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

Are You A But? Don’t Be A But!

but

Most of the time, well, practically all the time, the title of this blog is spelled with an extra “t”–“Don’t be a butt!”  What we usually mean by this statement (putting it nicely) is “Don’t be so critical!”  “Don’t be so ignorant!”  “Don’t be so mean!”  “Don’t be so judgmental!”  “Don’t be so stinky!”  Well, that’s not the word I’m using, but the meanings could be applied to my thoughts today.  So be forewarned, I could become offensive.  And if this post doesn’t offend you, keep reading future posts because I will get around to you in due time.

No, I am thinking about a certain passage that has this left-handed right-side-brain pastor with some more musings about The Kingdom of God.  The passage is Luke 9:57-62 and it sounds like this from The Message:

57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”  Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”

59 He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”

60 Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”

61 Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”

62 Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”

Most of the time we “backwards collar types” (that means preachers for the uninformed) use this passage to talk to those who are “lost” and need to make a decision for Jesus right now.  And the Grace Pharisees like to use it in the same way.  What?  Grace Pharisees?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Sounds like it, but there is a new Pharisee in town, actually in the church, who feel it is their duty to determine who is worthy of Grace.  Ain’t that a hoot!  Worthy of Grace!  They must have fallen out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.  Oops, I may have just offended someone.  Oh well, if the shoe fits…

Today, I want to apply this passage to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters.  Only  someone who has their head buried in sand cannot see that the Western Church is in serious trouble, which is what inspired me to even start this blog.  In all fairness to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters, I do believe that they want to see this downward spiral (because it has become more than a trend) stop and reversed to significant growth.  They sincerely want to see the sanctuary full every Sunday.  They want to see every classroom in use and full of Sunday School students of all ages.  They want to see more programs and more than enough volunteers to handle a myriad of ministries.  They want to see people outside their church oohing and aahing over all that’s happening at their facilities; so much so that they will just rush in to join and be a part of it.  BUT…

  • But don’t change anything as it is now
  • But make it like it was in 1960
  • But don’t make me give up what I like
  • But don’t ask me to get out of my comfort zone
  • But don’t expect me to do it
  • But don’t fill this place up with all “those” people
  • But don’t expect me to fast and pray
  • But make it easy
  • But don’t make me give up my sin because it’s not all that bad
  • But give us a pastor and staff who can be successful doing it our way
  • But, but, but, but….(can you think of other “buts”?  Add them to the comments below)

Some may think I’ve gone on out a limb, a very thin and fragile limb, this time.  BUT there are those comments by Jesus:  First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”  And No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”  Did you find it?  God’s Kingdom!  You cannot add a “but” to God’s Kingdom.  Either He rules completely over your life, your activities and your congregation or He doesn’t rule.  In which case, it is no longer God’s Kingdom in your congregation, but YOUR social club.

Do not be a BUT!  Jesus is right!  (Isn’t He always?)  Our business is life and it is urgent!  So seize the day!  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure that all the glory goes to Him!

Your Date That Will Live In Infamy

ismtc1i

Tomorrow is December 7, Pearl Harbor Day.  As President Roosevelt addressed Congress, he coined a phrase that is synonymous with that dreadful day.  He called it “a date that will live in infamy.”  This quote marked that date not only in history books but in the hearts and minds of those who were alive that day, and continues to define that moment in history.  And the result of that date that will live in infamy was the rising up of what has been called the greatest generation ever.  And now on this upcoming seventy-fifth anniversary, this generation is becoming fewer and fewer.

This started me to thinking about our times, and the generation of young men and women who are now the age of The Greatest Generation on that date in infamy.  They have a name and they are called the Millennials.  Millennials are generally called “The Entitlement Generation”.  No, this is not another rant against them; for there are Millennials who do not feel entitled and are actually angered at their compatriots who feel entitled.  But still it made me angry, this generation of Millennials who believe they are entitled to anything but without making any effort or sacrifice.

But then I thought so more, and more deeply.  I reflected on the condition of the U.S. church and those who occupy the church with the single thought that they are the consumer and that the church exists to meet their wants and wishes.  And I thought even deeper, “This is the entitlement generation!”  And that thought made me angry, but then I thought, well actually it was the Holy Spirit that gave me a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap up the back of my head:  “At times I feel entitled!”  If that doesn’t knock your feet right out from under you, something is seriously wrong with you.

And so I did some more thinking and this question came and would not let me go.  What marked this “Greatest generation” to be called such?  First they were predominantly isolationists, those who did not want to be involved in any shape, form or fashion with that war in Europe and the Pacific.  Why did I mention this first?  Hold that thought and hopefully it will become clear.

Second, I believe they are called the Greatest Generation because they were willing to rise to the occasion.  Though their deep convictions centered around isolationism, they were willing to meet the problem head on, most without any reservations.  Their world changed on that date in infamy and while they may not have liked giving up the isolationist view, they did!  On December 6, 1941 most were isolationists.  Early in the morning on December 7, 1941 they were isolationists.  But when their world drastically changed and needed someone to step up to this crisis, they stood up and declared they could be counted on in the days, months, even years ahead.

Third, they were willing to sacrifice in order to achieve the goal of ending this world at war.  They left behind jobs, families, and some even lied about their age and left high school to enlist.  They sacrificed more than time, they sacrificed strength and even their lives for something much bigger than themselves.  Even on the home front, sacrifices were made.  Many staple products were put on “ration” and one had to have a ration card for something as basic as sugar and gasoline.  At a time when women were primarily “housewives”, they entered the factories because most of the men were in the war.  And something else you need to remember–in this age of “recycling” where people seem to think we are the original recyclers, there were drives to collect anything that could be recycled into war materials.  And people often gave up items still usable for the “war effort”.

Finally, I believe they are the Greatest Generation because they did what needed to be done often with fear and uncertainty.  I love channels like The History Channel™ because of the details they often reveal.  Many of these men and women went into battle with differing levels of fear and uncertainty.  Now the survivors often share that they faced those feelings of fear; fear of being wounded, captured or even killed.  But those feelings of fear and uncertainty did not stop them from their tasks at hand.  As has been often said, bravery is not the absence of fear, but the strength to move forward with and through those fears.  Personally, I think this alone would qualify them to be called The Greatest Generation.

Now, back to my first reason why they are called The Greatest Generation:  their desire for isolation.  It was the date that will live in infamy that transformed them into a generation that was willing to step into, live in and even die for something much bigger than them.  The date that will live in infamy was their defining moment and their reaction to this defining moment is what earned them the title of The Greatest Generation ever.  It forever transformed them.  And this got me to thinking.

We need a “date that will live in infamy” to transform us.  I need a date that will live in infamy to transform me.  I am convinced now more than ever that we the church, the Body of Christ, those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, need to forever throw away this lie from the very pits of hell that following Jesus is about living in comfort and ease.  Personally, I think that the person who invented pew cushions was under the influence of our Enemy.  People wanted something to make them more comfortable in church, so voilà, comfort!

When we are comfortable in the pew, it makes it easier to be comfortable in a world filled with injustice, hurt, pain and loneliness.  When we are comfortable in the pew it makes it easier to forget that we are called to be involved in spiritual warfare.  When we are comfortable in our pew it makes it very easy to forget what Jesus said about following Him.  Read very carefully what Jesus said in Matthew 16:24 (NLT)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.

The “date that will live in infamy” was perhaps the most uncomfortable day for that generation; but they allowed it to transform them into The Greatest Generation ever.  We, too, have a date that will live in infamy.  No, it wasn’t Christmas Day; it came some 33 years later when Jesus allowed humanity and Satan, to do their worst and most evil work of all.  In that sacrifice, and that sacrifice alone, HE paid the debt for our sins and offered to restore us and make us whole.

And along our life journey, there will be other infamous dates that will challenge us and try to crush us.  But remember, remember the first date in infamy, when God’s only Son said from that cruel cross, “Father forgive them.  They do not know what they are doing.”

Love God with all your heart; love others the way God loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Let’s pray:

I ask You to show me if and where I have sought comfort rather than the cross.  And when those infamous dates come at me, I ask You for 2 things.  First, remind me of that first date that lives in infamy when You died on the cross for me.  And second, help me to see it as another defining moment where Your power and glory can shine through me.  Amen and Amen

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: