Sunday, April 22, 2012

Unbelieving Witness

We have been talking about how witnessing is an important part of the gospel, as important as who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for the world. It is the engine that propels the message around the world. We, as the church, are important to the gospel, because we are Christ's representatives on earth, and we are witnesses to his glory.

But it is possible to be a false witness, even as a Christian. Our readings this morning are full of examples of this false witness. This type of witness is fueled by unbelief. In Mark 9, a father comes to Jesus to ask for healing for his son. Jesus tells him that all things can be done for he who believes. The father responds, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” We are each a combination of belief and unbelief, and when we are swimming in the world's tides, the unbelief rises and becomes more dominant. When we immerse ourselves in scripture and prayer, the belief rises.

So, in or gospel passage, we have disciples setting eyes on the risen Christ and thinking he is a GHOST. Unbelief. In our Acts passage, Peter heals the paralytic, and the witnesses all are astonished and confused. Peter must a magician, or he himself is a god. Peter has to give a mini sermon to them on the spot to explain that it is not he who has the power but their own God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that did it. All you have to do is call on the name of Jesus Christ, his son, you know, the author of life, the one you killed. Unbelief.

Last year we had a woman here suffering from bone cancer who has chronic headaches. We all laid hands on her. The bone cancer didn't go away, but the headaches left entirely. Praise God! Right? No, we tried to figure out who laid hands on her neck that day, so we could give that person the glory. Unbelief, and yet we are a congregation of believers!

Whenever Cathi has a migraine, I'll pray over her. An hour later, I'll ask her if she took Advil. She'll shake her head at me and say, “your prayer did it.” God did it, and here I am, full of unbelief, thinking man-made drugs are the only solution.

Christ gives us solutions to this problem we have—the combination of belief and unbelief. Christ himself teaches us how to shrink that seed of unbelief and water and nurture the belief. Looking at the gospel passage again, we see that the disciples are freaked out, because they think Jesus is a ghost. This is their unbelief. Here is what Jesus instructs:

1. Follow the evidence. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” They examine the physical evidence. Then Jesus eats a fish in their presence. Ghosts don't eat. We follow the evidence and accept where it leads. The best evidence is eyewitness testimony, which is, as we have said, an integral part of the gospel. Reading church history, reading biographies of the saints, reading current world events from a Christian perspective is a way to get large doses of miraculous events throughout history to the present.

One of the most inspiring books is “A Life of Prayer” by George Muller, where he documents all of the prayers the Lord answered of his, sometimes to the exact request. His life was a test of God's strength. He never asked men for money or food for his large orphanage. He only asked God, and it paid off. There is another book called “The Wonders of Prayer” which also documents all of the amazing things God has done for mankind over the centuries, outside the Bible.

Then there's the Bible. The second instruction of Jesus from our gospel passage is “search the scriptures.” He said to the disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He shares the gospel and then tells them that they are witnesses to these things.” Witnesses just by studying scripture? Yes. As Christians we have the Holy Spirit with us, opening our minds to understand the scriptures.

Now, someone who does not have the Holy Spirit who tries to read this book will find that it is all white noise. We have the Holy Spirit, and so we have understanding of this, but if we don't read it, we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to unlock it for us. Meditating on these words allows the Holy Spirit to reveal things that were previously hidden about Jesus.

The door is open. We just have to walk through. Follow the evidence and search the scriptures and you will find that Jesus is God and Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. We are witnesses to these facts. That is the gospel. Follow the evidence. Search the scriptures. Believe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Food Pantry Basket to Be Filled

Inside the entryway for His Dream Center we will be putting a large basket to be filled for the Food Pantry. Here is a list of the things that the pantry needs more of. Feel free to bring a few things each week and place them in the basket for the needy on the Outer Banks:

Coffee, Tea, Crackers, Muffin Mix, Sugar (2#), Gravy, Flour (2#), Mayo (16oz), Oil (1qt), Hamburger Helper, Cake Mix, Jello/Pudding, Frosting

Food Lion is an affordable place to pick these items up. When you are out shopping, pick up an extra item or two for the Food Pantry. We will have the basket waiting.

Many of you may not know that we have a Web site, and everything that you read in these newsletters is archived there for future reference. The address is You can also type in and reach the same location! Enjoy, and if you have any suggestions for the Web site, please feel free to contact me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Discipleship Series on Stott Book Continues

This past Sunday we gathered at 10am for discipleship with the first in our series of chapter studies. We are going through John Stott's Basic Christianity, and the discussion was very invigorating. We discussed the preface and Chapter 1: "The Right Approach."

This coming Sunday we will discuss chapter 2: "The Claims of Christ." By taking small bits of the book at a time, we can be more thorough, have livelier discussion, and allow people to come and go through the sessions. All are invited, even if you can only make one of the sessions. Please contact me to get a free book to use.

We gather in the chapel area, behind the glass doors on the left as you enter His Dream Center, and we will meet for 40 minutes, so that we can have 20 minutes to prepare our hearts for worship in the main sanctuary. At the same time, Sunday school for the older children (over 5) will resume, and childcare is available for children under 5, so feel free to join in the discussion, even if you have kids.

The format of the sessions will be as follows: we will each read part of the book on our own, and then come to the session on Sunday morning with questions. I will have questions, too, so that we can get the discussion started. This way we can all take the conversation to the places where we each most need Christ's discipleship. Hope you can participate in this first discipleship series in our new location!


What is the gospel? According to Paul, the gospel contains three parts, as he describes in 1 Corinthians 15: Jesus Christ died and was buried for our sins AND he was raised on the third day, both according to the scriptures. These are the first two parts of the three-fold gospel. The third is something that is neglected but is just as important as the first two parts: witness.

As Paul writes, Jesus appeared to Peter and then to the disciples, and then to more than five hundred people at once, and then to the apostles, and to James, and then last of all to me. The reason this part of the gospel is so important is that it is through eyewitness testimony that this gospel gets passed on. Christianity would have died out without it. We, too, are witnesses, because Jesus has appeared to us as well, in our hearts, in our minds, through the testimony that has been passed on to us. We believe because we have seen him working in the world. Jesus is like the wind. We cannot physically see him, but we see the effect has has on the world, and so we can “see” him. We can see his work in progress. We know he is there.

Today's scripture readings are all about witness and the power of witness. This is such an important part of the gospel that you can see it all throughout the Bible. In our Acts passage (4:32-35) it looks like we are reading about how the early Christians were communists, but what we are actually seeing is the power of witness: “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” The communal sharing of property is a voluntary reaction to the witness of the apostles. How many communist countries do you know became that way because the leaders bore testimony about Jesus' resurrection? Zero.

Our first letter of John is all about testimony: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and we declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us.” This is the witness part of the gospel, and is such an important part of the gospel. Without it, there would be no gospel.

In my private devotionals, I read all of second Peter this week. Here is a passage of witness that I came across: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Peter then describes Christ's baptism with the dove and booming voice, and then he describes the transfiguration on the mountain, also with the booming voice. Peter was there. He was an eyewitness to Christ's glory, and he passes that eyewitness testimony on to us.

Notice what Pete says about cleverly devised myths. Eyewitness testimony dispels myths. The apostles speak the truth, because they witnessed the risen Christ. What about us? A couple thousand years have passed since these things happened. We have been listening to the testimony, but isn't it just hearsay? Aren't people today telling us again that we believe cleverly devised myths with no truth in them. How can we respond? We weren't eyewitnesses.

The answer to this is the Holy Spirit. He is the eyewitness. He lives in our hearts, interpreting scripture for us, revealing God in creation for us, revealing Christ in the world for us. He is the perfect eyewitness, and when we see something with God's fingerprints all over it, the Holy Spirit points out that this is the risen Christ. We become eyewitnesses through the Holy Spirit. When you know something is true, you have that feeling that you are a witnesses to the truth. You may try to explain why that thing is true, and you may fail at describing why it is true, but you know in your blood and bones that it is true. “I can't tell you why,” you may say, “but I KNOW that it is true.” That is the Holy Spirit acting as eyewitness in you.

We have this knack in our modern times, due to the modern mindset, to say that we will not believe without concrete evidence. And yet, so much in this world is held on faith, that we take so much for granted. When it comes to science, there is so much unseen faith. For example, scientists may use the scientific method, but how do they know that the scientific method is reliable? Faith based on the eyewitness testimony of others.

When Thomas says that he will not believe that Christ has risen from the grave until he actually puts his fingers into his wounds, we point to “Doubting Thomas” as being a scientist, a modern doubter, who must have concrete evidence or he will not believe. Well, when we read today's gospel passage (John 20:19-21), we see that Thomas rejects eyewitness testimony, and this testimony by people who have freshly received the Holy Spirit, so it does sound like Thomas is a modern doubter. But in the next scene when Thomas is there, and Jesus appears among them, and he tells Thomas to start performing his scientific study and observation and hands-on evaluation. Does it get that far? Is Thomas a modern doubter? Is he a skeptic after all? No, all he has to do is lay eyes upon the Risen Christ and he responds, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas is an eyewitness. All he needs to do is “see” Jesus to believe.

Jesus tells Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That is us, but we HAVE seen. The eyes of our heart have been opened by the Holy Spirit, who has seen and bears testimony to the truth. We know with all our heart it is the truth, because the eyes of our heart have seen. Blessed are we who have not seen but know the truth, because Jesus Christ has given us a vision of his majesty.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Divine Intervention

Have you noticed that all good news seems to be personal? Think of all the national or international news: it's all bad. Even historical good news like “the war is over” is bad news for the losing side. There is no universally good news on the world stage.

Also, all good news has an element of divine intervention. Whenever something good happens to someone, it is like a miracle. “God is really favoring me today! Wow, God did something amazing in my life!” Whenever we get that personal good news, God is definitely involved.

This is not new. Personal good news that involved divine intervention has been happening from the beginning of time. Here are a few from the bible: Remember Abraham, leading his son up the mountain with the intention of sacrificing him? God stopped him from doing it. God intervened. Remember how Esau was determined to kill Jacob, and yet when they finally met up, Esau embraced him? Even though their descendants would be enemies, God prevented Esau from killing Jacob. Remember when Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery and Egyptians witnessed against him so that he ended up in prison? God released Joseph from prison to save the entire region from famine.

Remember when God's people were being oppressed and killed in Egypt? God sent Moses to free them from bondage. Remember when the Israelites refused to enter the promised land and chose to die out in the wilderness? God raised up Joshua to help Israel conquer the land. Remember when Israel kept getting invaded by other nations and put into slavery? God raised up Judges to drive those conquering nations out.

Remember when Israel decided it wanted to stop being special and get a king like every other nation? God raised up David, the best possible king for the people. Remember when David was being chased around by the murderous Saul? God kept and protected him. Remember when the wicked kings of Israel turned their nation away from God and were conquered by their enemies? And the whole nation was taken into exile? God protected the captives and sometimes they, like Daniel, would convert their oppressors. God also allowed the people to return to their land.

Remember when even though the Romans had conquered the area, the Jewish people were allowed to practice their religion and live protected in their land. All of these things, from Abraham until the time of Christ, were situations where God's people could have died or been vanquished or ruined or destroyed utterly, and yet God always protected them, at least a remnant. God always reached in and put his mark on the situation. As Joseph told his brothers, what they intended for evil, God turned into good.

So, something happened three days ago. It looked like a similar situation to every other event in the Bible. God's chosen, Jesus Christ, was about to be killed. He was led up to the mountain, like Abraham led Isaac, and he was crucified on a cross. The people watching heard him cry out to God, and they said, let's see if God will save him. It was possible, because it had happened throughout all of Israel's history. God had always turned the tables to protect and save his people. Would this time be no different?

No, it was different. God did not act. The father did not come down from heaven and save the son. He let it happen. He didn't stop the Romans. He didn't give everyone a change of heart. He didn't send ten plagues to destroy Christ's killers. He didn't part the red sea and give his son an escape route. He didn't conquer the whole region and raise up Jesus as king. He didn't send an army of angels. He let Jesus die.

Why? Because Christ died for our sins. All of us. The sins of the whole world. Isaac could not die for our sins. He was not a perfect human sacrifice. Jacob could not die. Joseph could not die. No single person in the nation of Israel could die. Neither Moses nor Joshua nor David. None of them could die for the sins of the world. Only a sinless man could die. Only a perfect sacrifice. Only Jesus Christ could die for our sins. And he did. And the father let him. No divine intervention for Jesus.

But there WAS divine intervention. It was on the world scale. It was the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus coming to earth to save us is the ultimate good news. This is the only piece of good news that is worldwide and is God's intervention. As I said before, every war has a losing side, but God saving the world through his son Jesus Christ is the only worldwide news that is good news for all people. The incarnation of Jesus Christ was the intervention, and it was for the entire world.

God reveals the good news to us on this day—Easter—by raising his son from the dead. God has revealed to all mankind the Good News in the resurrection, and it is the best news possible.

Good Friday Sermon (John 19:5)

Behold the man!

Pontius Pilate said these words as he presented Jesus to the Jewish people. The soldiers had flogged and beaten Jesus. They had put a robe on him, a crown of thorns on his head. Pilate said he found no basis for the charges against him. Yet here stands Jesus, dressed up in a robe and crown, looking like a king. If the Jews saw him like that, they would go nuts! And then Pilate has the nerve to say that he finds no fault. Such contempt for both Jesus and the Jewish people. What a clever, clever Roman you are, Pilate. Because he doesn't believe Jesus is God.

The world did not know him, as John chapter one tells us. Jesus came into the world and it didn't know him. Friday is all about the world. Sunday is all about the truth. Friday is all about lies, the lies that the world tells itself, to avoid believing.

Behold the man!

Remember the Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ?” It's all about “beholding the man.” Sure we see Jesus rise at the end, for a brief second. But the movie is all about beholding the crucified man and about all the horrible things the world can do to a man when it thinks that he is just a man. I asked a friend of mine if she had seen Mel Gibson's movie. She said: I don't want to see a man get tortured for two hours. She didn't believe in Jesus' divinity. She didn't know him. Jesus could be standing in front of her now, and all she would see is a man.

Behold the man!

This is Good Friday. Tonight we see what the world did to the man, Jesus. Tonight we celebrate his humanity. Tonight in our passion reading, the Jews tell Pilate that Jesus claimed to be the son of God. And Pilate got very afraid. Why are you superstitious now, Pilate? He's just a man, right? Behold the man, you said. Do you regret dressing Jesus up like that? Pilate even tries to free Jesus and the Jewish leaders blackmail him. And the whole time, he keeps insulting everybody: continually mocking the Jews and Jesus by calling Jesus a king. He even puts it in writing on a sign above Jesus' head on the cross. All this infuriates the crowd. But still Pilate does not believe. Behold the man, not the God. Beat him, torture him, taunt him. Crucify him. He's just a man, so why not do these things?

So, the world didn't know him as a king. They thought he was just a man. There's another way the world doesn't know him: thinking that he's just a God. I have a friend who says that Jesus played a trick. He pretended to die. He was God, he says, so he didn't really die. He was God. God cannot die. He pretended to die. It was a trick.


If he was only God, he wouldn't get thirsty. Jesus was a man. Fully human. He did not pretend to die. He died. He was killed. Dead. His body was flogged. He was beaten. He was hung on a cross. He suffocated to death. He died. No trick. He died.

That's all we have tonight. That's all we have until Sunday. Luckily we know what happens. We know that Jesus died. No trick. He died because there had to be a sacrifice. We were doomed. Eternal death for all of us. That was the only option. But God does not want that. God wants us to live. So there has to be a sacrifice. All of humanity must be sacrificed. All of sinful humanity. Or! Or one perfect man. Jesus was that man.

Behold the man.

Crucified. Died. Buried. He is dead tonight. No trick. Not a game on us foolish mortals. Not a sly wink, and when our backs are turned, Jesus runs and hides. They pierced his side and he didn't flinch. He is dead. No life is in him. He breathes not. They carry his lifeless body to a tomb, put him in the darkness, and roll a stone in front of the door. Jesus is dead. He has been sacrificed. We can now live, because he has died. Justice is satisfied. The scales that justice holds are balanced. They are even. All is now right that was once wrong.

And Sunday, “dead Jesus” comes back to life. No trick. He was dead. As dead as the nails that pierced his hands. But Sunday we'll see that Jesus lives. He does not bring himself back. He's not hibernating. He's not a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. He was dead. And we know that the Father is the one who will raise him. Is that a parlor trick? If it is, then we should consider ourselves lucky. Because the Father does it again and again. And the Father will do it again and again. Jesus was the first, and we are all the rest.

This was the way to beat death. This was the only way to satisfy God's sense of justice. And yet he loves us so much that he wanted us to live. Forever. With him. That's why Jesus had to die. That's why that perfect, sinless man had to die. My friend who refused to watch the Passion is right. He had to be a man. Only a man could be tortured for hours in the place of all men. So Pilate is right. He had to be a man. Only a man could die in the place of all men. Jesus was fully man.

Behold the man.

But this is just Friday, and we'll find out on Sunday that he wasn't just a man. He was God. In three days we'll say “Behold God.” Behold the one who was and is and is to come. Behold the first and the last. Behold the Alpha and the Omega. Behold the one who holds the keys of death. But it's Friday, so all we can say right now is:

Behold the man.

Healing Services

Every third Sunday of the month Good Shepherd has a Healing Service, using the "A Service for Healing" liturgy from the Our Modern Services Kenyan prayerbook. This service has developed into a very spiritual event over the last few months, including using the whole service, a sermon on an aspect of healing, a clear and understandable Eucharistic prayer, and the laying on of multiple hands. Please join us each third Sunday to, God willing, experience spiritual, physical, emotional, generational, and cultural healing.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Adult Teaching Begins 4/15

The first Sunday after Easter, April 15th, will be our first Sunday of discipleship. Sunday school will resume for the school-aged children, but we will also begin a new series in Adult Teaching. Starting at 10am each Sunday, we will gather in the chapel area, behind the glass doors on the left as you enter His Dream Center, and we will meet for 45 minutes, so that we can have 15 minutes to prepare our hearts for worship in the main sanctuary.

Our first Adult Teaching session will be on John Stott's Basic Christianity, and the format of the sessions will be as follows: we will each read part of the book on our own, and then come to the session on Sunday Morning with questions. I will have questions, too, so that we can get the discussion started. This way we can all take the conversation to the places where we each most need Christ's discipleship. I have ten copies of the book to give to anyone who wants one, and I will bring them to the Easter service this Sunday for people to take. Hope you can participate in this first discipleship series in our new location!

Ruthie's Kitchen on April 24th

Church of the Good Shepherd will be the host of Ruthie's Kitchen on Tuesday, April 24th. This takes place every Tuesday evening at His Dream Center (205 Baltic Street, Nags Head), which is our new church home. All churches on the OBX participate to feed the homeless, poor, and hungry. Setup will begin at 4pm and dinner will be served at 5pm. I have written about how Christians desire to remove themselves from the world in order to not be stained by the culture's brush. The Apostle James says that this is only one half of what religion is all about. The other half is to visit the poor and needy in their affliction. The Christian cannot have one half of the equation without the other, and both are needed to practice true hospitality. Ruthie's kitchen will give us the opportunity to practice both outreach and upholding the truth in Christ. We hope you will want to join us in this expression of true Christian love.

Easter Potluck

We will be having an Easter Potluck after the service this Sunday. We have at least three families coming, and all of the crucial Easter elements, like a ham, are covered, so in potluck fashion please bring whatever you like to supplement. Hope you will be able to stay after the service this Sunday.

Good Friday Service

We will have a Good Friday service at noon on Friday, in the chapel area, which is behind the glass doors to the left when you enter His Dream Center. There will be no music. This will be a period of quiet reflection on the passion and prayer. Hope to see you there.