Sunday Sermon: God’s Three Beacons




Colossians 3:1-16

Bob Munford tells of a certain Italian harbor that can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Over the years, many ships have wrecked, and navigation is hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted in the harbor on three huge poles. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights, he knows he’s off course and in danger.

Mumford goes on to say that God has also provided three beacons to guide us. The same rules of navigation apply – the three lights must be lined up before it is safe for us to proceed. The three harbor lights of guidance are 1. The Word of God (objective standard) 2. The Holy Spirit (subjective witness) 3. Circumstances (divine providence)

Together, notes Mumford, they assure us that the directions we’ve received are from God and will lead us safely along His way.

Using Mumford’s three harbor lights as a guide and outline, I want to have us think about why and how these three together help us discern, individually and corporately, God’s will.

Three passages of scripture will serve as the Biblical basis for understanding these three important parts of discerning God’s will.

The first passage is 2 Timothy 3:16-17,

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing that God wants us to do.”

It is said of Alexander White, a preacher of great renown from another generation, that when he was to old to enter the pulpit, he still arose every morning to prepare a sermon, even though he never preached them. He did so until the day he died.

We do not have to be a preacher to understand the value of Bible study. God has given to us a book of great importance.

The Bible contains everything that we need to clearly understand and live out God’s will throughout our lives. Nothing else available to us provides us with such clear directions.

The 2 Timothy passage indicates why the Bible helps us discern and experience God’s will. First of all, God inspired it. The Bible is a book with a divine origin. It has stood the tests of time and attempted obliteration of those opposed to it. Because it is inspired by God, it is therefore a primary way to understand God and his purposes for humankind.

Second, it is God’s way of preparing us to do what is right – a key part of God’s will. Not only does the Bible reveal who God is and what His purposes are, but it also reveals what we are to do and how we are to live in light of God’s plans and purposes.

But, how to we read God’s word in order to understand and experience His will?

Martin Luther wrote,

“I study my Bible like I gather apples. First, I shake the whole tree that the ripest may fall. Then I shake each limb, and when I have shaken each limb, I shake each branch and every twig. Then I look under every leaf.

I search the Bible as a whole like shaking the whole tree. Then I shake every limb – study book after book. Then I shake every branch, giving attention to the chapters. Then I shake every twig, or a careful study of the paragraphs and sentences and words and their meanings.”

So what? You may ask. Who has the time today for such a deep study?

If we want to line up the lights and avoid unnecessary difficulties in life, then we must become students of scripture. God w-a-n-t-s u-s t-o u-n-d-e-r-s-t-a-n-d H-I-s w-o-r-d. God wants us to not be afraid of the Bible, nor give up studying it as we make our first frustrating attempts to study it.

Why would God not want us to understand his word? Why would He have gone to great lengths of time to have it written down? Why would He have allowed so many persons to give their lives in order to spread it throughout the world, if He did not want us to understand it and apply it?

If we are going to line up the first ‘beacon’ to navigate life well and obediently then we must become people of the Word. And we become people of the Word, when we make the decision to study the Bible, daily and prayerfully with God’s assistance.

Many years ago the Associated Press carried the story about a man who discovered after struggling to start his car, that someone had stolen the motor.

If, you will, call the Bible, an owner’s manual, the Holy Spirit is the power under the hood.

When was the last time you checked under the hood of your life?

In the hours prior to the crucifixion, Jesus tells the disciples of the coming of the Holy Spirit who will help them as they fulfill the great commission.

We read Jesus’ statements about the Holy Spirit in John 16:8-11. ‘And when He (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convince the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgement. The world’s sin is unbelief in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgement will come because the prince of this world has already been judged.’

God’s will is made more understandable when the authority of the word is combined with the experience of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is whom God uses to accomplish His will.

Why is the Holy Spirit necessary in understanding and experiencing God’s will? Because in God’s plan, the Holy Spirit does the inner work necessary to both influence us toward and transform us into persons of God.

Sometimes I wonder if, in our post-modern ways, we have forgotten the Holy Spirit? I wonder if we have attempted to get people to change without praying for the Holy Spirit to do His work.

It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us after we have cheated on a test, or lied to our spouse, or talked about our boss behind his/her back. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us realize that we are weak, that we are fallen, that we are flawed, and that only He, in cooperation with God the Father and God the Son, can make the changes in our lives that we cannot make.

It is the Holy Spirit we grieve when we fail to confess our sins and admit our wrongs to God.

The Holy Spirit is God’s direct contact with us as we walk with God in a flawed and fallen world.

How does the Holy Spirit work? I don’t know.
All that I know is that He does work and when He does, either we cooperate with Him, or we don’t and there are consequences to both choices.

But, if we are going to understand and experience God’s will for our lives, then we must align ourselves with the Holy Spirit by asking Him to cleanse us and transform us into the person, and people, of God.

In Acts 16 Paul, at the beginning of his second missionary journey, encounters the will of God through circumstances. Beginning with verse 9 we read: “That night Paul had a vision. He saw a man from Macedonia in northern Greece, pleading with him, “Come over here and help us.” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, for we could only conclude that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.”

Paul and his companion Silas were obedient to God because as we review verses 6 through 8, God’s spirit kept them from going in the direction they had mapped out and directed them into Greece and ultimately, as we read in verse 12, to Phillipi, a major city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We stayed there several days.’ Notes the text.

What happened there? They met Lydia, ‘a merchant of expensive purple cloth. She was also a worshipper of God.’ I believe that this was the beginning of a church.
But, Paul and Silas were also beaten and jailed. But, God was in that as well. For we read in verses 29 and 30, that the jailer, in the aftermath of an earthquake that shook the jail cell doors open, calls for lights and ran to the dungeon cell where Paul and Silas were and cried out to them, “What must I do to be saved?” A man was brought to God!

In the New Testament, there is a book of the Bible called “Philippians.” It was written by Paul to the church, whose members included a seller of purple and a jailer, who met God because Paul had lined up the third light of guidance – circumstances with the first two.

And in that book we read these words, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me strength.”

Paul did not learn that overnight. He learned it by lining up the lights of scripture, the Holy Spirit, and circumstances in the day in and day out of life.

Why does God use circumstances to help us experience and understand His will? In Paul’s situation, it was to expand His kingdom. Come to think about it, I think that is the only reason God uses circumstances – to expand His kingdom through the fulfillment of His will in and through us.

How does God use circumstances to help us experience and understand His will? In James chapter 1, we read about endurance and the testing of one’s faith. Verse three says, “For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”

My message this morning is a revision of sermon that I gave over 15 years ago to a congregation who was displaced about a month earlier by a devastating fire. It was an event that no one saw coming and it led to many transitions and changes over the next 18 months – including my departure from there and my coming here.

As I look out this morning I am aware of many different transitions that are taking place in the next few weeks with the re-start of not just elementary, middle, and high school but also college.

There are other transitions as well.

Some of our congregation have moved from one house to another and begun a new chapter in a new location. Others of us have switched jobs, or are hoping to switch jobs, and there are lots of transitions there.

This time next year, God willing, a significant group of teens from our church will be preparing to head to college. Many of them have led us in worship for several years, as well as in other ministries, and they will leave this platform.

Some of us are thinking, “Who will take their place? What are we going to do without them?”

God knows and, I think He is providing. After all there are three young adults in this congregation who have significant musical ability and leadership that I plan to include in the worship mix over the next year.

I also see some young adults who grew up in this church starting to taking on some leadership in the next year. And I see some children coming to our children’s group this fall who were not here a year ago.

So as we navigate this next year we need to line up these three lights – in our own lives and as a congregation because God has a future for us here, on this corner, and in this community somehow, some way, and somewhere, in the years to come.

And I am excited about that…

And it will also take three additional things we need to ask the Lord to help us develop – patience, trust, and faith – in God, in ourselves, and…in one another.

The understanding and accomplishment of doing the Lord’s will have been part of my faith journey for many years. It has also been a key theme in many conversations I have had with people over the years as a pastor.

The title of the first sermon I gave was “What Does It Mean to Do God’s Will?” And the text for that message was Colossians 3:1-17

I close this message, as a reminder to myself and an encouragement to all of us here, about the kind of life that lines up the three lights, by reading that text and I invite you to follow along in your Bibles.

Colossians 3:1-17

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Let the journey continue… and begin!


On the book table and Kindle – July 19, 2015

Wow, nearly two months since my last post in this column the book table and kindle, after a short summer respite, has and is filling up.

On the kindle

25404141I cannot resist reading a new Presidential biography and when I saw Roger Daniels’ first volume of a two volume set on FDR immediately available via Net Galley, I went for it! I loved the introduction and am enjoying it (so far). It is to be published by the University of Illinois Press later this year.



25886355 Over the past several years I have enjoyed reading several novels by Mohana Rajakumar and when asked by her to review her first mystery novel, The Migrant Report, set in the Middle East, I said yes! Thanks Mohana for asking me!



On the book table…

On the way to the book table, via the Amazon Vine review program, are two novels that I am looking forward to reading.

25081778 The first is Maha Aktar’s Footprints in the Desert to be published by Barcelona eBooks next month. It is set in the Middle East of World War One and I was intrigued by that setting as well as the plot line.




21936759 Next is Ravi Howard’s Driving the King published by Harper earlier this year is a fictional journey of one of my favorite singers, Nat King Cole, and a childhood friend turned driver/bodyguard and their journey from the deep south to Los Angeles in the 1950’s.




51SGzyZbu8L._UY250_The final member of the book table is David M Weitzman’s Living A Life That Matters: A Memoir of the Marquis de Lafayette Published by Liberty Flame, it is a first person account of the life one of Revolutionary America’s greatest support – the Marquis de Lafayette.

It is from the great people at Smith Publicity.


And since it has been nearly two months since my last post, here are some books that I have recently read with a link to my reviews!


23164911 Jeff Shaara’s The Faithful Lightning which is a fictionalized account of Sherman’s March to the Sea and then up through the Carolinas as the US Civil War came to an end.


25265721 Laura Mcneill’s Center of Gravity was quite the book. I finished in the middle of the night and that is something I can’t say about every book I have read! A wonderful book…wow.



24660411 Jake Alexander’s Airplane Rides: Observations from Above was interesting but I did not trust the narrator. You might like it. I did… but I did not.


24832420 Marci Jefferson’s Enchantress of Paris was great historical fiction and I read it in two days. It is a historically fictionalized account of the controversial relationship between Marie Mancini and King Louis XIV.


21448028 Tatiana Rimsky-Korsakov has given music lovers and students a wonderful addition to the history of music in general and Russian music in particular with her Rimsky-Korsakov: Letters to His Family and Friends. She is the granddaughter of Rimsky-Korsakov


I really enjoyed this book and this past week listened to a wonderful performance of his Scheherazade in tribute to his great music and one of my favorite pieces of music!


Here is the link to my review

And here is the link to the performance of  Scheherazade on YouTube that I loved.


See you behind the page!


Sunday Sermon: You’re Almost There!

Galatians 6:9

While on vacation a few weeks ago in the Smokey Mountains a familiar phrase gave me a boost while making a steep half-mile climb up the path to Clingman’s Dome.

“You’re almost there!”

How many here this morning has walked that steep, very steep half-mile path up to the observation dome? A 14% grade going up to the observation dome in a half-mile is hard. It is the highest point Tennessee and the second highest point in the US east of the Mississippi. A tough climb for some, for others not so much.

The Kane family was spread out at times on that trail. Some of us walked well ahead and then waited for the rest to catch up while others of us walked slightly ahead and waited for the last family member to catch up.

Remember the section of the Psalms I preached from a while back called the Psalm of Ascents? They are Psalms 120-134 and they are written from the perspective of one who is walking up some step grades into the mountains toward Jerusalem with a group of other people.

I thought of those Psalms as I walked up that half-mile path.

As I did so, I got to the point here… in my head where I had decided that I was NOT going to climb the steps up to the observation deck. I had enough “walking.” I was tired and my calf muscles were saying, “STOP! Danger Will Robinson, danger!”

And then I heard, “You’re almost there!”

From a total stranger.

And my whole attitude changed in that moment for soon I was at the base of the observation tower, resting for a moment, and discovering that only a winding concrete ramp was left to climb. There were no steps.

The view was awesome.DSCN0712

I discovered this week from the website that on a clear, very clear day you can see parts of seven states. But on most days 22 miles is all that you can see. We had a good day and could see Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg off in the distance and that was about it.

On the way down, I said “you’re almost there!” to some people and a guy replied, “Are you kiddin’ me buddy? Really?”

In Galatians 6:9 we read these words

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

In the Message it comes out as

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.

And in the New Living Translation we read it as follows

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Life is a great deal like a climb up Clingman’s Dome.

There are moments when the walk gets hard and we get discouraged, angry even, and want to give up and go back down the mountain.

I understand that quite well.

Growth and the change which comes with growth is hard and painful at times.

Those of us who are and have been parents of teenagers know what growth spurts and growing pains have done and do, to our clothing and food budgets. They cause them pain.

My mother has loved to tell the story of how I grew out of my clothes during one year in elementary school from the time school started until Christmas break when new clothes had to be bought. It caused some money pain. I think that it was my final growth spurt.

But we also have moments when the walk is good and pleasant and rewarding. Like the walk down the hill.
Now my shins were hurting as I walked down the hill so I started to run and it helped. But one lady heard me coming down the hill and turned and look at me with a mixture of fear and agitation. “I turned to see if you were going to run into me!”

I assured her that I wasn’t and that I would have veered away.

We had begun our journey to the observation tower about a quarter mile from the totally full parking lot and had to walk up hill all the way. Now it was down hill.

But there were pauses and level areas that helped us to walk the whole way both directions.

Paul’s words to us come in the context of words of direction…

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently

Words of warning…

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

And words of encouragement that is our verse for today.

Look around this room this morning…

You are here not just for yourself but for others. We need one another.

That was made very clear to me as we walked not just that path up to Clingman’s Dome but also up the trail to Laurel Falls. Wonderful beauty there.

In the guide they said it was rated “easy.”

Define for me “easy.”

There were signs all along the trail that said this…

Falling deaths have occurred.
Closely control children.
High vertical drop-offs ahead along trail and at falls area.

The trail was paved but in need of repair and you had to watch your step.

But along the way I offered to take photos of a family from Russia, I think, and a group of young men from Mississippi who we later struck up a conversation with on the way back down. It made the journey easier.

But I think that the Lord wants us to believe today that “you’re almost there!”

“You’re almost there!” to a place of victory over a habit that has had you whipped for years.

“You’re almost there!” to a new and better relationship with your family. Things are going to improve.

“You’re almost there!” to a new level of faith and life in Christ. The struggle to believe is going to be rewarded.

And I also think the Lord wants us to hear and believe

“Don’t give up!”

“Don’t give up doing what is right at work when the pressure to do what is wrong is very, very strong.”

“Don’t give up by giving into a relationship expectation that could cause you heartache later on.”

“Don’t give up believing in the Lord when life at home, at work, at school pushes back against your faith in Christ.”

One day a Man in his 30s got fed up and decided to quit….”I quit my job, my relationship, my spirituality, in fact I want to quit my life”… He said.

Then He went to the woods to have one last talk with God. “God! Can you give me just one… good reason not to quit?” He said.

But God’s answer surprised him…”Look around”, God said. “Do you see the fern and the bamboo?” “Yes”, The Man replied.

Then God continued…”When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds at the
same time, I took very good care of them. I gave them light. I gave them water. The fern quickly grew from the earth. It’s brilliant green covered the floor. Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo.

In the second year the Fern grew more vibrant and plentiful. And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo. In the third year, there was still nothing from the bamboo seed. But I would not quit! In the fourth year, again, there was nothing from the bamboo seed. But I would not quit! Then in the fifth year a tiny sprout emerged from the earth.

Compared to the fern it was seemingly small and insignificant. But just six months later the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall. It had spent the five years growing roots but six months to Shoot to the Sky! Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed not just to SURVIVE but to be SIGNIFICANT amidst its peers…

God said to Him… “Did you know, my child, that all this time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots.” “I would not quit on the bamboo. I will never quit on you. Don’t compare yourself to others.”

“The bamboo had a different purpose than the fern. Yet, they both make the forest beautiful.” Your time will come and You will rise high! “..God said. “How high should I rise?” The Man asked.

“How high will the bamboo rise?” God asked in return. “As high as it can? The Man replied. “Yes!” God said, “Give me glory by rising as high as you can!

Here me this morning church and more important, hear the Lord this morning!

“Don’t give up doing what is right!”

“Don’t give up being faithful to God, to your family, to your work, to your friends, and to your church.”

“Don’t give up loving, hoping, trusting.”

If you have been on a long steep climb out of a valley of despair, desperation, even depression, “you’re almost there!” to a new level of faith, hope, and love; “you’re almost there to having a rest and clarity about life and faith and the future.

And these promises are not based on some feel good set of words but on the reality of what is written in the Bible and our main text for this morning.

“…whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up…”

Doing what is good and right and honoring to God does pay off. It does make a difference – now and in the future.

So don’t give up doing what is right and God honoring.

“We’re almost there.”


My Review of Tatiana Rimsky-Korsakov’s Rimsky-Korsakov’s Letters to His Family and Friends

21448028The granddaughter of the late 19th Century and early 20th century Russian composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov has given music lovers a wonderful gift with her compilation of letters from her grandfather to the family and his friends.

I found this volume to be a wonderful first person account of music and life from this legendary Russian composer. It provides a glimpse into the world of not just the Russian but also European world of music.

Students of Rimsky-Korsakov will find wonderful material to ponder and discuss and those interested in that period of Russian history will also have helpful glimpses of what it was like for one of Russian’s great composers to live in the period of the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s.

(Published by Amadeus Press, 2014)

I rate this book a “great” read.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.


My Review of Marci Jefferson’s Enchantress of Paris

24832420With a rich and tense narrative and an excellent attention to historical detail, Marci Jefferson has penned an outstanding piece of historical fiction based on the life of Marie Mancini who captured the heart of the 17th century French King, Louis XIV with her newest novel Enchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King’s Court (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015).

Based on the historical fact of a horoscope indicating that Marie would cause more trouble than good, her mother demanded that Mancini’s uncle, Cardinal Marazin (who also plays a prominent role in the novel), put her in a convent and keep her there for her life. This of course, did not happen.

For this reviewer, Enchantress was enchanting in more ways than one.

The court life with its rules and rituals fascinated  and also frustrated this reviewer.  I am a student of history but also very much a product of modern America and I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t Louis just deal with the situation and out right marry Marie?”  But here Jefferson does a good job of reminding the reader that royalty have their own ways (and burdens) they must live with and that the implications of what kinds of relationships a King or Queen has or doesn’t have, does have implications outside the boundaries of their own country.

It seems to me that the definition of love in the novel was one of obligation to national and family loyalty and duty first and then only to the romantic impulse, if at all possible. For ss much as Louis and Marie expressed love for one another, duty to country was foremost and ultimately was followed. How different is the definition of love today in the Western world.

The novel’s characterization created in this reviewer both loyalty and support for Marie and others and utter disgust for characters such as Cardinal Marazin. In fact, this is what drew me in and kept me reading the book which I finished within a few days of starting. Jefferson does a wonderful job creating an emotional response to the novel’s characters.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were strong, the plot was dynamic, and the story had dramatic elements that drew me in. I think that is what a good novel does.

I rate Enchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King’s Court  an “outstanding” read!

Note: I received a galley copy of Enchantress from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

My One Word 2015: Fast…Six Months In…

Six months have gone by since I started 2015 with a focus on fast and fasting.

It has been a very helpful journey and I think, and hope, that it will continue to be.

One of the “things” that I have learned from my fast-ing is that ‘noise’ is something that I need to fast from on a regular basis. By ‘noise’ I mean all of the words that come my way through social media, traditional media, the daily living of life, and such.

It is loud and deafening at times and to take time to hear not just God’s voice but that of my family, my friends, my congregation that I serve, and even… myself… I have had to get off the superhighway of information and travel some quiet back roads from time to time.

But Jim! How you can hear what others are saying if you are not plugged into all the channels required of us these days?

A good question.

BUT, which others deserve my best hearing?

Those that I swap photos, comments, memes, and thoughts with on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook?

Or, my wife and my two sons, my 91 year old mom, those who sit across from me in my office, the congregation I serve?

And what about God? Am I hearing Him well these days?

And while this month has been a month in which fasting has been almost nonexistent I am getting back into a rhythm of fasting now and it is creating space to listen.



Sunday Sermon: W D/D JD?

What Would Jesus Do?

I think that it is a question that we asking intensely these days and understandably so. We may not recognize that we are asking it as such but I think that we are asking it.

It is more than a marketing gimmick. It is a very important question that stops us and forces us to consider what would Jesus do in this situation at work, at home, in my life, in my country, in my world?

This morning however, with this service being a part of our VBS weekend, I am modifying the question as follows:

W D D J D?

What Did/Does Jesus Do?

Over the course of our VBS our kids have been learning about who Jesus Christ is and what He has done and continues to do for us. I am sharing those things with us this morning for a few moments before we conclude our outdoor worship with the baptism of four individuals – one adult and three teens!

The first thing that Jesus did for people and can do for us today is that He brings us hope.

In John chapter 10 and verse 10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” A full life in Christ includes hope. A hope that is rooted in who Jesus is – the one and only son of God- and not in our circumstances as hard, painful, and difficult as they may be.

Jesus encountered difficult in His life here on earth. He did not have it easy. He was made fun of, He was hated, He was both betrayed and rejected, and He was murdered by a group of people who were jealous of His power and increasing popularity. But even though He died, He did not stay dead. He came back to life! He willingly hung on that cross without hate in his heart, asking God the Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But the healing that He did, the love and mercy toward those considered “outsiders” and beyond help, the call to love and forgive and change for the better, gave people a hope they did not otherwise have. Jesus still offers us the same kind of hope and new life today.

The second thing that Jesus did for us is to show us how say ‘no’ to temptation and that we can say ‘no’ to doing things that take us away from God, from real love, real hope.

In Matthew chapter 4 He did something incredible… He went 40 days and nights without food… in a desert environment and in a weakened condition was tempted by Satan to use His power for all the wrong reasons and to come over to Satan’s side.

He said ‘no’ to all three temptations and ‘yes’ to God’s way.

“Pastor that was Jesus. You and I could not go 40 days in the desert without food.”

You are probably right. But you and I face all kinds of temptation to lie, steal, cheat in some way, gossip, criticize, mock, ridicule, hate, and the like. I think that Jesus did as well.

In the book of Hebrews, Jesus is compared to the High Priest of the Jewish faith. The High Priest, in the practices of ancient Jewish faith was the only one who could enter the most sacred areas of the tabernacle and then the temple to offer the sacrifices for the people’s sins.

But the High Priest could not be a morally perfect representative because he was human and subject to temptations like you and me. But Jesus was morally perfect as noted in Hebrews 4:15-16

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The moral perfection of Jesus gives us hope that we can begin to live differently, live better, live without guilt and shame. We can live forgiven.

A third thing that Jesus can give us is courage to be His followers. Jesus picked 12 men to follow Him and He invested three years as He traveled Israel teaching about the Kingdom of God and healing various people. He knew that eventually He would leave them to carry on the work of telling people about Him and offering them the hope that is available because of what He did.

So He sent them on a training mission and told them, BEFORE they started, as noted in Matthew 10 and starting at verse 16 they needed to:

be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,  for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you

Would you have gone on the mission? Jesus does not paint a very nice picture of what will happen to them. But they go and people are freed from evil spirits and healing takes place in people who were running out of or had no hope for healing.

It took courage for them to go out in Jesus’ name but then went with, as noted in verse 1, with the authority of Christ. That authority gave them courage.

When is it hard for you to live out your faith? When you are asked to do something that you know is not right? When you are tempted by the group you’re with to do something that you know is dangerous to your health or the lives of others?

It is hard to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. But with the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority that we have, not to abuse or misuse, but to serve and love and care, IN Jesus’ name, we gain courage to live and to do what is right and just.

The fourth thing that Jesus has done for us is save us from our sins.

Good Friday is good not because of the terrible injustice done to Christ on that day but because of the good that ultimately is done through that day. Christ died, a cruel death, on the cross, but then came Easter Sunday and His resurrection.

We do not have to live with our shame and guilt we can be free of them. Yes memories remain but we do not have to let our past have the last word. Christ came to offer us, as I said earlier that we “may have life, and have it to the full” not just later after we die but now. Christ’s saving action can make a difference in our life today, now.

Finally the fifth thing that Jesus has done for us is that He has given us a reason to celebrate, to look forward to tomorrow – He is coming back. In the opening chapter of the book of Acts Jesus tells His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and to be His witnesses everywhere they will go from that point forward and then He begins to ascend into heaven. Then we come to verse ten and read

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Jesus IS coming back. Lots of people have their ideas as to when but we really don’t know. But He is coming back and when He does He will set everything right and evil, in all of its forms, will be destroyed. No more sickness or pain or death.

Are you ready for that day?

Jesus Christ offers us life and life eternal and as we confess our sins and accept His forgiveness, we are made right with God through Christ. And the life which He offers us today, for today and for this life, is new life a better life. No, it is not always an easy life and we, as Christians, do not escape pain and suffering and loss but we have a God who will help us through all of that and we can have a peace in our hearts in the midst of the storms of life.

If you have not accepted Christ’s forgives, I invite you to do that today. If you have been disappointed with God (and there are many who are), I still invite you to come back or come home for the first time.

W D D J D?

He has done, and continues to do, a great deal for us and I can think of no greater illustration than the four people who we are to baptize today, as evidence of God’s great grace for us.

Let us now celebrate with them and thank the Lord for them and for His grace and mercy in their lives!