Saturday, March 24, 2012

Easter Changes Everything!

Easter Sunday is, for me, the most encouraging holiday of the year. On Easter God not only proved his love for us, but his power to give us what he promises, by raising Jesus from the dead. If Jesus really was raised from the dead, that changes our whole world-view. Easter not only confirms God’s existence, but it also shows us that he keeps his promises. Easter changes everything!

Therefore, as we read the Bible, we can see that God is the giver of good gifts. In Jesus God has given us all we need for life. Here are five big needs we have that are met by the gifts of God, (gifts that are signed, sealed and delivered by the resurrection of Jesus Christ). That is why Easter changes everything.

Psalm 138:3 says, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.” (Psalm 138:3 ESV) We all need power, motivation, inspiration, encouragement. Jesus often went away by himself to pray. He knew that power to live on comes not from having a “religion” (a system of rules to follow), but from living in a relationship with God. Through the Holy Spirit, God gives us power to live on. (Acts 9:31)

Everybody needs people. One of God’s first observations was that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Scientific research tells us that relationships are important for our health. People who have close relationships live longer, feel better and have lower stress. God knows that you need people. That’s part of what God gives us in belonging to a church.

Belonging to a church is an important gift from God to encourage us. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:25, NIV). “But encourage one another daily.” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV) As a gathering of people who openly acknowledge God’s grace on their lives, a church is a place where deep, true friendships can form. What a gift! Friendship changes our lives.

We live in a constantly changing world. Expert advice about health and well-being (and many other areas of life) seems to shift every year. God offers people stability through the timeless principles of life he gives them in the Bible. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4 ESV)

Every one of us has unique talents, training and experience. Romans 12:6 says, “We all have different gifts” that we can use. Each of us has an important role to play in the world. No one is unimportant. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:12,18, NIV). There is nowhere you can become more you than in the church. One of the basic purposes of the church is to help you discover yourself and use your gifts and talents. God wants you to be all that you can be.

You have a purpose. The Bible says that the very hairs on your head are numbered. You are not an accident. “…you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalms 139:13, NIV) There is a reason for your being here.

Easter changes everything. God wants to give you great gifts, but there is one catch. You must put Jesus in charge of your life. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25, NIV)

When we look at the Bible and the Christian faith, we all face a problem that scientists face in experimentation called ‘expectancy.’ We see what we expect to see. The challenge is to look at the Bible and hear God’s message to us independent of our preconceived notions about the Christian faith. Most of us know people who bear the name “Christian” but have spoken or acted in ways that were disrespectful, hurtful, or downright mean. Don’t let someone else’s misrepresentation of Christ keep you from receiving the wonderful gifts God wants to give you.

Jesus, himself, presents the face of God to us mortals. Easter is the guarantee of that truth. Easter changes everything!

Happy Easter!
Pastor John

Friday, March 23, 2012

Receiving the Kingdom of God like a Child—What It Is and What It Isn't.

A brief reflection on Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing their children to have Jesus bless them. The disciples rebuked the people for this... then Jesus rebuked the disciples for rebuking the people! Mark tells us that Jesus was indignant. Then Jesus took the moment to tell anyone who would listen that, "...whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."

The big distinction that needs to be made here is between childlike and childish. The Kingdom of God, the Bible tells us, is righteousness (being right with God), peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Childlike faith grows out of implicit trust in God, which leads continually to peace and joy. Childish beliefs are the things we work to help our children grow out of if we want them to be good people.

  • Trusting
  • Inquisitive
  • New to the world
  • Unfeigned
  • Humble
  • Playful
  • Self-centered
  • Immature
  • Foolish
  • Blaming
  • Demanding
  • Know-it-all

Of special note is the idea of inquisitiveness. Atheists of the more evangelical variety use this passage to denigrate faith by claiming that having faith means turning our minds off. "Unquestioning," they would say. This is a complete misunderstanding.

We should indeed have the unquestioning presumption of God's love for us just as small chlidren never question their parents' love for them. But children are always asking question. They are information sponges, learning machines, junior scientists (who are mostly experimenting on their parents!). If children don't inquisitively interact with the world around them, parents begin to worry.

So receiving the Kingdom like a child does not mean turning our minds off and asking no questions. Nor does it mean that we think God is going to rescue us from our own foolishness.

Receiving the kingdom like a little child means that we trust unquestioningly in God's boundless love for us demontrated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Secure in that foundation, we let our minds and spirits come alive, engaging this wondrous and mysterious life, understanding that we have been given freedom to learn, try, fail, succeed and grow.