Are You Thomas?

(I am being led to start sharing some of my sermons through this blog.  This one is from our Ash Wednesday Service.  Honest appraisals and critiques are always welcomed!)

slide1

 John 11:6-16 (NLT)

6 He stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.  14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

If you can remember only one thing from this message it needs to be this:  The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.

What you decide tonight will greatly impact and shape your life tomorrow—next week—next month—next year—for the rest of your life—even into eternity.  Understand this:  Every moment of Every Day, God is offering you choices and those choices shape and influence you until and unless you make a different choice.  We call it consequences.  Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something that happened at some earlier point.  They may happen quickly after that choice, or it may happen much later.  Those consequences can even be, and usually are unanticipated.  The consequences of our choices will catch up with us at some point.  There is no escape from the consequences of our choices.

Let’s look at tonight’s passage.  The key character is Jesus, of course, but there’s another person we need to look at:  Thomas, good old Doubting Thomas.  But wait!  Look at what Thomas said: “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus!”  Be honest, does that sound like the words of a doubter?  I admit that I was one of those who gave Thomas a bad image as being The Doubter.

But back in 2000 I was invited to take part in a living last supper drama when serving in Scottsboro.  No, I wasn’t Thomas, but one year I was Thomas.  It’s a powerful drama built around the Last Supper and the moment right after Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.”  Each disciple shared something about their life with Jesus and I remember Ron Crawford who played the part of Thomas say with conviction:  “It was I who said ‘Let us go with Him that we may die with Him.’”  I had to let that sink in.  Did Thomas really say that?  Well, I found out he did and it changed how I saw Thomas.  And tonight he is the focus of what choice you will make.

Let’s step into the scene.  Jesus knows the reason for his coming is now closer than ever—just a couple of weeks later He will be hanging on that Cross.  These Disciples sense something ominous in the air.  They know the Sanhedrin is out to get rid of Jesus.  He’s humiliated them and proven them wrong on every occasion.  They know that the Sanhedrin’s power over the people is threatened and their only way to get back control over the people and rise back to their deserved place of Religious Police is to kill Jesus.

Sure, there have been other times they wanted to get rid of Jesus, but this time is different.  Each trip to Jerusalem intensifies their desire to put an end to Jesus.  They sense that their next trip will probably be their last.  Then Jesus gets word that one of his best friends Lazarus is extremely sick and Martha and Mary are calling for Jesus to come heal Lazarus.  They lived in Bethany, less than 2 miles from Jerusalem, and I’m sure these disciples were worried that if Jesus went to Bethany that the Sanhedrin would find out; and they would have found out.

At first, it seems Jesus isn’t moved by Martha and Mary’s request, but He has a greater plan.  2 days later Jesus announces it’s time to go to Bethany because Lazarus is “asleep”.  They think, “Oh, good, he’s resting and will get better and we won’t have to go.”  But Jesus quickly corrects them that it’s the sleep of death and they need to go.  They believe it’s a bad idea to go there because of the threat of death by the Sanhedrin.  There’s a sound of both desperation and resignation in their words.  Desperate that Jesus avoid going there, resigned that this time He would die there.

That’s their view, except for good old “Doubting” Thomas.  Thomas has a different view, a different desire from the other 11.  Thomas is willing to follow Jesus even to the point of dying with and for Jesus.  Thomas faced the most important decision of his life up to that point.  As important as was his decision to become a follower of Jesus, this decision becomes even more important—because it speaks about commitment.

We observe Lent because we need to have a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

slide10

In Mark 10 we see the story of that rich young ruler coming to Jesus with the question of every heart:  “Where do I find lasting and meaningful life?”  Jesus gave the map to finding that life—let go of everything and take hold of God.  It’s not easy giving up control, giving up the things we want and love.  Jesus doesn’t like it when we share our affections and priorities on anything other than Him.  Jesus comes to confront us and challenge us on every thing, every issue of life.  We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

  1. slide11

Remember the story in Matthew 14.  Jesus came to the disciples being tossed about it the middle of that storm.  When Jesus arrives, He invites Peter to join Him in a walk on the stormy sea.  That’s not safe.  Jesus calls us to get out of our comfort zones because He knows as long as we stay where we are comfortable, we will never risk or dare great things.  It may mean that we have to give up on a promotion because to get the promotion we would have to violate the values of The Kingdom.  To follow Jesus means we have to be willing to risk rejection and ridicule.  We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

  1. slide12

Jesus never asks us to fit Him into our schedules.  He demands that HE becomes the schedule.  When we have our plans and our schedules and our agendas, truth is it is not convenient to invite Jesus to become the core and center of our lives. Jesus marched right into the midst and middle of the brokenness of his culture and the people.  And so must we.  As Jesus died for the broken and messed up people, which includes us by the way, so must we.  He calls, no, He DEMANDS that we live the way He died.  To put to death every bit of selfishness that is always trying to take control again.  To die to our own concepts of what our life should be like and what we think the church should be like, look like, act like.  Following Jesus Requires Our Death.

The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.  The easy Jesus never existed.  The safe Jesus is an illusion.  The convenient Jesus will never be found.

We want power without painful rejection.  We want risk with no danger.  We want victory with limited commitment.  Lent is a great time to choose our level of commitment to Jesus.  Will you be like Thomas, willing to die with and for Jesus?  Or will you follow the Easy, Safe and Convenient Jesus, who is just another false Messiah?

slide13

Spreading A Bad Rumor!

21-25 With that they were on their way. They scouted out the land from the Wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob toward Lebo Hamath. Their route went through the Negev Desert to the town of Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, descendants of the giant Anak, lived there. Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. When they arrived at the Eshcol Valley they cut off a branch with a single cluster of grapes—it took two men to carry it—slung on a pole. They also picked some pomegranates and figs. They named the place Eshcol Valley (Grape-Cluster-Valley) because of the huge cluster of grapes they had cut down there. After forty days of scouting out the land, they returned home.

26-29 They presented themselves before Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the People of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They reported to the whole congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told the story of their trip:  “We went to the land to which you sent us and, oh! It does flow with milk and honey! Just look at this fruit! The only thing is that the people who live there are fierce, their cities are huge and well fortified. Worse yet, we saw descendants of the giant Anak. Amalekites are spread out in the Negev; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites hold the hill country; and the Canaanites are established on the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan.”

33 Caleb interrupted, called for silence before Moses and said, “Let’s go up and take the land—now. We can do it.”  But the others said, “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are.” They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel. They said, “We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it’s a land that swallows people whole. Everybody we saw was huge. Why, we even saw the Nephilim giants (the Anak giants come from the Nephilim). Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers. And they looked down on us as if we were grasshoppers.”

1-3 The whole community was in an uproar, wailing all night long. All the People of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The entire community was in on it: “Why didn’t we die in Egypt? Or in this wilderness? Why has God brought us to this country to kill us? Our wives and children are about to become plunder. Why don’t we just head back to Egypt? And right now!”

Soon they were all saying it to one another: “Let’s pick a new leader; let’s head back to Egypt.”

Numbers 13:21-14:4 (The Message)

If you have followed my train of thought in this blog, then hopefully you understand that this is primarily for the U.S. and Western church.  I know there are some who think my train derailed a while back, but I’m still here and moving forward.  At issue is addressing the mindset of the mainline church which has become a “church centric”  message, meaning it is all about the location of local congregations rather than “Kingdom Centric”, meaning it is about the message of the Kingdom of God.  Living out a church centric message, and thus a church centric gospel, is way too small.  God invites us into the epic story of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the narrative that is much bigger than any and all of us.

When a congregation finally wakes up and realizes that their declining membership, attendance and influence is the direct result of living out of a way too small narrative, inevitably there will be those Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians who will fight against such a move to the much bigger narrative of God’s Kingdom.  One of the ways they fight against the move to the Kingdom Story, and thus fight against the Good News Jesus brought, is to spread bad rumors through false stories and very flawed assumptions.  And it’s a tactic that goes way back, all the way back to God delivering the Hebrews, HIS people, from slavery.

Remember with me the setting for this passage from Numbers.  God sent 10 plagues against the Pharaoh and Egypt before the Pharaoh agreed to let them go.  Then the Pharaoh did a very human thing:  he changed his mind.  The Hebrews were trapped–the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.  God parted the Red Sea and they successfully crossed over.  Pharaoh’s army tried and drowned.  God’s guidance was always present in the daytime with a column of clouds and at nighttime with a column of fire.  Fresh food fell from heaven every morning (except before the Sabbath when they could collect 2 days worth).  When they grew tired of heaven’s food God provided them with quails.  Water came from rocks when they needed it.  They had a few battles along the way and God always provided them with victory.  Oh, and don’t forget, the column of clouds during the day and the column of fire during the night never left them.

Now they are at the edge of the land which God has promised them they would occupy.  He didn’t tell them how they would occupy it; just His personal assurance they would.  God directs Moses to send one leader from each tribe (notice the use of “leader”) who were to become 007’s, meaning spies, with a very clear set of directions:

  1. Assess the people: Are they strong or weak? Are there few or many?
  2. Observe the land: Is it pleasant or harsh?
  3. Describe the towns where they live: Are they open camps or fortified with walls?
  4. And the soil: Is it fertile or barren? Are there forests? And try to bring back a sample of the produce that grows there—this is the season for the first ripe grapes.

End of the mission.  That’s all!  And make sure you see what is not included in the mission directives.  Have you seen it yet, what’s not there?  Have you?  Well, in case you haven’t seen what’s not there I will share it with you.  God never said, “Then I want you to decide if you can occupy this land.  I want you to decide if this task is possible or not.”  Ten of these alleged leaders decided it WAS their job to determine if it was possible or not.  Without even consulting God, these 10 pitiful and pathetic leaders made a determination that was NOT their’s to make, a determination that was based on their personal assumptions not facts:  “We’re whipped!  Before we even start, we’re finished.  We just need to go back to Egypt.”

But it was Caleb, from the Tribe of Judah, the same Tribe Jesus was born into, and Hoshua (renamed ‘Joshua’ by Moses) from the Tribe of Ephraim, who recognized that these fake and phony 007’s had exceeded their mission directives and made assumptions which they were unqualified to make.  And more than recognize the treasonous act of The 10, they spoke out against them.  Outnumbered 5 to 1, these 2 stood by their Divine Mission Directives.  And what was the result?  Did these 10 confess they were wrong?  Did they repent, change their direction, and stand with Caleb and Joshua?  Nope, nope and nope!

Here is what they did.  They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel.”  I want to  take this moment to speak just to local tribal (meaning church) leaders, whether you are clergy or a layperson.  When you find yourself in a place that has a church centric message and lifestyle, and you hear God calling you to change the culture and climate to the Kingdom Centric Gospel, there will be opposition.  They will follow the same path as these 10 phony and pathetic 007’s in Numbers 13 and 14.

So how does one handle “The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s”?  To answer this question would result in an entire blog 5840ca9163571-imageseries lasting for several editions.  The best way to handle The 10 is NOT to argue with them and here is why.  There are 2 reasons why people engage in rumors and assumptions:  ignorance and simply being dumb.  There is a difference between these two.  Ignorance is simply the lack of information and is easily overcome with the truth.  Being dumb is choosing to ignore the truth.  If you argue with someone who has chosen to be dumb (like The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s) they will beat you down to a pulp every time with their experience of being dumb.  Hear me out from my experiences:  When I have chosen to engage in battle with those who do not want the truth, I lose every battle.

I am currently dealing with some who do not have truthful information so I share with them with grace and love, the truth.  And for those who do not want to be ignorant, they receive the truth well.  But for those aligned with The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s, I choose to pray for them and avoid arguing with them, for the above mentioned reason.  I would encourage you leaders to do the same.  But remember, there was Caleb and Joshua in this story.  I make sure that like Moses, I surround myself with those who have the same spirit and attitude as Caleb and Joshua, and so should you if and when you find yourself attacked by The Fake & Phony 10.  What was the attitude and spirit of Caleb and Joshua?  Glad you asked!  Here is it:

5840ca9299023-image

Rumors that spread the quickest and cover the largest territory are meant to harm, hurt and crush.  And if you are one engaged in the rumors like The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s, take a moment to stop and reflect on your words and the way you engage in conversations.  Rumors are entanglements created by the only one who does not want to see God and His people succeed.  Go ahead with the spread of bad rumors if you wish.  I would simply encourage you to read this from Proverbs:

3331437207_86c053b95a

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

10-29hurt