Monthly Archives: March 2016

End Times Requirements

(sermon notes)

The Bible is FILLED with references to the END TIMES…

In the OLD Testament: “The Day of the Lord”

In the NEW Testament: “The Second Coming of Christ”

Are there requirements for those of us who desire to be on the Lord’s side when it comes to those END TIMES?

How did the Disciples and the New Testament writers see themselves?

Because that is probably a good indicator as to how WE ought to see ourselves.

JESUS

“whoever wants to be first among you must be your servant

(Matthew 20:26) (NIV)

“Well done, good and faithful servant

(Matthew 25:21 +) (NIV)

PAUL

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus”

(Rom. 1:1) (NIV)

“Paul & Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus”

(Philippians 1:1) (NIV)

“Paul, a servant of God”

(Titus 1:1) (NIV)

JAMES

“James, a servant of God”

(James 1:1) (NIV)

PETER

“Simon Peter, a servant & apostle of Jesus Christ”

(2 Peter 1:1) (NIV)

JUDE

“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ”

(Jude 1) (NIV)

THE REVELATION TO JOHN

“This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the events that must soon take place.”

(Revelation 1:1) (NIV)

In every one of these places where the English NIV translation reads: “servant” the New Testament, written in Greek, actually has the word: doulos. While the NIV translates it as “servant”, doulos is better translated as “slave.”

According to the NLT Study Bible, doulos (Strong’s: 1401) “… refers to a person who is the property of another person. A slave can be bought, sold, inherited, leased or jointly owned. This language is also used figuratively to identify something that exercises power over a person (e.g. “slave to sin”). In the NT, believers are often identified as slaves of Christ Jesus, with an emphasis on their identity with, obedience to, and humble service for their master.”

NLT Study Bible (Tyndale: 2008) p. 2222

So… The attitude of the disciples and the writers of the New Testament was one of being SERVANTS, or more accurately, SLAVES. Ones that looked to their Master for direction, guidance, and commands.

As Servants of Jesus, what is expected of us as we approach the End Times?

In Luke 12, verses 35-48, we see a series of four servant/slave pictures that Jesus uses to emphasize the expectations of his followers as the end times get closer to the end.

As servants (or slaves) of Christ, looking for our role as we approach the End Times, we are expected to:

1. Be Ready for His Coming

35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.”

–LUKE 12:35-37 (NLT)

As servants (or slaves) of Christ, looking for our role as we approach the End Times, we are expected to:

2.       Be on Guard for the Enemy

39 “Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”

 –LUKE 12:39-40 (NLT)

As servants (or slaves) of Christ, looking for our role as we approach the End Times, we are expected to:

3.       Be Ready to Be Caught By the Master Doing Your Job

41 Peter asked, “Lord, is that illustration just for us or for everyone?“

42 And the Lord replied, “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 43 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. 44 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 45 But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 46 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.

— LUKE 12-42-46 (NLT)

As servants (or slaves) of Christ, looking for our role as we approach the End Times, we are expected to:

4.       Be Aware of What the Master Wants… and Do It

47 “And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. 48 But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

 — LUKE 12:47-48 (NLT)

SUMMARY:

As servants (or slaves) of Christ, looking for our role as we approach the End Times, we are expected to:

  1. Be Ready for His coming
  2. Be on Guard for the Enemy
  3. Be Ready to Be Caught Doing Your Job by the Master
  4. Be Aware of What the Master Wants… and Do It

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What Is Truth?

SCRIPTURE TEXT: John 18:28-38

 Pilate’s question: What is truth?

 That’s a question that haunts us even today, doesn’t it?

Our entire legal system is based on people telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Yet we know that often, people in a trial are not given fair hearings because of someone who does know the truth and yet does not tell the truth.

You know, I believe that was Pilate’s real struggle that night so long ago.  Not that he didn’t know the truth.

Matthew 27 tells us that Pilate “knew that it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.” Pilate knew the truth.

Just a little later in this narrative, Pilate hands down his judgment against Jesus and says “I find no basis for a charge against him.” Pilate knew the truth.

But knowing the truth, and responding to the truth are different. Pilate knew the truth, but chose not to respond to the truth. And handed Jesus over to be crucified.

You know, we are the same way today aren’t we? We know the truth.  One of the more popular examples of this that I’ve seen lately is a book that came out a while ago by Robert Fuldrom called All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. It was a best seller for quite a while.

In that book Fuldrom wrote…..

Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything…
  • Play fair…
  • Don’t hit people…
  • Put things back where you found them…
  • Clean up your own mess…
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours…
  • Say your sorry when you hurt somebody….
  • Wash your hands before you eat…
  • Flush….
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you…
  • Live a balanced life…
  • Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day…
  • Take a nap every afternoon…
  • When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together…
  • Be aware of wonder.

Great truths for life aren’t they? Yet even though we know these things as “truths” for our lives, we often don’t do them do we?

That’s just ONE example of how our problem is NOT a matter of knowing the truth… but rather it is whether or not we RESPOND to the truth.

That was what Pilate was facing back then as well.

Lest you think this was just Pilate’s problem, think back to some of the others in the passion of Jesus… the Jewish leaders like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea who knew the truth of who Jesus was. The Bible even says they were followers of Jesus…. but secretly.

They were afraid of letting others know that they knew the truth and had responded to the truth.

Peter had a similar problem didn’t he?  He alone of all had first spoken the truth of Jesus when he declared “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”  And he was one of only three that had gotten to see Jesus transfigured and heard God the Father Almighty declare “This is my Son…”

Yet, on the night of Jesus’ trial, in those early morning hours, three different times this one who intimately and publicly knew the truth, responded to others by pretending to not know.

How about us?

I firmly believe that the words of Scripture have value for us today; they can be applied to our lives now.

So what is there in here for us today?

We, like those in the last few hours before Jesus’ death, know what the truth is.  Jesus himself said that HE. Was. The. Truth.”

But, like those back then, knowing is not enough. We too must respond to the truth.

And the truth is that we face a God who loves us so much, that He would rather die than spend eternity without us.  So he did…. He died on that cross, faced all of the shame, the persecution, the pain, that would have been ours, so that we would not have to spend eternity separated from God.

And all we have to do, is respond….. accepting him as our Lord, our Savoir.

We know the truth.

So do so many around us.

But will we respond to that truth?

Will we be like Pilate, knowing the truth and then give up and walk away?

Will we be like Nicodemus and Joseph, knowing the truth and responding, but never be bold enough to take a stand for the truth of Jesus Christ, because of our fear?

Will we be like Peter, knowing the truth, responding to the truth, but then distancing ourselves from it when we face uncomfortable circumstances?

What is truth? Jesus.   Now, how will we respond?

What will YOU do with The Truth?

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Augustine: Without Humility

Augustine Day By DayIn 1998 I picked up a little daily devotional book called: Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A. (Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y.: 1986). I’ve used it as an everyday companion a couple different years, but I just happened to run across it again a couple of weeks ago and started reading some of the entries on which I had made notes. One of the first ones that caught me was titled “Without Humility Pride Will Win.”

This Augustine quote was the entry for January 8th and was drawn from Letter 118,22:

“Grasp the truth of God by using the way He Himself provides, since He sees the weakness of our footsteps. That way consists first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, of humility.

“Unless humility precede, accompany, and follow up all the good we accomplish, unless we keep our eyes fixed on it, pride will snatch everything right out of our hands.”

This has been a good reminder during this last week for me. On Saturday, my wife and I met with the Pastor-parish committee of the new church I’ll be moving to in June (First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA). The District Superintendent was there to introduce us and at one point he’s reading off a list of qualities, about me, that had made the bishop and his cabinet believe I might just be the right next pastor for this church. I can’t list what they were, I wasn’t taking notes. But I remember thinking as he finished, “Man, I’d like to meet THAT guy!”

Did he exaggerate? No. But I always see my flaws, my overweight body, and my list of things I want to do better. Augustine’s warning to do self-examination with “first, … humility, second, … humility, and third, … humility” is good counsel!

Now if we could just infuse our presidential candidates with a little bit of humility… !

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First Fruits

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

–1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV)

I grew up around a farm. I didn’t really live there, I just hung out there a lot. It was my grandfather’s and I basically just visited on the weekends and stayed most of every summer, but I proudly considered myself a “farmboy.”

Truth is, I helped in the haymaking each summer, and usually got to go out with Grandpa gathering sap once or twice each Spring, and a couple of times gathered eggs from the henhouse. That’s it. Not much of a farm life after all.

BUT, I remember the wait for the fresh peas and green beans from Grandpa’s garden. Oh, and the corn on the cob, too! I could hardly wait for Grandpa to say they were ready, ‘It’s about time we tried some of those peas and beans.’ (He actually liked the onions and turnips and asparagus too, but even grandparents can’t always be perfect, I suppose).

And that first small serving of fresh vegetables, that first taste of the fruit of Grandpa’s hard work, was delicious! But with that first taste of those “first fruits” came the knowledge that much more was on its way! We wouldn’t have to wait much longer!

It doesn’t take much of a farm boy to recognize the parallel in our Christian walk when Paul talks about death and uses Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection to eternal life that all believers will experience. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we can look at Christ and recognize that His resurrection is merely a “firstfruits” of ALL believers’ resurrections to come. There is HOPE of what is yet to come! For us… and for our loved ones in Christ who have already “fallen asleep” through death.

Oh Christ, You are only the FIRST fruits of resurrection. HALLELUJAH!!!

I stumbled across a devotional I wrote for the Lenten Devotional our worship committee created in 2001 at our Trinity UM Church in Patton, PA. We invited the congregation to reflect on a list of Scriptures and pick one to write a devotonal about.

This was my meditation reflecting on 1 Corinthians 15:20.

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Do Not Quarrel Along The Way

After Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and they are all reconciled with one another, he sends them with his blessing to go home and get their families, and their father Jacob. But in Genesis 45:24 we read:

“Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel along the way.’”

My district superintendent used this passage about Joseph (Genesis 39-45) as the core of a pastor’s retreat I attended earlier this month. And I kid you not, I did not know that verse was in there! (I toyed with maybe God had just recently done an update, but I probably just missed it).

Even after all the reconciliation and reunion, the forgiveness and the blessings, and the hope of the future, Joseph still knew what his brothers were like and what they’d probably do once they headed home. And he reminded them not to get into the blaming and “I told you so” kinds of quarrelling. Am I reading more into it than is there? I don’t think so, because clear back in Genesis 42:22, Reuben, the oldest brother, had already headed down that path. He just didn’t know that Joseph could understand what he said. (“Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen…’”)

There are some people who think we Christians are supposed to be perfect all the time or else we’re not really Christians. Being a Christian means we’re forgiven of our past, but not necessarily immune from ever sinning again. Even after Jesus is Lord in our life and we claim to be his followers, we still mess up sometimes. That’s why Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery (after her accusers had all made themselves scarce) are so hopeful to me: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:11b)

Joseph knew his brothers would be tempted to fall back into the quarrelling. Jesus knows that we are likely to be tempted to fall back into our old ways. And Joseph, and Jesus, give that encouraging reminder that we don’t have to fall back into the old ways.

The thing is, the brothers had to rely on each other, while Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to help us when we’re tempted. We can call on him for help!

In fact, that’s where another of my favorite passages comes in:

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (First Corinthians 10:13)

After the forgiveness and reconciliation, with God, with our brothers and sisters, with family members, or whomever, there will still be an easy way to slide back into the old ways… the ways that broke relationship to start with. Sometimes, another person will be the one that re-breaks the relationship… but it doesn’t have to be us!

And when it comes to our spiritual relationship with our God, he ALWAYS makes sure that there is some way out of the temptation or the testing. IF we choose to take it!

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Forgive Us Our Trespasses

I was struck by Genesis 45 at a pastor’s retreat earlier this month, when I read how his brothers reacted when Joseph revealed who he really was.

“But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”

They have been living with their guilt and remorse for years and years. And they’ve changed their ways because of it. I know that because of their differing behaviors towards Benjamin and their father… even in the face of a seemingly all-powerful Egyptian lord. They are no longer looking for the easiest way out of a problem, rather they are willing to plead and Judah even offers up himself as a slave to try to protect the one who cannot protect himself.

But now, their past sin, hidden so long, has come back to them. And they are afraid. Not only might Joseph still be angry, he’s in a position to have each of them sold as a slave or even killed. And they know they’ve earned those penalties if he decides to carry them out.

And, like Jesus so many centuries later, Joseph doesn’t make them wallow in their guilt and sin. He has already seen and heard their hearts as he tested them in chapters 42, 43, and 44. He steps in and releases them from their past, their sin, their guilt, their shame, and their fear… before they can even figure out how to respond. And Joseph welcomes them into his presence and delivers them from their daily fight for survival in a famine while he’s at it.

Jesus, once he’s seen our repentant hearts, releases us from our past, our sin, our guilt, our shame, and our fear, and welcomes us into his presence as one of his. We are under his protection and have access to all he has.

Where do we see ourselves in this account from Genesis? One of the brothers who hurt someone? Have we really had enough of the guilt, shame, and its consequences that we have “changed our ways” with a repentant heart?

Perhaps we see ourselves like Joseph where we have been the one on the receiving end of the hurt? As Christians we often pray the Lord’s prayer and point blank ask God to only forgive us in the same way we have forgiven those who have hurt us. (“…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”) How have we forgiven the ones who did us wrong?

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Forgiveness follows Repentence

Earlier this month, at a pastor’s retreat at Olmsted Manor, our district superintendent walked through chapters 39 – 45 of Genesis. We followed Joseph, as a slave, as he was promoted and then betrayed in Potiphar’s house, then was taken to prison where he was again promoted, but then forgotten, and eventually remembered and promoted again to “chief of staff” over Pharaoh’s kingdom.

By chapter 42, Joseph’s brothers, who had originally betrayed him and sold him into slavery, show up in Egypt trying to find grain to buy in the midst of the great famine. Because of Joseph’s new position, they have to come to him to try and buy food. He of course recognizes them, but they have no idea that he is the one they now once so badly mistreated.

Now, I don’t know if he was just trying to jerk their chains a bit or if it was again God helping to orchestrate a few lessons for the brothers on empathy and perhaps conviction, but chapters 42, 43, and 44, are an account of Joseph’s brothers experiencing what it is to be unfairly accused, unjustly detained, and contemplating the pain of grief their father had to experience at Joseph’s loss so many years ago. And now, they find that this unknown Egyptian leader may actually force them to grieve their father again at the loss of another son, Benjamin, as he is accused of villainy and now must stay in Egypt as a slave.

In verses 33-34 of chapter 44, Judah, who had been the one to hatch the idea of selling Joseph as a slave (Genesis 37:26-27), unknowingly pleads with Joseph that he be allowed to take Benjamin’s place.

“Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy return with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”

Officially at least, everything in chapter 44 is aimed at punishment of Benjamin, and by extension, the other ten brothers. But in that moment of confession and penitence, Judah offers himself up for a younger brother, and for his father’s sake, and breaks the power of intended punishment. Punishment, at its best, is to teach a lesson. Judah and the other culpable brothers have shown that they have remorse for their past and have indeed learned their lesson. Our sin(s) do have an impact on our lives, even when others seemingly don’t know about our sin. (Scripture never tells us if they ever fessed up to their father about how Joseph happened to end up in Egypt.)

A couple things jumped out at me this time. First, my choices, sinful or not, WILL have consequences. There are no victimless sins. Ever. Judah and his brothers faced the consequences of their sin in Egypt, even if only for a short time. But Joseph spent years in the midst of the consequences of their sinful choice. Jacob, their father, spent some 13 or more years needlessly grieving the loss of his son, because of their sin. And they faced over a decade of living with his grief and daily being reminded that they were the cause of all that grief. And I’m sure, based on their later penitent conversation, that they spent that time racked with guilt that they had no way of easing.

Paul, in First Corinthians 5, says that those of us who are Christians, are called to a “ministry of reconciliation.” As you read more of the New Testament you come to understand that while Paul is immediately talking about reconciling people with God, there’s also a ministry of helping to reconcile people with people as a way of drawing ourselves closer together and closer to God.

It hit me that if I, as a Christian, really want to become closer to God, then I have a responsibility to do the best I can in being reconciled with the rest of God’s people around me.

That’s essentially what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 5:21-26. He starts by talking about anger with someone else and then talks about the moment we leave them and head towards God. In his day, it was making a sacrifice or presenting a gift in the Temple, but in our day it might be that we go to church, or Bible study, or try to pray. If we truly want to draw closer to God, then that reconciliation thing has to happen… as much as we can. Jesus actually said:

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

And of course, “brother” and “sister” aren’t referring to genealogically related individuals alone.

Is there anything in your past keeping you from drawing even closer to God? Is there anyone who has suffered because of you or your sin? Have you tried to make things right with them? If not, that’s your next right thing to do!

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