Watchers on the Hill – Part 5

Mark 15:16-20

Description – The fifth sermon in a 2005 Lenten Series

(Opening of the sermon is the dramatic reading script “Forsaken” by Elaine Aadland for the Lenten Series, “Watchers on the Hill,” produced by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2003)

“People fear what they can’t understand.” It’s true. Those who crucified Jesus, and I am not talking just about the military authority, were afraid of him.

What are you afraid of? We, you and I, are afraid of many things.

For example, we are afraid of not being accepted. We fear rejection with a passion. We fear having a displeasing glance thrown our way. We dread the experience of being “out” instead of being “in.” Repeatedly Jesus spoke of rejection during His earthly ministry. John, in the opening chapter of his gospel account, summarized this reality very simply in verse 11 “Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted.”

We fear disqualification. We have a fear that we are going to be disqualified in some way like being fired or not being hired for a job or not making the team. In our nation’s history, we have disqualified various groups of people over the years because they thought different, looked different, or spoke different. Those who made the rules of what qualified for faith and what did not qualify for faith disqualified Jesus. “You lose Jesus! Crucify Him!”

One of the ways we can read the crucifixion story without taking out its real meaning is as a story of who’s in, who’s out, and the how fear of disqualification and rejection motivated people to do what they did.

Like people such as Pilate who, as Mark writes in chapter 15 and verse 15, was “anxious to please the crowd.” He did not want to crucify Jesus. “I find no fault in Him.” However, he feared the uproar and trouble that would take place if he did not give the order for Jesus to be crucified and feared a loss of power. Therefore, he gave into their demands out of fear.

The religious leaders acted out of fear as well. Mark also notes in chapter 15 and verse 10, “For he (that is Pilate) realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.” John echoes this statement in 12:19 of his gospel account when the Pharisees, after the raising of Lazarus from the dead say, We’ve lost. Look the whole world has gone after him!”

Envy drives us to anger because we fear someone who has something we don’t have, is able to doing some we don’t do or cannot do, or is a threat of us because we fear that we will not be liked or admire as before. Hollywood is great at giving us story lines with envy behind them. Think about Buzz and Woody in Toy Story or Prince Charming and Shrek in Shrek 2.

But, what about the guards? What did they have to fear from Jesus?

As I have re-read the gospel accounts of what we now call Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I know that Luke tells us that Jesus was subject to mockery and beating by the guards soon after His arrest as we read in Luke 22:63 -65: “Now the guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him; then they hit him and asked, “who hit you that time, you prophet?’ And they threw all sorts of terrible insults at him.”

We also know that following His death the Roman Captain who stood guard at the foot of the three crosses exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” What did the guards fear? No doubt, there were some soldiers who feared Him, found Him to be, as we heard, “A mysterious figure. A puzzle.” And there were those who saw Him as no threat at all.

Fear makes us do things and say things that we otherwise probably not say or do. Fear creates anger because as someone once wrote (and I cannot remember who) “we get angry about what we fear.”

There was plenty of fear to go around in those hours. We read of fear in Peter who denies Him. We hear it in Judas (“I have sinned…for I have betrayed an innocent man.”) and the deep remorse over betraying Him which drives him to give back the silver and then end his own life.

Even the repentant thief expresses fear as Luke records in chapter 23 and verse 40, “Don’t you fear God even when you are dying?” he asks the other thief.

What do you fear? Do you fear rejection? Do you fear disqualification? Do you fear death?

Did Jesus have fear during this time? Some would argue no because He is God and God is not afraid of anything. Others would ask, “Then what did He feel in the Garden of Gethsemane as He cried out, “Please take this cup of suffering from me. Yet I want your will, not mine?”

All of this happened at what we consider the end of this coming week. Today is the day we call Palm Sunday.

It is a day in which we remember the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the moments of “Praise God! Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Bless the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9 and 10)

Wouldn’t you have like to have been in the crowd? Let’s use our imaginations for the moment and go there.

It’s neither an overly warm day nor an overly cold one. Maybe it is partly cloudy.

The streets are crowded with people who seem to come in waves as the Passover celebrations draw closer. The smells, ah the smells of food, of people, of plants and things, of animals… on second thought let’s not dwell on the smells too long!

Colors of earth, of fabric, of people, of animals, of Jerusalem all coming together in a kaleidoscope of colors.

There is great pomp and circumstance. “Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming! It is almost Passover and we are about to be delivered from Roman oppression!”

Where were the soldiers? What did they see and observe that day when Jesus walked into Jerusalem, for the last time prior to His death and resurrection? What did they do?

Did they laugh aloud at this “Messiah?” “Look at him! A donkey? Hey, where’s your horse? Is that your guard? You’re no Caesar! You’re no king!”

Maybe they had to do crowd control to keep the rabble-rousers and the anarchists under control. Perhaps all “R and R” (Rest and Recreation) was cancelled. No 3-day passes to the seashore. No leave home to Rome or wherever home was for these soldiers.

It was the big holiday weekend and there was trouble brewing. Passover was to be celebrated and the words Egyptian and Roman were (perhaps) used almost  interchangeably in the discussion about the Passover.

Can you smell the fear? Can you taste it?

The military veterans of this season know what to expect and they are telling the replacements what to look out for.

Scripture does not give us details of what the soldiers did on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem but history has given us stories about what the life of a soldier is like in war, occupation, and peace. Perhaps a short example will help us understand.

“Dearest mother,

This is a terrible place. The dust, the dirt, the chaos in this place they call Israel is awful.

Your desire to come is noble, (and I would like you to come) but stay home. No self-respecting Roman should be here.

Granted there are places of great beauty here. The sea and the shore are wonderful and we look forward to rest there.

This week is the big religious celebration called Passover. It’s my first one and I have been told to expect anything.

Some of the veterans, like my friend Marcus, said this weekend is really no big deal. However, there is this religious leader, a rabbi, named Jesus, who we have heard is coming this weekend and the Jewish leaders are outraged about it. So no one has leave for the next 9 days and that means we will have been on duty for five straight months without more than a day off here and there.

I’m not sure what to expect, but I see in the captain an anxiety about the situation that I have not seen in him before. Maybe he is ready to go home, too. He is a good commanding officer and has a family south of Rome.

I have seen this rabbi Jesus a couple of times and heard him speak. He has a way with words and there is something different about him from the other ones. He is kinder and has done a great deal more to help the people than the other teachers seem to have done.

I have a feeling this week is going to be… word has just come that we are going on duty right now. The celebration has started and this Jesus has shown up…on a donkey, of all things. I will write more later. Gregory

It is easy year after year to repeat the facts of this week. We know them already. We know that Jesus entered Jerusalem, had a few last words to say to his opponents, cleansed the temple a second time, held a final Passover meal with the twelve, was betrayed by one of them, wrestled with the reality of his imminent death, was mocked, beaten, and whipped, forced to carry a cross at least partially, then had his hands and feet pierced with nails and was publicly executed.

It is more important to ask “WHY?” Why did God go through all of this? Because of what fear has done to the human race and it’s relationship with God. “What on earth do you mean, Jim?”

Let’s go back to Genesis 3 for a moment. “Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the creatures the LORD GOD had made. “Really?” he asked the woman. “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat it,” the woman told him. “It’s only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or will we die.”

“You won’t die!” the serpent hissed. “God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. The fruit looked so fresh and delicious, and it would make her so wise! So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too! At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.”

Pleasure seeking is a part of this story. Desire is a part of this story. The serpent appealed to the desires and to the pleasure center of Eve. She was convinced.

In I John 2:16 we read John’s important warning, “For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasures, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world.”

Nevertheless, disobedience of God’s commands not to eat that particular fruit from that particular tree was also a part of that story.  And I suggest this morning that fear was present in that act of disobedience and fear is a part of the pursuit of which John speaks.

It was (and still is) a fear of being left out, of not being included; fear of being left out or left behind by God that drove Eve, and Adam, to eat.

It could have gone like this: “What does the serpent mean, “Be like God?” Is God doing something that I don’t know about?

What’s God doing? Is He going to leave us? You know, I have’nt seen Him today? Where is He? I don’t want to miss something that God has for me! I don’t want to be left behind. What if Adam gets to be like God and I don’t?”

I think that I had better eat some of this fruit!”

This same fear that has made humanity decide to take that which God said no to and possess what was not it’s to take in the first place still possesses us in ways that take us away from, not toward God.

Now a fear-based faith is not a healthy faith either. I am very concerned these days about the manufactured fear used to scare us into the kingdom of God.

Now the Lord does use fear from time to time to remind us of what is real: we are alienated, by our own fearful and selfish choices, from God. If we would only trust God and let go of our fears, anxiety, and selfish desire then we would find true and real hope and peace.

Last month, Erin Taylor shared with some teens and adults at the WRECK a very important lesson she learned several years ago during her time as Miss Michigan. She shared how, after winning both the Miss Southwest Michigan and Miss Michigan pageants on her first try, she was convinced that it was God’s will for her to win Miss America.

She shared how as she stood on the stage in Atlantic City with the other women to hear who the 15 semi-finalists would be, she was confident she would be one of them. As they read the names off, she said, okay Lord, anytime now.

As more and more names were read, number 6, 7, 8, she began to sweat, okay Lord; you can make it happen now. Then she said everything went into slow motion as the last semi-finalist was read and she was not one of them.

She became depressed, as each of us would be after all that work and success, but as she went on with her life, she realized, and made this point to the audience very clear, that her validation in life would come only from the Lord not from success or position or power.

This morning I echo Erin’s words. The work of Jesus Christ on the cross is God’s validation of our worth and His love for us. Nothing else will ever match or exceed it because nothing else will ever help us deal with our fears of insignificance or ineligibility that drive us to do things that lead us away from not toward the Lord.

This morning, I invite you to find your worth and your life in Jesus who has validated you and your life by His sacrifice on our behalf. Lay your fears and your sins to rest today. Amen.

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The Soliders Mock Jesus

Matthew 27:27-31

It is easy year after year to repeat the facts of this week for we already know them. We know that Jesus entered Jerusalem, had a few last words to say to his opponents, cleansed the temple a second time, held a final Passover meal with the twelve, was betrayed by one of them, wrestled with the reality of his imminent death, was mocked, beaten, and whipped, forced to carry a cross at least partially to the execution site, then had his hands and feet pierced with nails and was publicly executed.

Prior to this Lenten season I purchased a series of dramatic readings that I used as our Lenten series on Sunday morning entitled “Watchers on the Hill” that were a series of “What if?” conversations between those that scripture tells us were a part of the events of this week and those who represented specific groups and the crowd in general that were likewise present. This past Sunday was a “What if?” conversation between two of the Roman soldiers who beat and crucified Jesus.

We know where the soldiers were on what we now call Good Friday. We know from our text what did they to Jesus that day. But what about the day we now call Palm Sunday? Where were the soldiers then? What did they see and observe that day when Jesus walked into Jerusalem, for the last time prior to His death and resurrection? More important, what did they do?

Did they laugh aloud at this “Messiah” as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey or colt instead of a mighty warhorse fit for a King, as they would later mockingly call Him?

Did they say, “Look at him! A donkey? Hey, where’s your horse? Is that your guard? You’re no Caesar! You’re no king!”

Maybe they had to do crowd control to keep the rabble-rousers and the anarchists under control. Perhaps all “R and R” (Rest and Recreation) was cancelled. No 3-day passes to the seashore. No leave home to Rome or wherever home was for these soldiers.

It was the big holiday weekend and there was trouble brewing. Passover was to be celebrated and the words Egyptian and Roman were (perhaps) used almost interchangeably in the discussion about the Passover.

The military veterans of this season know what to expect and they are telling the replacements what to look out for.

Scripture does not give us details of what the soldiers did on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem but history has given us stories about what the life of a soldier is like in war, occupation, and peace. Perhaps a short example will help us understand.

“Dearest mother,

This is a terrible place. The dust, the dirt, the chaos in this place they call Israel is awful.

Your desire to come is noble, (and I would like you to come) but stay home. No self-respecting Roman should be here.

Granted there are places of great beauty here. The sea and the shore are wonderful and we look forward to rest there.

This week is the big religious celebration called Passover. It’s my first one and I have been told to expect anything.

Some of the veterans, like my friend Marcus, said this weekend is really no big deal. However, there is this religious leader, a rabbi, named Jesus, who we have heard is coming this weekend and the Jewish leaders are outraged about it. So no one has leave for the next 9 days and that means we will have been on duty for five straight months without more than a day off here and there.

I’m not sure what to expect, but I see in the captain an anxiety about the situation that I have not seen in him before. Maybe he is ready to go home, too. He is a good commanding officer and has a family south of Rome.

I have seen this rabbi Jesus a couple of times and heard him speak. He has a way with words and there is something different about him from the other ones. He is kinder and has done a great deal more to help the people than the other teachers seem to have done.

I have a feeling this week is going to be… word has just come mother that we are going on duty right now. The celebration has started and this Jesus has shown up…on a donkey, of all things. I will write more later. Gregory

From the gospel accounts we know that things were coming to a climax. John gives clues to that in places such as John 12:19 when we hear the lament of the Pharisees as Jesus enters Jerusalem, “We’ve lost. Look the whole world has gone after him!”

This is followed by Jesus’ response a few verses later (verse 23) when in a response to some Greeks’ desire to “meet Jesus” that He says, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory.”

As such, a few short days would pass until our Lord and Savior would be betrayed, arrested, beaten, and mocked. The time for the final chapter in God’s plan for humankind’s redemption would soon be complete.

Have you ever wondered how the soldiers spent that week? I can almost hear our letter writer say,

“ Greetings from Israel, mother!

I am sorry for the abrupt ending of my last letter but this Jesus of whom I spoke was entering Jerusalem and there was quite a celebration when he did so!

We knew that his arrival would stir up the troublemakers who would like nothing more than to see the people rise up against us. We made a few arrests but it is hard to tell who is for us and who is against us so we are always on our guard.

It was quite an interesting scene. Some of the battalion made fun of him but were drowned out by his supporters. But nothing really happened and he soon disappeared after talking about what was going to happen to him in a few days.

The Israelites (at least some of them) are convinced that this Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who will be their next King. It is this that concerns us the most because we are not sure what the more fanatical elements will do to try and make him King.

By the evening, the crowd had quieted down and we were able to get some rest…”

But the situation would change from Sunday to Thursday and, as we already know, would get darker and more sinister. Betrayal would rear its ugly head and soon Jesus would be arrested and our writer and his battalion would have a major part to play in the proceedings.

One of the questions that I asked our congregation over the course of the Lenten season is “Where do you find yourself in the Easter story?” I ask that question again this day: “Where do you find yourself in the Easter story?”

Some of us find our selves in Peter and his denial. Some of us find our selves in the “scattering to the fringes” disciples to watch with horror the death of a dream through the death of a person.

Some of us find our selves in Mary as she watches her son being put to death and all the pain that losing a child brings. Some of us perhaps find our selves in Nicodemus who makes a statement after the fact.

Humankind is everywhere in the Easter story because it was for humankind that Jesus died on the cross. He did not die for some abstract idea. He died for the fearful followers, for a mother, for someone who wanted Him dead… and for soldiers who carried out their orders to crucify Him. I wonder what our letter-writing friend would say about that… Amen

Seeing Jesus

Luke 24:13-14

Description – 2005 Easter Sermon

(Opening of the sermon is the dramatic reading script “The News” by Elaine Aadland for the Lenten/Easter Series, “Watchers on the Hill,” produced by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2003)

Whatever life road you are currently on, Jesus is on that road as well. He is not far away. The two disheartened, discouraged, and disillusioned men who left Jerusalem early that morning are about to encounter the Risen Jesus but some time will pass before they see Him.

Now you might be thinking, “Jim, they see Jesus on the road what do you mean they do not see Him?”  You’re right; they see Jesus but only as a traveler on the road with them. They have yet to see Him as they need to see Him (and as the Lord wants them to see Him) for two reasons: First, because they were looking at something else – circumstances –  and second God kept them in the dark as we read in Luke 24:16 until the right time to reveal Jesus came.

AW Tozer, a pastor and writer of another generation makes this point in a different way. In a magazine column published several years after his death he wrote, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ brought about a startling change of direction.

“It is interesting and profitable,” he continues, “to look at the direction of the prepositions in Matthew’s account of the Resurrection morning (chapter 28). First, the women came “to” the tomb (v. 1). They came in love, but they came to mourn. That was their direction before they knew Jesus had been raised from the dead.”

Tozer continues, “Many all around us still face the tomb, knowing only mourning, grief, uncertainty and the fear of death. But on that historic Resurrection day, the faithful women had a dramatic change of direction. The mammoth stone had been rolled away, and they could see the stark emptiness of the tomb. So the record tells us they departed immediately “from” the grave. What a change wrought by the joyful news! The preposition is now “from” instead of “to.” The direction is suddenly away from the tomb and toward eternal life and victory!”

On the life road that you are currently on what, are you looking for? Mary and the others were looking for a dead body, not a live one.  They were headed there to dress a body for decomposition and not resurrection. They found no body and they found no death.

But what were the two men on the Emmaus Road looking for? Were they looking for Jesus?

One of the things that they were looking for were answers to the deep and hard questions they had in their hearts and on their lips. As Luke notes in 24:14 “As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened.”

The events of the past two days had been devastating. Prior to Friday, and the crucifixion, their dreams, like the dream of many others, was that Jesus would overthrow the Roman Empire and re-established the Kingdom of David. The result would be a second deliverance on the scale of Moses leading out their ancestors from slavery in Egypt many centuries earlier.

“Jim, how do you know that?” Mark 11:10. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, we read that the crowd proclaimed, “Bless the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” They saw Jesus as the Messiah who would restore the throne of David to Israel.

Then there is Luke 24:21, a part of our main story this morning, “We thought he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” These two men equated Jesus’ mission and ministry as political not spiritual deliverance. Jesus’ execution and death smashed such hopes in their hearts. It was the death of a dream.

One of the hallmarks of our history is that we like to dream. We are taught and encouraged to dream and dream big! We have been taught from since we were young that our nation is a nation of opportunity for all. Dreams are very important to us.

This emphasis on dreaming big is also a part of our Christian vocabulary these days. It is often stated in terms such as “looking for meaning” or “looking for purpose” or “finding my passion in life” or “finding my niche.” Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life is a case in point. (I highly recommend it)

These two men, though, had lost their dream. It had died when Jesus died and though they had heard reports that the tomb was empty there was not faith and belief present in their minds and hearts only further confusion.

Over 25 years ago, Daniel Levinson and some colleagues wrote a book based on the study of some men entitled, Seasons of a Man’s Life. One of the things that I remember about it was the segment in which they wrote of the pain and turmoil that came to some of the men when their life dream either crashed and burned or it was never fully realized at all.

Some of us here understand what the death of a dream is. We have experienced the pain and the anger and even depression of realizing that through our own choices or that of another or the reality of life circumstances, a dream that we have had will never become a reality. So then, we can somewhat understand the emotional state these two men were in.

They also were looking to understand who Jesus was. Luke points out in verse 13 that they “were two of Jesus’ followers.” They were not total strangers. They were familiar with Jesus. However, the events just passed left them confused and perplexed.

We hear it in their reply to Jesus’ question in verse 19, “What things?” Notice the description of Jesus they give Him: “The things that happened to Jesus a man from Nazareth.” They go on to describe Jesus as a prophet and mighty teacher. They did not call Him the Son of God or their Savior, not yet any way.

Who do you believe that Jesus Christ is? A prophet or great teacher? A figure of ancient history? Or the Son of God who is also our Savior?

Jesus listened carefully to what they had to say and then, as Luke notes in verses 25 through 27, makes clear what the prophets and other sacred Hebrew writings had said about Him. He calls their lack of belief into question and then proceeds to re-tell probably familiar passages that these men would already know. Or maybe not.

Now it could be suggested that Jesus was angry with them for their lack of faith and belief in Scripture. But, Jesus wants them to know the truth about Him and they would know – experientially in a few short verses.

By the time Jesus is finished with his re-education of these two followers, they are close to home and Jesus is invited to stay and eat. Now the veil is pulled back, what God has hidden is now revealed, and they recognize that what they had heard about Jesus being alive is true! The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to these two weary and heavyhearted souls.

“Didn’t our hearts feel strangely warm as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” we read in Luke 24:32. They finally see Jesus with eyes of faith and spirit and it changes them, as it changes Mary and the others who see the tomb empty, because Jesus is Risen! He is alive! He is not dead! Death cannot defeat Him!

They must now look “forward” and not behind. Tozer says it very well, “Any Christian Church that looks back to the Crucifixion with sorry tears and not forward to the blessed life of the risen Christ has no more than a pitying religion.”

He continues,  “True spiritual power resides not in the ancient cross but in the victory of the mighty, resurrected Lord of glory who pronounced after death; “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth (Mt 28:18).

The Man who died on the cross died in weakness. But He arose in power. If we deny the truth and glory of His Resurrection and the fact that He is sealed at the right hand of God, we lose the significance of Christianity!”

Jeff Strite tells the story of Rose Crawford who had been blind for 50 years. Then she had an operation for her blindness in an Ontario hospital.

She said, “I just can’t believe it,” as the doctor lifted the bandages from her eyes. She wept – when for the 1st time in her life she saw a dazzling and beautiful world of form and color greeted her eyes and she could now see.”

“The amazing thing about her story, however,” Strite continues, “was that 20 years of her blindness was unnecessary. She didn’t know that surgical techniques had been developed, and that an operation could have restored her vision at the age of 30.”

The Dr. said, “She just figured there was nothing that could be done for her condition. Much of her life could have been different.”

The same holds true for us in matters of heart and soul. The human race has been blinded by hate, violence, disrespect, disillusionment, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, pride, disobedience, and a whole host of things that keep us from seeing Jesus on our life path.

The reality of what happened on this Sunday we now call Easter is similar to what happened to Rose. The empty tomb, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave, can heal our spiritual sight from blindness and darkness. Jesus Christ has, and still wants to help us see Him on our life path. Are you open to that possibility? Are you ready to see life better and more clearly than ever before?

The two men had a choice, just as each of us has a choice, of how to respond to Jesus’ self-revelation. The choice was between belief and disbelief.

They could have decided that what they saw was just an emotional response during their grief process and dismiss both their experience and what they had been told by the others about the empty tomb. They could have chosen to disbelieve what they had seen, heard, and experienced.

Or, they could do what they did. They believed and that belief motivated them to return to Jerusalem. Most likely, they walked all night on very little sleep to get back to Jerusalem and tell their story.

Either choice would change their lives. They made the right choice and people have been making that right choice for centuries. It has made a difference in their lives…for the better!

Today we remember and give thanks to God for the empty tomb. But, we need now to look away from the tomb and away from the cross and look at Jesus. What were the two men on the Emmaus Road looking for? Were they looking for Jesus?

No, they were not looking for Jesus. They were looking for relief and answers to their pain, confusion, questions, and doubts.

However, Jesus was looking for them. He found them and He revealed Himself to them in such a manner as to deal with their pain, confusion, questions, and doubts and give them faith, life, and hope.

We are just like these two men. We have doubt, pain, confusion, and questions. Jesus is looking for us, too.

The life and hope that is made possible by what we celebrate this morning is yours for the asking.  The Holy Spirit is present here this morning to help you see Jesus, experience the forgiveness and new life that was made possible by what we have remembered, and celebrate this weekend.

Jesus is looking for you. Do you see Him? He’s right….there. Amen.

(Tozer’s article appears at www.alliancelife.org)

Jeff Strite’s illustration is from www.sermoncentral.com)

Accepted In Christ

John 1:12

Description – The Resurrection of Christ gives us the power to live for and with God, as we believe the truth I Am Accepted in Christ behind the Resurrection.

In his book, Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs Bruce Wilkinson tells of an experience that he and his son David had during a father/son retreat several years ago. At the end of the Friday night session Wilkinson felt that something was just not right and “I could not put my finger on it.” Saturday morning was spent getting feedback on the experience so far with answers such as “Good,” “Great,” or “Fine” “being frequently expressed.”

As Saturday progressed, noted Wilkinson, they again met to compare notes, “David agreed…with me,” he said, “something wasn’t going right.” Wilkinson went on to share that they changed their plans for Saturday night because they felt led by God to do so.

That Saturday night Wilkinson stood to speak and said, “I believe that the Lord has a different agenda this evening. I’m not released to preach the message that I’ve prepared. But I am not sure what the Lord has in mind.”  After a pause he then said, “One of you men must have a major problem that you wish you could solve tonight. If you would be willing to open up and let me help you in front of everyone, then please join me up here.”

More silence ensued from the stunned crowd as Wilkinson reset the platform for the encounter. Again, he asked if there was anyone who wanted help. Finally, one man stood up and said, “It’s me!” Wilkinson goes on to share the story of the dialogue and simply put, it was the story of an adult-aged son who was “angry all the time” and who admitted to being abusive in his anger.

Wilkinson went on to ask a probing question, “Who has hurt you the most in your life?”  The man blurted out, “My father. My father has never told me that he loved me. Not once in my entire life!”

Now Wilkinson was sitting with his back to the audience and the gentlemen, named Mike, was facing the audience. He noticed that every now and then Mike broke eye contact and looked out into the audience.

At one, point Wilkinson turned in the direction of Mike’s glances and saw a white haired gentlemen sitting in the seat next to Mike’s vacant seat. He asked the man if he was Mike’s father and the man stood up and said, “Yes, I am his father…”

What I notice in this gripping story is that it is of a man who most likely professed faith in Christ but was struggling with a major life issue that caused him tremendous pain and affected his relationships with his father and others. And perhaps the great joy of Easter and the Resurrection seemed to him at times to be a distant event and the Christian faith a leaking life preserver.

He was looking for relief; he was looking for help; he was looking for resolution to the problem. He began to find it when he began to admit the truth about his heart and about his situation and he wanted help.

I believe with all my heart that God wanted Mike to experience a deliverance from the pain and bondage of this situation. How was God going to do it?  Well, I know of two ways already: through the power of the Resurrection and the truth of the Resurrection.

We are going to spend the next three Sundays looking at three very important truths of the Resurrection that can change our lives for the better. They are three things that all who profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ need to remember and believe. Now I have shared these before, but we need to hear them on a regular basis and I felt led to share them at this point with Easter having just taken place.

Knowing who we are in Christ is the truth of the Resurrection that this series will focus on for as we realize who we are in Christ, and it is a significant realization, the power of God is released in some significant ways. The first truth of who we are in Christ then, is this: I Am Accepted in Christ.

Now what does this mean? Well, what does it mean to be accepted? To be accepted means to be received, welcomed by someone.

We know the pain and the anxiety when we feel “left out.” But we are accepted in Christ because of the Resurrection. Several passages of scripture prove this point to be true.

The first passage is our text of the morning, John 1:12. “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

John begins his gospel with a big picture summary of who Jesus is and the basic response of people to Him during His earthly ministry. He states at the very beginning the fact that Jesus was not accepted “in his own land and among his own people” as we read in verse 11.

But, then we read verse 12 and we hear the words believed, accepted, the right, and children of God. These are very important words in understanding and experiencing the truth of the Resurrection that we are accepted in Christ. The rest of John’s gospel, and all of the gospels for that matter, prove the truth of this verse!

People believed in Jesus. They believed that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Promised One! They believed that He could and did deliver people from illness, from demon possession, from heartache and sorrow, and most important from their sins! But they also went a step further – they accepted Him.

It is important and significant that this word accepted is a part of this verse because it implies something beyond mere belief. Many people believe in Jesus but for some reason have not accepted Him.

John and the other gospel writers tell us about some of these people. One was the rich young ruler that we read about in Luke 18:18-30.

This man seemed to believe in God as demonstrated by his acknowledgement of keeping the commandments. But Jesus knew something was missing – a fuller acceptance of God in the letting go of all his wealth so that he could then follow Jesus. But, the young man stopped short of that level of commitment. I suggest this morning that Jesus offered him status as a child of God but this man rejected it because it required more than he was willing to do.

Now a chapter later, chapter 19, we see what happens when another man, who many would say was not acceptable to God in the least, truly expresses not just belief in but acceptance of Jesus. His name was Zacchaeus. (He is also by the way a man that I can see eye-to-eye with as read in Luke 19:3.)

Now here is another rich man seeking to get at least a look at Jesus and because he is short climbs a sycamore tree to do so. Jesus notices him and says, “Zach, I am coming to your house for dinner tonight!”

From the text, we read that Zaccheaus gets excited about this dinner guest and quickly gets down and took Jesus to his home. Some were upset and wagged their tongues at this situation. However, Zach and Jesus went to Zach’s home.

Have you ever asked why Zaccheaus wanted to get a look at Jesus? Here is a man who has everything and could have easily said, “Jesus, oh that rabbi. He’s coming here? Well, that’s nice, but no thank you.”

Something took place in Zaccheaus’ heart and mind that created the desire to see Jesus. I cannot recall hearing anything about Zacchaeus prior to this story so there seems to be no history between them. However, the Holy Spirit was at work and there was a movement of God in Zacchaeus that created the desire to be with Jesus. The same was true for the Rich Young Ruler.

As we continue to read the story, we find that Zacchaeus had a tremendous change of heart to the extent that it caused him, in contrast to the rich young ruler, to be willing to give away half of his wealth and to make right his overcharging. Can you see the difference in the two men? Both believed in God and both found Jesus attractive but only one truly accepted Him so that the power of God really entered His life.

Christ’s acceptance of us has some significant implications for our lives and the ability to live in the power and truth of the Resurrection. Jesus wanted both men to experience the life that He was offering them, but only one chose to accept it.

Do you believe and do you accept who Jesus is and the eternal life offered by His Resurrection? It is yours for the taking!

Paul writes in Romans 5:1 and 2. Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.”

Do you know that this passage and a few others in Romans have been used by God to create major changes in the history of our faith, for the better, I might add? It’s true. From what I remember, it was Martin Luther’s reading of Romans and this great truth of being justified by faith and not works, which moved and led him to start what we now call the Protestant reformation.

It was also in hearing Romans and some commentary on it, I believe, that was heard by John Wesley, in 18th century England that led this man, who was earnestly seeking God, to tell of having his heart “strangely warmed” and that he “did trust in Christ, and Christ alone, for his salvation.”

These are very important words to believe and accept. For in accepting them, as well as believing them, we are “made” right with God! We experience the truth of being accepted in Christ because this “rightness with God” is what the Resurrection has made possible.

One of the greatest needs we have as human beings is the need to be accepted. We crave acceptance. We will do just about anything to be accepted.

That is what Mike, the man in the story I told at the beginning of this sermon was dealing with – the lack of acceptance expressed in the lack of hearing the words, “I love you.”

Well after admitting that he was Mike’s father, Bruce Wilkinson left the platform, walked to Mike’s father, and asked if he would like to have this “injury in your life healed?”  The father nodded.

Taking the father to the platform, he then rearranged the chairs so that father and son face one another with the audience at their sides. Wilkinson then began to ask the father if what had been said was true. Through tears and choked emotion, the father acknowledged that it was.

Wilkinson then encouraged the father to say, “I love you.” This encouragement was repeated a couple of times until the father and son embraced and there was a deep expression of love and acceptance this son longed to hear.

Then Wilkinson asked the father to bless his son by placing both hands on his shoulders. He writes, “I said, “Sir…tell him of your hopes and dreams for him right here… express your confidence your confidence and affirmation in what God is doing, and yet will do, in his life. Bless your son in Jesus’ name. Will you do that as best you can and in your own words?”

“You should have heard the father’s blessing,” noted Wilkinson, “it was absolutely incredible. Dreams long abandoned seem to find words and come to life.”

Receiving the blessing, the confidence and the affirmation of a parent is a yearning of all our hearts. Some of us have and some of us have not.

But, we have a heavenly Father who wants to bless us to express His confidence in and acceptance of us this very moment. Do you want that?

There was a healing that Saturday night in a father and a son. That healing took place because Bruce Wilkinson believed and those two men began to believe, they were acceptable to God and that acceptance made all the difference in the world.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God find us acceptable. But, it requires an acceptance of both God’s acceptance as we also express a belief and trust in Christ.

Are you, or do you want to be accepted in Christ? That’s what the power of the Resurrection has made possible. I invite you today to allow God and His power to come into your life for the first time or for the umpteenth time because each of us matter to our heavenly Father who says to us, “I love you.” Amen.

Seeing Me As God Sees Me

Matthew 5:13-14

Description – The Resurrection of Christ gives us the power to live for and with God, as we believe the truth – I Am Significant in Christ – behind the Resurrection. (Part 3)

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey tells the following story as he rode the NY subway one Sunday morning:

“People were sitting quietly- some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes close. It was a calm, peaceful scene,” wrote Covey.

“Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.”

Covey continued, “The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.”

Covey goes onto acknowledge his feelings of irritation with the man, the children, and the situation. Finally Covey turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

(Have you ever been in a situation like this? “What on earth are they thinking about?” “What makes them think they can do that?” “Why doesn’t that parent do something with those kids?”)

Well, Covey’s question brought the man to what he called “a consciousness of the situation.” “Oh, you’re right,” the father replied. “I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Covey goes on to describe the change that came over him. “Suddenly,” he says, “I saw things differently, and because I saw things differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished… Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely.”

Covey used this story as an illustration of what many people call (and he called) a paradigm shift. Now a paradigm is more than having twenty cents in your pocket.

A paradigm is the way that you and I organize and state what we believe about the others (as Covey did), reality, right and wrong, and… ourselves. I have prayed this week and throughout this series that a Spirit-led paradigm shift will take place in our minds and hearts. Let me tell you why.

About ten years or so ago, I was struggling because my self-image rose and fell on any and every perception of success or failure in just about every area of my life. I remember at one point Susan saying to me something to the effect of “Until you realize who you are in Christ, you are going to continue to be miserable.”

Then she shared with me a book she had heard about called Victory Over the Darkness by Neil Anderson in which he wrote of the importance of understanding who we truly are in Christ. Along then with the Bible, the Lord worked in my life to bring about clarity of purpose and peace and work that has sustained me since that time. I have read more of Anderson’s work and the three key points of this series: I am acceptable in Christ, I am secure in Christ, and I am significant in Christ, are from his writings and work.

That memory was in my thoughts prior to Easter as I contemplated the next series of sermons after Easter. As I prayed and sought the guidance and direction of the Lord, I kept thinking about the struggles many Christians have in believing that they really matter to the Lord and that God can use them no matter who they are. I also had a concern that perhaps we simply treat Easter as event rather than a day of great spiritual significance and power that needs to be part of our daily life – now.

I believe that there needs to be a paradigm shift by the Holy Spirit in our individual hearts and minds as well as in our congregational perspective because the Lord wants us to live in the truth and power of the Resurrection each and every day!

This morning we conclude this series on living in the power and truth of the Resurrection as we examine our main text, Matthew 5:13-14 that focuses on the Resurrection truth that we are significant in Christ. In this passage Jesus gives what has become two important images for Christian ministry and practice – that of salt and light.

We also need to remember that He says these things in the context of the wider message that has traditionally been called the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus lays out what He expects His followers to think and how to live.

He begins chapter 5 with what has been named “The Beatitudes.” In this segment, Jesus shares the characteristics and qualities that God finds favor with the base characteristic being a humility that creates an openness to God.

Then the tone changes in verses 11 and 12 when Jesus says, “God blesses you when you are mocked and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember the ancient prophets were persecuted, too.”

I would have loved to have seen the disciple’s expressions at that point. “What have we gotten ourselves into?” “Uh, excuse me Jesus but, uh, we’ve already seen our share of persecution, and you’re saying we are going to get more?”

Well the truth of the matter is… yes. When we live for God and do what is right we will have moments when we are mocked and ridiculed. Why? Because when you live in such a manner as the Bible tells us to live, it will make some people uncomfortable for two reasons: 1. Because of what the image of light represents and how some people respond to it. 2. There is a constant spiritual battle going on between good and evil.

In John 1:4 and 5 we read, “Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The line shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Now there are things that do not like the light. They scramble for the cover of darkness. One such thing is… (I almost hesitate to mention it) that heads for the dark when the light comes on are…cockroaches.

When Susan and I lived in Kentucky 20 years ago while I attended seminary, we did battle with cockroaches. Now, we did not have a serious problem in our apartment but others did and I remember one of my classmates telling me that he and his wife would hear the roaches scurry across the floor of their duplex when they turned the lights on.

Light attracts and light repels. And Jesus calls the twelve (and God calls us) the light of the world. This is a significant thing! It is an important thing! It is a statement about our significance in Christ! Why?

Because when we have confessed our sins to God, truly repented of them, and turned our lives over to the Lord we now have a significant assignment. That assignment is to be salt and light to the world.

Much has been written about the practice and importance of being salt and light over the years. But, in the context of this morning, we need to understand fact that you and I are significant in Christ because we have been given the very important assignment of being salt and light.

Someone (and I cannot remember who) has said that God has entrusted his message to human beings who are imperfect and make mistakes. In other words, God choose people for the assignment of telling the Good News of Jesus Christ. And because He did, it underscores the Resurrection truth that we are significant in Christ!

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:1 “As God’s partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God’s great kindness.”

Other translations render the phrase ‘partner’ as ‘co-worker.” But the message is the same; we are God’s partners in the work of faith and ministry because we are significant to God!

We get a glimpse of this in John 17 that is part of Jesus’ conversation with the twelve just prior to his death (and resurrection). In verses 20 and 21 Jesus prays, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me because of their testimony. My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father-that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.”

So because of all of this, we need to see our lives more much differently than we are told to believe by our culture and by Satan himself! We have significance in Christ! We are significant in Christ!

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only about the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life it is about the significance of our life here and now! As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a significance far beyond what our work is or where we live or our past. We have a significance that is based on the truth and power of forgiveness that has been made possible by the Resurrection.

Let me put it this way: If God did not believe the human race was important enough to send Jesus Christ to die on the cross, then He wouldn’t have done it.

But He did do it! He did send Jesus to die and to resurrect! He did do it because God believes the human race (that’s you and me) are worthy enough of that act of love and sacrifice.

Do you believe that this morning? I do! And when I began to understand better the truth of who I am in Christ and that I am significant to Him… things changed for the better!

Now, I’ll admit that I have moments when I get discouraged and frustrated. But it’s not too long until the Holy Spirit reminds me that I am where He wants me to be at that particular point and I am doing what He wants me to be doing.

The same can be true for each of us. We can have the same assurance through the Spirit that our lives do matter and that we are significant to the Lord!

We conclude with a review of what we have heard the past three weeks:

1. I am accepted in Christ. “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

For the power and the truth of the Resurrection to take root in our hearts and souls, we need not to just believe in Jesus Christ we must also accept Him and His purpose for us. As we do so, the truth and power of the Resurrection is able to change us for the better as well as prepare us for heaven.

2. I am secure in Christ. “And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.”

We seek security in many ways and through many things. But we have been designed to find our ultimate security in Jesus Christ alone.

When we confess our sins to God, the good work that Paul speaks of begins in us. And once that work has started, God wants to finish it in us.

We can resist it and we can walk away from it, but we will be half-finished. And the truth and power of Resurrection will be blocked from doing the wonderful things that it was designed to do in us and for us.

But, when we allow God to do the good work in us that He wants to do, we will find a joy and a peace and a purpose that is solid and the power and truth of the Resurrection will do great things in each of us.

It will also make us significant because our true identity and validation is found only in the Lord. Circumstances change and so do relationships. Things can happen that change our lives in ways that we would never imagine. But our significance in Christ is based on how Christ view us. And He views us with eyes of love and compassion. And He wants us to see ourselves, and others, in the same way.

Remember Steven Covey’s words after he heard the father of the rowdy kids explain their situation?  “Suddenly, I saw things differently, and because I saw things differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished… Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely.”

As I reflect on those words, I think the two men on the road to Emmaus who saw things differently when Jesus broke bread with them. Their hearts felt strangely warmed.

I think of Mary and the other women who found an empty tomb and heard the words, “He is not here, He is risen!” And they ran back to tell the others.

I think of Peter who heard the report of the women and went to see the empty tomb for himself.  Luke writes in his gospel account, “he went home wondering what happened.”

What does the Resurrection mean to you? More important, “What does the Resurrection do to you?”

It is my hope and prayer that we will allow the truth and power of the Resurrection to change us for the better because that’s what God wants to do for us. Amen.

Fall in Love for All the Right Reasons

Ruth 1:1-5

Description – Part one of a three part series on Marriage

Today is a day to thank God for mothers! Mom the work that you do is invaluable, important, and priceless! Thank you for all you do!

Moms are important to the health, well-being, and sanity of families as evidenced by a recently released correspondence that took place in an anonymous American home. It is entitled, “When Mom Gets Sick.”

Monday A.M.
Dearest: Sleep late. Everything under control. Lunches packed. Kids off to school. Menu for dinner planned. Your lunch is on a tray in refrigerator: fruit cup, finger-sandwiches.  Thermos of hot tea by bedside. See you around six.

Tuesday A.M.
Honey: Sorry about the egg rack in the refrigerator. Hope you got back to sleep. Did the kids tell you about the Coke I put in the thermoses? The school might call you on this.  Dinner may be a little late. I’m doing your door-to-door canvas for liver research. Your lunch is in refrigerator. Hope you like leftover chili.

Wednesday A.M.
Dear Doris: Why in the name of all that is sane would you put soap powder in the flour canister! If you have time, could you please come up with a likely spot for Chris’s missing shoes? We’ve checked the clothes hamper, garage, and back seat of the car and wood box. Did you know the school has rules about bedroom slippers? There’s some cold pizza for you in a napkin in the oven drawer. Will be late tonight. Driving eight Girl Scouts to tour meatpacking house.

Thursday A.M.
Doris: Don’t panic over water in hallway. It crested last night at 9 P.M. Will finish laundry tonight. Please pencil in answers to following:
1. How do you turn on the garbage disposal? I thought it was automatic. Guess not.
2. How do you turn off the milkman?
3. Why would that rotten kid leave his shoes in his boots?
4. What do you do with leftovers when they begin to snap at you when you open the refrigerator door?
I don’t know what you’re having for lunch! Surprise me!

Friday A.M.
Hey: Don’t drink from pitcher by the sink. Am trying to restore pink dress shirt to original white. Take heart. Tonight, the ironing will be folded, house cleaned and dinner on time…I called your mother.

Family life gets interesting doesn’t it?

This morning we begin a three-week series on marriage entitled “Marriage… for all the Right Reasons.”

The series title is based a book by Dr. Neil Clark Warren, founder of eHarmony.com entitled, “Falling in Love for all the Right Reasons.” Warren is a licensed psychologist who practiced for nearly 40 years. Now this sermon series is not an endorsement for the website and the organization behind the website, but I was intrigued by the title of the book when I spotted it a few weeks ago at a local bookstore.

It is written to single people but married people would find it worthwhile reading. We are using it for discussion, along with the Bible, in the downstairs adult Sunday School class and we will pick up the study next Sunday morning after worship.

The whole assumption behind the eHarmony operation is that through rigorous research of successfully married couples, twenty-nine different dimensions of compatibility (their words) have been discovered in these marriages. And their view is that you need to be compatible at a certain level on all twenty-nine dimensions.

Does the Bible support this idea? Well the Bible says some important things about relationships and that includes marriage. Dr. Warren is a Christian and his faith comes through at several points in the book. But, what does the Bible say about marriage?

It says a lot about marriage. In fact, we have to only get to verse 24 of Genesis 2 (the second chapter in the Bible) to read about the permanence of relationship between a man and a women that God intended for the human race at its very beginning.

As I outlined this series a few weeks ago, I thought about the various marriages in the Bible. There are many to study.

There is Abraham and Sarah who became parents in old age. But there were times when Abraham “denied” his true relationship with her out of fear. The result was trouble for them and others.

There was Jacob and Rachel. Now Jacob agreed to work for seven years in order to win her hand from her father. But was tricked by his future father-in-law and had to first marry her older sister, Leah, (the custom of that day) and the thorny (and largely unacceptable today) issue of polygamy raised its head along with serious conflict between two sisters.

There is Uriah and Bathsheba. Uriah was an honorable man who refused to enjoy the comfort of her love while on leave from war in obedience to his king, David, who had gotten her pregnant because he was where he shouldn’t have been.

Then there is Boaz and Ruth who I think had the healthiest marriage in all of Scripture. It is a good story to read to our kids because it affirms the goodness and healthiness of marriage that we need to re-emphasize in a day when living together without a firm and Biblical commitment seems to be the norm.

On my wall is a certificate of appreciation with a quote from Henry Ford that speaks of teamwork in any endeavor, including marriage, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

Marriage requires teamwork. It requires coming together, staying together, and working together. This morning we are going to review Boaz and Ruth’s coming together. Next week we will look at how Boaz and Ruth stayed together and then we will see what Boaz and Ruth did to work together to have a successful and God honoring marriage.

Their story is found in the book of Ruth, an Old Testament book, and our text for this morning sets the stage for Boaz and Ruth’s eventual meeting, courtship (if we can call it that), and marriage. It is a story that has been repeated in literature and life. It begins with hardship and tragedy. But ultimately, God brings good out of it.

As our text for this morning indicates, famine, marriage, and death are a part of Ruth’s life as we are introduced to her. You and I know about scarcity, marriage, and death.

Some of us here this morning have experienced all three. Some of us have experience only one of the three. Nevertheless, we share in the universal experience that Ruth has in the opening of this book in one way or another.

Life changed for Ruth and she probably had no idea that she would end up moving to another nation. We probably have experienced the same thing.

I know of at least one marriage in this congregation in which the misfortune of war becomes the fortune of marriage through a long distance correspondence between a soldier and a pen pal. In my own family history, were it not for the reality of war and the dislocation it caused our nation militarily as well as economically, my mother may have never come north from Tennessee to Ohio in 1943. The jobs were “up north.”  Nor, would my father’s family perhaps have come from eastern Ohio to western Ohio (and specifically Dayton) at about the same time if war had not broken out.

Now 10 or more years would pass before they would walk down the aisle together in October 1955 and it would be 1946 before my mom would meet my Aunt Elizabeth who would introduce her to the Kane family. Some of you could probably tell a similar story about your families.

What then is happening to Ruth has happened to us. This brings me to the findings that Warren speaks of in his book because externally, economically, and even socially Boaz and Ruth seem to have little in common.

The twenty-nine dimensions of compatibility that Warren mentions in his book are divided into four groups: The Screening Dimensions that are foundational dimensions that all healthy and balanced relationships need to have; The Core Personal Dimensions that include things which are genetic or well-established characteristics that may not be easily altered or at all. Then there are Skills That Can Be Developed and finally Qualities That Can Be Developed with some help.

The first dimension mentioned is one that is foundational to everything else. And it is in both Boaz and Ruth. It is the foundation of Good Character.

Good character can be defined as integrity, honesty, and moral uprightness.

We see it first in Ruth by her actions in verses 6 through 22 of chapter 1. Widowhood has come to Ruth and her mother-in-law and when Naomi hears there is a good harvest back home in Judah, Naomi encourages Ruth and her other former daughter-in-law to return to their respective homes as she prepares to return to her homeland.

Yet something in Ruth refused to do so as we read in verse 16 “Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. I will die where you die and will be buried there. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”

Somewhere along the way, perhaps since childhood, Ruth developed a character that was rooted in integrity, honesty, and moral uprightness. Such a character comes as the result of many factors, including the choice to develop such a character.

There are many different definitions of character and there are many different theories on how character is developed. Yet the Bible makes clear that character is important. In fact, the book of Proverbs is a book about character.

Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi is based on her beliefs and her character. It does not appear to be an unhealthy relationship based on a fear or obsession of being alone or incapable of being a responsible person. That decision would not come back to haunt her as we shall see shortly.

Now, as we follow Ruth and Naomi back to Israel, we are introduced to Boaz in chapter 2. He is a landowner and Ruth becomes one of the harvesters in his field.

Boaz shows up one day and notices Ruth as we read in chapter 2 and verses 5 and 6. Now maybe it was Ruth’s appearance that caught Boaz’s attention. (That’s been known to happen!) On the other hand, maybe it was simply that because Ruth was “new in town” that she was noticed by this landowner.

Now Boaz’s foreman makes an interesting statement to him when Boaz comments about  her in verse 7. “She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest over there in the shelter.” Here is a compliment on her character.

As the story continues, Boaz goes over to her, encourages her to work a certain way, and then says something interesting. “I have warned the young men not to bother you.”

This says something about Boaz’s character. He is respectful of Ruth not exploitive. He is compassionate, not demanding and ruthless (no pun intended). This attitude (this character) will pay dividends for Boaz as we continue our observations. It will also pay dividends for Ruth as well.

Now Ruth wonders why Boaz is treating her this way and he says in 2:11 and 12, “I also know about the love and kindness you have shown your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully.”

As the story progress, Naomi realizes that Ruth needs more stability in her life as we read in the opening verses of chapter 3. “My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for.” And she tells Ruth to go to Boaz for help in this manner.

Now, we come to a place in the story where we encounter a situation that sounds strange to us. However, we need to understand that Ruth does it for all the right reasons and it does not damage either her character or Boaz’s character as well.

We view this passage in chapter 3 through our individualistic western culture and we could easily think that Ruth was trying to seduce Boaz. She was not.

According to one source, the custom of lying at the feet of and sharing the covering with the master, was one way that a servant showed respect and honor to the master and that is what Ruth was to Boaz. (Today, we would call Ruth an employee and Boaz an employer.)

Boaz is surprised to find a woman lying at his feet and when he discovers that it is Ruth, he makes another comment about her character. (3:11) “Now, don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are an honorable woman.”

Out of that comes the revealing of another person, an even closer relative than Boaz who was called a family redeemer. Other Bible translations call this person a Kinsman-Redeemer.

Now, at first glance, we may think we have no such person in our families. But, listen to what Jim Townsend says about a family redeemer. (He calls it a kinsman-redeemer).

“A kinsman-redeemer was a close relative who took over significant roles of the head of a family after that person died.” Know anybody in your family that has done that? Maybe it was a mother, an uncle, or a brother.

Townsend goes on to share that the kinsman-redeemer had the ability to do the following things:

The power to protect. Boaz did that for Ruth because it was in his character.

The proper placement of position. The family redeemer was not just anybody. He had to be a blood relative or relation as well.

To be ready to relate and redeem. There was a closer relative than Boaz who was the number one family redeemer. But as we read in chapter 4, he did not want to marry Ruth because as we read in verse 6 “Then I can’t redeem it,” the family redeemer replied, (referring to some land) “because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it.” Now this is hard to understand, but Ruth came with the property because to redeem the property (and property was considered very sacred in that day and age) was to also redeem those who came with the property. In this case, it meant marrying Ruth. Which the man refused to do.

Finally, many children came from Boaz as family redeemer. Boaz and Ruth become husband and wife and they have a son named Obed who became the grandfather to a young man who would rule Israel – David. Boaz and Ruth are David’s great grandparents! And more interestingly, they become a part of the earthly ancestry of Jesus as we read in Matthew 1 because Boaz and Ruth are distant relatives of Joseph, the husband of Mary and the mother of Jesus.

God is at work in this relationship. He’s there behind the scenes. He has good material to work with – including the good character of Boaz and Ruth.

I think that we can safely say that Boaz and Ruth fell in love for all the right reasons because they scored high on the character issue. They were people who had integrity, honesty, and moral uprightness.

They also were people of faith. “Your God will be my God,” said Ruth. May the Lord, the God of Israel, reward you fully,” said Boaz.

How does character issue apply to you this morning? Character is important in marriage, just ask your spouse.

Character is important to all of us. Just ask someone who knows you well.

Marriage is a very, very important relationship. Success or failure in marriage has long-term, if not life-long, consequences for not just those who married, but for others as well.

Maybe you are married this morning and think; I need some help in this area of character.  Have you asked the Lord to help you? He wants to! Do you want His help and do you really, really want to make some changes in this area of your life?

Maybe you are single for whatever reason. If you are re-considering marriage or look forward to the day of getting married for the first time, please hear me carefully, “Do not compromise your relationship with the Lord as you search for a mate.” Trust God to guide you and wait for His time.

Dr. Warren’s book has some very good things to look for in a potential mate. It is sound advice. But the Bible is more important. Read it and notice what it says to us about marriage.

Marriage is a wonderful thing. It is a good thing. It takes work, effort, and commitment through thick and thin. But, with the help of God, it is possible to have a great marriage. May it be so for you! Amen.

(Sources for this sermon:

Jim Townsend, Two-Minute Messages for Communion. Group Publications

www.mikesfunnies.com for the opening illustration)

God is in the Memories of Families

Hebrews 11:32-40

Description: The first sermon of a four part sermon series on family life.

Ten years ago, today Susan and I were driving from Richmond, Virginia to Virginia Beach, Virginia on a ten-day vacation. We had spent a couple of days in Richmond with friends and toured several areas of Richmond including the Civil War battlefield of Petersburg.

One of the most moving moments for me was when Mark asked if I would take a picture of something for him. I agreed and we drove to a cemetery, called Popular Grove, filled with the graves of Union soldiers who had died in the fighting around Richmond. (Overhead 1)

It was officially designated of national importance around 1866 and when we arrived, there were rows and rows of burial plots each with an American flag placed next to the simple white gravestones. I believe that it was Mark’s great great-uncle who was buried there. He died in combat not long before Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House.

From that place we traveled very much back into the 20th century on Memorial Day with a visit to the Naval Base at Norfolk. It was trip that we would had missed had it not being raining on Sunday as we drove to Virginia Beach and I had not bought a copy of the Norfolk newspaper to deal with the rainy day and discovered that it was open house on the base the next day!

Several ships would be open that day, including the USS George Washington, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. (Overhead 2) I got excited!  ”We’re going there tomorrow,” I said to Susan.

It was a great time! This is Susan on the flight deck with the USS Eisenhower (Overhead 3) behind her and I am next to what is called the Fresnel Lens (Overhead 4) that is used to guide the aircraft safely onto the carrier deck during landing.

I did some remembering that day and that week because of the visit to the battlefields, the cemetery, and a modern aircraft carrier. I am grateful to God for the freedoms and privileges I have in this country, I thank the Lord for those who serve our nation, and I remember with gratitude and sadness, those who have died in war on our behalf and on behalf of those who have been enslaved by terror and hate.

Will you stand with me for a moment and let us remember those who have fallen. (‘Taps’ is played.)

For some this Memorial Day is very hard. The earth in the cemetery is still freshly turned. The flowers are still fresh. The grief and anguish is very raw and hard. Words spoken to them perhaps bring some comfort but we weep and mourn with them as they grieve the loss of sons, daughters, wives, and husbands in places called Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Kabul.

This Memorial Day is not pleasant for all people.

While is it is painful to remember it is also good to remember. While we never memorialize our faith, we must remember those who made the faith come alive to us.

Let us also give thanks to the Lord for those who service to the Lord made a difference in our lives. We praise God for them. Amen? Amen!

This is also a time of year when we remember the past as our kids and their friends graduate from high school, college, or trade school. Have you seen the Chase Visa card commercial where the father looks at his newly married daughter and sees a little girl? Oh, how the emotions come to the surface.

We acknowledge this day those who are entering a new chapter in their lives. We have mixed emotions about their changes and we have an understandable anxiety of “letting go.”

Our text for this morning, part of one of the Bible’s most important chapters, is really a chapter for Memorial Day. It is a remembrance about faith and those whose faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ has influenced both the original audience of Hebrews 11 and those who have read and heard Hebrews 11 down through the centuries.

One thing that we do when a funeral takes place is the committal service. It usually takes place at the gravesite.

It is a usually short service, less than two minutes. Yet it does something important for us. It helps us to remember that from God and the earth our souls and bodies have come and that it is back to earth that our bodies go and into the hands of God, our souls go for God to decide what is next based on what has happened in this life.

The committal is also important in the process of ‘letting go.’ Now by ‘letting go’ I do not mean the act or decision of forgetting the person as a way of burying our pain and grief. That is an unhealthy thing to do.

‘Letting go’ is an act of moving forward by celebrating and giving thanks to God for the lives of those who are no longer with us. ‘Letting go’ is part of our responsibility to live in such a manner that honors the memory of those who have died.

This sermon is also the introduction of our next series, “God is in the Small Stuff of Families.” It is a series that is designed to help us see things from God’s perspective and invite Him in to the small stuff, the details, of life.

This morning’s title, “God is in the Memories of Families,” is an affirmation of remembering and thanking God for the memories of families about family. The title of the series and sermon comes from Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz’s book “God is in the Small Stuff for Your Family.” Over the next four weeks, we will be reminded of ways that God is in family life that maybe we have dismissed because it was considered unimportant or overwhelming.

Our text for this morning contains some things that some would call ‘disturbing,’ ‘troubling,’ and ‘simply inappropriate’ for a sermon. Why? Because it reminds us that walking with God has consequences to it that we don’t want to think about just as war has consequences we have trouble digesting.

By faith, these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.

But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.”

In doing what is right and good, in standing against evil and the dark forces of Satan, there is a price to be paid. Just think of Good Friday.

Those that are named and unnamed in this chapter had to ‘let go.’ They let go of possessions. They let go of relationships. They let go of wealth. The let go of everything that hindered their relationship with the Lord. They paid the price but they gained a great reward.

‘Letting go’ is hard. Staying ‘let go’ is harder. This is especially true in families this time of year with graduations and weddings.

No longer is ‘our little girl’ at home playing with dolls or tying up the phone lines for hours. No longer is ‘our little boy’ tearing through the house at high speed chasing imaginary villains, or worse, their younger siblings. That chapter in life is done, never to be relived, in except in our memories.

However, there are new chapters to be write and enjoy. I like what Bruce and Stan have to say about the empty-nest part of life.

Any night can be “date night” for the two of you. You don’t have to worry about the car being gone when you want to use it.

A quiet evening together watching the logs burn in the fireplace is not going to be interrupted by a bunch of teenagers tromping through the house to graze in the refrigerator.

You can doze off watching television in the family room without fear that your kids will sabotage you by sticking chocolate raisins up your nostrils while you sleep.

You can be amorous in the living room. (By the way, a sign up sheet for your kids to eat at our home, appeared after last week’s sermon, and just about every night was taken.)

To ‘let go’ Bruce and Stan go on to say, “Means shifting from instruction to influence… [It means]… you aren’t kicking them out; you have raised them up… You are no longer swatting them on the bottom; you’re patting them on the back…You aren’t losing a child, you’re gaining a bathroom.”

God is the memories of our families – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Do not! I repeat, ‘Do not’ forget that God is around your children who now live elsewhere. He is right there with them.

For those who have turned their back on the Lord, He has not turned His back on them. For those who are ill or grieving or going through a time of unemployment, God knows all about it.

For just as He walked with those who, for His sake, faced terror and pain in their lives for doing so, God is nearby all of our children no matter what their spiritual status is. Never forget that!

Each week I get an inspirational e-mail from a ministry organization called New Church Specialties. They put on the seminar that I attended last fall in Indianapolis. The April 23 (2005) one really spoke to me.

Its title was “God Is Always Doing More Underneath Than We Can See On the Surface!

The verse was Acts 16:14 that introduces us to Lydia a seller of purple who would become one of the new converts in the ancient city of Philippi. This is what is said about her, One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”

The devotional writer opens the meditation with this question, Have you ever thought about this: If Lydia was from the city of Thyatira, what in the world was she doing in Philippi?” He goes on to suggest that it was God’s influence at work in her move to Philippi and to never forget that God is at work under the surface!

The same holds true for those we ‘let go’ of who are still alive. Though they may be far away geographically and far away spiritually, we ‘let them go’ into the hands of God, keep the lines of communication open, and keep praying.

Our memories of the past do not have to be overshadowed by the present choices made. God is still at work in the world and that includes those that are leaving our homes to assume their rightful and necessary place in life as adults.

These are things that we are reminded of during holidays like this. We are reminded of family, faith, friends, and county. We are reminded of service and sacrifice.

Nevertheless, let us not forget the truth of what our text tells us this morning, “service to God has a price, but it has a great reward as well.” Therefore, while we celebrate the freedoms and life that we enjoy as Americans, we need to remember that our ultimately freedom and life comes from Jesus Christ, who died that everyone, everywhere might be free!

Remember that! Amen.

Sources:

God is in the Small Stuff for your Marriage by Bruce and Stan. © 2000 by Promise Press

God is in the Small Stuff for your Family by Bruce and Stan © 1999 by Promise Press.