Monday, May 28, 2012

The Spirit of Truth

I had a very interesting question asked of me.  Why do people only think of God when things are either at their worst or at their best?  Never does the common person in the West think of God when things are just plugging along, sitting in traffic, doing work, trying to make a living.  Only when we are at rock bottom or in high spirits does God occur to us.  Why is this?

The answer is threefold.  First, there's the world's distractions.  People in the modern, Western world have countless distractions to take their minds off God, when things are in no crisis.  We have television shows and movies that Hollywood puts out.  We have comedy and entertainment shows.  We have gambling, drinking, drug use.  We have lots of devices and gadgets to “improve” our lives, our cars, our houses.  We have the opposite sex all over the place, and the world's permission to pursue them until everyone gets hurt.

Next we have sin.  Jesus said it's not what a man takes into his body that corrupts him, but what comes out of him that has already corrupted him.  The distractions of the world are bad, but we would reject them outright if it weren't for the fact that we have this dark sin inside of us that WANTS the world's distractions.  We want to be corrupted.  The sin of our flesh meets the world and they see each other across the crowded room and they wink at each other, and then they are dating each other, and then they are engaged, and then they are married.

Finally there is the devil himself, and demons, a whole supernatural realm of creatures that want to destroy us.  They are the matchmakers of temptation.  They look at the sin inside of us, and they tell us, “I've got the perfect match for you!”  And they get the world and our sin to meet on a blind date.  On the supernatural plain are our souls, and angels and demons, and there is a war over what is going to happen to us, and the results last forever.

These three things are called the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world is those distractions from outside.  The flesh is our sin inside us.  The devil is the forces of evil that are behind the scenes.  We pray against them harming us, but sometimes they just seem too strong, especially when combined.  How can we think of God in those in-between times, when we are no where near the end of our ropes?

In today's gospel reading we have an antidote for these three enemies of us.  Jesus tells us that when he ascends, we will have in his place the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will take all of those evils that stand against us—the world, the flesh, and the devil—and stand them on their heads.  The Holy Spirit counters the three enemies, because, as Christ says, He tells the truth.  He proves the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.

Sin.  What does the world say about sin?  It says there is no such thing as sin.  It says that all the distractions that we have bombarding us each day is “just life” and we'd better get used to it, because it is never going away.  The world does not believe in God, Jesus says.  It certainly does not believe in Jesus.  And it laughs at the concept of a Holy Spirit.  The false lie that the world tells us, the basis for all those distractions we talked about, is unbelief.  Because the world does not believe in Christ, it creates distractions to deceive us away from God.  The Holy Spirit is truth, and so, when we have the advocate, we have the truth, and the distractions can no longer lie to us.

Righteousness.  What does the world say about righteousness.  There is no right and wrong.  Everyone has his own truth.  This isn't the lie that comes from without.  This is the lie that comes from within.  This is the sin that we are born with—original sin.  This is the sin that tells us that even if God exists, we don't need him.  I can just hold onto what I believe to be true.  Once again, this lie is countered by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and tells us—shows us—the difference between right and wrong.  Because Jesus has gone to be with the Father, we now have the advocate, who tells us the truth about righteousness.  When we can distinguish objectively between right and wrong, that means that God has effectively blocked the sins of the flesh from flourishing.

Judgment.  What does the world say about judgment?  Be tolerant.  Don't judge others.  Be politically correct.  By castrating our judgment, we allow evil to flourish.  Evil is very real, and demons and devils are very real.  There are forces of darkness that want to destroy us.  This is the truth.  By being tolerant of all viewpoints, we are no longer allowed to judge between good and evil, and when that occurs, evil is allowed to flourish and thrive.  The Holy Spirit judges evil, and Jesus Christ's death on the cross has condemned the ruler of this world—the devil—for all time.  When we have the Holy Spirit, we can see the forces of darkness run before us, scattering from the name of Jesus Christ, the name above all names.  The name with power.

On this day of Pentecost, let's remember that we have been given the Spirit of Truth, which counters the lies of the world: the world, the flesh, and the devil.  The world can no longer lie to us about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment.  We know the truth, and He is living inside us.  

Feeding the Lifeguards

Good Shepherd will be feeding the Duck and Southern Shores lifeguards again this year.  The first Thursday of each month, we will prepare a meal for about 16 lifeguards, most of whom are not OBX residents.  We will meet at the Duck Fire Station, and yes, we are allowed to eat and talk with the lifeguards!

These young people help to keep our visitors and us safe while we relax and enjoy the beautiful Atlantic Ocean with all its fun activities. We have found these young folks to be very polite and appreciative of home cooked meals. The fellowship that has evolved with these events have been most rewarding for all concerned.

Please contact me or Brenda for more information and to let us know if you would like to participate by either bringing part of the meal, serving, or just being present to show the love of Christ to these people who put themselves in danger each day to help others.  Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bishop's Visit: June 29-July 1

The bishop will be visiting Good Shepherd in a few weeks, from June 29 to July 1.  Friday night he will meet with the servant council to discuss servant leadership.  Saturday (time TBA) we will have a parish meeting at His Dream Center to discuss How to be a Praying Church and a Pastoral Church.  Bishop Guernsey will preach on Sunday, and he will receive people into the Anglican Church in North America during that service.  Please let me know if you would like to be received on that Sunday.  We will have a luncheon after the service for the Bishop and Meg Guernsey, so details on that will be coming your way in the newsletter soon.  More to come.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Citizens of the Kingdom

Did you know that there are three great commissions?  One in each of the synoptic gospels we have great commission.  We are always hearing of the first one, from Matthew, and it has taken us years to get back to the true meaning of Christ's words in Matthew.  When I was growing up I heard it as “preach the gospel to all nations.”  But once you get into it, you see that it reads,”Go and make disciples of all nations.”  There is something deeper going on: discipleship.  We nod to each other in seminary, and say to each other, “okay, NOW we got it!”

But wait.  How do we disciple the nations?  We can't just teach them anything.  What does Jesus say about that?  Jesus continues: “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  According to Matthew, discipleship involves teaching God's commandments.

What about the great commission in Mark?  How is it different?  Well, here Jesus tells his disciples, “Go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.  The one who BELIEVES and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”  According to Mark, discipleship involves getting the hearer to believe.

Finally, our reading today is Luke's great commission, and here Jesus says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”  According to Luke, discipleship involves getting the hearer to repentance.

So, we have discipleship involving getting the one receiving the gospel to obey, believe, and repent, according to the three synoptic gospel writers.  Which of these is the most important.  Belief!  Which is faith in God.  Because if someone does not believe, he is not going to repent, and if he does not repent, he will not obey.

Look at government.  If you have no faith in a government, you are not going to be willing to become a citizen of that country.  That's essentially what repentance is: leaving your old country and becoming a citizen of a new country.  In this case it is the kingdom of God.  If you are not willing to become a citizen of the new country, you will not be willing to obey its laws.

If you are not willing to obey its laws, you are not going receive the benefits of being a citizen.  What are the benefits of being a citizen of the kingdom of God?  Going back to Mark, the benefits are many, including physical protection, but most importantly, “they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

This is a healing Sunday, as you come forward to receive a blessing or healing prayer, think of the faith that you have.  Everyone here has faith, or they wouldn't be here.  Each of you is willing to become a member of God's kingdom.  You have repented of your old lives and have embraced the new life.  As citizens of the kingdom of God, you are willing to obey its laws.  Belief in the Lord and ruler of life gives us the power to obey the laws.

As you come forward, know that as you obey the laws of the kingdom, you are reaping the benefits of the kingdom.  Healing of mind, soul, and body.  Spiritual, physical, psychological, and emotional healing.  Protection from evil.  The evil one cannot harm you.  The snake that tempted Adam and Eve in the garden will not bite you.  The poison of the world's culture will not harm you, will not even affect you. You will be healed and you will be able to pass on that healing to other citizens of the kingdom.

Healing in the Gospels is accompanied by a statement of faith from the one receiving the healing.  Jesus tells them, “your faith has made you well.”  The person is essentially raising his right hand and pledging allegiance to the kingdom of God.  What about unbelieving witnesses to these miracles?  As Jesus told his disciples.  Healing happens so that the glory of God can be revealed.  When we witness God's glory, we believe.  From the depths of unbelief, people rise to the top of belief, and from belief comes repentance, and from repentance, obeisance, and from obeisance, citizenship in the kingdom.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The A, B, C’s of Moving to Mexico: A Prayer Guide for the Tolers

An old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  Before that first step can be taken, however, there is a lot of prayer, planning and partnership that is needed.  2012 has arrived and the time for us to take that first physical step on our journey of a thousand miles is quickly approaching.  Many prayers are going up for our family, planning is well underway, and God is bringing together our partnership team.  Thank you for praying for us.  We are constantly praying for you.  In order to give you a glimpse of the planning process and to help guide your pray for our family, here are some A, B, C’s of moving to Mexico:

is for apostille.      
  • An apostille is a document which makes our documents such as birth certificates, marriage license and transcripts official according to international standards.  Pray that all these documents will arrive before we leave Texas. 
B is for Bins and Boxes
  • Pray that we can pack everything we need to take to Mexico in the limited number of bins and boxes that we can take on the airplane. 
is for choices.
  •  Please pray as we continue to make choices about where to live in Puebla, Mexico, and that we’ll be sensitive to God’s leading to the perfect rental in His time. 
is for downtime.
  • Pray that we will have downtime to relax and spend time with our family in the midst of classes, homework, and travel.
is for Elyse.
  • Pray for Elyse as she says goodbye to friends at preschool and ballet and pray that she will stay safe and healthy through these many transitions.
F is for finances.
  • Please pray that God will continue to meet our expected and unexpected financial needs through our partners and good stewardship.
G is for grades. 
  • Pray that we will not only survive our classes, but that we will finish well with good grades.
H is for homework. 
  • Pray for us as we finish our last session of classes.  We are taking a full load of graduate level classes which includes lots of homework.  Pray for time management and focus during these final weeks.
I is for involvement. 
  • Pray that we may stay involved and connected with the friends we’ve made here in Dallas as well as our longtime friends “back home”. 
J is for junk. 
  • Pray as we continue to sort through our “junk” and decide, once again, what we need to get rid of and what we need to keep. 
K is for Kieran. 
  • Pray for Kieran as he finishes his first year of homeschool.  Also, pray for his transition during this time of travel. 
L is for language. 
  • Pray as we analyze a difficult African language in one of our classes this session.  Also pray that Susan will be able to learn Spanish quickly once we move to Mexico so that we can both start learning the indigenous language that God will lead us to. 
is for missions-focused. 
  • Pray that in the midst of studies, packing, and moving we will stay focused on the mission to which God has called our family.  Also pray that we can effectively communicate the need for Bible translation to friends, family and churches that we visit before we leave. 
N is for new relationships. 
  • Pray that we will be able to nurture the new relationships we have made in Texas at school and church. 
O is for Oaxaca. 
  • Join us in praying for the people of Oaxaca who still await the Word of God in their language. 
P is for packing. 
  • Pray for our packing and that we will be able to purchase everything we need before we leave.  Also pray for the kids as they say more good-byes to toys.
Q is for quiet time with God. 
  • Pray that we will all keep this as a focus for our day.  Unfortunately, this is often the first thing to go when we get busy, but it is the first thing that needs to be done.
R is for relationship. 
  • Pray that Kris and Susan will continue to grow in their relationship with each other and with God.  Satan uses stressful times to weaken marriages. 
S is for safe travels. 
  • Pray as we travel back to the east coast in June and then to Mexico in July.
T is for “To-Do” lists. 
  • Pray that we will be able to keep up with all the “to-do” lists that we continue to make every day!
U is for understanding. 
  • Pray that we can lead our children through these transitions with understanding and grace. 
V is for vaccines. 
  • Thankfully, we only have a couple of shots to get taken care of, but pray that the kids (and parents) will do well with these.
is for wisdom.
  • Please pray that God will give us wisdom during classes. 
is for X-haustion. 
  • Pray for strength that we will not get too exhausted during this process of moving.
Y is for yearning. 
  • Pray that God will continue to deepen the yearning in our hearts to serve Him in Mexico and that he will guard that yearning from Satan’s attacks. 
Z is for  Zzzzz. 
  • Pray for rest for our family and that we will be able to get sleep during this time. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Greek Bible Study on the Outer Banks

You don't have to know Greek, or even be interested in learning Greek to participate in the Greek Bible Study each Thursday morning at 9:30am at Front Porch Cafe in Nags Head.  Pastor Fred Barrett and a couple of parishioners from Church of the Good Shepherd have been going through the Gospel of John, one verse at a time, reading the verse aloud in Greek, translating the verse to English, and then having a lively discussion--IN ENGLISH--about the verse.  The hour-long session usually results in the translation of only two verses!  That's how little Greek is used and how invigorating the discussion is!  All are invited to participate in this discipleship opportunity, and feel free to bring your ENGLISH Bible!

Church of the Good Shepherd is an Anglican, liturgical, and traditional Church that has been on the Outer Banks since 2009, preaching the full gospel of Christ.  We meet each Sunday morning at 10am for traditional, Anglican worship and Holy Communion at 2910 S Croatan Highway, Suite 1, Nags Head.

Discipleship Series on Stott Book Continues

Every Sunday before 11am worship, we gather at 10am for discipleship with a book study of John Stott's Basic Christianity. The discussion each week is quite invigorating. This past week we discussed the first chapter in the part on Man's Need.  That's right: we discussed sin.

This coming Sunday we will discuss chapter 6: "The Consequences of Sin." 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 also have experienced discussion with one or more people having not read the chapter of the week at all.  This makes no difference.  The question and answer oriented format of the discussion allows anyone to bring their thoughts to the table, and the discussion is always lively.

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) has resumed, 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!  I am looking at books for the second series, and will make a decision soon on what comes after Basic Christianity.

Abiding in Love

Last week we talked about true evangelism being something God does, and our only job is to bend our wills to him, to submit our wills to his will—get out of the way, so to speak—so that we aren't creating obstacles to God's evangelizing work. It's not that we are more powerful that God, it's that if we do not submit to God, we are not allowing him to use us for his work. It's not that cannot use us, it is that he is not willing to use a vessel that is going to send mixed signals to a potential child of God.

If I'm preaching the gospel to you, and then I launch into an expose on how great a secular TV show is, where I'm describing whole scenes for you, and they aren't emulating God, I'm sending mixed signals to you. I need to focus wholly on God, to accept his Spirit working in my life, to submit to his will, and then I can give you the pure Gospel, without distractions, or heresies thrown in.

Complete submission is possible. God helps us achieve it. There is not hard work required on our end. It says in Romans 6: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for unrighteousness.” What is the key verb in that passage? “Present”: we offer ourselves as an insufficient sacrifice to God. He does the work, but what we are doing is presenting ourselves. It does not require hard work. It just requires us to submit, like slaves, to God's will. It's getting all our garbage off the table: clearing the desktop and only allowing God's jobs to be on our desktop.

Jesus said this last week to us, when he said, I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me and I in you, and you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing. We are presenting ourselves to the vine. Jesus is grafting us onto himself. He blood flows through our veins. We bear more and more fruit, due to Christ's blood in us. These fruits bear seeds and the seeds are planted in others' lives, combining to bring that lost souls back to the Good Shepherd.

This is what Christ means when he tells us to “Abide.” Abide isn't an active verb, it's an accepting verb. It's all about accepting God's will in our lives. It's about “presenting” ourselves to God as slaves. It's about submission. Now, in this week's passage, which appears right after last week's, we get another command to abide, but this time it is abiding in God's love.

What does it mean to abide in God's love. If we look at what we've just been talking about, it means to accept God's love. It's about presenting our love to God. It's about submitting to God's love. God's love is a love of submission, and that's what makes it so unpredictable.

The Greeks have four different words for love. We have one. They have four. The first is storge, and it means affection. It is the love that you might have for a pet. The second is philios or friendship. Philadelphia is brotherly love. We're getting closer to true love. Then we have eros, which means romance. It's the love between husbands and wives, when the two of you just NEED to be together. It's an achy love.

Now, agape is the last love, and it used to be thought of as the lowest love. It means charity, and ancient Greeks thought of it as giving alms to the poor. It was not thought of too highly. But God showed us what agape can be. As we read in today's passage: “There is no greater love than this: that one lays down one's life for one's friends.” Agape suddenly moves from the lowest love to the highest love. Whenever we watch a movie or read a story in which someone lays down their life for a friend, we are moved, because we are seeing true agape love in action. We are watching the love of God played out before our eyes. In the movies this happens all the time, but in real life, we flee, because of our sin, because of our unwillingness to submit, to abide, to present. We fail at this kind of love.

Jesus commands us to love one another—to agape one another—to lay down our lives for each other. Yet we fail. Back to Romans, chapter 5, we read, one of us would scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps foe a good person one would dare even to die. Sin keeps us from being able to die for a good person or a righteous person.

But here God demonstrates agape love: God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We cannot bring ourselves to die for a good person. Jesus died for us while we were still enemies. His is perfect agape love, perfect self-sacrifice. The only way we can do likewise is to completely submit ourselves to God, become his slave, present ourselves as an offering to God, for him to do with us as he wishes, without us kicking against him, wanting to be our own person. The only way we can show true agape love to each other is to completely abide in his love.

Paul writes in Philippians that Jesus was in the form of God, and could have chosen to stay where he was, living as God, but instead he made himself nothing, he took the form of a servant, a slave, a submissive one, an abiding one, born in the likeness of a man. And then it goes downhill from there. After that complete submission to humanity, he completely submits to love. Jesus humbled himself by being obedient to the point of death—something we are unable to do, but the perfect man can—and he died on the cross for us. He showed true agape love.

And what follows is exaltation: as a result of this agape submission, God highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on him the name above all names. We refuse to submit, because we would rather exalt ourselves. Now, who would you rather exalt you? Yourself or God almighty? Exalt yourself and God will humble you. Humble yourself—submit, abide, present—and God will exalt you. Only through abiding in agape, can we be made more life Christ in this world.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Seeds of Evangelism

We've been talking about witness as a part of the gospel, and over the last few weeks, we've been talking about what it means to be a false witness, and also what it means to be a false leader. Let's go positive, and talk about what it means to be a good witness. Let's talk about successful evangelism.

So, how many people have YOU led to Christ? Does anyone have a number? Has anyone led one person to Christ? I was asked that on a survey once. How many people have I led to Christ? And the answers were “between 1 and 10, 10-30, 30-100, over 100”? Really? Is that what makes an evangelist? Let's see, I led that person to Christ, but I'm not with him. I guess I should call that person up and see if they are still with Christ, because if not, then that wouldn't be a successful “lead.” Do you see how ridiculous this is? We cannot put a quantity on evangelism.

If we look at John 4:36-38: “The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” There is no single person leading someone to Christ. This is not notch-on-the-belt stuff. This is a team of people working on bringing people to Christ. Well, we may say, let's assemble a team of evangelists, and one can be the sower, and another can water, and another reap, and another can store in barns, and another can package, and another can set prices, and another can take to the grocery store, and another can buy, and another can eat.

This isn't team evangelism, either. This is “God is doing the evangelism” evangelism. Jesus is trying to dispel the myth that we are the ones who do this. We are tools in God's utility belt, nothing more. We don't know who sowed seed, or which seeds were the ones that took, or which seeds were the one that fully grew up. God doesn't want us to say, “I led someone to Christ,” or even, “Jim and I led someone to Christ.” God wants to fall on our knees and say “Wow! Lord, look what you DID! I never could have done that!”

Our Acts passage dramatizes this point clearly. Did Philip know where to go? No. God sent an angel to tell him where to go. Why was the eunuch reading Isaiah? Did Philip put the scroll in his hands? No. Where did he get the scroll from? Someone else. Do we know that person was? No. How did that other person get the scroll in the eunuch's hands? Did he just say, “read this?” No. A third person must have planted a seed somehow motivating the eunuch to get the scroll. There's probably eight-sixteen people in the line of evangelists between that unbelieving eunuch and Philip. Do they know each other? No. This was an Ethiopian. He had no reason to be reading Isaiah, and he wasn't a Jew. He may have converted in Ethiopia, but that would have been done by yet another person in his home country. Isaiah hadn't been written at the time of Solomon, so the Queen of Sheba certainly didn't have a copy.

How did Philip know to go over to the chariot? The spirit told him. Did Philip take the eunuch through the book of Isaiah line by line? No. He only interpreted the one line the eunuch was already reading. And then he was able to preach the whole gospel from there. Philip didn't need to manipulate anything. He didn't need to say, “Isaiah is a good book, but you really need to be reading Deuteronomy. Go find Deuteronomy and then let's set up a coffee date. I'll meet you at Front Porch Cafe at 9:30am sharp!”

All Philip had to do was know that the scriptures are about Jesus. He knew this, because that's how God works in us. We are able to see Jesus throughout scripture. We look at the world—at life—through Jesus tinted lenses. God got the scripture into the eunuch's hands through many people. God got the right interpretation into Philip's mind through the Holy Spirit. Then all God had to do was get the eunuch and Philip together. Everything just happened. As the phrase goes, “it just worked itself out.” What happens after the eunuch is baptized? Philip is whisked away. No time to get the eunuch in an Alpha program or find the right home church for him. Nope, God doesn't want Philip to screw anything up. Your job is over! On your way, now!

God does everything. We are his resources. The best metaphor for this is in our gospel reading. “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” We are members of Christ's body, and we can do nothing of or by ourselves. We allow ourselves to be used by the vine. We are grafted onto the vine. The lifeblood of the vine flows into the branch. Christ's lifeblood is in us. We bear fruit, not because we are trying very hard, but because we have the fruit-bearing lifeblood in us. I bear fruit and the fruit falls to the ground and bursts open and the seeds inside help God's kingdom grow. You bear fruit and your fruit falls to the ground and bursts open and the seeds inside help God's kingdom grow. Together the seeds from our fruit interact in a way that God wants. The Father is the vinegrower. He is the only one who sees how the seeds of the fruit are going to interact to grow his kingdom. But if we aren't bearing fruit, we get pruned. We have to willingly submit to the vine so that Christ's lifeblood is running in our veins. Otherwise we are useless, and we get cut off.

When Paul lists all those witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15, it's not just to say, “look at all these witnesses!” It's also to say, “look at the different kinds of witnesses!” Someone might read about the risen Christ appearing to James and think, “Wow! That's the brother of Jesus, who didn't believe during Christ's entire earthly ministry, and then, when he witnesses the risen Christ, he believes! That's enough for me, I'm a believer!” And the seed gets planted. But another person may say, “James doesn't do it for me. I'm a believer because of the 500 witnesses! That is the power of mass witness!” Each of us will get a different seed out of different things in scripture, history and relationship, and as these seeds build up, as the witness becomes overwhelming, we all reach the same goal—a relationship with the risen Christ. He is the one constant in evangelism. He is the destination. He is the goal. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and today, and forever. No matter what seeds of evangelism get us there, he is waiting at the end of the line.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Donate a Bicycle to His Dream Center

If you have a bicycle, even a damaged one, that you would like to donate to His Dream Center, we will accept it.  Rev. David Daniels and his team will fix the bike and lend it to an international student to get around the OBX over the summer.  Call me or just bring a bike by His Dream Center (205 E Baltic, Nags Head) if you have one to donate.

Hired Hands

Last week we talked about what it means to be an unbelieving witness. As part of the gospel, we are all called to be witnesses to the risen Christ, and it is possible to be a false witness. As believers in an unbelieving culture, our unbelief grows the more time we swim in the culture, and when we witness the glory of God in the world, our immediate reaction is to think of that glory as being man's, or of being part of a philosophical or religious system that is not Christian. By immersing ourselves in scripture, the writings of the saints, and prayer we quench that unbelief in us.

Chapter Ten of the Gospel of John is quite interesting, because Christ makes three analogies to himself. He refers to himself as the shepherd of the sheepfold, who calls the sheep by name and they know his voice. Then, he refers to himself as the gate itself, through which the sheep pass into the sheepfold. No one can get into the sheepfold except through him. He then refers to himself, in the passage we read today (John 10:11-18) as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. These are powerful images of Christ, but I want to focus on the three alternatives he gives to the gatekeeper, the gate, and the shepherd. I especially want to focus on the last one, because it is another example of unbelieving witness.

First, Jesus is the shepherd as opposed to a . . . stranger. The shepherd calls the sheep by name and they follow him, because they know his voice. As followers of Christ, we hear his voice and follow him, and we can tell his voice from that of a stranger. A stranger's voice, we wouldn't recognize, and we would not follow. When we encounter alien faiths and philosophies, as Christians, we find something wrong with them, something amiss, and we don't follow the sound. When Christ finds us, his lost sheep, he gives us his word, so that we can understand what his voice sounds like, and we can tell his voice from a stranger's voice.

Jesus is also the gate itself. No one can get to the Father except through him. This is opposed to . . . thieves and bandits. We have advanced from stranger to thief. The sheep do not listen to thieves either, but whereas a stranger does not cause the sheep harm when it refuses to follow, a thief comes after the sheep to kill and destroy. The sheepfold is everlasting life, and so we obtain that through the gate himself.

Finally, we have our passage today. Jesus is the GOOD shepherd, as opposed to the hired hand. Now a hired hand does not seem worse than a thief who wants to destroy the sheep, does he? Well, actually he is worse. Whereas the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, the hired hand will . . . sacrifice his sheep to spare his own life. When he sees the wolf coming, he runs away. He is only a hired hand, he does not own the sheep, like the good shepherd does, and so he has nothing invested in the sheep.

Think of all the hired hands we have in the world. The president. Congress. Our governors and rulers. They will not lay down their lives for us. They will run away and sacrifice us to the wolves. Only Christ will lay down his life—and he HAS laid down his life—for us. We mentioned those world leaders, but here I am. I'm a hired hand, too, and my job is to lead you to the good shepherd, but many times we preachers are tempted is to run away and leave everyone to the wolves.

The reason we have such conflict in the churches, denominational and non-denominational splits, schism, and strife, is because they are run by hired hands, who are not leading the sheep to the good shepherd, or they are pretending to be good shepherds themselves, but they lie. We can take a lesson from Israel if we look at Ezekiel 34:

Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Leading the sheep astray, running away when the wolf comes, scattering them and leaving them for the wild animals, that is worse than being a thief or a robber. At least the thief has the identity of a thief. The hired hand is supposed to be the helper of the good shepherd, but he turns out to be a self-serving scoundrel PRETENDING to be a helper. The deceit makes the hired hand the worst of the lot. We see this all throughout scripture. Look at Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;” The ungodly are strangers, the sinners are thieves, and scornful are false leaders.

So this week the problem is not unbelieving witness but unbelieving helpers. The unbelieving hired hand who runs away when the danger comes and sacrifices all the sheep to the wolves. What is the solution? If we study this whole passage of scripture we find that Christ gives us the answer. It's another “I Am” statement beyond gatekeeper, gate, and shepherd. After Jesus tells the Pharisees these three analogies, the Pharisees respond in verse 19:

Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?’ Others were saying, ‘These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’ What is this about opening the eyes of the blind? Well Chapter 10 of John is the second half of Chapter 9, where Jesus opens the eyes of a man born blind. Because this is the Gospel of John, each miracle Jesus performs is a visual illustration of an I Am statement Jesus makes about himself. In this case, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Look at John 8:12:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.'” The next chapter, Jesus demonstrates this in a miraculous way by giving someone WHO WAS BORN BLIND sight. We have been walking in darkness from the beginning of our lives, and Jesus is the only way, we can have light.

Is this the solution? That Jesus is the light of the world? In a way, it is. When we look at the words of Jesus, he opens our eyes. When we read scripture, it opens the eyes of the heart. How do we tell a hired hand who wants to lead you to the good shepherd as opposed to a hired hand who wants to lead you astray and run away when the wolves get ya? To answer that, you know this book inside and out, and you know that Jesus is the light of the world. You know that God's word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. You know from the first letter of John how to test the spirits:

1 John 4:2: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Jesus Christ, the messiah, the anointed one of God, has come in the flesh. Who do the pharisees say that Jesus is? Do they say that he is the Christ, the messiah,the anointed one of God? Back to John 10. The Jews were divided. Many said that he has a demon, but others were saying not. The ones who said he had a demon were hired hands who would lead people away from Christ. The others probably became Christians.

Jesus asks Peter, who do you say that I am? Peter responds as a hired hand who will lead people to the good shepherd. You are the messiah, the holy son of God. Jesus is the light of the world. God's word is a lamp unto our feet. Know this. Blessed is the man, who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of the Lord—today we have the complete word of God at out fingers, so we can read: but his delight is in the Word of the Lord, and in his Word he meditates day and night.