Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Take a Stand- Lent 6

Death is a mirror that gives us a glimpse of who we really are.
            Death is a rearview mirror that puts the past into perspective.
            And if anyone who ever walked this earth lived with an up close understanding of death- it was Jesus.  He entered Jerusalem on the Palm Sunday long ago- with the mirror of death in mind.  Purposeful, poised, and prepared. To put your past into perspective through His death.
            The closer you and I come to death, the clearer and farther you can see.   Nothing recalibrates priorities faster than a cancer screening, a car accident, or a visit from a military chaplain.  Important things become all important.  And unimportant things are revealed for what they are- insignificant. 
Our story today about three teenage Hebrew boys may seem, at first, out of place on a Palm Sunday, but their all in commitment is one that I want us to examine as we consider Jesus’ entrance into the Holy City of Jerusalem.  This is a story of matching talk with walk.  Commitment and action meet at a place called integrity. 
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew that if they refused to bow down to the ninety-foot tall statue of King Nebuchadnezzar, they would be executed.  But these Jewish ex-pats feared God a lot more than they feared death.  They would rather die by the flame than dishonor God.  So they made a defining decision to stand up for what was right rather than bow down to what was wrong. 
If, these three Jewish teenagers had compromised their integrity by listening to a rationalization-they would have been delivered from the fiery furnace.  But their deliverance would have been by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, NOT by God’s intervention.  These God followers would have forfeited their testimony by failing the test.  While their lives would have been saved, they would have sacrificed their integrity. 
It was their integrity that triggered a miracle.  Their integrity that allowed God to show up and show off.  Their integrity that was their fire insurance and life insurance. 
Integrity comes from the root word integer.  It refers to a whole number versus a fraction.  In other words, integrity is all in.  It does not look for an easy way out. 
Is there anything you are bowing to?  Then, it’s time to take a stand.   

See you at the ‘all in’ place,

Pastor Michelle


Monday, March 19, 2018

Crash the Party- Lent 5

Jesus must have been bored silly, feigning interest, with small talk about Jewish law at the dinner party hosted by a Pharisee.  This party has ‘lame’ written all over it.
That is until the party was crashed.  By a woman.  And moreover this was a woman who had a reputation and background that was less than ideal.  No doubt she had broken more than one Jewish law and was less than holy.  Imagine the look on the Pharisee’s straight-laced faces when she rushes in and falls at Jesus’ feet!? 
Her act of worship, to anoint Jesus, is one of the most beautiful, expressive and generous statements of faith in the New Testament.  She lavished Jesus with her gratitude. I am sure she knew that the Pharisee men in the room usually stoned a woman like her, but that did not stop her from sharing her expensive gift with Jesus. 
Breaking that jar with semiprecious gemstones filled with a half liter of pure nard was this woman’s burning the ships moment!  The jar represented her past guilt and her future hope.  She anted up pouring our every last drop at the feet of Jesus.  She walked out of the dark shadows of this world and came to meet the Light of the World. 
There comes a moment when we need to come clean.  There comes a moment when we need to unveil the secret shame of our sin.  There comes a moment when we need to fall down on our knees on the gracious feet of Jesus!  This is that moment for this woman.  
Going all in means radical repentance.  Putting all your cards on the table.  We cannot trust God’s grace at 99% and put 1% on our own effort.  It is 100% or not at all.  We cannot receive partial credit for our salvation as much as we’d like to lie to ourselves than we can be part of the equation.  Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians reminds us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  All.  That includes me.  You.  Person next you.  Person behind you.  The person who goes to church regularly.  The person who has never been to church.  All have sinned.  All have access to the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus, accepted by faith. 
Full confession; not half-hearted confession is what you and I are invited to do.  A half-hearted confession always results in half-hearted love for Jesus.  To down play sin is to also down play grace.  And dishonors Jesus, Who is Sinless, and worthy of our love. 
One of the praise and worship songs that has been around for a while is Alabaster Jar.  Listen to these lyrics… “This alabaster jar is all I have of worth, I break it at Your feet, Lord, it's less than You, Deserve; You're far more beautiful, more precious than the oil; The sum of my desires and the fullness of my joy; Like You spilled Your blood, I spill my heart As an offering to my King.  Here I am, take me as an offering. Here I am, giving every heartbeat for Your glory.”
What if you and I sang this song with our lives and actions?  What would happen if you and I mustered the moral courage of this woman, walked into a room full of self-righteous Pharisees, and revealed our sin unashamedly while anointing Jesus as Lord and Savior? 
What would happen?  You know what would happen- a revival on Earth and a party in heaven! 

See you at the ‘all in’ place,

Pastor Michelle

Monday, March 12, 2018

Burn the Ships- Lent 4

There are moments in life when you and I need to burn the ships to the past.  We do that not by literally lighting a match, but by making a defining decision.  A defining decision that eliminates the possibility of sailing back into our old world.  You burn ships named Past Failure or Past Success.  Burn ships named Bad Habit or Regret.  You burn ships named Guilt or My Old Way of Life. 
            That is what Elisha did in our Bible story this morning.  When God needed to select a new prophet for the people Israel, God selected Elisha.  Once Elisha was called by Elijah, he turned his family plowing equipment into kindling and barbequed his oxen.  It was his last supper.  He said goodbye to his old friends and old way of life by throwing a huge party. 
Burning the plowing equipment was Elisha’s way of burning the ships. He could not go back to his old way of life as a farmer because he destroyed the ‘time machine’ that would take him back.  End of Elisha the farmer.  Beginning of Elisha the prophet.  Notice, when we follow the story further in I Kings that Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s power… God granted that request.  Why?  Because God knew that Elisha was 200% committed.
It does not matter if you’re trying to lose weight, get into graduate school, write a book, start a business, or get out of debt.  The first step is always the longest and hardest.  And you can’t just take a step into the future… you have to also eliminate the possibility of moving backward into the past.  That’s how you go after goals.  How you break addictions.  How you reconcile relationships.  You leave the past in the past by burning the ships. 
Burning the oxen and celebrating with friends, was Elisha’s all in moment.  He was not just buying in to God’s call in his life.  He was selling out too.  Fully present and committed.  Not living the past nor the future, but in the moment.  That does not mean you and I don’t learn from our past or plan for the future, but you and I don’t live there.  Going “all in” is living as though each day is the first day and last day of our lives. 
See you at the “all in” place,

Pastor Michelle

Monday, March 5, 2018

This is Only A Test- Lent 3

Too often you and I approach stories like God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as if God is on trial.  When we do that we are starting from the wrong place.  It is not God’s character that is in question.  It is Abraham’s character or our character that is on the stand.  Since the Garden of Eden, we get to choose to obey or not to obey.  You and I will either follow through on what God asks us to do with what is most precious to us- or will we not.
            God never intended nor would have allowed Abraham to follow through on physically harming his son.  God does not support child abuse. 
This was a test.  This request of Abraham was an assessment of his willingness or not to follow through on the request made by God.  God wanted to test whether or not Abraham was willing to obey the most counterintuitive command imaginable. Scripture says very clearly in verse 1, God tested Abraham.  And Abraham passed the test!  Good for him!
God tests you and I for two primary reasons.  1) Placing a challenge before us is an opportunity for God to prove himself to us.  God provided a ram for Abraham to use.  2) having a challenge before us is a chance for us to prove ourselves to God.  Abraham was obedient to God’s tough assignment.
When Abraham raised the knife, God knew that he was all in.  And then God proved Himself as a provider by offering the ram in the thicket.  If Abraham had not gone all in, he would have robbed God of the opportunity to provide a ram.  After all, God cannot reveal God’s faithfulness until we have exercised our faith.  Think about that one!  I will say it again, God cannot reveal God’s faithfulness until we have exercised our faith! 
But, thanks be to God, that Abraham was all in!  And thus God was able to reveal that God is our Jehovah-jireh or Great Provider. 
As we step deeper into Lent and thus move closer to the Cross of Christ- what is your Isaac?  What are you placing your security or identity in?  If Jesus is not your security and identity, then God will test you until you leave that “Isaac” on the altar. 

See you at the all in place,

Pastor Michelle

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Draw the Line- Lent 2

The fifth book in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, tell us stories of the original disciples.  The stories of their martyrdom and later years can be found in a variety of secular and church histories from those time periods.  Did you know that each of the original disciples was martyred except for one? John survived his own execution only to die of natural causes in prison. 
Stephen who replaced Judas Iscariot was stoned to death.  James the Greater was thrust with a sword under the command of King Herod.  Luke was hung in an olive tree in Greece.  Thomas who once doubted but later believed was pierced, tortured, and burned alive in India.  Phillip was tortured and crucified.  He continued to preach while hanging on his cross.  Matthew was stabbed in the back in Ethiopia.  Bartholomew was flogged to death in Armenia.  James the just was thrown off the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem.  After he survived the 100 foot fall, the mob clubbed him to death in their frustration.  Simon the Zealot was crucified. Judas Thaddaeus was beaten to death with sticks.  Matthias was stoned to death and then beheaded.  Peter was crucified upside at his request because he did not feel worthy enough to be just like Jesus was. 
For many centuries Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (which holds a collection of these stories and more) was inspirational bedtime reading for Christian families.  Perhaps you and I need to dust this old book off some shelves as well.  (I have two copies.) Martyrdom for Jesus is a reality check for those of us living in the first world of the 21st century.  Their deaths put our first world problems into perspective.  These real life people who lived and died for Jesus redefine risk and set a different standard for sacrifice. 
Jesus threw down the gauntlet in Luke 9 when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”  Clearly, when we learn what happened to the first disciples- they took this literally.  For you and me, we can at minimum take this figuratively.  Anything less than the complete surrender of our lives to the Lordship and leadership of Jesus Christ is robbing God of glory that God demands and deserves.  And it is also cheating you and me out of the eternal reward that God has in mind for each of us.
In the words of Pastor Mark, “Time to ante up.  Go all in.  If Jesus is not Lord of all, then Jesus is not Lord at all.”

See you at the ‘all in’ place,

Pastor Michelle

Monday, February 19, 2018

All In- this Lent

Lent have begun and so we journey with Christ to His Cross.  Together we will be sharing in Matt Batterson's book, All In, Zonderzan, 2013.  The following is Matt's opening to the book (with some adaptions) as this story also opened our Sunday message.

Centuries ago a group of daring folks became known as ‘one-way missionaries’.  These were folks who were deeply in love with Jesus and answered the call to serve others which they did by purchasing one way tickets to far off places.  Instead of suitcases, these missionaries often packed everything they needed – clothes, Bibles, etc- into coffins.  And then set sail- saying perhaps what might be a final farewell to family and friends. 

A.W. Milne was one of these brave souls. He set sail from his home within the British Isle to travel to the New Hebrides (what we know as China and Malaysia today).   As he sailed with his coffin packed, William knew that the headhunters there had martyred every missionary sent before him. Milne did not fear for himself because he had already died to himself. For thirty five years he lived among that tribe and loved them.  When he died, the tribe buried him in the middle of their village with this epitaph on his tombstone-
When he came there was no light.
When he left there was no darkness.
The question you and I need to ponder this first Sunday in Lent is this- when did we start believing that God in Jesus wants us to send us to safe places to do easy things?  That faithfulness equals holding fort?  That playing it safe is actually safe?  That there is not greater privilege than sacrifice?  That radical is anything but normal?
            Jesus did not die to keep us safe.  He died to make us dangerous.
Faithfulness is not holding the fort.  It’s storming the gate of hell.  The will of God is not an insurance plan.  It is a daring plan.
The complete surrender of your life to the cause of Jesus isn’t radical.  It’s normal.  It’s time for you and I to quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.  It’s time to go all in and all out for the All in all who is the Creator of the Cosmos, Redeemer of the Broken, and Sustainer of the Heavy-laden!
In other words- time to pack your coffin and mine!
See you at the All In place,
Pastor Michelle

Monday, December 18, 2017

Scriptures Sing of Christmas: An Old Man Sings

Simeon lived with a promise… that before his death his eyes would see the promise of God’s Messiah.  We do not know how long Simeon lived with this promise.  We actually do not know much about him.  Luke tells us only the essentials in the later portion of Chapter 2 of his gospel. 

We do learn that Simeon was expecting, waiting with great hope.  He may have been an old man, but he was not dwelling in the past, but leaning deep into the vision of God’s future.  

Because of his faithfulness and through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Simeon recognized God at work in a small little peasant family when they entered the temple in Jerusalem.
Simeon’s response to the baby Jesus was a glorious song!  “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

Many churches sing this as a benediction at the close of their evening worship services.  Perhaps there could be no more fitting blessing for the end of the day, “Now let thy servant depart in peace… for I have seen thy salvation.”  As a pastor I wish all worshippers might make such a bold claim as they depart from worship!  I hope each of us might know we are ready to depart, because we have truly taken hold of God’s free gift of Jesus, and are confident in God’s love for each of us. 

But when Simeon spoke these words, they were not just a closing prayer for worship or the end of the day.  This was Simeon’s benediction to his life!!  He was ready to die.  But all he has seen was a baby, you say?!  Well, yes.  God’s Messiah in a vulnerable infant. 

Notice that Simeon did not get a visit from an angel like Mary.  He did not hear an angel chorus like the shepherds.  There was not star for him to follow.  Simeon had a conviction deep in his heart and was prompted by the Holy Spirit.  When he saw the Babe of Bethlehem, he believed.  May we have such conviction as we approach the cradle of our King!

See you at the singing place,

Pastor Michelle