Thursday, March 27, 2008

How should we handle persecution?

I was reading in our local paper this past week about a group of pastors who are advocating armed guards in our church services.

Of particular interest was one from the church in Colorado where the recent shooting took place. I’m sure you remember hearing about that church. A gunman killed two people in a missionary training school, then drove a couple of hours to a mega-church, where he killed two in the parking lot, and entered the church heavily armed. A church volunteer serving as a security guard shot him before he could kill anyone else. Her bravery under fire certainly saved the lives of countless people.

But is it Christian? According to Scripture, we are told very clearly that if we live a life that honors Christ, we will be persecuted. In this country, especially in the past, that persecution has been limited to some who might avoid you at social gatherings, or perhaps a snide comment from time to time. We are all aware that we have it quite easy. Perhaps that is changing. We also know that in many places in the world, Christians are kidnapped, tortured, even killed for professing their faith. Rarely, if ever, do we hear of them fighting back.

We know that Christ was persecuted to death, and that as a lamb is silent before it sheerers, he was silent before the persecution he faced. We hear of several in the early church that were persecuted, and accepted it as part of their faith, even if it meant dying a horrendous death. They even felt honored that they would be seen as worthy of following in Christ’s footsteps.

How can they do that? How can they face persecution so bravely? Even almost willingly? Because they were following the example of Christ. Because they knew without a doubt that the Kingdom of God is so much better than this current kingdom. Because they know what they believe.

I’ve heard it said that statistically there is very little difference between American Christians, and the world around them. So perhaps armed security guards in American churches isn’t so far fetched. But is it Christian? Or is it one more example of our trusting in ourselves, rather than trusting in God?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Choosing God...

I was talking to a wonderful lady in our church on Easter morning, and she mentioned how happy she was with her work in the church. She does as much as anyone, and I was certainly glad to hear her comments.

The comment came after the discussion of another member, who had just experienced a tragedy in their life. She made the comment that she hoped it would bring them closer to God and they would come to church, and get active in the church. She continued by saying that tragedy doesn’t always have that affect on people, sometimes people go the other way, and distance themselves from church and from God.

Perhaps that comes from blaming God. Perhaps that comes from a desire to be alone for a while after tragedy. Perhaps it comes from shutting ourselves out from others.

Yet the church offers a family that cares. Our church shows that so often with so many who are struggling. That's what church is about. Those that don't feel comfort from their struggles from the church probably aren't sharing their struggles with the church. Being open, you will find the church a very caring group.

She has experienced her share of tragedy over the years. For her, she chose God, and that choice has made all the difference.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Good Friday?

I am reading a new book called Good Friday?: Crucifixion and Resurrection, a Chronology. I had bought the book thinking it would simply be a devotional look at the last of our Lord Jesus. But while it does that, to an extent, it is really about calling our attention to the chronology of the last week. The author, Dr. Gilbert Perez, suggests that our understanding of the days these events happened is very wrong, and he gives a very good argument for them.

For example, he suggests that Palm Sunday really occurred on Saturday. The actual crucifixion didn’t happen on a Friday, but rather on a Wednesday. The resurrection most likely happened on Saturday evening, but after dark, so according to the Jewish calendar, still on a Sunday. As I mentioned, he gives some very good arguments for this time table, and while at first turned off, thinking he was a heretic, I found myself agreeing that his arguments make sense.

If he is right, it points to some very prophetic images in tying his death much closer to the Passover Lamb that is sacrificed for the Passover. We, as Christians, already believe that Christ was sacrificed as our Passover lamb, the one free from blemish or defect (the only one free from sin). Yet Perez’s timing makes it all the more meaningful…

According to Perez, this new timetable would mean that Jesus’ nearly perfectly fits the timetable for the Passover lamb. According to Old Testament Scriptures, Passover is celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish month Nisan. According to the Old Testament Law, the lamb for the sacrifice is selected on the 10th day of Nisan, and set aside from the flock until the 14th day. It is then sacrificed and the meal is eaten.

On the 10th day of Nisan, that would have been the day the Jewish people selected their lamb for the sacrifice – it was the day of Jesus’ triumphant entry in to Jerusalem (what we refer to as Palm Sunday). Also, the night before, but after dark, so still the same day in the Jewish calendar, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume. Both of these events, though they didn’t know it, confirmed Jesus’ selection as the Passover lamb, the perfect sacrifice.

Remember Jesus celebrated the Passover on the evening before his crucifixion, the 14th of Nisan began at sunset the day before, or Tuesday night. So, if Perez is correct in his timetable, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, and became the Passover lamb, the same day, the 14th of Nisan. The next day was the special Sabbath, and Jesus had to be placed in a burrowed tomb and the time couldn’t be taken to prepare the body for burial, that would have to wait.

Immediately after the Passover, the Jewish people celebrate the week long feast of Unleaven Bread, the first day of which, the 15th day of Nisan, is a Holy Day of Sabbath rest – no work is to be done, all the laws of the Sabbath apply to this day, regardless of what day of the week it is (Leviticus 23:6-7). When the bodies had to be removed from the crosses because the next day was a Sabbath, it wasn’t a Saturday Sabbath as we presume, it was a special Sabbath, the first day of the Festival of Unleavened bread (John 19:31 says it was a special Sabbath.)

This timetable also gives Jesus the full three days in the tomb. Several times in the days preceding his crucifixion, Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah, three days in the belly of the whale, he tells his disciples that he would be crucified and raised on the third day. Our Friday night to Sunday morning is only a day and a half, only half the time Jesus said.

This may challenge our thinking about Easter, but I don’t think it does so in a negative way. Rather, it confirms that Jesus truly is our Passover lamb, all the timetables in Leviticus are followed, and the Lamb of God is sacrificed on our behalf.

In May, on Tuesday mornings, we will be looking into this book as sort of a book study, to see what it says, and how it squares with Scripture. If you are local, you are welcome to join us…

Any questions or comments, please leave a comment…

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter's Message - The Cool Thing Is...

I was thinking about some of the really cool things found in the Easter Story...

This weeks message was called The Cool Thing Is... and it talks about some of them. If you would like to read it in full, click on the name below.

March 23 - The Cool Thing Is...

Also, if you would like to see the message from our Easter Sunrise Service, that is available also...

Easter Sunrise Meditation

Hope you and your family had a wonderful Easter, and the meaning of the resurrection of our Lord has blessed you.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Finding peace in what you can't understand...

On Thursday I performed a funeral for a young man who died suddenly. He was my age, and in getting to know him, I found that we had a lot in common.

It’s hard to explain the death of someone in their late 40’s. In fact, you can’t explain it. We come to funerals like this showing our lack of understanding. There really is so much that we don’t understand. Most of the time we can hide it well, we can appear to be in control of our own lives, our own destiny. But once in a while something happens that seems very unfair, shockingly unfair, and we realize that we really don’t understand as much as we might have thought we understood.

These things that we can’t understand can rock our world. They shake our foundations. We thought we knew a little bit about life, and then something happens to remind us we really don’t. But we want to. More than anything, the human race wants to understand. We pursue understanding. Everyone of us, to some extent, thinks we understand things. We all develop our own opinions. We believe we know the way things are. So it can be particularly devastating to find that we don’t understand the really big things. Life. Death. Disease. As hard as we try, we find that there is always more that we don’t understand, then what we do understand.

Perhaps one of God’s greatest blessings is the ability to find peace, even in those situations we may never understand. Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Understanding isn’t.

When your foundations are shaken, seek God’s peace. We may never understand, but we may find peace.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Palm Sunday Sermon

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, and every year I am somewhat struck by the reality of the crowds at either end of this last week of Jesus' life. On Sunday, the crowds are lining the street, laying down Palm branches and cloaks and coats as a sign of respect. They shouting Hosanna, which is a phrase of praise or adoration, literally meaning, "Save us Now." The crowds gathered on Sunday recognized Jesus as a great and holy man.

Yet at the end of the week, we see crowds gathered again. This time, instead of shouting "Hosanna," they are shouting, "crucify him."

What happened in those last five days that the crowds would change so dramatically?

This weeks message explores that. To read it, click the link below...

March 16 - Palm Sunday Message

Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What is church?

I think that we here at Almond Union of Churches can be very proud of our church.

Our Food Pantry and Samaritan’s Loft make a real difference in our community. Our Missions Committee is our busiest committee, and I think that’s how it should be. We show our love for others by actions – physically caring for the people around us.

In the Confessions of a Small Church Pastor web blog, I came across this definition of the early church:
Church was a community, a refuge, a place of healing, a gathering of God’s people, open to others, driven by fellowship and mission, obedient to God, gathered for worship, inclusive of slave and free, innovative, sharing, caring, loving, powerful, prayerful, worshiping, gifted — an expression of the kingdom coming in the world now.

That was the model given us in the New Testament. How are we doing as a church? What should we be doing as a church? And even more important, how are you doing as a believer? Do you measure up to the standards set in the early church? Is there anything you could be doing differently to help others see the expression of the kingdom of God that is here now?

How can we make sure we are community, a refuge, a place of healing, a gathering of God’s people, open to others, driven by fellowship and mission, obedient to God, gathered for worship, inclusive of slave and free, innovative, sharing, caring, loving, powerful, prayerful, worshiping, gifted – all the things the early church was…

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sunday's Mesage - Don't Get Bone Dry...

This weeks sermon message was based on the text from Ezekiel 37:1-14 (with a look at Romans 8:6-11). The Ezekiel passage deals with a vision of a valley full of bones - very dry bones.

At first look, you might think that vision was concerning a very bleak time of destruction to come to the Israelite people in the future, but the vision is explained to Ezekiel. Instead of a vision concerning future events, we see the spiritual condition of the Israelite people at the time of the vision. It looked pretty bleak. They were spiritually dead.

I don't think we're terribly different than the Israelites in Ezekiels day. We aren't living in exile in Babylon, but we're just as spiritually dead. This is basic premise behind this weeks message.

I hope you enjoy it. To read it, just click on the link below:

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"What is truth?"

Pilate asked him, “ So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
-John 18:37-38a

As a Christian, I do believe that Jesus is coming back one day. And I believe that day will be coming fairly soon. While I have many reasons for believing this, one reason is that society is more and more mirroring society at the time of Christ’s first coming.

The conversation in the above quote was between Jesus and Pontius Pilate on the night of his arrest. The chief priests had decided to have him executed, but they wanted the Romans to do it, so they dragged Jesus before Pilate.

Pilate’s response could have easily taken place today in this time we call “Post Modernism.” One of the characteristics of Post-Modernism is the perceived lack of universal truth. What is true for you might not be true for me. Pilate’s sarcastic response, “What is truth?” could be echoed by people on the streets of Almond today.

What Pilate should have known, we also should know. There is such a thing as universal truth. And while Pilate might not have recognized it, we can. Jesus Christ is Truth. He is the Truth that sets us free! He is the Truth that we as believers base our lives on. He is the ultimate Truth that the world will be judged against.

So while many are wondering, “What is Truth?” we can know Truth. And perhaps our opportunity to share our faith can come by explaining that truth to those who express that wonder…

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sunday's Mesage - Ordinary People...

In this Sunday’s message, we looked at Samuel anointing David to be the next King (1 Samuel 16:1-13). In an effort to make it a little easier for us to grasp, I made it a futuristic look at this passage. I tried to show what this might look like if it happened today. If you would like to read the message, click on the link below.

March 2 – Ordinary People.

Faith First

  Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him...