model Prayer.  He didn't ask for our weekly or monthly bread.  I'm thinking most people who lived then wondered where the next meal might be coming from.  And then there is the clothes issue.  The soldiers bartered for Jesus' garments at the cross.  He didn't have a whole wardrobe to fight over.  So Jesus uses the illustration of birds not gathering into barns and lilies of the field being dressed more beautifully than Solomon.  Then he assures the listeners that they are much more valuable then birds or flowers, so seek the kingdom of God.

As I contemplated what this means for us I started to think that we don't worry too much about food.  We have pantries full.  Our children come and look into the larders and claim there is nothing to eat. We have closets full of clothes.  We debate which shoes to wear and what shirt or dress or what accessory will make us look good.  So it's really not something we worry too much about.

There's the rub.  This passage is about worry.  So, if you don't worry about clothes or food, what is it that makes you worry?  What do think of me?  How do I look?  Do I have enough money?  How long will my car last?  Are my kinds going to turn out all right?  Am I going to heaven?  The list is endless.  We worry about everything.  Paul said, "Don't be anxious about anything."  Peter said, "Cast all your anxieties on him for he cares for you."  Jesus said, "Who of you can add a single hour to your life by worrying?"

What happens when we worry?  Worry keeps the emphasis on us and takes the focus off of Jesus. It may not be food or clothing for you.  But what is it that keeps you awake at night?  What makes your stomach churn?  Jesus said whatever you are worrying about, what you need to do is to seek the kingdom of God.  In essence, He says whatever is big in your life, God is bigger.  Whatever distracts you from God, stop worrying about it.  I think the Hebrew writer says it best when he says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great clouds of witnesses (see Hebrews chapter 11), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles (worry), and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus (emphasis mine), the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  Hebrews 12:1, 2

So let's get off the throne and take off the crown and realize there is only one King.  God is on the throne and He wears the diadem.  Stop worrying and seek first the Kingdom!

Monday, May 4, 2015


I read this week a story about a man who went to work in India with Mother Theresa.  He went to her one day to ask her to pray for him.  "What do you want me to pray for?" she asked.  He responded, "I want clarity in my life."  She refused his request.  She preceded to tell him that in all her years of working with the lepers, she never had clarity.  She only knew to trust in God.  And that is what she would pray for him.

I've prayed that prayer before.  I've asked for clarity.  That's kind of like asking to know on what day you will die.  Then you plan around it.  Can you imagine if Abraham had asked for clarity?  "Lord, I know you've told me that you'll make of me a great nation, but just where am I to go?"  Instead, God just told him to go and He would show him.

God tells us to just hold His hand.  We don't know what way the road will take us.  He never said it would be easy.  He never said we wouldn't receive some scars along the way.  He did say He would never leave us.

I love an old hymn we hardly ever sing these days.  But the words of the chorus go like this.

Trust and obey,
For there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Burned In Us

The story of the two on their way to Emmaus is such an interesting story.  Read it in Luke 24:13-31.  Jesus comes up on Cloepas and another and they don't recognize Him.  Is it miraculous?  William Barclay says that they were looking into the western sun and couldn't see His face.  But then again, William Barclay seems to try to take everything out of the miraculous into the realm of "logical explanation."  Obviously, these two had been close on the whole crucifixion.  And now they already knew that there was a rumor of His resurrection.

Charles Swindoll says they didn't believe it because had they believed they wouldn't have been walking away from Jerusalem.  As far as they were concerned, the whole Jesus thing was over.  He hadn't filled their expectations.  They were expecting a Messiah, One who were free them from the bondage of Rome.  What they missed is He did free them from bondage.  The bondage of sin.  And they missed it!  

Jesus calls us to quit having a short sided, earthly, material view of His work.  Instead, continue to see everything....and I mean everything in a spiritual light.  Paul said in I Corinthians that he no longer saw anyone from an earthly point of view.  And he admitted that he once saw Jesus like that.  

So let's get rid of all our earthly expectations and try to walk with Jesus seeking what He's up to.  Then our hearts will burn within us!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Hurled Their Insults

It was quite humbling talking about the physical abuse that Jesus took while He was on trial.  We tend to linger on the cross which, of course, was nothing short of horrendous.  But the beating He took even before His murder.  Slapped in the face.  Hit in the face while blindfolded.  Spit on.  Beaten by professional hit men.  A crown of long, sharp thorns on his head and hit on the head over and over.  It's no wonder He collapsed before even reaching Calvary.

Years ago Max Lucado pointed out a word in one of Peter's letters.  It says, "they hurled their insults at Him."  I think I paraphrased that correctly.  They didn't just insult Him.  They hurled them at Him as if they were throwing rocks.  I wonder which hurt worse.  Was it the physical beatings He took that injured His physical body.  Or did the insults, the expletives, the innuendo, the name calling, the utter and total rejection of the Son of God....was that more disappointing?

We can ask one day.  But until then, we just have to respect the fact that He did not retaliate.  He didn't respond in kind.  He didn't abuse them or call down angels to defend His honor.  Instead, He trusted His Father.  There's a good lesson there for all of us.  When the naysayers and the critics come around and we feel as if we are being persecuted, then we need to remember what He went through.  And when He went through it, He trusted His Father.  Let's trust Father.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

New blog

Greetings to any and all who read this simple blog.  I have used another blog called Jim's Journey for a long time.  But I needed a change and seems to be the best way to do this.

There is a purpose for the title "Leftovers."  I am a preacher (pastor, evangelist, minister, whatever you want to call me.) and in reality I am woefully unqualified to preach the goodness of God's grace and mercy.  My prayer after every sermon is an apology to God for not being able to preach about His wondrous love in a more effective way.  He does, however, take my words and makes them His own.

Many times I think of something I should have said.  Or, I just didn't have enough time to say what I needed to say in my lessons.  Hence, leftovers!  What has been left unsaid I will place into this blog.  I will summarize my lessons and then add what I forgot.  Should be interesting, right?  I hope so.  You who read my scribbling, I hope you are uplifted by them.  In all of this, it is my goal to glorify our Father, praise His Son, and live by His Holy Spirit.  Blessings on all of you today.