Monthly Archives: April 2014

… Through the Grapevine _______________

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“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. 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. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1-5

 

This morning I gave the sermon at Restore Church in North Haledon. We have been attending Restore for about six weeks now and we definitely see a future here. I spoke this morning on the Great Commission. This passage in Matthew chapter 28 is the last words Jesus speaks to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. Last wills and testaments are important in TV shows and in Movies when a main character is dying and they ask that the survivors, “Tell my children I love them.” Sometimes people get a last meal. The death row convict asks for a steak dinner before he goes to the chair. The last thing we do is often very meaningful and important. At this point in the lives of the disciples, forty days earlier Jesus was arrested and executed. During the arrest and the trial, all of his friends abandoned him; they scattered. Now Jesus calls them together and asks them to scatter. He tells them to “go into the world and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all the things I have commanded you. And behold I am with you even until the end of the age.” 

 

Of the four requests Jesus makes: Go, Make Disciples, Baptize and Teach, the one that we have missed as the church, big C, is make disciples. We have a decent handle on the Go, the Baptize and even the Teach (although we definitely need to know our Bibles better) but how are we on making disciples? If you ask me, not great. I feel in many churches, there is a desire for discipleship, but there isn’t discipleship. Why? Being a disciple is hard. Jesus says that we need to hate our families by comparison. As Kyle Idleman puts it in his book, Not a Fan, Jesus wants to be our one and only and not our one of many. Disciples fail. Jesus’ closest friends abandoned him when he needed them most. Mark, the Apostle, ran away from the Garden when Jesus was arrested naked! Disciples fail. But disciples are followers. If all authority has been given to Jesus, how can we as disciples operate in that authority? Abide.

 

Merriam-Webster gives this definition for abide : to stay or live somewhere. Jesus tells us in John that we are to abide in him. Abide in him. This means we are to live in him. Look at a grapevine. We have one in our yard. There are vines and there are branches. The branches are attached to the vine and get all of their nutrients from it. Apart from the vine, the branches die, plain and simple. Apart from Christ we can do NOTHING. I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. We are called to go and make disciples. How can we make a disciple if we do not abide in Christ? We can’t. You cannot lead someone somewhere you have never been. Only disciples can make disciples. It is a commitment and not a decision. It’s not a wedding, it is a marriage. We are to take up our cross and make Jesus Christ our one and only and not one of many. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that we can carry out the great commission without abiding in our vine, Jesus Christ. Our power comes through the grapevine.

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The Real McCoy ___________________

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. Luke 22:3-6 ESV

 

Last year, around this time – actually March 31, 2013 to be exact – I was thinking about Judas. I had listened to a sermon via podcast and the speaker was talking about a spirit alive in the church. He had acknowledged that most of the listeners were aware of the Jezebel spirit that attaches itself to those in power and perverts it. You may have been to those churches. Where certain church members attach themselves to the pastor and his family and try to steer the ship. Well this other spirit that was more concerning to the speaker was what he called the Judas spirit. Let me explain. 

 

Jesus hand picked his twelve associates. These associates were not just tag-alongs, or groupies. These twelve men were disciples being mentored by the most influential mentor ever. Jesus called each one to help him with his ministry on the earth. Each of these men were on hand to pray for the sick, to feed the poor, and to aid Jesus in proclaiming the Kingdom of God drawing near. These men spent all day, every day with one another for three years. They knew each other very well. They were in accountability with each other. It is clear to me that Judas was just as a part of the group as John or Matthew was. As a matter of fact, when Jesus announces to the disciples that one of them would betray him, they all looked at one another in shock. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” Mark 14:18-19 ESV

 

Don’t you think that if each time the disciples were going to go lay hands on someone or cast out a demon and Judas was excusing himself each time that someone would be suspicious? They did not know who Jesus was referring to when he said one of them would betray. Judas fit right in with the rest. Judas actually held a position of importance in the group. Judas was the treasurer. Judas was the CFO of Jesus Christ Ministries LLC. When Mary anointed the feet of Jesus in the weeks before he would go to the cross and be murdered, Judas was bothered by this. The ointment that Mary used was equivalent to roughly one year’s salary. John tells us Judas responded to this with, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. John 12:5-6 ESV. Keep in mind though, that John wrote his gospel over fifty years after these events took place. The fact that Judas was helping himself to the money was most likely a fact that was revealed after the death of Christ.

 

If Judas was called to be one of the twelve Apostles, and he was trusted enough to handle the money, what changed? Did anything change? Judas seemed bitter about Mary’s display. Did Judas hold bitterness about anything else? One commentary explains that Judas, like many of the other disciples, believed that Jesus’ reign would be political. They believed that Jesus was going to overthrow the Romans and establish his kingdom physically on the earth. The commentary goes on to say that when Jesus praised Mary for her display of anointing his feet, Judas realized that Jesus’ kingdom was spiritual and not physical. Judas believed that he would hold a place of high esteem in Jesus’ new kingdom. I believe that when Judas’ daydream was shattered, it changed his mind on the person of Jesus.

 

On the outside, Judas appeared to be the real thing. Judas was blinded by ambition and his own idea of how Jesus should operate. Have you ever had your judgement blurred by how you thought Jesus should operate in your life? When you try to stuff God in a box, you may be upset when he breaks out of that box. If that frustration makes you bitter, be careful. That bitterness can grow and that can give the devil a foothold. Some scholars say that Judas never believed. Jesus says in his prayer for the disciples in John 17:12, “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” Did Judas ever make his peace? We know that Judas hanged himself when he realized that he had truly betrayed innocent blood. When Judas tried to return the money to the high priest, could the high priest have offered Judas the opportunity to be forgiven? The priests did not want their money back. Even they knew it was wrong. Judas procured his own redemption. He did not believe he had any way out. I wonder if Judas was ever really ‘saved’ or not. Was he just a fake? What about me? Am I the real deal? What about you? Do you trust who Jesus said he was? If Judas did, he would realize that nothing can separate us from the love of God. The same goes for you. Nothing you will ever do will make God love you more or less than he did when he sent His Son to die for YOU. This former Judas is very glad for that.

 

Not what we had in mind _________________

Luke 19:28-40 The Triumphal Entry

 

What have you ever had to wait for? Have you ever waited in anticipation for your birthday to arrive or even Christmas? As a child these two events were always the subject of much waiting and anxiety. I had trouble waiting. I would often try to make proposals to my parents to open ‘early Christmas gifts.’ What is it about waiting that is so difficult for us? Well, it’s not just you or I, it is mostly everyone.

 

Keep that feeling in your mind- waiting for your birthday to come- and imagine having to wait almost six hundred years. Imagine being an entire group of people waiting six hundred years for your special day. Imagine how excited you would be when you realize that today is your day! What has become known as ‘Palm Sunday’ was that day for the Jewish people in the first century. Let’s go back for a moment. Let’s go back to around 520 BC to a man named Zechariah. Zechariah was a Jewish prophet born in Babylon during a period of exile of the nation of Israel. Zechariah made a prophecy in the 500’s BC that reads, “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

 

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have been waiting for their Messiah. Ever since God’s covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Israelites have been waiting for their deliverance from oppression. God told Isaac, “I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham, your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed …” (Gen. 26:3b-4) The Jewish people were perpetually in a cycle. It was a state of closeness with God, sin, judgement, captivity, release. This went on for generations. God sent His prophets to bring His children (Israel) back to Him. Like a mother hen gathers her chicks, (Matt. 23:37) God wants to gather His children to Him. Israel was waiting for this deliverer who would come humbly on a donkey and overthrow Jewish oppressors. 

 

Luke writes, in his gospel, that Jesus sent two of His disciples into a village near Bethany. He tells them, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” What follows is Jesus- the teacher who has spent the last three years traveling around the surrounding areas healing the sick and raising the dead- riding into Jerusalem before Passover on a donkey. Yes, the guy everyone was talking about, who proclaimed the Kingdom of God being at hand, who raised the dead a week or so earlier, is riding into Jerusalem on a donkey!

 

The disciples at first did not put two and two together (John 12:16) but, when the crowds started singing and shouting and glorifying Jesus, the lightbulb went on. The crowd who had just seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead were bearing witness to that event to all the others who had gathered. Talk about exciting! This is it! He’s here! Rome will be defeated and our Messiah will set up His Kingdom! Not so fast, Israel.

 

 

The events that followed were Jesus clearing the temple of all the swindlers and money changers and eventually his betrayal by a close friend, abandonment by the rest of his friends, his trial, beating and crucifixion. For a triumphant king coming to claim his kingdom, this seems like a bum deal. I thought this was the promised Messiah? When the people of Israel realized that this was not what they thought Messiah would be, they turned on Jesus so fast it could cause whiplash. Sunday they shouted ‘Hosanna’ and Friday they shouted ‘Crucify him!’ 

 

If only they realized earlier that this, in fact, was their promised Messiah. When Jesus was lead like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7) and fulfilled over twenty prophecies regarding Messiah in one day, the world should have recognized who Jesus was. Jesus came to His own and His own did not receive him (John 1:11). Even his disciples thought that maybe they had it wrong. When Jesus was executed, many thought, “Well, I guess we were wrong.” One of the only ones who recognized who Jesus was during the crucifixion was a Roman soldier. When the sky turned black at three in the afternoon, and there was an earthquake, and the tombs of the dead were opened and the curtain of the temple was torn, one man said, “Surely this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54)

 

Are you the Israelites or the Roman centurion? Do you recognize the fulfilled prophecy and the un-repayable gift that was given for all humanity? The Gospel, or good news, is this: Jesus was the prophesied Messiah who gave His life for every single person who has ever, and will ever live. He conquered death and rose again and is preparing a place for each person who accepts the reality of what has been done. There is NOTHING that you can do to earn this gift. Whether or not you choose to believe that Christ died in your place, does not change the fact that He did. It’s as if on the day you are trying out for the school orchestra, before playing a single note, you are told that you are first chair. You do not need to do, then you receive. You receive, and then you do. If you recognize that Christ died for you and you believe that to be true, your response should be that of gratitude. That gratitude makes you want to live a life that reflects the love of your creator God. And THAT is the Gospel. Jesus IS what we thought!

 

Miracles: Healing at the Pool of Siloam _______________________

John 9:1-7

 

 

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

 

We often go through difficult times in our lives and we end up asking, “Why Me?” We may ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” What if our circumstance is not about us at all? What if there is some bigger thing happening? When the disciples asked Jesus what the blind man did to deserve being born blind or what his parents did Jesus blew their minds. In Jewish culture in the first century, being born with an affliction of this nature meant that someone’s sin was the cause. Jesus told the disciples that nor the man’s nor his parents’ sin caused this blindness. Jesus explained that this malady was so the works of God might be displayed.

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This blind man did not see Jesus, but Jesus saw him. This man was born in darkness and lived there his whole life. All this man knew was his deficiency. The only thing he could see was his inability to see. How often are we so consumed by our short-comings that we completely lack any and all vision? So much of our circumstance may, in fact, exist for the benefit of someone else.

 

I was speaking to someone recently who lost a loved one to suicide. This young girl was incredibly talented and a great artist. She had bipolar disorder and it was rather profound. One of the ways that she dealt with this was to blog about it and work at her college’s mental health support group. She helped counsel other people who struggled with mental health issues. Of course, no one wants to lose someone to suicide, but when trying to help my coworker make sense of it, I realized that had this girl never had to live through profound bipolar disorder, she may have never been able to help another through the same thing. I wonder how many people were helped by this girl.

 

When Jesus healed the man born blind at the Pool of Siloam, He was showing the power of the Father. Jesus came to reflect His Father’s glory and show the world His love. Perhaps the only reason that this man was born blind was so that one day, a traveling teacher who claimed to be the Son of God could show people the Father. Don’t be so self-consumed to think that it’s all about you. Chances are, it probably isn’t. Paul said it in his letter to the Romans, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love Him; who have been called according to His purpose.” This does NOT say that God works all good things for those who love Him. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. Ask God today for some perspective and maybe you can gain vision, you can cease to live in blindness.