By His Authority/October 8, 2017


Second Baptist Lincoln

October 8, 2017

By His Authority

Matthew 21:23-27                          

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you this authority?"
24 Jesus replied, "I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
25 John's baptism--where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?" They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?'
26 But if we say, 'From men'--we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet."
27 So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Then he said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

When Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts, he was running hard for a second term in office. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes (and no lunch) he arrived at a church barbecue. It was late afternoon and Herter was famished. As Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.   "Excuse me," Governor Herter said, "do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?"  "Sorry," the woman told him. "I'm supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person."   "But I'm starved," the governor said.   "Sorry," the woman said again. "Only one to a customer."   Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around.  "Do you know who I am?" he said. "I am the governor of this state."   "Do you know who I am?" the woman said. "I'm the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister."

Authority.  There are many who like to “pull rank.”  There are many who believe that their position in life should give them the honor of respect, but that is not always true.  It didn’t seem to be true in the case of Jesus as the Chief priests and teachers quizzed him down about his authority with the idea of tricking him into saying he was equal with God – giving them the benefit of tagging him as a heretic and blasphemous man.

In today’s text, we don’t get a lot of answers, but we do get a question followed by a second question.  “By what authority are you doing these things?  AND Who gave you this authority?”  This passage never answers that question.  Jesus told them if they could answer the question about whose authority John’s baptism was done with, then he would answer their question.  They could not answer the question and neither was he willing to answer their questions.  BUT this poses an important question for us today.  A question largely ignored by the evangelical church today.  The question is that of the power and authority of Jesus.

Dr. David Bryant, a man who is part of the national prayer movement that sponsors the National Day of Prayer held the first week of May every year wrote a wonderful book that has a prominent place on my shelf.  It is titled, Christ Is All! A Joyful Manifesto on the Supremacy of God's Son.In the early part of the book, he describes how the evangelical church has made a dramatic departure from focusing on the power and supremacy of Christ.   In the book Bryants quotes Dr. Dallas Willard who asks this question:  “Why is today’s church so weak?  Why are Christians indistinguishable from the world?  The poor result is not in spite of what we teach and how we teach, but precisely because of it.  The power of Jesus has been cut off from ordinary human existence.”   What he is saying is that we have been teaching a different Gospel that basically describes Jesus as a good example to us and one who will step out and help us when we are in trouble.

We picture him as a little baby in a manger or a savior dying on the cross.  In between he held little children on his knee and healed people.  Yet this same Jesus has so little power and significance in our lives that we forget about him when we walk out of the sanctuary.  We don’t even like to utter his name because we might offend our non-Christians friends.  He is so powerless and meaningless in our lives that we don’t even bother worshiping him.  We come to hear a sermon ABOUT him, but we still have not experienced his power and authority in our lives.  As a pastor, I’ve minimized his role and person in my teaching and preaching.   What we’ve done is reduced Jesus to a mascot.  Let me explain.  How many Vikings fans do we have here today? 

 I think most of you are familiar with Herbie Husker and Little Red, mascots of the the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They hang out at football games, basketball games, volleyball matches, and even a few special appearances.  They are part of our image and our branding.  They are there to excite the fans and charm little children.    But then when the team is on the field playing, Herbie Husker and Little Red step back, sometimes even out of the sight of the fans.  They are there when the team is down and needing support from the fans.  But when they are done with their act, they step back.  They have served the team well.  What happens when the team hits a losing season?  Do they assist in the win.  Does their work really help?  The mascot goes out there and gets the fans excited only to see the other team outplay the Huskers once again.  It almost seems foolish and ridiculous.  We are reminded of how helpless our team is.

 In the church today, Jesus has been relegated as a mascot.  We trot him out to cheer us up and give us vigor and vision and to assure us that we are “somebodies”.  He lifts our spirits and revives our souls.  We invite him to reinforce the great things we want to do for God.  We look to him to reinvigorate us, to excite us.  He lifts our spirits, resuscitates our souls, rebuilds our confidence.   Jesus gives us reason to cheer.  We read about his miracles and powerful preaching and we become excited.  We are so proud of him, so proud to belong to him.  Yet when Monday morning comes around, like the mascot whose job has been done, we place Jesus back on reserve.  He is relegated to the sidelines.  For all practical purposes, it is you and me who is calling the shots.  We implement the plays, scramble for first downs and improvise in a pinch.   Even when we do it in his name, we still do it with little (if any) reliance upon him.  We don’t think of ourselves as incapable of living life without his authority and help in our lives.  We pretty much muddle along by ourselves.  We have relegated Jesus to being the mascot of our lives.

Now here’s the kicker!  The truth is, Jesus’ claim is not to be our mascot to be celebrated and to hype us up – Jesus’ claim is to be our monarch.  We sing hymns like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” or “Crown Him with Many Crowns” to celebrate his kingship and royalty in our lives – but he scarcely ever makes it past the role of mascot.   See, the difference is this.  Jesus’ persona is not embodied in the mascot on the sidelines – but rather Jesus role is supreme.  He is the coach, offensive and defensive coordinator, the quarterback, the line and the defense.  He is even the playbook and the cheerleader and the goal post and final championship.   

You might be wondering why it even matters what Jesus is.  You might be thinking, “Well, pastor, I like to think of Jesus as my good buddy who cheers me on through the day.”  With all due respect, it is not really up to us to define Jesus.  He is the crowned prince of Glory who dwelt in the heavens before the earth was even formed.  He was there at the creation and is now seated at the right hand of his father.  He has been crowned king and the role of mascot is an inferior and devalued position.  The king loves us, but he is so much more than the mascot or good buddy we pretend he is.  It matters who Jesus is because it determines how we live on Monday morning.  It determines how seriously we take the church (Which is his bride).  It determines every aspect of how we live the Christian life.  WHY?  AUTHORITY.  A mascot doesn’t have any authority.  When there is a dispute on the field and one ref says touchdown and the other ref says, “He was short by six inches”, do they say, “Hey, let’s go ask the mascot and let him decide!”  That’s ridiculous.  The mascot has no authority.  If we treat Jesus as a mascot, is it any wonder our lives are in turmoil?  Is it any wonder we don’t read his word?  Don’t participate in his body?  Don’t live obedient and moral lives? 

The church has a struggle with morality and obedience because we cheer for a mascot instead of serving a king.  In 80% of the churches in America, the membership is stagnant and dying.  Tens of thousands of congregations are struggling financially because their giving has leveled off and is declining.  There is prevailing apathy about evangelism and global mission.

The answer to our problem is not one I can simply lay out and say, here is the simple solution.  The answer is found in discovering the Christ of the Bible.  If we are not studying the Bible and examining the Christ of the Bible, we tend to gain a warped and insufficient view of Christ.   The church can find her way back if:  We begin again to worship Christ as monarch with authority over our lives.  We spread his grander message about God’s son to God’s people, inviting them to re-discover that in his reign, we will find all hope and that we are meant to have.  We can begin to see a paradigm shift in the church.  I have not been steadfastly teaching Christ as monarch and king.  It is too easy as we study the gospel of Matthew to see Jesus as human, but not as king.  Why is it that the Teachers of law in today’s passage struggled so to see him as king?  “By what authority are you doing these things?”  He’s the king!  He didn’t give them the answer because they were so far from the truth they wouldn’t have seen truth if it knocked them in the head. 

When we recognize him as king, we will know the answer.  When we gaze upon him, we will see him as king with all the authority that comes with that position.  Let’s change our view of Jesus and discover who he really is.  Not a cartoon mascot, but king of kings. Amen. 



The Uttermost Parts of the World/October 1, 2017

Second Baptist Church Lincoln

October 1, 2017    World Communion Sunday   

The Uttermost Parts of the World

Matthew 28:19-20    

19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

As we raise children and grandchildren, everyone is interested in hearing what a baby’s first words will be. If you are the father you hope their first word will be daddy. If you’re a mama you hope their first word will be mommy. Parents often keep records of these things they write them down their child’s baby book. Something we don’t think of often is the “Last Words” of a person’s life.

•   It is recorded that the last words spoken by Thomas Edison were, “it is very beautiful out there.”

•   Musician Bob Marley’s last words were “money can’t buy life.”

•   James Brown, the singer-his last words were “I’m going away tonight.”

•   Beethoven, who was deaf-his last words were “I will hear in heaven.”

There is some wisdom to be found in each of these statements. As I consider the life and ministry of Jesus, I am grateful that his last words were not “It is finished”.  We often refer to those words as his last words as he breathed his last.  But we are also aware of the reality that on the third day, he rose from the grave.  That he walked and talked among the people.  We know that there were around 500 people who witnessed him in his risen form. And we know that his true, last words, were, “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  It was there on that mountain in Israel where Jesus said his farewell to his disciples.  I’m sure it was a sad and confusing time for the disciples.

But what we see in the days ahead is the clarification of Christ’s vision for the world.  It began with his command of “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit.” From there, the disciples went into Jerusalem and waited and prayed until they received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And from there, the church exploded; through the witness of those effected at Pentecost who went back home proclaiming what they saw and experienced; from the lips of the apostles who went out into new lands preaching and teaching.  Church tradition tells us that those apostles went far and wide with the gospel.  Andrew went to the northeast into what is now Georgia and Bulgaria.  Bartholomew and Thomas went to India.  Thomas also went to what is now Iran and Afghanistan.  James stayed right there in Jerusalem.  John went on to Ephesus and Patmos.  Matthew went to what is now Iran and Philip went to what is now Turkey.

The point is, they went outward in a radiating pattern to proclaim the good news of Christ to a world in need.  They didn’t see the gospel as something to be hoarded and kept. They intended it to multiply and make disciples. Growing God’s kingdom is a matter of arithmetic.  When we fill our baptistery, and one person at a time, we immerse them in the baptismal waters, we are ADDING new members to the kingdom. But when we practice discipleship and disciples are made and added to the kingdom, something else takes place.  MULTIPLICATION.  Making disciples is multiplying.  What do I mean?  Baptism is simply adding a person to the kingdom of God. When we make a disciple, something else happens.  A person is brought to maturity so that they become a witness, a purveyor of Good News. They go from a role of seeker and convert, to becoming an active participant in bringing others into God’s kingdom.  Ideally, then that person just brought into the kingdom will also become a real disciple.  And the kingdom of God multiplies. 

That’s the primary reason churches are shrinking today.  They are adding, but they are not multiplying.  They are not producing disciples.  I know so few churches that are actually making disciples.  Most are sitting back passively hoping people will wonder in off the street and find their place in the church. The church we see actively growing around the world is the church that takes seriously the role of making disciples. They take to heart the Great Commission and are willing to put themselves out there to make disciples.What if everyone who walked through these waters and is baptized, what if they became true disciples? What would happen if we began to do multiplication instead of addition? What if every person who walked through these waters began to disciple another person? This is the kind of math Jesus used. Not addition, but multiplication. Jesus, instead of starting with one person, chose 12. He started with a group.

The word in the New Testament here that is translated as “go” does not mean to move from one place to another. Now if God calls you to do that, then you should. If you sense God calling you to be a missionary and telling you to move from this place to another place far away-to South America, to Africa or China, to share the gospel, then you should. But again, this word “go” as used here does not mean to move from one place to another. A better wording would be as you go. As you go along in this life, no matter where you are-do this-make disciples!

This passage has long been known as the great commission, one of the most well-known passages in the Bible and they are considered to be some of the very last words Jesus spoke to his disciples. And if you notice Jesus closes his ministry in the same way he started. He started by calling 12 men to be his disciples, then He discipled them, then they began to disciple others. Now as he closes his ministry He says to everyone here... Do this one thing... As you go about in this life; do this one thing-----make disciples.

Our world has changed dramatically in the past 200 years.  Two-hundred years ago, Adoniram Judson landed in Burma and began a work among the Burmese people.  They were largely tribal groups not having heard the gospel message.  He not only made converts, but he made disciples. Over the past 200 years, much of the tribal culture has centered around their Christian faith.  Pastors and Bible teachers were raised up and taught the work of discipleship and evangelism.  As time went on, more and more third world and developing nations were introduced to the gospel and rapid growth and maturity was taking place as their people were discipled. And then the world changed even more. These tribal groups in Burma where we once sent missionaries, were now being persecuted by the government of Burma.  Wars broke out.  Many of these Karen, Kachin and Chin people were holed up in refugee camps, sometimes for one or two decades. Finally, they began to immigrate to America, many settling in the Midwest.  We know that large groups settled in Omaha and Lincoln.  First Baptist has been home to the Karen for a number of years.

But let me go back over 100 years.  Ola Hanson immigrated from Sweden in 1881 and settled in Oakland, NE.  He went on to school at what is now Bethel in the Twin Cities and then on for further education at Madison Theological Seminary in New York. In 1890, we went to Burma to work among the Kachin people.  One of his greatest tasks was to help the Kachin people who were in a complete state of illiteracy where they had no written language.  In the following years, he learned their spoken language, transliterated it into the Latin alphabet, and then began to translate the scriptures into the Kachin language using our alphabet. After 28 years with the Kachin, he returned to Nebraska and passed away just a few short years later.  He is buried in the cemetery in Oakland. When the Kachin people arrived in Nebraska to settle in Omaha, they discovered that their revered historical hero from their early Christian history in Burma was buried right here in their new homeland.They went to Oakland, discovered the unkempt grave of Ola and Minnie Hanson.  The Kachin people had a new stone created celebrating both their Nebraska and Burmese heritage.   And a great celebration of dedication of the new stone and the impact of Christ on their lives through this missionary couple, Ola and Minnie Hanson. Hearing this story reminded me of this great connection we have in Christ.  Worldwide, we can see these kinds of connections.  The family of God, making disciples, creating new beginnings for people lost in sin.

Today as we come to this table, I will remind you as I did last year, that this is a big table.  It extends from Africa where Tola is celebrating with her congregation. It extends from Burma, where refugees are hoping to cross the ocean and come to America. It extends to Japan where the Yamanishi family lives and was once with you here in this sanctuary. This table of the Lord’s supper extends to all parts of the world, where God’s people come together to worship and commune together.  Amen.

Wealth and God's Kingdom/September 24, 2017

Second Baptist Lincoln
Sept. 24, 2017

Wealth and God’s Kingdom

Matthew 19:16-29                  

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”  18 “Which ones?” he inquired.  Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”  20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”  21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”  28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[c] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

As you know from the past couple weeks as I talked about some of Jesus’ more difficult sayings on hatred and of reconciliation, we encounter another difficult passage of Jesus. He deals with the issue of WEALTH.  

If I were to ask you, “How do you know you’re going to heaven, your response would be “Because I invited Jesus to come into my life and redeem me from my sin. Because of his death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb, I can have new life.”  Today in our passage of Scripture, we’re going to see a young man approach Jesus and ask Him the very same question.  “What must I do to have eternal life?” It’s an age-old question!  His response was a typical response.  I did this, I did that.  There were a lot of things this young man did right. But he made a series of mistakes that led him to missing out on the power of God in His life. This passage is likely to surprise us and confuse us a little, since the standard answer we give about “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”, is not the answer he gives.

At this point, Jesus was still very popular. Crowds of people were still gathering around to listen to Him teach. People were seeking Him out because they wanted to hear what He had to say. During this time of teaching, a rich, young ruler approached Jesus and asked Him a question all people want to know the answer to. “What must I do to have eternal life?” I love the question! But there was a problem with it. He was looking for an answer that wouldn’t inconvenience him. And because that was his natural bent, he ended up, like so many of us, walking away sad.

This story is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And when you combine the stories, here’s what you come up with. We learn the man who asked Jesus this question was rich, young and a ruler. Ruler of what? Very likely the ruler of the local synagogue. He was probably of the more traditional sect of the faith which would’ve been ruled by the Pharisees because he was asking about eternal life. The liberal sect of the faith, the Sadducees, didn’t believe in eternal life. It appears at the beginning of this story that this man was on the right track in so many ways. First, he came to Jesus! Next, he came to Jesus with the RIGHT question! You can see Him being asked about controversial subjects like divorce and runaway slaves. Mothers were bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus. So this rich man knew there was something different about this Jesus. He realized Jesus was a man worthy of his respect. But his recognition stopped short. While he saw Jesus as a worthy teacher, he didn’t see Jesus as LORD. Now maybe there is a reason for this. He didn’t have our VANTAGE POINT He didn’t have the full gospel of the cross and the resurrection. He didn’t have Paul’s letters to the churches across Asia Minor. 

My fear is that many of us, even with our complete scriptures and the testimony of the Apostles and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we still don’t see Jesus as Lord either. We see Him as a good teacher. We see Him as a nice guy. But the whole idea of Him being “Lord” is a little much for most people.Why? Well, think of what the name “Lord” means. In a nutshell it means “Master.” It means “Boss.” And most people I know have very little interest in someone being their boss. Most of us had rather BE the boss, or at least we’d rather be free from having anyone hold us accountable. My feeling is this young man saw himself as Lord and was looking for advice on how he could keep hold of being in charge of his own life and yet reap the benefits of God being the Savior. How can I say that? Because when you look at the entire context of the story you see the man is trying to figure out how he could remain in charge of all that he had.

Think about the question logically. What do we gain if we live under our own will and leadership? Well, we get to do what WE want. We can accumulate a lot of stuff. And those things can be fun! It’s nice when everything revolves around us. But how long does that stuff last? Only as long as you do, and that’s not very long. It’s why Jesus said in Matt. 16: 24-26, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life?”

The young man had asked Jesus how to have eternal life. What’s very intriguing about this is that it’s not like it was some secret. It’s not like there are a bunch of hoops to jump thru in order to “earn” your way into heaven. So how did Jesus answer the question? He starts off by telling him that if he wants eternal life it begins with obedience to Him. He asks Jesus which ones he’s supposed to follow.  Jesus responds by suggesting 6 of the 10 commandments. What about the first 4? By not mentioning them, Jesus wasn’t saying they weren’t important. The 1st 4 commandments deal with our relationship with God. The last 6 deal with the very practice of the first four. So the idea is that it’s not just enough to KNOW the commandments, but it is to LIVE them; to put them into practice. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.”

The young man gives a good response. He tells Jesus he’s kept all of these commandments! Then he says, “What do I still lack?”  I will have to say, this was a pretty good guy.  I think he really was.  He was checking off all the little religious boxes, just like we do. I went to church this morning...check. I read my Bible...check. I prayed...check. I put money in the offering plate...check. I helped my neighbor…check! None of those things are wrong! But we can’t forget that God doesn’t just look at our outward actions, but He also examines the motivations of our heart! The young man said, “I’ve performed all these tasks! What else do you want from me?” And Jesus goes right to the man’s heart. In v. 21 He tells him to give away all he has to the poor and then come follow Him. 

There are a lot of strange interpretations of this passage.  Some believe that Jesus hates wealth.  Others believe you have to get rid of your wealth to be a follower of Jesus.  The problem wasn’t the man’s wealth, it was his heart.  His heart was focused on his wealth and nothing else.  Jesus said in Matt. 6: 21, “For where you treasure is there will your heart be also.” It is a question of: What is it you value most in life? What is it that you refuse to relinquish in your life? Because whatever it is, that’s what you treasure and that’s where your heart is. And if your heart is with anything other than following God; if your heart is with anything that pulls you AWAY from obedience to the Lord, you’re called to let it go. Why? Because the stuff of this world weighs us down. It trips us up and causes us not to run the race of life well! Take an inventory of your life to see if there are any hindrances to your walk with God. As for God’s health in removing that which stands in the way of a life with Christ.

This same story is told in Mark 10. And from that reading of this story we learn that when the young man came to Jesus, he did so running to Him! But by the time he leaves Jesus we see him walking away grieving. There is no doubt in my mind that this man was concerned for his soul. It’s why he asked Jesus what he had to do to have eternal life. He was absolutely committed to finding out how to have eternal life. In our text he prods Jesus a little deeper when he asked him what he lacked in his life that was keeping him from life eternal. It’s obvious he knew he was lacking something so he asked Jesus what it was he was missing. What was he missing? A TOTAL surrender of his life to God! Where he made the mistake is that when he heard what Jesus wanted him to do he was grieved. Another word for “grieved” is “sad.” He was sad because Jesus was asking him to give up that which was most important to him in his life...his possessions. See, it isn’t just bank accounts.  It is possessions.  It isn’t just gold or silver, it is that which we surround ourselves with.  Do you realize that the more possessions we have, the less time we have, because each one of those additional possessions takes time and attention to attend to? If we buy a bigger house to obtain more possessions, we spend more time caring for those possessions. 

During the 1940's, a man named Alex Jordan discovered a 60-foot chimney of rock in the beautiful Wyoming Valley of Wisconsin. It was here he decided to build a house on the sandstone formation called Deer Shelter Rock. Jordan built the house as a weekend retreat and never intended it to be a tourist attraction. However, people kept coming to see the architectural wonder they had heard about. Jordan eventually started asking for 50 cent donations. That was only the beginning. The 14-room house is the original structure of what is now a complex of many buildings, exhibits, and garden displays. Alex was a collector all his life and enjoyed visiting museums; however, he did not want The House on the Rock to be a museum. He intended it to be much more than that. It wasn’t long before his collections became vast.   It included European medieval armor, coin operated musical instruments,  the world’s largest carousel, guns, replica collection of the British crown jewels. His house became his life.  Rather than a place to hang his hat, it became the object of his interest and affection. 

What’s important to us?  Does it keep us from taking up our cross and following Jesus?  I’m afraid I have a few of those obstacles in my own life.  I wonder how many of us would walk away sad and distraught when Jesus calls upon us.  AMEN.

Mending Fences Part 2, September 17, 2017

Second Baptist Church Lincoln

 Sept. 17, 2017

                                                      Mending Fences:  Part II

Matthew 18:15-20 (NIV)
15  "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
16  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'
17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18  "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19  "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
20  For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

How much time do we spend in conflict?  It seems like much of our daily lives are wrestling with one type of conflict or another.  It started back with Cain and Abel.  You remember the story – the first two brothers in recorded history argued because God favored Abel’s sacrifice more than Cain’s.  You know how the story ends – with the first murder – and seems brothers (and even brothers and sisters) have been at each other’s throats ever since.

When I was in seminary, I was a Christian Education major and the professor, and much of our curriculum, argued that we should be leading our children in “non-competitive: games.  Cooperative Games were popular at that time, teaching children to work together for a common solution.  Being who I am, a bit of an outspoken rebel, I decided to challenge that way of thinking.  I was an athlete at heart and had just come out of college wrestling.  I loved competition.  So as I raised my hand and spoke my mind about  the importance of competition and how it builds character and resilience in young people, the professor said, “Fine, write me a paper about it.”   So I did.   I wrote a paper showing the entire Old Testament, at least in the patriarchal period in Genesis, was one competition after another.  Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and on the list goes.  Conflict is part of life, and the best we can do is learn to deal with it, because we are never going to eliminate it.

I’ve had my share of conflicts.  While we like to think of our childhood as a Normal Rockwell painting of tranquil gatherings around a Thanksgiving turkey, most of us recognize that our childhood was much different than that.  Some of my earliest memories were of us kids teasing each other, tattling on each other, and generally not getting along very well.  My brother and I would be wrestling in the living room and my mom shouting, “Watch out for that lamp!”  Don’t get me wrong, I love my siblings, but you know how it is. It seems like there was always conflict. There are the typical childhood conflicts, but then there are the real adult conflicts destabilize homes, that become a distraction in the workplace, and cause deep dysfunction in churches. 

Problems or conflict in churches most often are the result of a sense of unfairness.  Let’s say a congregation makes a decision to make a major change.  Someone who is typically part of that decision-making process and likes to stay informed, but somehow didn’t have a voice in the matter.  The decision was made without their knowledge or input.  Very likely, they feel a sense of injustice that their voice was not heard.  They feel entitled to provide input since they have been a member of the congregation for a long time.  They feel like they have been wronged, and they lost power.  This is typical of churches, city councils, state legislatures, corporate offices, non-profit groups, families, or even little league teams.  It happens between neighbors when one neighbor cuts his own hedge, but the neighbor thought he should have input since it makes his property look shabby.

Conflict is the cause of so much pain that exists or has existed in the world.  Conflict usually comes about for two reasons.  1.)  You have something I want and you won’t give it to me, or 2.) you have offended me and I must do something about it.  I must find justice. That is what we’re going to look at today – in a very well-known section of Matthew that we’re going to look at in a new way.   If you have been a Christian for any length of time you are no doubt familiar with this section of the gospel. It is so common, in fact, that I hear people use this as a verb, "I need to Matthew 18 them," as if there is some magic formula or regulation contained here. I want to correct some misconceptions about Matthew 18. The first thing is that this is for the church – not for the world. Jesus has different standards for when the people in the world around us sin.   So here are four steps that Jesus teaches in Matthew 18 for “when your brother offends you”.

I.  Step 1 – The One on One
You earn the right to correct.  You can’t just blow someone off – you’ve got to establish a relationship of trust so that you can take someone aside and tell them – "you need to watch this area of your life."   A quiet face-to-face is better than a public rebuke or worse yet – gossip.  When a person is confronted publically, they become resistant and embarrassed.  They have lost face in the community.  Often when we see someone sinning we react by shunning them or talking about them behind their backs instead of quietly, privately, confronting the problem. This idea of face-to-face privately is good for churches because it saves church leaders from having to intervene when hurt feelings get out of hand.

The rewards are great but so are the risks.  We need to be very careful before we take our concerns to another – even one on one. This whole system dovetails nicely with what Paul told the Galatian church – but listen to his words in chapter 6 closely.  (Gal 6:1-2) “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Quite often the reason we see things in others is that these same things reside in us. Make sure you have dealt with your own problems in life first and are ready to help others without yourself being tempted. Remember the illustration by Jesus?  Matthew 7:4-5:    4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?   5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.   A person who has a problem with anger should not be trying to tell another person about their anger problem until they have allowed the Lord to deal with their own problem first.

Step 2 – "Take someone with you."

If you are rejected by the person you have approached, alone – it’s time to bring in a few others. It’s not clear whether the others are meant to bring additional evidence or just be there to witness the one on one encounter – so that later on, the person who has sinned can’t do a "my word against yours" kind of thing.

Jesus uses Deuteronomy 19:15: 15 One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  It’s one thing to accuse someone privately – I’ve had it done to me – but when there are others around the accusations can be challenged.

Step 3 – Bring the person before the church

Thirdly, Jesus says that if the face to face or bringing a witness doesn’t work to resolve the sin, then bring the person before the congregation.  We do not often do this and fortunately, we have not had reason to do this in our congregation.  It is a drastic step toward reconciliation.  The idea is that the church congregation has more authority and validity than a couple of individuals. 

This is not practiced much within our American Baptist Churches and in some more conservative Churches, it is over practiced.  It seems that now days if a congregation confronts an individual, they just go across town to another church and cause trouble there. 

Matthew 18 suggests another step – a fourth step.  “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as a tax collector.”  If the person "blows off" the church, presumably the church leadership, then Jesus says to treat them as a pagan or tax collector.  Here is where churches make another mistake. Churches down through the ages have used this as the justification for excommunication. But look at the purpose of all of this – “so that the person might repent and turn from sin.”   What does it mean to treat him like a tax collector?  

There was a man in a congregation in our region who was a trouble maker.  The church went through years of conflict.  Finally our Department of Ministry (Which I served as the chair), went in and did a conflict resolution process. But even long after the rest of the congregation was busily working on getting along and resolving the issues that had led to the conflict, this one man would continue to undermine everything.  He served on one of the boards.  The morning after the board meeting, he would be down at the coffee shop expounding on the confidential issues of the meeting the night before.  People in the congregation were hearing about the problems in their own congregation from people down on Main Street.  Time went on and we hired a new region Executive, Dr. Riley Walker.  This stuff was still going on in that church and Riley showed up one day.  He went over to the man’s house with a couple of the leaders from the church and he said, “You will need to find a new church because you are no longer welcome here.  You have disrupted this congregation for the last time and it will not continue.” 

The man found a different church to torment and the church has been healing ever since.   That is an extreme case.  Usually the goal of bringing the person before the congregation is to resolve the problem and restore the person.  Sometimes, though, the person is so filled with evil that it is a cancer in the body of Christ and they must be released. 

To sum up, then, let me make a few general statements about conflict resolution. 
A.  Conflict should be dealt with, not ignored.
B.  Conflict should be dealt with personally whenever possible.
C.  The idea of conflict resolution is to see repentance, not punishment.
D.  We need to make sure conflicts are real, not just offenses.
E.  We should practice great forgiveness – keeping in mind that for which we have been forgiven.

What happens when we let conflict go unresolved? It grows into broken relationships, and broken churches.  What happens when we don’t forgive? We stunt our growth, cause hurt in another brother, and weaken the church.  Yet just as brothers and sisters should get along – we can, by dealing with conflict properly and in love. Amen.


Mending Fences Part 1/September 10, 2017

Second Baptist Church Lincoln

Sept. 10, 2017

Mending Fences:  Part 1

Matthew 5:23-24       

23  "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Last spring we showed the movie “The Hiding Place”.  It is the powerful story of Corrie Ten Boom and her father Casper, sister Betsy and brother Willem.  During World War II and the German occupation of Holland, Corrie and her family harbored Jews in a hiding place in their home in Harlem in Amsterdam. Eventually, they were betrayed by a friend and the entire family was transported to a Concentration Camp, Ravensbruck.  Casper almost immediately died in another camp, and Corrie and Betsy suffered the ill-treatment of Ravensbruck,  Their faith was their strength and they encouraged other inmates to trust God through the hardships.  Eventually Betsy died. Toward the end of the war, Corrie was released from the camp by a clerical error, and nearly all the women she bunked with were sent to the gas chambers.  God had a purpose and plan for her life and she knew it.So at age 50, she began to minister to people and churches by traveling and speaking and telling her story.  She was on Bill Graham and that fame launched the Billy Graham film, The Hiding Place.

But she struggled with forgiveness.  She knew that nothing could justify the ill-treatment she experienced under the Nazi camp.  But she also felt that nothing could justify her hating those who did this to her.  She tells this story:

I was not at peace with men. Sometime ago I was in Berlin and after a meeting there came a man to me and said, “Don’t you know me?” Suddenly, I saw that man that was one of the most cruel guards of whole Ravensbruck..
My dying sister had suffered through him, but he said, “I am so happy that I can tell you I am a child of God. I have a Bible at home. I have asked Jesus to come into my heart. I have brought Him my sins. All my cruel sins that I have done and now I have prayed God: Give me the grace that I can ask one of my very victim’s forgiveness. That is why I am here. Fraulein ten Boom, I want to be forgiven.’
And he would shake hands with me and I could not. I thought of how my dying sister had suffered through his cruelties, but I knew from the Bible that Jesus had said if we do not forgive, the Heavenly Father will not forgive us our sins. I know from the Bible that hatred means murder in God’s eyes, but I also know from the Bible what to do with my murder. I said, “Oh, Father, forgive me in Jesus’ name my hatred.
Thank you, Jesus, that You have brought into my heart God’s love through the Holy Spirit which was given to me and thank you, Father, that Your love in me is stronger than my hatred.
That same moment I could shake hands with that man. And it was as if I felt God’s love stream through my arm and I said, “Brother, I forgive you everything.” You’ll never touch so the ocean of God’s love as that you love your enemies.

In today’s text, Jesus calls us to something that most of us find very difficult.  The title of the sermon is a little misleading, because I am taking a slightly different direction than I had originally planned.  Originally, several months ago when I planned this sermon, I had intended to talk about the importance of seeking our forgiveness with humankind before we can approach our heavenly Father. We have two relationships.  We have the vertical relationship with God that extends from our hearts to God’s heart.  It is nurtured through prayer and worship and genuine feelings of love. The second type of relationship is horizontal.  It is the relationship we have with people on this earth.  Our neighbor, our friends, and Jesus even extends it to our enemies.  It is a lot easier having a vertical relationship with our heavenly Father than it is to have a relationship with those around us who we see every day.  People are not always easy to love, yet God commands it.

Sadly, I’m seeing a new paradigm and pattern in our culture that I find very disturbing.  It isn’t biblical, but it is often nurtured and supported by Christians as if it is somehow biblical. Instead of doing what Corrie Ten Boom did by recognizing that we have NO RIGHT to hate those whom God loves, we instead feel justified in hating the haters.  In our culture today, we seem to have adopted a form of justified hate. We think that it is OK to loath people who embrace hatred.  We think that it is acceptable, even moral to heap coals of disrespect and hatred upon those who are racist or take a position that is deeply immoral. Straight people think it is OK to hate gay people.  Gay people think it’s ok to hate people who hate gay people.  Poor people think it’s ok to hate rich people.  Never do we receive biblical permission to hate other people. 

Only 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against this kind of justified hate. He said, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” He goes on to confirm his own desire to eliminate hate from his own life.  He takes the path that Christ teaches in this passage today.  “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” In that story of Corrie Ten Boom, many people today would express that Corrie had the moral right to hate the Nazi people for what they had done to her and her family. Jesus never condones a justified hate.  He says to turn the other cheek.  He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

There is a second thing I have noticed in our culture about “HATE”.  We have determined that hate is something someone else does.  None of us want to admit that we are people capable of hatred.  We are followers of Jesus!  How can we possibly be people of hate? I want to take just a moment to define hate as it is defined in the Miriam Webster dictionary.  “Intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury b :  extreme dislike or disgust.”  It is that hostility that wells up within us when we hear someone say something so disgusting.  So injurious to others, that it gives us a sense of disgust and anger.  Folks, I have been there.  In fact, I have been there frequently. I am so guilty of hatred toward other people that sometimes it causes me to experience anxiety. 

Someone asked me one time in a discussion over the death penalty.  They asked me, “Could you pull the switch or be the person who administers the fatal drug?” I very quickly responded, “Yes, I could”.  A monster who takes a child and sexually abuses that child then tortures and kills them.  Yes, I could pull the switch.”   And then it scared me.  That’s anger.  That’s why Jesus compares anger to murder in this passage that was read today.  I am capable of that kind of anger, that kind of murder.   Yet we deny that we have hatred in our lives.  I remember when President Obama was president and some people hanged an effigy of the president from a tree.   That’s hatred.  A couple months ago, a controversial comedian thought she was being funny when she held up an effigy of a decapitated head of the president.  She was driven by her hatred and fear, she thought it was actually funny.   Wow, we do need to take a look at ourselves.

We go as far as to defend our feelings of hatred by calling it something else.  “I don’t hate people who are from the other political party,  I just resent everything they stand for.”   We disguise our deep feelings of resentment and pretend it is something else.   What about disagreement?  Public discourse?  What we have forgotten in our culture is how to disagree with someone without hating them.  We become so engaged with our feelings or our sense of being “right”, that we carry deep resentment (which by the way, is hate).

Yet the Bible is clear that we can disagree with others without hating them.  I hardly think the writers of the Gospels or the apostles like Paul and John who wrote about love, agreed with their government.  I doubt they supported the Roman government by agreeing with their position on human rights, religious liberty or public service.  After all, the Roman government didn’t have any human rights, religious liberty or public service.  I’m sure these early Christians disagreed with the government, but the message was one of LOVE.  We don’t hear them railing against the government.  Somehow, they recognized that God’s love could not be compared or contrasted with government rule.  The kingdom of God and the kingdom of man were not the same and could not be compared.   SHOULD not be compared.

 The rules that Jesus proposed were rules of love.  In Matthew 5:43-44 (which is later in this same text we read today), Jesus changes the whole definition of murder.  “Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV) 43  "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, That is so hard for us to do.  Pray for those who persecute us.  Pray for those who disagree with us.  Pray for those who have called us names.  Pray for those who have unfairly categorized us.   Jesus demonstrated this as he wentto the cross toward the end of the gospels.  He was captured and tried as a political enemy of the state.  But this wasn’t true.  He wasn’t a political enemy.  He was falsely accused.  Not only did the Roman government co-op in his death, but the religious leaders accused him of blasphemy, which would have been true if he were merely a mortal man.  He did claim to be God .But the Prophet Isaiah prophesied that he would be like a lamb led to the slaughter, he would not open his mouth.  He didn’t wage a protest.  He didn’t strike those who injured him.  In fact, when Peter defended him and cut off the ear of the guard, Jesus reprimanded Peter, not the arresting guards.

There is much that can be said about hatred, but it has really struck me how much of a problem this has become in our culture.  Hatred has always existed and it was much stronger in times of national crisis like when the German people turned against the Jews during the time of Hitler.

And hatred isn’t going to go away by me preaching this sermon.  I’m not going to stop hating and you aren’t likely to stop hating. But there is something we need to understand.  If you take nothing else away from this message, remember this.  When Jesus talked about hate, he directed it at the listener.  If you read my Midweek article this week, you saw that I wrote something similar.  You can see that it has been on my mind a lot lately…

See, we have a problem today in that we define “hate” as that horrible thing that other people do.  Those white supremacists, that Westboro Baptist Church down in Topeka.  Look at those Antifa protesters.  Look at those people, so full of hate. Yet when Jesus addresses hate, he addresses the hearer, the reader, the audience.  He addresses you in the first person singular.  We can’t dodge his reprimand, his direct word that he speaks.  It is for us. No matter how you feel about Confederate monuments staying in place or being torn down, the issue of hate is not about a monument, it is about you and me.  When we read about racist graffiti being written on a wall of a synagogue or a mosque, we are busy trying to figure out who might have done such a terrible thing – when in reality, we should be reflecting on our own attitudes and resentments.  Jesus is not addressing a group of people, he is addressing me.  Am I ready to listen?   AMEN


A Drink from the Cup/September 3, 2017

Second Baptist Lincoln
 Sept. 3, 2017      

A Drink from the Cup

Matthew 20:20-24                  

20    Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21 "What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."
22 "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered.
23 Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father."
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.

At our American Baptist Assembly Grounds at Green Lake, WI, there is a small, isolated outdoor worship area called Hopevale. It is a memorial to eleven missionaries who gave their lives in service to Christ. During WWII, as Japan was rapidly expanding their empire, they invaded and occupied the Philippines. Americans and other expatriates were sent to internment camps. But a group of American Baptist missionaries instead went deep into the jungle to live among the Christians with whom they had been working. They believed that God had placed them there and they wanted to continue to support their Christian friends. The Japanese military eventually caught up with them and killed all eleven of them, leaving their bodies in the peaceful setting of the outdoor worship chapel of Hopevale.

When I hear stories like this, I can’t help but to wonder if I would be even half as faithful as those who give their lives. People like the apostle Paul and the disciples of Jesus.Toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, disciples of Jesus, went to Jesus and asked, “"Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." His response to her was, "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” And they believed that they could.

You may recall that I referred to this text last week when Jesus had told his disciples that they must become like little children to see the kingdom of God. Christ was asking them if they had what it takes to really follow Him. Would they be willing to pay the price of true discipleship? If the disciples were to share in Christ’s triumph they would have to share in his suffering. He was telling them that there is no crown without a cross. The word “cup” that Jesus used in His response to the disciples’ request was an anticipatory reference to His prayer in Gethsemane. Mark 14:36 tells us that while in Gethsemane Jesus prayed saying, “Abba, Father,” he said, “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” For Christ, the “cup” meant suffering, misunderstanding, betrayal, ridicule, and the agony of the cross. The cup, symbolizing trouble and suffering as it does here, is a frequent theme of the Old Testament. (see Psalm 75:8 and Isaiah 51:17) Thus, when Jesus asked His disciples if they could “DRINK OF THE CUP” He was asking them if they would be willing to endure trouble, suffering, hardship, sacrifice and even death for Him. He was asking them if they would be willing to “TAKE UP THEIR CROSS AND FOLLOW HIM…” (Matthew 16:24). 

The communion “cup” speaks of suffering; Christ’s suffering and our suffering. Writing to the Philippian believers (1:29) the apostle Paul said, “FOR IT HAS BEEN GRANTED TO YOU ON BEHALF OF CHRIST NOT ONLY TO BELIEVE ON HIM, BUT ALSO TO SUFFER FOR HIM.” 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “IF WE SUFFER WITH CHRIST, WE SHALL ALSO REIGN WITH HIM…” If we are truly following Christ there will come times when we will, like James and Charma Covell, who died at Hopevale, be called upon to suffer for Christ. In many parts of the world suffering for Christ involves torture and even death. In scores of countries it is not uncommon for Christians to be abducted, tortured, and even killed simply because they follow Jesus. Imprisonment, forced labor, loss of employment and property come to many believers.

This table is one of sacrifice. The cup that represents Christ is one of shed blood and agony. Many powerful stories of God’s powerful presence through that tragedy came out of the Hopevale experience. One of those happened during peacetime, in Japan. (As told by Elmo Familiaran). One day the General Secretary of the Japan Baptist Union was riding the train to work holding his Bible on his lap. An elderly Japanese man seated across him was staring at his Bible and making eye contact. Finally he asked the General Secretary, “Are you a Christian?” to which the General Secretary responded, “Yes, I am the General Secretary of the JBU.” The old man then asked if he knew Dr. James Covell. The General Secretary responded, “Yes, he was a missionary of the ABCUSA and was executed by the Imperial Army in the Philippines.” The old man replied, “I know…I was a member of the platoon that executed him and the others!” Then he went on to say how he was moved by the way they asked for a time to pray, and to return to face their death in peace. This moved his soul so, that after the war he sought out to read the Bible to learn about their God, and later on became a Christian! (A Meditation on a ‘Centralite’ Journey”Rev. Elmo D. Familiaran).

You and I may never know what it means to shed blood as a martyr. The disciples knew. Jesus knew their future.  And it seems that each accepted their fate.  But as we come to this table, we need to be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf so that we can have life. Amen.

Like a Child/August 27, 2017

Second Baptist Lincoln

Aug. 27, 2017          

Like a Child

Matthew 18:1-6

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
2 He called a little child and had him stand among them.
3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

I had heard about someone recently who was having trouble with their daughter. They have been to court several times because she is completely out of control. They have also taken her to professional counselors who have told the parents that she has a diagnosis of NPD: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) describes it this way: “Individuals with this disorder have a grandiose sense of self-importance (Criterion 1). They are often preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love (Criterion 2). They may ruminate about ‘long overdue’ admiration and privilege and compare themselves favorably with famous or privileged people.” It seems to me that this is not just the diagnosis of a few individuals; it is the diagnosis of the culture at large — narcissistic self-absorption and self-centeredness.

The term “Narcissism” comes from the Greek god named Narcissus who was known for his beauty. Many fell in love with him, but he spurned all lovers, until one day he became thirsty and went to a pool of water where he clearly saw his own reflection. He fell deeply in love with himself and could not pull himself away from his reflection, even to eat, so that he ultimately died. His death was caused by total self-absorption. How many beautiful and talented celebrities do we know who destroy their own lives because of a complete preoccupation with themselves? When we worship ourselves, we become our own god.

There’s a book by Robert Bellah Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life.  It came out in 1985. It is about the rise of radical individualism in our culture which is committed only to the self. It is even more relevant today than when it was written. He described how we are moving away from concern about family, community and what is good for society as a whole, to a culture that is narrowing its concern to what is good for us personally as individuals. In the book, he gives this fascinating illustration about a young woman named Sheila: “We interviewed, in the research for Habits of the Heart, one young woman who has named her religion after herself. Sheila Larson is a young nurse who has received a good deal of therapy and describes her faith as ‘Sheilaism.’ This suggests the logical possibility of more than 350 million American religions, one for each of us. ‘I believe in God,’ Sheila says. ‘I am not a religious fanatic. [Notice at once that in our culture any strong statement of belief seems to imply fanaticism so you have to offset that.] I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.’ Sheila’s faith has some tenets beyond belief in God, though not many. In defining what she calls ‘my own Sheilaism,’ she said: ‘It’s just trying to love yourself and be gentle with yourself.’” This is fast becoming the dominant religion of America: the worship of self.

In our text today, we see a couple of disciples who are really only acting human.  A discussion or argument arises among them, “Who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom of God.” The concept of “Greatest” ought to cause us to stop and ponder this word.  What does it mean to be the greatest?  If you were to research the term “The Great one”, you would come up with a variety of names. Jackie Gleason was called “The Great One”.  Wayne Gretzky, the Hall of Fame hockey player was called “The Great One”.  Mark Levin, the Talk Radio host and political analyst goes by that title as well.  So did baseball great Roberto Clemente, and pro-wrestler and actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Matt Lauer on the Today show, asked the question of a guest, “Is Michael Phelps the greatest athlete in history since he won 11 gold medals?”  The guest replied, it is apples and oranges to compare Michael Phelps to Tiger Woods.  Their sports are so different. So even the experts can not decide who is the greatest. Is Martin Luther King, Jr. one of the greatest people who ever lived? Probably. Others might suggest their favorite president, their favorite sports hero or their favorite theologian or religious hero .This past week, famous soldiers who had been revered by a nation for 150 years, their statues were removed from their pedestal, some moved to scrap yards, others to museums.  Our heroes change. Tiger Woods was once every golfer’s hero.  Today his great career is a distant memory as he struggles with negative media images of him being arrested.  He went from being the top golfer in the world to somewhere toward the bottom of the top 100. I’ve probably digressed long enough and I think you get my point.  The definition of greatness is pretty blurry.  But greatness is what most people strive for in their lifetime.  Whether you want to be the greatest politician of all time – or the greatest wood carver.   Greatness is defined differently within your field of excellence. 

So what did the disciples have in mind when they were arguing about who might be the greatest?  We get a clue from Mark 10:37. A couple of his disciples came to Jesus and said, “We have a request.  When we enter your kingdom, let one of us sit on your right hand and the other sit on the left.”  What they wanted was position and power in his kingdom. 

His response to them was, “You have no idea what you are asking.”  Jesus knew that the price they would have to pay for their position in his kingdom was going to be great.  He predicted their violent death.  He knew something they didn’t know. Jesus gives another answer some time later when he enters the upper room.  It is not so much an answer to their question of who is the greatest, but rather a demonstration of what it means to be great. 

He demonstrated that greatness is humility. He got up and wrapped a towel around himself and he knelt down – something a servant would do _- and he washed the feet of the disciples.  They didn’t want him to do it. Peter said, “No Lord, you shall never wash my feet.”  And Jesus replied, Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” This has a couple meanings, 1.) the washing away of sin which is more a symbolic act in reference to salvation.  And of course, if we aren’t cleansed of our sin, we will have no part of him. And 2.) More importantly to this occasion, Jesus is saying to Peter, “If you can not receive humility or be served by me, then how are you going to be able to offer service and humility to those you will serve. “This was a lesson I’m sure Peter never forgot.  Peter learned that day what greatness is all about.Did you know that Servant Leadership has dribbled over from the Gospels into corporate life?  Corporations emphasize servant leadership in their corporate structure.  They honor employees who have exhibited extraordinary servant leadership.  Corporate Execs model servant leadership.  Employees are given comp days for doing community service.

So in our today’s text – which we’ve taken a long time to get here – Jesus states that we must become like little children.  "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.We don’t always think of children as being humble.  Children can be bratty, spoiled, self-centered, demanding, and high maintenance.  So what does it mean? First, the attitudes about children have changed from the ancient world to today.  Children were perceived positively only as they were valuable to the family.  More children meant a stronger workforce.  In western North Dakota, there is a small town of New England.  In that community, there is a private Catholic school called New England St. Mary High School.  In recent years, the school was turned into a women’s prison.  The school closed a couple decades ago.  They ran out of children.  As the dairy farms went out of business or become more automated, they didn’t need as many children.  Families got smaller.

 So it was in biblical times.  Children were primarily for the benefit that they brought to their family by enhancing the workforce, adding to the defensive power, and guaranteeing the future glory of the household. But they had no rights or significance apart from their future value to the family and were powerless in society.  The humility of a child was about their vulnerability.  They had no ability to advance their own cause. Yet Jesus celebrates this childlike humility that comes from a child’s weakness, defenselessness, and vulnerability.  

Those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven must turn away from their own power and self-sufficiency and become childlike in their dependence upon the heavenly father.  

Childlike faith and childlike humility is a metaphor of true discipleship and following Jesus.  True greatness is not found in celebrity status or wealth.  It is not found in athletic prowess or intellectual genius. True greatness is found in being a servant with a childlike dependence upon God.   “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”


A Little Faith Goes a Long Way/August 13, 2017

Second Baptist Church
August 13, 2017

A Little Faith Goes a Long Way

Matthew 17:14-23 (NIV)
14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him.
15 "Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. "He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.
16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him."
17 "O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me."
18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"
20 He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.
23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life." And the disciples were filled with grief.

In a small Texas town, a new bar/tavern started a building to open up their business. The local Baptist church started a campaign of petitions and prayers to block the bar from opening. Work progressed, however right up till the week before opening, when a lightning strike hit the bar and it burned to the ground. The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, till the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, either through direct or indirect actions or means. The church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building's demise in its reply to the court. As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork. At the hearing he commented, 'I don't know how I'm going to decide this, but as it appears from the paperwork, we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that doesn't.' 

Recently in our Pastor’s Prayer Time on Wednesday mornings, we have been discussing faith – especially as it relates to healing. Does God heal or does our faith heal? If Jesus taught, “Your faith has made you well,” then it suggests that it is our faith that heals. But if it is our faith that heals, then God is not in it. That doesn’t make sense either. One pastor said that it isn’t the tyranny of the OR, but the genius of the AND. In other words it’s both. Healing comes by the faith of the person and the healing touch of the great physician.

In today’s text, Jesus answers a question about the quantity of faith. “How much faith does it take to receive a miracle?” Last week we read the previous scene where Jesus went with two of his disciples up onto the mountain where Jesus was “transfigured,” meaning he shone like a bright light before them. It was such a glorious experience for them that they wanted to stay up there and bask in the glory of that moment. But of course they couldn’t. As Jesus and Peter, James and John are up on the mountain, the other nine disciples are doing some ministry on their own. Earlier on in Matthew chapter 10 Jesus had given his disciples the authority to cast out demons. But when they tried to cast out the demon, their efforts failed. It might have been because they thought, “We’ll really impress the crowds with this miracle” bringing glory to themselves rather than God. It seems like they just didn’t believe it was possible according to what Jesus said. Jesus says it was because of their lack of faith. Their lack of faith meant lack of power. Do you see how the two might go hand in hand? 

Consider the churches of the 21st century. Do we believe in the power of God? Do we believe in the sufficiency of Christ to the point where we place our full trust in him?  Faith leads to power and faithlessness leads to powerlessness. 

· Lack of power affects the life and testimony of believers.
- Lack of power results in a mediocre Christian life and an ineffective, embarrassing testimony
· Lack of power affects the work of the church
- Lack of power results in ministries going undermanned, needs going overlooked, programs being under funded, and workers being overtaxed.
· Lack of power affects the evangelization of the lost.
- Lack of power cause the world to question the validity of our faith and to question God and His ability and power. 

We live in a time in which people have succumbed to advertising hype. "Liteness" is fashionable in our society. Lite is not necessarily always what it appears to be nor is it always good or beneficial. An example is a food product can be labeled "light in sodium" if the food has at least 50 percent less sodium than a reference food. It does not mean that it is low in sodium; it just has half the sodium of the referenced food. Lite does not always mean lite. When you compare Milky Way’s Lite© candy bar ounce to ounce with the regular bar, the lite bar actually contains a higher amount of sodium and carbohydrates, almost identical saturated fat, and less than 18% fewer calories. The public has also been misled with products like the "light" vegetable oil that is just light in color and the "lite" cheesecake that is just
light in texture. Lite is also not good especially when it is applied to faith. 

The Bible tells us in Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”   But I will have to say that many Christians are content to live with faith lite.  Just enough to get by, but not enough to make them seem like a religious fanatic.   I will have to admit that I struggle with faith.  Quite often I am distant from God and cold spiritually.  I struggle with staying afloat spiritually.  I can be caught up in doing ministry and serving people – and I’m distant from God at the same time.  Serving as a pastor doesn’t build one’s faith.  Serving on a church board or teaching a Sunday school class doesn’t make us closer to God.  It’s easy to confuse serving the church and communing with God.   When our faith suffers, we become powerless.  We lose confidence in the living God.  When our faith becomes shallow, our life becomes weak.  Sometimes we equate our biblical knowledge and theological genius with FAITH.  It’s not the same.  I read in the last few years that 90% of young people who leave evangelical church high school youth groups and go off to college tend to drift away from the church and their relationship with God.

Those are the same kids who knew the answers in Sunday school class and won the Bible drills.  They went to all the youth conferences.  But faith and knowledge isn’t the same thing and their faith went bye-bye. In the last part of this passage, we see that Jesus told them that if they had the grain of a mustard seed, they could move mountains.   This can be a troubling verse if your loved one had cancer and you wore the knees out on your pants praying forthat loved one to be healed, and they died. I’m still having to believe that God has to want that mountain to be moved.

I’m not convinced that Jesus meant that we can usurp God’s will and take it out of God’s hands.  I think there would be a lot of mountains landing in the Atlantic ocean if this verse is taken at complete face value.  So what does it mean?  Jesus was using an old Jewish analogy.  The ancient people thought the mountains were rooted well beneath the surface of the earth.  So it was a way of referring to the impossible.  Jesus is saying that mustard seed faith and moving mountains is only scratching the surface of a life filled with faith.

 Impossible things DO happen.  My siblings and I said farewell to my mother as her heart and lungs were giving out.  That was in 1992.  Today she is healthy and remarried and is thankful for every day she has.  I saw that one with my eyes, yet don’t understand why others die when I know they had greater faith than I. 

We read in the gospels that many people came to Jesus to be healed.  Did he heal them all?  Do we get just a sampling of the ones who were healed, but there were others who were not healed?  Why wasn’t the apostle Paul healed of his “Thorn in the flesh?” that he spoke about in 2 Corinthians 12:7.  On and on the questions go. 

Let me say something about mountains.  I mentioned last week how I love mountains. Guess what? I don’t think Lewis and Clark liked mountains.  They expected to reach the Rockies and find one mountain range of a few miles to climb over and it would be smooth sailing to the Pacific.What they found was 300 miles of nearly impassible mountains and the upper reaches of the Missouri not navigable.  They would liked to have had the power to move mountains.  But what they discovered about the mountains is that they are obstacles.  They not only slowed down Lewis and Clark but they slowed down the building of the railroad, the settling of the west, the expansion of the continent.   

What obstacles do you have in your life?  What is keeping you from moving forward?  What is keeping you from loving others, from loving God?  What is keeping you from happiness and joy?  What blocks you from exercising your faith?

Faith can move those mountains – those obstacles.  Our trust in Christ and belief that he is sufficient can tear down the emotional mountains we have created.  Those obstacles can disappear one at a time when we place our trust in a loving and gracious God.  Are you ready to move those mountains out of the way in your life?  Pray with me.

Mountaintop Experiences/July 30, 2017

Second Baptist Lincoln
July 30, 2017  

Mountaintop Experience

Matthew 17:1-8                  

1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.  7 But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid."  8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

A mountaintop is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Maybe it's the panoramic view, and the realization that all that beauty is God's creation. Maybe it's the experience of watching clouds float by at eye level. Maybe it's the thin air. Whatever it is I simply feel close to God on a mountain. WE have a term in the church of “Mountain Top Experience.” It likely came from Biblical origins since we see so many spiritual experiences of Biblical characters tied to a time on a mountaintop.  Abraham had a powerful experience of intervention and grace on Mt. Moriah when he offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice, and God intervened and provided a lamb.  Interestingly enough, that place became a threshing floor that David purchased and the spot became the site of the temple and the place of animal sacrifices for atonement. Moses went to the mountaintop where he received the 10 commandments and communed with God.  Elijah went to the mountaintop of Carmel where he called upon God to send fire down from heaven to consume the contents of the altar in that great contest with the Prophets of Baal. Jesus prayed with his disciples and was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.  So we often equate going to the mountain as a place where we received insight and renewal from God. It is where we come face to face with the messages and truth God is trying to impress upon us.

Some of you have had these mountain top experiences of feeling especially close to God. Maybe it was at camp or a retreat. Maybe it was a time in your life when you experienced a movement of God. But these experiences are not only hard to reach, but they don’t last long, either. It seems that we have to go through a lot of trials to get to those times. But in those moments when God's glory is revealed to us, we feel closer to God than other times and we are given a new perspective on the lower points in our lives. But I also believe that we NEED these mountaintop experiences in our lives. I believe we should go out of our way to encounter God and reach a new summit in our faith journey. 

Jesus' disciples knew this truth. It was a rough trip to the mount of transfiguration. Their journey to that mountaintop began when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ. Jesus had asked, "Who do you say that I am? Peter had faithfully responded by saying what was probably already in the hearts of the other disciples. "You are the Christ the Son of the living God." Then Jesus explained to them that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem to die and on the third day rise. Peter, the one who had spoken first before said, "Never, we won't let it happen." But Jesus spoke back just as sternly, "Get out of my way you devil.” That is the way humans think. The disciples probably felt like they had been kicked in the teeth. It was like their best friend had told them that he was dying of an inoperable cancer and only had six months to live. And when they had tried to convince him otherwise he pushed them away.

The account of the Transfiguration begins with the phrase, "Six days later." For six days they carried this news of Jesus' impending death around inside of them. For six days it soaked into their souls. For six days they secretly grieved for the inconceivable death of their Savior. What would they do without Jesus? For six days they walked in a daze between denial and acceptance of the most unacceptable news they had ever heard. On the seventh day, Jesus took Peter, James and John, a representative group, up the mountain. And suddenly on the seventh, or "Sabbath" day, the day of God's favor, the glory of God was revealed to them in Christ. His clothes and his face glowed. Heavenly light shown from him. And that wasn't all. Moses and Elijah appeared. The two greatest Prophets of God right there with Jesus. Then a cloud overshadowed them and a voice came from heaven and said, "This is my Beloved Son, with him I am well pleased; listen to him." Maybe if the disciples could hold these two truths in balance: maybe if they could remember Jesus the Messiah suffering and dying and Jesus the Son of God high and glorified; maybe that balancing act could help them understand or at least cope with what was happening. Maybe the vision of glory and the voice from heaven could help them deal with the trials of the past; and the future. Maybe it would give them the strength to lead the other disciples in their trials also. 

Moses had appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration. Maybe, as the disciples pondered this incident later, they remembered that Moses had been on that mount before. Oh, not that exact pile of rock, but that same situation. Except that time Moses was not part of the vision, he was the disciple. It wasn't easy leading God's people through the desert. They were always complaining and talking behind Moses' back. "Who made Moses King anyway?" "Maybe we should go back to Egypt." "At least we had three square meals there. All we eat here is this manna" One day God called Moses up to the mountain. And when Moses arrived a cloud covered the mountain. For six days Moses had no vision. Visibility, both physical and spiritual, was zero. The worries of being the leader of a nation of escaped slaves plagued Moses like the waves of frogs and locust that had plagued Egypt. For six days Moses sat in the shadows of the clouds and wondered where God was, and he thought, maybe it was all just a fluke, a coincidence the plagues and the Red Sea and all. Maybe God hadn't really called him there. Maybe it was all just the product of his conceited imagination. Then on the seventh day, the Sabbath day, the day of God's favor, the glory of the Lord appeared to him. It was like a glorious fire that made the burning bush seem so small. And the voice of God came out of the cloud. God had been there the whole time. In the cloud no less. And for forty glorious days and nights Moses listened to God's council and basked in God's glory. Maybe if he could hold on to that vision; maybe if he could remember that almighty glory of God; then he could handle leading that ragtag mob that God loosely called as a nation. Maybe the memory of God's greatness could help him handle the constant complaining of the people. Maybe it would give him the strength to lead them through the desert to the Promised Land. 

Life, especially the life of faith, is an uphill journey. There are rocks and pits in the trail and at times it gets steep. As we trudge up the trail we are met with disappointments and doubts. Even though we have confessed Christ as our Lord and Savior, it gets difficult. And we are troubled by doubts and dilemmas. Why does God let innocent children suffer? Why does God allow faithful people to die of cancer or to contract AIDS? Why does God let the suffering of the world touch me? Why does God let me suffer? It's like a kick in the teeth. Think of Peter:   "Hey, wait a minute Jesus, remember me, I was the one who said you are the Son of Living God, and now you do this. You can't go die on a cross for me, I won't let you.” And we sit and stew in our disappointment. We grieve over a loss that we can't seem to accept. We keep poking the sore spot to see if it is any better. And we doubt. For six long days, or months, or years, or decades, we sit in the darkness of a cloud that overshadows us. And our spiritual vision never goes beyond our hurts and doubts. But in faith we sit where the Lord has called us to be.

But then the seventh comes, the Sabbath day, the day of God's choosing. What then? Then the Glory of the Lord is revealed. On the Sabbath day Jesus stands transfigured, glowing with a heavenly radiance, right before our eyes. On the Sabbath day the voice of God speaks out of the cloud itself. I don't know where you are. Perhaps you are in a valley or in darkness. Or maybe you are going up a mountain, or coming down the mountain. Wherever you are, remember that God's people have been there before. And when the time was right, when God decided the time was right; the glory of the Lord enveloped them. Remember that. When the trail gets steep remember that God's glory is always revealed at the right time. Hold on to the glory that you have seen and the promise of the glory that you will see. Balance it with the truth that the trials of the past have shown you. And let it prepare you for the desert places and trials ahead. If you can hold on to that glory and the voice, it will enable you to face the memories of the past and the troubles of the future just as Moses and Peter did. The mountain is steep, but remember that God is with you and God's glory will meet you at the top. Amen.