Help My Doubt

Faith seeking reason- Mark 9:24

Communion with Jesus: Visual Gospel (19)

Introduction

It seems to me that every year after December 26th there comes a sweet and sour recipe of Christmas feelings. Beginning in mid-November around Thanksgiving we feel good with anticipation. Then Black Friday comes and rapidly turns our attention from Thanksgiving to Christmas. By the week before Christmas many of us can barely even concentrate enough to get any work accomplished. Then Christmas Day arrives, presents start flying, food is over-consumed and sweet treats send us on a sugar-high! Finally comes “the day after” when we come face-to-face with the reality that Christmas is over.

Christmas can be an intense example of the typical roller-coaster we call “life”. We all know that there are good things in this life which taste good and smell good and feel good. We also know how quickly those good things in this life can disappear. Christmas is truly great but it seems to be over so quickly. God knows very well how human life can feel because He left the comfort of heaven and experienced it with us.

The Good Times

When it comes to experiencing the exciting things of life I don’t think we American gentiles can fully appreciate what a rush it was for Jesus’ disciples to watch the Messiah’s “Triumphal Entry” as King of Israel and then eat the Passover dinner together in Jerusalem. God said through Isaiah, He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (Isaiah 9:7). When faithful Jews thought about the Messiah, their Savior, they remembered that “will reign on David’s throne (v.7)”. When they looked at Jesus they saw David who killed Goliath and defeated the Philistines. They saw their future king who would free them from the Roman Caesars and successfully defending the borders of Israel again. Jesus disciples knew that He was the Messiah that would reign, “with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (Isaiah 9:6-7)”. Jesus had come as King of Israel, from the family of David, and His disciples were very excited!

The Bad Times

What Jesus disciples did NOT understand was that Jesus had to be crucified first. Jesus said, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later (John 13:36).” It is in that word, “later” that causes us so much pain. For many people Christmas is NOT thrilling right now.

  • Children are grown up and living many miles away- separation.
  • Husbands or wives have divorced or died – separation.

Personally, I was reminded of these things last week when I visited my grandfather for the last time. I drove to Meadville a week ago Friday and met my mother, her sister and brother for a meeting with Hospice. We visited each other all day and had a nice lunch together but we knew it would probably be the last time we got together before Grandpa died. When we stopped in his room to say, “goodbye”, he could not open his eyes or talk but he held on to our hands and would not let go. We prayed together, reminded him of his hope of heaven through Jesus and on Monday he died in his sleep. That must be similar to what it felt like when Jesus said, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later (John 13:36).”

The Solution

At a time of deep disappointment, confusion and sadness Jesus said, “1Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3)”. In this world of ups and downs the only way to live with constant joy is to “trust in God; and also Jesus (v.1)”.

  • Even though there are sinful people in this world who cause pain they will all answer to God- later.
  • Even though many faithful people have died they will all be with God- later.

God knows how sweet and sour life can be. That’s why He left the comfort of heaven to become our Prince of Peace.

The Sunday after Christmas is NOT a good time to do a lot of bible teaching. It is a time to remember, reflect and to bring our feelings to God.

  • Have you come to worship today with positive feelings of joy and love? Praise God in prayer.
  • Have you come to worship today with negative feelings of grief and disappointment? Trust God.

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me (John 14:1)”.

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December 28, 2009 Posted by | Christmas, Sermons | 4 Comments

Communion with Jesus: Visual Gospel (18)

Like “The Ghost of Christmas Past” in “A Christmas Carol” I would like to take you on a trip backwards in time and revisit Jesus’ last supper:

We are all taken out these windows, east through the sky, off of the east coast of the USA, across the ocean to the west coast of Israel and over the old city of Jerusalem onto the roof of a 2-story home in the year 35 A.D. There is a group of Jewish men sitting on pillows around a table eating lamb by the light of a few oil lamps. The voice of an invisible angel says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist (John 13:3-4)”.

  • As Jesus stood up to take off his outer clothing to reveal his bare chest and arms and legs he remembered how awkward Adam and Eve had felt the first time they looked at themselves and realized they were naked.
  • He remembered how Satan had succeeding in tempting Eve to disobey God by eating from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”.
  • Jesus remembered God’s promise that one day one of Eve’s descendants would “crush Satan’s head”.

Jesus smiled as he wrapped the towel around his waist because he, “knew that the Father had put all things under his power (John 13:1-1)”.

Still looking down through the ceiling we can see as Jesus says to Peter, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand (John 13:7)”. Jesus knew, at this time, that he was the only One in the room who understood what He was saying and doing.

  • He remembered how often his disciples had misunderstood Him, even on this night when he took the cup and said, “this is my blood of the New Covenant, shed for the forgiveness of sin (Lk.22:20)”, His disciples looked at each another in confusion and could not understand what He was talking about.
  • Jesus couldn’t wait for the day when He would finally return to the Father and send His Holy Spirit into the hearts and minds of his disciples.

Jesus felt butterflies in his stomach as he said, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand (John 13:6-11)”.

At the same time Jesus knew that His disciples could understand some of His teaching, so he said, “ 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:15-17).

Jesus’ disciples did understand this part, and you should have seen the look on their faces! They whispered to one another, “Does he really expect us to wash each other’s feet from now on? When we walk back home to Galilee am I supposed to wrap a towel around my waist and offer to wash your feet?” What a shock it was to them to see Jesus do the work of a servant girl and then turn it around on them. They all began to remember how “the sinful woman” first washed Jesus feet with her tears, oil and wiped them with her hair. The also remembered, just 5 days ago, when Mary washed Jesus’ feet with perfume and her hair! They all knew very clearly that Jesus wanted them to love one another to the point of doing the work no one else wants to do.

When it comes to Christmas, it should be easy to see how we, “will be blessed if you do them (John 13:17). I think we can all agree that Jesus would not be a man that sits around watching TV while the women cook or do the dishes alone. Jesus would not be a woman who makes herself busy in the kitchen so that she can avoid talking to difficult relatives. Jesus would not be a teen or child who complains about having to do some work on Christmas vacation. Rather, Jesus would have us all help as loving servants.

When Jesus washed His disciples feet He also said, “15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:15)”. We know that Jesus WAS talking about loving one another like forgiven servant girls. Are you obeying Jesus by loving like He did?

When Jesus washed Peter’s feet He said, ““Unless I wash you, you have no part with me (John 13:8).” We know that Jesus was NOT talking about starting a “clean feet club”. He was talking about washing away Peter’s daily sins. Are you allowing Jesus to wash away your daily sins?

17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them

(John 13:17).

December 21, 2009 Posted by | Christmas, Sermons | Leave a comment

Communion with Jesus: Visual Gospel (17)

If we are ever going to understand the “Good News” of Jesus we must first face the reality of the war between light and darkness. Jesus said, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you (v.35)”. Darkness can be seen in the people who believed in Jesus but would not confess their faith because “they loved praise from men more than praise from God (v.43)”. The ordinary example of that today are the comfortable Christians in America who love to go to church but don’t have a single non-Christian friend.

  • They complain about gay marriage but would never make a gay friend to love them out of it.
  • They complain about abortion but would never consider adoption or helping with foster care.
  • They complain about alcoholism but never invite an AA group to use the church.
  • They complain about teenage drug abuse but would never open their church for a youth ministry.
  • They don’t have any non-Christian friends- and they like it that way!

Those are the ones who, “love praise from men more than praise from God (v.43)”. Jesus, on the other hand, describes himself as a light shining into the darkness.

Jesus is described as having “glory” which is nothing like the glory of men.  Six times in these few paragraphs we hear the word “glory” used to describe God and Jesus. Five of these words for “glory” are easier to understand because they are what we do (verb) in worship. We talk/sing/pray about Jesus and “glorify” Him by remembering His miracles and love. But one of these words for “glory” is harder to understand because it is something that Jesus is (noun) but it is much more exciting! John wrote that Isaiah, “saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him (v.41)”. Isaiah “saw Jesus’ glory” but he lived hundreds and hundreds of years before Jesus was born. God must have revealed to Isaiah the “glory” that Jesus had with God in heaven before He became a man!

For example, English words we often use for “glory”: honor, splendor, excellence, illustrious, dignity, worth, brightness, magnificence, grace, majesty, perfection, blessedness, beauty, grandeur, brilliance, fame, respectful, loving, esteemed, luxurious, outstanding, exceptional, superb, tremendous, valuable, merit, appealing, significant, attractive, important, meaningful, radiant, high, lofty. Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory (v.41). That’s what Jesus is- He is “glory” and He is the “light”!

Jesus has “glory” which is so unlike anything in any other man on earth that he is described as “light” in a land of darkness. He was born into a world of depressing darkness but invites us to become children of the light. What and incredible offer it is to hear Jesus say, “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons (and daughters) of light (v.36)”.

  • There will always be those who don’t believe but we can be those who do believe.
  • There will always be those who love the darkness but we can be those who love the light.

For example, a few days after “The Triumphal Entry” Jesus would pray about His disciples saying, I have given them the glory (Strong’s #1391) that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one (John 17:22). The “glory” that Isaiah saw in Jesus is the very same “glory” that Jesus gave to His disciples! The “glory” of God is the Holy Spirit of God which fills God, Jesus and the human heart that trusts in Jesus. So, “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons (and daughters) of light (v.36)”.

“Communion with Jesus”, this week, is understanding the “glory” of Jesus. God gave His glorious light to Jesus and He also offers it to wo/men who trust in Him!

  • Have you trusted in Jesus and become a son/daughter of the light?
  • If you already have, did you need to be reminded today that you are a child of the light?

Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me (v.26)”.

As we approach Christmas time, let’s prepare to “Commune with Jesus” by trusting and serving with all our heart.

December 14, 2009 Posted by | Christmas, Sermons | 3 Comments

Jesus- “I AM” The Only Door

Summary: It is not often that you find a pastor in a small Pennsylvanian town who has also published a book but Rev. Harry Barrigar did. He wrote a book called, “Jesus the Great “I AM’” and it was based on a sermon series he preached which detailed the times that Jesus claimed to be God. It was an important message to remember back then and it is also today. I thought it would be great to remember that Jesus is God and celebrate what it means for Christmas this year. 

Understanding the Spiritual Door

If we can be honest with ourselves and with our neighbors we have to admit that God is not easy to explain. Jesus said (a) he is the door but he also said he is much more. He claimed (b) to be God and yet he also prayed to God. These things are hard to understand. We do want to explain as much as we can but also admit that there is a lot that we simply can not get into our tiny little brains.

Comparing God’s Call

Today I would like to compare the huge difference between God’s appearance to Moses as fire and God’s appearance to his disciples as Jesus. God’s appearance to Moses is rather big and scary but His appearance to his disciples is kind of small and modest. Someone might say that the two simply can not be the same God (or that both testimonies are false) but Jesus said they are the same God.

Comparing the Fire and Door

When we compare what God said in the book of Exodus we see a dramatic difference between the way he acted towards Moses and the way he acted in the gospel of John.

  • God the Fire.

After God called to Moses in the fire of the bush he said, Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground (Exodus 3:5). God called Moses over but he told him in no uncertain terms that he must stay at a distance and take off his shoes. God appeared as a holy fire and Moses was afraid. To be honest, God does not look much like Jesus here.

  • God the Door.

After Jesus called to John and the others “again” he said, I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture (John 10:9). Jesus did not say, “Do not come any closer”, but rather, “enter through me”. He didn’t say, “take off your sandals because you are standing on holy ground”, but rather, “come in and go out and find pasture”. God appeared as a human and John was not afraid. Again, to be honest, God in Jesus does not look much like God in the fire.

  • God the Fiery Door

If we use our imaginations I think we can see how God is both a fire and a door; He is a fiery door. Imagine the burning bush that Moses saw with the fire and God talking out of it; “God is a consuming fire”. Now imagine the sheep pen with a fence built in a circle and the single gate which opens and closes to let the sheep in and out; Jesus said, “I AM the gate”. Since both are true, now imagine that the burning bush is inside the sheep pen. Jesus acts like a fire door which keeps the fire contained inside a room. Just as God told Moses, “do not come any closer” to protect him from the holy fire so also does Jesus protect us by being “the door”. Jesus is God; He “is a consuming fire” and he is also “the door” and he invites us to come in.

Entering the Fiery Door

One must wonder, then, how we can enter the door to be saved without being burned to death. Remember, though, that when God spoke with Moses from within the fire the bush was not burned up (and neither was Moses). God can make us like the bush that touched the fire but was not destroyed. Those who “enter through” Jesus will enter into the fire and not be burned. Christmas is a reminder that Jesus was born so that “the door” to God might be opened. Before Jesus came the door was closed and next time he comes the door will be closed and locked forever. Just as we all go home every day and walk through the door to our house so also do we need to make a decision to enter the family of God. We can not open the door ourselves, only Jesus can, and he will if we humble ourselves and pray. I encourage you to enter through Jesus and enjoy peace with God this Christmas; again or for this very first time.

December 10, 2007 Posted by | Christmas, Doubt, Sermons | Leave a comment

AFTER CHRISTMAS WHAT?

God does not hate money and wealth and prosperous countries. God does not hate Christmas presents and big houses and expensive clothing and prime rib dinners! It would be too easy, and maybe a little bit fun, to criticize everyone who is rich, from corporate CEO’s to  the “fat cats” in Washington, and say that only poor people are going to heaven and everyone who loves the Lord should “sell all they own and give it to the poor”. However, that is NOT what the Lord teaches us in the Bible.

The Problem of Wealth Lost

Solomon says, “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun…wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him (Ecc.5:13-14)”. In this example Solomon describes the times he has learned that a person gained great wealth but lost it and had nothing left to pass on to a son. In this way, God is teaching us that not only is “wealth hoarded (v.13)” evil; but also “wealth lost (v.14)” can be an evil too. As Christians we can sometimes go to one extreme or the other and we need to be careful not to hate wealth or those who are wealthy.

The Problem of Hating Wealth

I have done that from time to time and in my frustration with myself I have fantasized of becoming a Christian Hermit. My wife’s cousin, Elizabeth, produced a documentary film about “The Hermit of Manana (http://www.thehermitofmanana.com/)”. This man had been in the military and then worked in NYC for some business and after some time he decided to run away and live alone as a fisherman on and island off the state of
Maine. He stayed there for the rest of his life with nothing but a boat and a shack he made out of driftwood. People came to visit him and he came to the mainland from time to time but he became more of a tourist attraction than anything else. He was very poor but he liked living there. He was alone, he had no boss to look over his shoulder, no wife to argue with, no children to discipline, no neighbors asking for anything and he didn’t owe anyone any money. At Holiday times or during any stressful time in life we can feel like running away, even if it means losing a lot of money; but that is not God’s will for us. That would be, “wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him (Ecc.5:14)”.

The Purpose of Wealth

Whether we tend to be tempted by wanting too much money or wanting too little money, God does have a purpose for wealth in our lives. Solomon says, “When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift of God (v.19)”. In that sense we cannot become like the Hermit. Personally, I feel partially responsible for my church’s spiritual eternity and there are days when I want to go back to cleaning bathrooms because there I was only responsible for cleaning bathrooms. Many of us have been called to work that pays well and demands a lot- we must “accept our lot and be happy in our work”. Many people are retired or disabled or unemployed- you too must “accept your lot and be happy in your work”. Whether it is volunteer work, part-time work or even praying every day for the work of God, everyone can and must work. I have heard the voice of a Christian brothers say, “I have enjoyed something about all the jobs I have ever had”. This is God’s gift to mankind.  

Conclusion

Yes, there are temptations and problems that come with wealth. It can be hoarded and it can be lost but we should humbly accept whatever the Lord gives us and find satisfaction in our work. Some day soon we will see God face-to-face and He will ask us, “What did you do with your life?” The only way that we can begin to experience true wealth is by asking God to forgive our eternal debt- sin.

May 14, 2007 Posted by | Christmas | Leave a comment

Man’s Best Friend- Snakes?

The Curse

This is a very famous story but let’s review it again briefly. (1) God made the whole earth, sun/moon/stars, water/water animals, heavens/flying animals, dry ground/vegetation; then he made land animals/Adam and Eve. (2) When everything was finished God told them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  (3) This is where the serpent comes in and tempts Eve to doubt what God had said. The serpent said, “Did God really say, ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Eve confessed that God DID in fact say that but since the fruit was good for food and desirable for gaining wisdom, she ate it. (4)  So God cursed the serpent for tempting Eve; and he put hostility between the woman’s and the serpent’s offspring.

Enmity Explained

Enmity means hostility; so God put hostility, hatred or violence, between humans and snakes. The hostility between men and snakes is thought to be both physical and symbolic. On the one hand, (a) even though we see some people who like to make a pet out of snakes, they are not cute and affectionate animals like dogs are. I like snakes but I will never be convinced that snakes are good pets, much less “man’s best friend”, because God has put hostility between humans and snakes. On the other hand, this “enmity” is also (b) spiritual.  Satan started a violent war between himself and God; and God’s servants and Satan’s servants.

Fight of Faith

Only those who have faith can see this spiritual war and can, therefore, understand the “good news of great joy” that Jesus brought to the earth at Christmas. Those who do have faith have can see that there is a spiritual war going on all around us, one that we cannot win with human power. For example, by faith we know that (1) Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden by speaking doubts to her, with the hope that she would betray God and die. We believe that God is real, that Eve is real, that Satan is real and that his war with God is real. By faith we also know that Satan (2) continues to war against God and Eve’s offspring in the same way he always has. Satan continues to speak doubt and lies to us so that we might betray God and die.

Examples of Enmity

Every day we hear Satan’s voice whispering, “Did God really say” this or that?” For example, we hear his lies that we can (a) love God and the world at the same time, that we can (b) honor the Sabbath Day by doing whatever we want, that we can (c) use the Lord’s name as a curse without sin, that we can (d) dishonor our mother and father without sin, that we can (e) envy our neighbor’s house, car or wife and not sin. These, of course, are the 10 Commandments and by questioning them the serpent makes war on Eve’s offspring, hoping we will betray God and die. Satan lies about sin; he also lies about our savior, saying, “Did God really say Jesus is the only way to heaven?” Those who have faith can see that this is a spiritual war, enmity, going on between God and Satan, and we humans are too blind and weak to do anything right without help from God. The bad news is that we are cursed to an eternity of violence and we can’t get out on our own. The “good news of great joy” is that with Jesus we can!

December 19, 2006 Posted by | Christmas | Leave a comment