The Grace Effect_ Grace Defined

Introduction

We just wrapped up an awesome weekend talking about how God loves us, how we love Him, and how we can love others.

My prayer for this weekend and for this series that we are starting is that you would experience grace; and experience the freedom that it gives.

Kenny said something in the third session that I hope really stuck out to you. He said, “Loving others doesn’t mean coming up with some clever way to share the Gospel, but loving others is serving in practical ways.”

Kenny read from James chapter 2 in our second session, which I believe gives a good example of this “practical love.”

James 2:14-17

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

James tells us basically, if someone is hungry or in need of something, if we say we have faith, then we should do the practical thing and feed and clothe them.

When Jesus came for us, He did the practical thing. We sinned and death was upon us, so to eradicate the problem of death in our lives- the practical need; Jesus came and gave Himself for us, so that we could have life once again. Jesus did the practical thing. We were dead, so He gave us life.

For us this weekend, we got to see God do this in front of our very eyes. We had the awesome opportunity of watching God forgive and heal two of our very own. We got to watch God bring the spiritually dead to life!

I believe that this practical love demonstrated on the cross for us gives a very good idea of what Grace looks like.

So, tonight, what I want us to do is understand grace in a practical way; so that we can allow that grace to have an effect in our lives. Just like, I believe Jessica and Samantha experienced grace this weekend, I want for us to all understand the grace of God in a very personal way. In a way that is unique to us, to our sins, and to our giftedness.

Last week, I shared the story of a young girl who was scared by a lack of grace. A young girl who had no idea what grace truly is until very late in her life. I fear that for many of us as well, that we may miss out on the reality of God’s grace and not understand the love that the Father has for each and every one of us.

Tonight, I simply would like to give you a few pictures of what grace is; one picture from the OT and one picture from the NT.

In my studies over the past few days, God totally smacked me in the face with a beautiful picture in the OT. One, that for me and I believe so many others, is an extremely hard picture to grasp. This picture is the picture of the Levitical Law as a form of grace. A list of laws, that so many of us miss the beauty of, and because of this misunderstanding, actually feel overcome or oppressed by the laws themselves instead of feeling liberated and free.

So many times when we think of God’s grace and love, we only see the NT picture and tend to overlook the OT. I fear that many of us see the God of the OT as a God of wrath, anger, and judgment, instead of a God full of grace and mercy. Tonight, I hope to correct some of that among us, because the God of the OT is the same God that is in the NT. The God of the OT didn’t give up His rule at Jesus to His younger brother who is a little nicer and loving.

Also, I believe that if we only choose to look at God in the NT, we are failing to see God as He really is, we are failing to see the big picture, and we are failing to really know God in all of His character.

So, tonight is going to be pretty full and we are going to look through a few different texts and look at a pretty large portion of the Bible. So, I apologize for the length and I know that it will be hard for you to keep up. Please try your hardest to give me your attention as we dive into the texts for tonight.

The Old Testament Picture of Grace

The OT picture of grace is pretty simple. It’s a picture of a God who keeps His promises and doesn’t give up on His people.

In Genesis chapter 17:4-8, God made a covenant, or a promise, with Abraham. He said to Abraham,

“This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.”

God is simply making a promise to His people. He’s coming to Abraham and saying, “I will make you the father of a great nation; I will make you fruitful; I going to give you good gifts; I am going to give you land.” God is good! He is showing us that in this passage. He is telling us that He wants to be our God and give us good gifts; and that we are going to be His people and He is going to take care of us and He’s going to do great things through us.

But there was a problem that happened. The problem was that the people of God couldn’t keep their end of the promise; they couldn’t keep their end of the deal. They were constantly disobeying, constantly turning to other gods. So God decided to give them this system of Laws, this system of rules, and this system of sacrifices.

And to be honest, this system of Laws is just nuts! If you read through the book of Leviticus and look at all of the rules, it really crazy! There are tons of them and it’s really cool to read.

Illustration “Summer Camp”

I’ve worked summer camp twice and both times I’ve been in a position where I had to interact with students. This past summer however, I had to interact with little students… like age 6-12. If you’ve ever had to work with that age group of kids, you will understand what I am about to say. They drove me insane!

These kids this summer were crazy! Every one of them! They did the most messed up stuff! They fought all the time, threw sharp objects, hit other kids with really large sticks, and cussed out us adults. And by cussed out, I mean, they used words I’m not even familiar with. These kids were crazy!

I remember one instance where there was this little kid named Gene. This kid was a total terror. So, here’s the situation: I was sitting under the popup tents playing UNO with some kids when I hear some screaming behind me. I looked and to my surprise, Gene was running around with a huge piece of tree in his hands trying to knock the cuties out of some little girls. So of course, I jumped up and ran over to stop all the craziness. I told Gene, “We don’t knock cuties out of little girls with really big logs. It is bad and can hurt someone.”

Have you ever heard someone do this with kids? Make up some really crazy rule about what “we’re not supposed to do?”

We had all sorts of rules like this over the summer:

“We don’t jump in the mud and wipe it on Cindy’s face like make up.”

“We don’t throw rocks at Chris’s head.”

“We don’t grab Rachel’s rear end.”

“We don’t climb really tall trees to get to outer space.”

“We don’t play with snacks, even if they look like fun toys.”

The list goes on! All summer, we made up all sorts of crazy little rules to keep these kids from killing each other and severely hurting one of us. And the whole time, I kept thinking: “Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to make up all these rules?” But the fact is, if I didn’t make up any rules, these kids would have killed each other!

Leviticus is the exact same thing! It’s God laying out all of these ridiculous laws to keep people from killing each other!

In Leviticus 19:14 it says, “You shall not curse the deaf and trip the blind…” Was that some sort of problem? Was there a bunch of people running around cursing at deaf people and tripping the blind!? Was the city full of drunken people?

Leviticus 19: 29 says, “Don’t make your daughter a prostitute.” It should be common sense… you don’t make your daughter a prostitute!

Another one says, “You shall do no injustice in court.” Duh! Cause they’ll throw the book at you! You already did something to get in court, so keep your mouth shut when you get there so you don’t get in more trouble!

It kind of like me and Rachel at camp last summer… “We don’t curse at deaf people. We don’t trip blind people. We don’t solicit our daughters. And we don’t run our mouths in court.”

But the System of Rules was not sufficient enough!

In Leviticus chapter 16 it talks about the Day of Atonement, and to make as simple as possible for you. It was a day that the whole city would gather to cast their sins into a goat. They would go through all sorts of rituals cast their sins into a goat and then release the goat into the desert. Then they would be forgiven. This is where we get our modern day term scapegoat.

This is all funny and interesting, but it’s still about rules and regulations.

Hosea

In my opinion, one of the best illustrations of grace in the OT is located in the book of Hosea. Hosea was this religion man in town. In my mind he was like the local pastor.

And God told Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer. The name Gomer just leaves me thinking that this woman must have been like extremely good looking… jk. But Gomer cheats on him with another man. And because of Hosea’s position in the city, everyone in the city knew this was going on. Everyone was watching what he did.

In the book, we see the story plays itself out; I think showing us a fantastic image of grace. So, Hosea goes to the house of the other man that Gomer is living with and asks for her to come home. He says, “Hey Gomer, I miss you, I need you, the kids need you, will you come home?” She refuses. So he goes to the door and knocks. The other man comes to the door and Hosea says, “Listen, I need my wife back, how about I pay you for her.” So Hosea buys his wife back and takes her home.

Hosea 11 says this:

1-4

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and I called my son out of Egypt.
2 But the more I[
a] called to him,
the farther he moved from me,
offering sacrifices to the images of Baal
and burning incense to idols.
3 I myself taught Israel[
b] how to walk,
leading him along by the hand.
But he doesn’t know or even care
that it was I who took care of him.
4 I led Israel along
with my ropes of kindness and love.
I lifted the yoke from his neck,
and I myself stooped to feed him.”

Verse 7 tells us:

“For my people are determined to desert me.
They call me the Most High,
but they don’t truly honor me.

8 “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel?
How can I let you go?”

So, we see the picture of a wife who has given up on her husband, but a husband who will not give up on the promise of marriage. And then we get this picture of a nation who have cheated on their God, who have shamed Him and a picture of a God who will do anything to purchase them back. A God who will do anything to love them. A God who will do anything to keep His promise.

Amazing!

The NT Picture of Grace

The NT picture of Grace is of a God who will go to any lengths to keep the promise that He has made with His people. He has been faithful to His promise, but He knows that His people cannot live up to their end of the bargin.

Galatians 3:24 says, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” This verse knocked my socks off this week. The law was our guardian until Christ came.

So God sees that we are unable to keep our end of the bargin, so He decides to keep both sides of the promise. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection then become the new promise, the new covenant.

In Luke 22:20 Jesus says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Jesus is saying, “Let’s make a new covenant a new promise. Where the old promise came short this new promise will never fail. No more need for a sacrifice, in fact my blood will pay the price; my blood will cover your sins; and God will keep both ends of this new promise to you.”

If you’ve grown up in church you’ve heard this all along, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”

This grace is free, this grace is not earned, in fact this grace cannot be earned.

I would like to share with you one more story as an illustration of this grace as we seek tonight to define grace.

Jesus taught in stories called parables. One my favorite parables is in Matthew chapter 20. This is the story about the workers in the vineyard.

In the story there is a land owner who owns this large amount of land. And because of the size of the property he needs workers to help him address the fields. So early in the morning he hires laborers. About mid morning he notices that he needs more help so he hires more. Lunchtime comes and he needs more help so he hires more. The afternoon comes and he yet again needs more help, so he hires again. When the day is up and evening as come, the owner rounds all of the workers up to pay them. The workers become frustrated because the owner pays them all the exact same pay. For the ones who worked all day one denarius and the ones who worked only a few short hours the same. The ones who worked the whole day are angry and the ones who worked only a few hours are as happy as can be.

Luke 20:13 the owner says, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

This picture of grace is a picture that is not rational, not reasonable, and not conditional. Much of the early church conflict was about this. They grew in a system of all of these laws: don’t curse the deaf, don’t eat these foods, don’t trip the blind… all of these different things that they have grown up and learned; and Jesus came along and said no now there is a new promise- one that is built on grace. That’s why we see much of the NT letters battling these concepts of salvation by faith and salvation by works. It was hard for them to understand that salvation is freely given.

Can you imagine the effects of a God who says, “I will keep both ends of the bargin and I will go to any lengths to make sure I uphold this promise to you”?

When we look at both pictures together, we can start to understand the true effects of grace on our lives.

Definition of Grace

From the first picture, we see that it’s not about us, but it’s about God. We so many times want to make it about us, but it’s not about us. It’s not about how holy we are, or a set of rules, but about how good God is. It’s always been about how God has kept His end of the promise.

C.S. Lewis, one of most famous and brilliant Christian writers in the modern world, was once asked “What is the difference between all other religions and Christianity?” Lewis’ reply was one small word: Grace.

Because any other religion is about works. About us earning our way to being seen right with God.

From the second picture, we see that God is a good God. He always keeps his end of the bargin and even takes it up to keep our end as well.  A God who keeps both sides of the promise.

So for us to have a working definition of Grace we could say that grace is the goodness of God.

Conclusion

I believe that if this makes sense to us, it will have a huge effect on how we see life and how others see our lives. I believe that the effect will be much larger than anything else in our community. I believe that grace will run wild in our church, in our schools, and in our community.

So, over the next two weeks we will be looking at the effect that this kind of grace with have in our own life experience and the kind of effect this kind of grace will have through us on others.

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Our Need of Grace_ Things to think on…

  1. Grace is probably one of the hardest truths in Scripture to see and understand in everyday life. Think of a time in your life when you experienced grace from a person other than Jesus Christ.
  2. Pointing fingers, playing the blame game, and poking fun of the misfortunate is easy to do, but forgiving the foully of others is extremely hard to do. Think of a time that you forgave someone for a wrong they had done toward you. How it made you feel to forgive them?
  3. Have you ever been poked fun at or harshly accused because of a mistake?
  4. The story shared about Margaret is a hard story. Margaret struggled for a long time because of the lack of grace of others. Because of Margaret’s pain, her understanding of grace was hindered. Would you agree that it is hard to understand grace, when people are sometime severely lacking grace? Why or Why not?
  5. Romans 5:16-17 tells us that Christ paid our sin dept that brought forgiveness. Before Christ’s death, our sin brought judgment followed by condemnation. Spend a few minutes thinking on the importance of Christ forgiveness in your life.
  6. John 1:16-17 says that because of Christ’s death, we have received the fullness of His grace and receive one blessing after another. Write down on a piece of paper some of the blessing that God has given you over your lifetime.

The Grace Effect_ Our Need of Grace

Introduction

I’m totally excited about this series! Probably more excited about this series than anything else that we have talked about in the past. This series is called the Grace Effect. I call it this because, when we start to understand the grace of God amazing things starts to happen in our lives, because there is an effect to grace. But I really fear that we have an extremely low understanding of grace.

Maybe you come from a situation where grace is not the norm, yelling is. Maybe you come from a situation where grace is companied by a works base. Maybe you come from a situation where grace was given, but very quickly taken back the next time you did something wrong.

I have a quick illustration about our lack of grace…

Illustration

How many of you have ever watched the TV show “American Idol?”

If you don’t know, the show features four popular TV personalities as judges and normal people auditioning to be the next top singer. The singers go through a grueling audition over several months; at each stage one singer is voted off of the show. The object of the show is for one person to be left as the best singer and given the title of the next American Idol. This person thereafter is given a recording deal and brought into main stream music as a professional artist.

I absolutely love American Idol, in fact Rachel and I watch the show every Tuesday and Wednesday night. When we leave here tonight we will be going home to watch American Idol! Can’t wait to see who gets voted off tonight.

To tell you the truth the only reason I watch the show is to see if anyone makes a fool of themselves on national television. I prefer it when one the judges make a mistake, but I still enjoy it when singers mess up as well.

I mean, mess ups are funny on national television. I was searching on YouTube yesterday and found all sorts of people making really dumb mistakes on national television. I couldn’t help but laugh… let me share one of those with you.

[Video]

If you have ever seen someone mess up, definitely if it is on Live TV, I’m willing to bet you pointed at the TV and laughed. I willing to bet that when you see someone walking in the store, on the street, or at school fall over their own feet you have this overwhelming sense of “that’s funny” rise up inside of you.

But my question for us tonight is “Why do we laugh at the mistakes of others?”

I think the answer to this question lies in our understanding of biblical grace.

Personally, I believe we live in a society that very severely lacks an understanding of grace. American Idol is just one example…

Our Lack of Grace

Imagine for a second, you’re the one who’s done a mistake. Imagine what it feels like to know that you messed up big time, that everyone just saw you, and that you are now the laughing stock of everyone around you.

Imagine the laughter now that is given at your expense. The pain rising in your heart at those around you point fingers.

It hurts to be made fun of. It hurts to be left behind. It hurts to be cast aside. It hurts to not be given grace.

How many of you have gotten in big trouble either at home, church, or school? I mean big trouble! You don’t have to share, but what did it feel like?

I’m guessing not too good…

We don’t like to do wrong, but we love it when someone else does. We desire forgiveness when we mess up, but find it hard to give when someone else has messed up.

For this reason, I believe that we don’t understand grace. We don’t know what it looks like, mainly because we haven’t really seen grace in a tangible way from people that we can articulate it into a functional way in our lives. Meaning, we don’t understand it, therefore can’t express it.

I know what many of you come from; I’ve been in many of your shoes myself. I’ve had the hardest time understanding what grace is. I’ve shared some of my past with you before, with school, with home… the people that we interact with the most. We expect to see grace from the people that love us the most, but sometimes they fail to give it.

Grace is really hard to give. It’s really hard to define. In fact, we call some things grace when they’re really not.

Let me share with you a story of a little girl who experienced the kind of grace that I believe many of us have experienced at some point:

“Margaret frantically raced into her classroom after recess, late again. Ms. Garner was furious. “Margaret!” she shouted, “we have been waiting for you! Get up here to the front of the class, right now!”

Margaret walked slowly to the teacher’s desk, was told to face the class, and then the nightmare began.

Ms. Garner ranted, “Boys and girls, Margaret has been a bad girl. I have tried to help her to be responsible. But, apparently, she doesn’t want to learn. So we must teach her a lesson. We must force her to face what a selfish person she has become. I want each of you to come to the front of the room, take a piece of chalk, and write something bad about Margaret on the blackboard. Maybe this experience will motivate her to become a better person!”

Margaret stood frozen next to Ms. Garner. One by one the students began a silent procession to the blackboard. One by one, the students wrote their life-smothering words, slowly extinguishing the light in Margaret’s soul. “Margaret is stupid! Margaret is selfish! Margaret is fat! Margaret is a dummy!” On and on they went, until twenty-five terrible scribbling of Margaret’s “badness” screamed from the blackboard.

The venomous sentences taunted Margaret in what felt like the longest day of her life. After walking home with each caustic word indelibly written on her soul, she crawled into her bed, claiming sickness, and tried to cry the pain away, but the pain never left, and forty years later, she slumped in the waiting room of a psychologist’s office, still cringing in the shadow of those twenty-five sentences. To her horror, Margaret had slowly become what the students had written.”

By Mike Yaconelli, an excerpt from “Messy Spirituality”

This teacher, trying to “better” this little girl scared her for life. This little girls understanding of grace was shattered forever. How could she ever understand the kind of grace that God gives?

Undeniably, our words have an effect on the lives of others; our actions have an effect on the lives of others, but so does grace!

God has freely given us forgiveness of our sins. The grace given was under no circumstance. The grace given was under no mandate. The grace given is to be shared.

I want us to look at two small passages of Scripture. I believe it sums up everything for us.

Romans 5:16-17

“Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

Because of one man’s sin there is death, but by the death of another man, we have life.

Verse 16 tells us …”but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.” Justification simply means forgiveness or right standing. By the death of Jesus we now have life and forgiveness for our sins. Jesus took the place of our punishment. We no longer have to pay the price for what we did. Jesus already paid it.

Now, John 1:16-17

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John tells us that because of God’s grace through Christ, we have received the fullness of His grace and receive one blessing after another. How amazing is that.

I want you to take a moment to look back at your life, to notice all of the blessings that you have received. Maybe a save from a wreck, or the healing of a loved one, or the friendship in a time of loneliness, or a reuniting with a parent or loved one you haven’t seen for a long time, or maybe the simple fact that you have food to eat and cloths on your back.

God has given us many blessings… one after another!

That is the grace shown to us through Christ. Christ has given us the example of grace to live by.

Grace and truth came through Christ. He came for us and loves us so!

Remember Margaret? I want to finish her story for you:

“After decades of depression and anxiety, she had finally sought help and was having the last meeting with her psychologist. Two long years of weekly counseling helped Margaret to finally extricate herself from her past. It had been a long and difficult road, but she smiled at her counselor (how long it had been since she’d smiled!) as they talked about her readiness to move on.

“Well, Margaret,” the counselor said softly, “I guess it’s graduation day for you. How are you feeling?”

After a long silence, Margaret spoke: “I…I’m okay.”

The counselor hesitated. “Margaret, I know this will be difficult, but just to make sure you’re ready to move on, I am going to ask you to do something. I want to go back to your schoolroom and detail the event of the day. Take your time. Describe each of the children as they approach the blackboard, remember what they wrote and how you felt- all twenty-five students.”

In a way, this would be easy for Margaret. For forty years she had remembered every detail. And yet, to go through the nightmare one more time would take every bit of strength she had. After a long silence, she began the painful description. One by one, she described each of the students vividly, as though she had just seen them, stopping periodically to regain her composure, forcing herself to face each of those students one more time.

Finally, she was done, and the tears would not stop, could not stop. Margaret cried a long time before she realized someone was whispering her name. “Margaret. Margaret. Margaret.” She looked up to see her counselor staring into her eyes, saying her name over and over again. Margaret stopped crying for a moment.

“Margaret. You… you left our one person.”
“I certainly did
not! I have lived with this story for forty years. I know every student by heart.”

No, Margaret, you did forget someone. See, he’s sitting in the back of the classroom. He’s standing up, walking toward your teacher, Ms. Garner. She is handing him a piece of chalk and he’s taking it, Margaret, he’s taking it! Now he’s walking over to the blackboard and picking up an eraser. He is erasing every one of the sentences the students wrote. They are gone! Margaret, they are gone! Now he’s turning and looking at you, Margaret. Do you recognize him yet? Yes, his name is Jesus. Look, he’s writing new sentences on the board. ‘Margaret is loved. Margaret is beautiful. Margaret is gentle and kind. Margaret is strong. Margaret has great courage.’”

And Margaret began to weep. But very quickly, the weeping turned into a smile, and then into laughter, and then into tears of joy.

After forty dark years, Margaret was no longer condemned, no longer alone, and no longer rejected. The blindness of her past horror was removed. Margaret and a certain blind man- and maybe even you and me- can shout with confidence, “Once I was blind, but now I see!”

By Mike Yaconelli, an excerpt from “Messy Spirituality”

Conclusion

This is exactly what Christ has done for us. He has wiped away every pain and stain that was ever said or done towards us. We are not who people say we are, we belong to the Almighty!

We need this grace! We need the understanding of this grace! This grace has an effect on our lives! It has an effect on how we live. It has an effect on how we interact with other people.

Jesus had grace upon us when we deserved death. One author defines grace as “God’s unmerited favor towards man.”

So what is grace? This is what we will look at next week…

The Works of the Church_ Social Networking

Introduction

Social Networking sites are increasing becoming more popular among people in the United States. It seems as if everyone now-a-days has a Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter page that they use to network with others in their social circle. I did some research on these social networking services and would like to share some of my information with you:

Social Networking Services

The basic purpose of a social networking service is to build and reflect social relations among people. Let me explain: they gather people who share interests, activities, likes, and dislikes onto a single network that reflects the social relations of a community. Most of these services are web based and allow their users to interact over the internet, such as e-mail and instant messaging.

In my research, I discovered tons of different types of network groups:

Church groups, business related groups, followers of a specific musician, band, or actor, book authors, books, public speakers, photography agencies, causes, and movements… etc

The list goes on and on. There is a social group for almost any type of personal interest that an individual could have. But with all of these different kinds of groups filling the internet, I’ve noticed something that ties them all together. That one unifying factor, whether using Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter is undeniable. This one unifying factor is so large in number that it can’t be overlooked. This one unifying factor is the simple fact that every social network is comprised of people- individuals who have individual likes and dislikes.

Every network is comprised of individuals. These individuals have come together to show their support, or lack of support, for anything under the sun. If you’ve ever checkout any of the more popular social networking sites you would have quickly noticed that the individuals using the site have many different opinions on many different things. Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a bias, and everyone has something that links them to something or separates them from something else. Everyone is different. No matter the social grouping or interest similarities everyone is different.

The Social Church Group

I believe the church is similar in this respect. Everyone that attends this church is connected by something or separated by something else. Everyone that is part of this youth ministry has something in common or something uncommon that might even be the dislike of someone else.

But, unlike the typical social network we have something bigger that should unify us besides the fact that we are individuals with individual feelings, thoughts, likes, and dislikes. We have one huge unifying factor that has the ability to bring us together and make use of that combined power. This one thing for the Church is, of course, Jesus. But you’ve all heard that before…

If the one unifying factor in a church or the Church Universal is Jesus, how come the Church and its local representations look so disunified or even hating one another?

And the odd thing, we see this disunity in Scripture as well. It seems as if the Church and its members look very similar to many of our social networking sites- simply brought together through by likes or dislikes of a particular thing or person. It seems that we look not much different than those people outside of the Church group.

Jesus himself summed all of Scripture up into one simple statement “Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says that all of Scripture can be brought down to one small phrase- love God and love others.

Now, as you may know this is our theme for the Gathering this year and I am totally excited to see what God does in and through us over the course of this weekend, as we gather together to hear Him. But is this theme merely a theme for a youth weekend or the very words of Jesus- who we say we follow? I hope this question will be answered for you over this weekend.

Personally, I don’t see anything else in Scripture as important as this single statement. I mean, if Jesus Himself- God, says that this single statement sums all of Scripture then I want to figure it out!

Love God and love others- seems so simple, but more times than any it seems as if we aren’t living this truth. It seems that too many times we get focused on everything else; we get focused on the doctrines or traditions of the Church, more so than the teachings of the King of Kings!

Tonight, I pray that this meeting is not just another meeting where we come together as a common interest group, but that this night turns into something a lot more.

Turn in your Bibles to Luke 5:17-26

“On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – He said to the man who was paralyzed- ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today.’”

I want to address a few things very quickly. Jeremy Peeler, this Sunday hit this point very hard in his sermon.

  1. The Pharisees and Scribes were in the way of the paralyzed man getting to Jesus.

The men brought their friend to see Jesus. They knew that Jesus had the answers they were looking for, but upon arrival, they could not see Him because of all the religious people in the way.

Jesus had a lot of run-ins with the Scribes and Pharisees throughout His time on earth with us. Through a thorough look at the four Gospels, we can see that Jesus spoke very harshly and blunt to these men of religious thought. It seems to me that Jesus didn’t much like them or what they taught.

Luke records a story where Jesus was invited to a Pharisees home for dinner and the evening turned particularly hostile. Check this out:

Luke 11:48-54

[Read from Bible]

Jesus did not have too many, in fact no, good run-ins with any religious leader.

In this particular story about the paralyzed man, Jesus is surrounded by a lot of these Pharisees. They are testing him and trying his teaching to see if it is truth.

I’ve been in church work for some time now and have seen this Pharisaical mentality a lot. These people are the ones who come up to you after your sermon or song and correct everything that was “wrong” with it. These are the people who spend the entire time spent in the service critiquing the ones leading the service. From the front I can see these people a mile off, because they’re the ones flipping back and forth in their Bibles trying to find something wrong with everything your saying. These kinds of people are just like the Pharisees of old. Just like the Pharisees in this house, these modern day Pharisees seem to continually miss the message, the point, the reason, the love of Christ, because they are too caught up in the “rights and wrongs” of righteous living.

I can imagine these five men walking to the house to get to Jesus and tapping one of the men on the back, requesting to enter. And instead of getting a gracious, “please, come in” they get a “be quiet! Back away! You’re in my way!” How sad it is when people get in the way of Jesus…

I met a man earlier this week who had been pushed away from the church by these kinds of Pharisaical people. This guy was most-likely just recently released from prison or some sort of rehab center. When I met him, I’m also pretty sure he was a little hung over from something. I was with Charles Littlejohn and we started to talk to this man about Jesus. The first words out of his mouth were, “I’ve been there and done that.” This took me back! This guy goes on to tell us of all kinds of different churches that he had attended in the past. None of which, did he see Jesus in. This guy had been around the “Christian” block if you will and not seen Jesus! How could this happen?!

Unless what he saw was not true Christianity or Jesus for that matter. I believe that the number one problem we have in the Church in America is Phariseism. I believe that our pews and our churches are filled with people way too caught up in their religion to see Jesus. And the side effect of this is a teaching of good morality without a solid teaching of whom Jesus himself is and why he came.

2. The second thing in this story is the quick salvation that is given to the paralyzed man because of his faith.

Let me explain: the man was dropped into the sealing and immediately Jesus says “your sins are forgiven you.” Wow! Amazing! We don’t see Jesus sitting around waiting to see what the man says or to appraise his actions or motives, but sees his faith and forgives him.

Let me tell you very quick story from my life. I grew up in church. I’ve very rarely missed a single Sunday. I can tell you most of the hymns that we sing, the books of the Bible, the kind of clothes a “good Christian” should wear, and what I shouldn’t do on the weekend. I grew up in church.

When I was in high school, one of the schools I attended was extremely religious- to honest, it still is very much so. The class that I graduated with was extremely religious. Out of the 25 students I graduated with, only about 4 or 5 are living a God-centered life. One guy is a practicing homosexual, another girl is very loose with herself in Charlotte, and another is in the army living like every strong man should- having sex with a lot of girls and drinking himself into an early grave. The list goes on. Do I love these people? Yes! Do I envy their life styles? No!

How could so many students in a Christian school turn out living the way they are unless they came out without a true meeting with Jesus?

My experience at the school had its good parts but left me with a few religious scars, if you will. I never felt good enough. My clothes weren’t nice enough because we didn’t have the money to buy Abercrombie, or AE, or Nike like everyone else. In fact, we didn’t have the money to pay the 8,000 dollar a year tuition. My mom had to work at the school in order to send me to it. I graduated in 2004, with the expectation from my teachers that I would fail in life, not attend a college, as much as graduate from one. My self esteem was low and no relational support after walking the red carpet at graduation.

Why do I say all of this? To just bash my school and to tell you all that I’m better than that? I hope not…

Salvation is given freely and under no specific rules or regulations. At this school my salvation was earned and could be lost at every mistake. Forgiveness was not something that was taught, or even lived out for that matter. “Jesus loves you, but you better get right and act right and dress like a Christian should dress or he’ll kick you out of heaven!” was what I heard.

I fear that is what so many people hear when they hear “Hey, I’m a follower of Jesus!” I fear that the mentality of “Christian” in modern America could be leading people farther away from Jesus than running to Him for the free salvation that he offers.

With that said, let’s move on very quickly to the last thing that I see can be pulled out of this passage…

3. The four men that brought the paralyzed men to Jesus didn’t give up at the door; they persisted until they found Jesus!

So they arrived at the door only to see a line around the house. Tried to work their way through the crowd but pushed aside for the more important. So they went to the roof.

I want to stop here for a second and imagine this happening.

Jesus is in a house being bombarded with questions from people trying to “correct” his teaching. Then all of a sudden, the roof starts to make noise. Some small dust particles fall from the ceiling, then slowly bigger pieces start to fall as people back away making room for the falling particles. Then a beam of light shines in as a small opening appears. Then a larger opening and a hand then a face. Before you know it the roof has a large enough opening that a person could fit through it. And what do you know; you see four guys yelling, “Jesus! Don’t move! You’ve got to see our friend!” and a body slowly lowered to the ground. Imagine the change of atmosphere in the room…

Anger and tensions rising as Jesus sit in silence as the roof is ripped off. Only to hear him say “Because of your faith, your sins are forgiven you.” Wow! These guys in the room would have been furious! Now there looking up at the sealing at the four men holding the rope, thinking “what are these crazy guys doing, how can we get rid of them, how dare them disrupt our meeting!”

These four men went through a lot and most-likely a few hours of sweat to bring their friend to Jesus.

Let’s imagine ourselves in one of the four guy’s shoes for a moment. What must they have been thinking as the arrive to the house. Did they say: “Guys it looks as if we’re not getting to see him today…” “Surely we can come back tomorrow” Nope, more of a: “Guys Jesus is only a few feet away now; we’ve got to get our friend to him” “Look! Beside the house! Steps!”

When’s the last time any of us have thought that way about a friend in need of Jesus? When was the last time that any of us ever went to such extremes to lead someone to the feet of the great Healer?

It’s been a while for me… and I’m willing to bet it’s been even longer for some of you.

I want us to take the final few minutes and look at one more passage of Scripture: Turn to 1 Cor. 12:12-13 &27

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews and Greeks, slaves or free- and all were bade to drink of one Spirit… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

Just like the social networking groups we talked about earlier, we are part of one group but made up of different individuals, with different likes and dislikes, talents and skills, body types and hair styles. But the fact of the matter doesn’t change, if we are part of the body we are part of the body! Nothing can take us away from the body, not can separate us.

The unifying factor of this Body is Christ! Christ is the reason we come together, the reason we live, the huge “like” that we have in common.

The really cool thing about being part of the church is that there are other members with other qualities and skills. We are not alone and the load is much easier to bear.

Take a practical look at the four men carrying the paralyzed man to Jesus. Could one guy alone do it? Most-likely, as long as the paralyzed guy didn’t weigh 400 pounds. This why we need the social network of the church; the partnerships; the connectedness of relationships with others. We all have different gifts and talents, but when we come together for the greatest cause ever, we can even greater things! And most importantly, unity of the Body brings God the most glory!

Take a look at the NT letters, more often than none, the writers are talking against division in the church. Why? Because division brings the mission to a screeching halt!

Conclusion

So, why all the push towards unity? I believe that God wants to do great things here with us! And the devil hates it. Take a look at this churches track record: time after time, whenever things started to improve, when God started doing the impossible, division happened. People got angry at one another for whatever reason and split, causing the Great Commission to come to a standstill while people worked through their differences.

Let’s look at Lincolnton’s track record for a moment: How many of you have attended another church at some other point in your life? How many of you know someone who has attended more than one church in a 3 to 4 year span?

How many of you have been hurt at a previous church? How many of you know of someone who was hurt at a previous church?

Last question: how many of you left a church or know someone who left a church because of tension that could not be solved?

Do you guys see that the Evil one is winning out!? Why do we fight with our fellow brother in Christ? Is Christ not good enough? Is not grace sufficient enough to cover all sin?

Final thought

God is at work here, and where God is at work, so is Satan…

I love the Cross!

I love the Cross!

I love the cross of Christ! I love everything about it!

How many of you have seen a cross? Whether it be on someone’s neck or in front of a church?

Can I share a thought with you about the cross?

The Cross

The cross in ancient cultures was viewed a lot different than today. In fact, even the early church didn’t associate themselves with the cross to begin with.

You see, the cross was a horrific symbol of the day. To see a cross meant to see a man beaten, bruised, and humiliated before others. Let me give you a quick visual of what the cross would have looked like:

1. Before the cross, the victims would have been beaten until they were a few inches from death and then cared back into a little better health so   that they could withstand the initial pains of the cross and hang longer.

2. The cross would have been very rough wood, that would have been covered in the blood, urine, and feces its previous victim.

3. The cross would have not been 20 feet talk like we see in the movies, but more around 6 to 7 feet so its victim could be in reach of spectators.

4. The cross would have been in a very public location, so that as many people as possible could see its naked and beaten victim.

5. The cross would have been placed in a very open area so that the sun could radiate down, severely dehydrating its victim. Then the soldiers surrounding the cross would dip a sponge into a basin of water, used for cleaning the buttocks, and wipe the victim’s face which would have been covered in cuts and bruises.

I hope that this paints an accurate picture of what the early church people would have thought whenever they would have seen the cross.

So Why the Cross?

So back to my earlier statement of “I love the Cross!” Why would I say such a thing in light of everything that I just said? Am I crazy? Am I some sort of sick-o with a weird fetish?

I don’t think so… or at least I hope not!

Let me share with you a passage from Scripture, which I hope will explain my statement:

Isaiah 51:1-6

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

I would like to make a few comments about this passage in light of everything that I have just shared.

  1. The passage tells us that Jesus had no beauty to attract us to him. I personally believe that Jesus was an ugly man. I believe this because the passage tells us that he was the kind of person people would hide their faces from. No one wanted to look upon Him.
  2. The passage tells us that Jesus was a man of suffering, rejected by others, and familiar with pain. Jesus knew what it was like to hurt. Most of us probably know what it’s like to hurt on some level as well.
  3. The passage tells us that he did all of this for a reason. That he was ugly, sorrowful, hated, and punished for a particular purpose. “He was pierced for my transgressions, he was crushed for my iniquities; the punishment that brought me peace was on him, and by his wounds I am healed.”

I say all of this in the 1st person because I have experienced this. I know it to be true. Nobody talked me into it. No book or author has won me over. No preacher “convicted” or converted me. No church taught me the “right” way to live. No program has saved me. And no amount of money could lead me away. Christ Crucified alone has changed my heart. Christ Crucified alone has changed my actions effecting the way I live. Christ Crucified alone has convicted me and converted me to a cause greater than myself. Christ Crucified alone has saved me- not just from the death of sin, but from the problem of myself!

I have experienced this to be true. I have tasted and I have seen. Just to let you in to my life a little: I was raped and beaten as a child. My parents divorced. So statistically, I should be in a gutter doing drugs, but I’m not- I am a pastor. Statistically, I should be addicted to child pornography, but I’m not- I have a beautiful wife. Statistically, I should be hateful person and long for death to take me, but I’m not- I love life and look forward to tomorrow.

With everything said, I leave you with one simple statement “I love the Cross!” Not because of anything that I have done, but because of the One who has done everything for me! Thank you for listening and I hope that this has been an encouragement to your soul.

The Final Week_ Things to Think About…

1)     Symbols are all around us, we use symbols in everyday- when we type on the computer, when we text message, and when giving directions. Think about  some symbols that you have seen or heard of (these can be silly or serious).

2)     As Christians, we have the greatest symbol ever- the Cross! Take a few minutes to read Mark 15:1-16:20 and think about its significance in your life.

3)     The Jews of the day couldn’t understand why “God-in-flesh” had to die on the cross. In Jewish culture, the cross would have been one of the most horrific symbols of the day, similar to the electric chair for us. Sometimes we tend to think just like the Jews. Have you ever thought that the use of the Cross was odd or hard to believe? Why would such a great God use such a horrific symbol?

4)     In the week prior we noticed how Jesus’ triumphal entry was on the same week as the Passover celebration. Exodus 12:12-14 tells us of the tenth plague against Egypt. For the early Jews, the blood on the doorway symbolized their trust and faith in God. For us today, acceptance of Christ’s blood does the same. QUESTION: Do you see this similarity between the Passover in Exodus and Christ on the Cross?

5) Jesus knew when he came that the cross was his destination. He even taught this several times during his earthly ministry (Mk 8:31 and Mk 9:31) Jesus came to be bruised and crushed for our sins, to be handed over to death so that we could have life. Take the remainder of the time to read Isaiah 53:1-6 and answer the question: What should be the appropriate response if Jesus really did this for me?

The Final Week_ “The Crucifixion”

Introduction

Have any of you ever accidently walked into the wrong restroom in a public location? Better yet, have you ever actually went in, used the restroom, washed your hands, and left- not noticing that you were in the wrong restroom? I have… In fact I’ve walked into the wrong restroom by accident to many times to count.

Ok here’s another one: When my grandpa passed away a couple of weeks ago, I went to the restroom in the church. Luckily, I only had to straighten the tie and wash my hands, because I walked in, walked to the mirror, washed my hands, and straightened the tie, before I noticed the cleaning lady in the men’s restroom with me. It scared me, because I was thinking about using the bathroom before the service!

I appreciate the universal symbol for restrooms!

My point is this; public restrooms have symbols that depict the sex of the restroom. One for men, one for women, and sometimes one for the handicap. I hate when you go to a restaurant, like Outback for instance, that has really strange signs on the doors. I like the universal symbol for public restrooms- the male and female stick figures. I walked into too many wrong ones in my life that I’ve developed a fear for walking into the wrong one. When I go to restaurants like Outback and see the “Blokes” sign on the door, I can’t help but wonder, “I hope this is the right bathroom?”

I went to Canada one time on a mission trip- now just let you know everything in Canada is weird. But we went out to a TGIF’s one day for lunch and the mood it me just right. I got up from the table wondered around the restaurant for a couple of minutes until the waitress directed my path. I walked to the door and saw the universal symbol for the “Male” restroom. Ok, so I’m in another country that speaks about 3 different languages. The door had about 3 or 4 different languages, but under that was the nice square plastic sign that had the male stick figure, assuring me that I was going into the right bathroom. I could go in with confidence! Which is definitely something that you want when you’re in another country?

Symbols

Symbols are important, are they not? Definitely the public restroom symbols!

The fact is, there are symbols everywhere. On our computers, on the restroom doors, … etc. Symbols communicate something to us. The same is true for religions. Religions have symbols. These symbols communicate something to us about the specific religion. These symbols tell us what it stands for or what is most important to the people who follow the religion or something about the religions history. I want to show you some religious symbols:

The first is the Lotus Flower. The lotus flower is popular among many of the eastern religions, but especially popular among Buddhism. The lotus flower grows in muddy water. As it grows up through the water it actually blooms above the water. At night the flower will close up and will actually descend back under the water. When the sun comes up the next day, the flower will return to the surface.

This flower in Buddhism symbolizes the beauty of spiritual birth. It symbolizes new beginnings, it symbolizes the cycle of life, beginning with birth and ending in death. It symbolizes beauty in the mist of chaos.

Another symbol is the crescent moon, which often symbolizes Islam. The crescent moon actually pre-dates Islam and there is much speculation to what the moon actually symbolizes for the Muslim faith. The symbol itself was adopted by the Islamic faith after Ottoman Empire in 1453. In all actually, most devout Muslims do not hold to any symbol, but choose to simply point to Allah as their source or symbol for their religion.

Yet another symbol is the Star of David, most popularly used by Judaism. The star is made up of two equilateral triangles that intersect. These two triangles symbolize God covenant with David. That his thrown would last forever and that the Messiah would ultimately descend from his family lineage.

And then, of course, Christianity is no exception. And for many years now, Christians in the church have identified with this symbol- the cross.

The cross is the most likely choice for Christianity. It says a lot about who we are and what we believe as the Church. The cross is central to everything Christian. Some of you may be wearing a cross on a necklace or have one in your home somewhere.

Did you know that the early Christians tended to ignore or avoid any association with the cross? They avoided the association most-likely for two reasons: 1) The cross would have been known by people of the time as the method used to kill Jesus. Because of all the hype when Jesus rose from the dead, being associated to the cross could have led to a lot of persecution or danger concerning their new found faith in the Christ. 2) The cross was directly associated with the killing of a common criminal during that time. I’ll explain this in a moment.

At this time, however, the Church or local bodies did have some symbols to associate themselves with, such as: the peacock- symbolizes immortality, the dove, the palm branch, and the fish.

Well a couple of hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there were various discussions regarding the selection of an appropriate symbol to most accurately define the Church and its mission in this world. Many symbols where considered, but only one really worked. Only one really depicted the most central and important thing about Christianity and that was the cross!

A symbol, once avoided by the Church, is now adopted and embarrassed.

Today for us, it’s a no brainer! “Duh, the cross is a good fit.” Looking back, we can see that the cross definitely defines Christianity the best. Even in our culture, we can think, “The cross is a beautiful symbol. It symbolizes unwavering love and grace.”

But at the time of Jesus, the cross was a horrific visual symbol- symbolizing brutal punishment and death.

Vintage Jesus

In the book Vintage Jesus, writer Mark Driscoll does a fairly well job of reminding us of the brutality of the cross. Let me read to you an excerpt from the book:

Crucifixion was invented by the Persians around 500 B.C., perfected by the Romans in the days of Jesus, and not outlawed until the time of Emperor Constantine, who ruled Rome in the fourth century A.D. In the days of Jesus, crucifixion was reserved for the most horrendous criminals. Even the worst Romans were beheaded rather that crucified. The Jews also considered crucifixion the most horrific mode of death, as Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says: “And if a man has committed a crime punishment by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for hanged man is cursed by God.”…

To ensure maximum suffering, scourging preceded crucifixion. Scourging itself was such a painful event that many people died from it without even making it to their cross. Jesus’ hands would have been chained above his head to expose his back and legs to an executioner’s whip called a cat-o’-nine tails. The whip was a series of long leather straps. At the end of some of the straps were heavy balls of metal intended to tenderize the body of a victim, like a chef tenderizes a steak by beating it. Some of the straps had hooks made of either metal or bone that would have sunk deeply into the shoulders, back, buttocks, and legs of the victim. Once the hooks had sunk deeply into the tenderized flesh, the executioner would rip the skin, muscle, tendons, and even bones off the victim as he shouted in agony, shook violently, and bled heavily… Jesus then had a crown of lengthy thorns pressed into his head as onlookers mocked him as the “King of the Jews.” With that, blood began to flow down Jesus’ face, causing his hair and beard to be a bloodied and matted mess, and his eyes to burn as he strained to see through his own sweat and blood. Jesus’ robe was then used as the pot in a gambling dice game.

Jesus was then forced to carry his roughly hewn wooden crossbar of perhaps one hundred pounds on his bare, traumatized, bloodied back and shoulders to the place of his own crucifixion. The cross was likely already covered with the blood of other men. Timber was so expensive the crosses were recycled, so Jesus’ blood mixed with the layers of blood from countless other men who had walked the same path before him.

Despite his young age and good health, Jesus was so physically devastated from his sleepless night, miles of walking, severe beating, and scourging that he collapsed under the weight of the cross, unable to carry it alone. A man named Simon of Cyrene was appointed to carry Jesus’ cross. Upon arriving at his place of crucifixion, they pulled Jesus’ beard out—an act of ultimate disrespect in ancient cultures—spat on him, and mocked him in front of his family and friends.

Jesus the carpenter, who had driven many nails into wood with his own hands, then had five-to-seven-inch, rough, metal spikes driven into the most sensitive nerve centers on the human body in his hands and feet. Jesus was nailed to his wooden cross. At this point Jesus was in unbearable agony…

Jesus was then lifted up, and his cross dropped into a prepared hole, causing his body to shake violently on the spikes. In further mockery, a sign was posted above Jesus that said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”….

At this point during the crucifixion, the victims labored to breathe as their body went into shock. Naked and embarrassed, the victims would often use their remaining strength to seek revenge on the crowd of mockers who had gathered to jeer at them. They would curse at their tormentors while urinating on them and spitting on them. Some victims would become so overwhelmed with pain that they would become incontinent and a pool of sweat, blood, urine, and feces would gather at the base of their cross…

None of this was done in dignified privacy, but rather in open public places. It would be like nailing a bloodied, naked man above the front entrance to a grocery store…

As we can see, the cross was the most horrific and elongated method of death that could ever have been invented. The experience of the cross was intended to make the dying process as long as possible.

Why?

Why was it so hard for the Jews of the day to understand that Jesus was the Messiah? It was because they could not understand why the God of the universe would let His Son dies such a horrible and bloody death!

A Moment for the Cross

A question for you tonight: What does the cross mean to you? How do you see the cross? Do you see it for its powerful message? Do you see the fact that Jesus went to this deadly cross for you? Or do you see something else?

Maybe when you look at the cross you are reminded of the bad experience you once had at a church; where they said one thing and did another. Maybe for you, when you look at the cross, you see only the hypocritical face of a person who holds to the name of Christ but lives like the devil; and you are the one who has had to pay the price for their sin.

When you look at the cross, do you look at it in such a way that you want to believe its message, you want to believe that it true, you want to apply it to your life, but it just seems so hard to believe?

Or maybe as you look at the cross you see several spiritual issues in your life that you haven’t dealt with yet. You’re looking at yourself and you’re starting to wonder “is there something more to all of this?”

I want you to take the next couple of moments to reflect silently on the cross and the significance of it in your life. Then I want you to think on these words: “Long before you decided what you were going to do with Jesus, He decided what He was going to do for you.”

Why the Cross?

Jesus knew that God had sent Him for a reason, for a mission that had to be accomplished. Jesus also knew that He would have to die for this mission to be accomplished- that His death was the key factor to God’s mission being completed.

Take a look at Mark 8:31

“He then began to teach that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this…”

Jesus knew that He must die, in fact He taught this to His disciples.

Again He taught this… take a look at Mark 9:31

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise.”

Jesus knew that everything He said must come true and that there was no way around it!

In Isaiah 53:1-6, Jesus’ mission was prophesized to Israel. Lets’ take a look…

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. It is for our sins, He came to the cross to die. He was not some helpless victim or some wimpy guy who had no control over what happened to Him. Jesus came to accomplish this very mission. Jesus died because He loves us. Jesus died so that He can have a relationship with us once again.

Conclusion

The Passover celebration that we talked about last week is very important to the understanding of this today. Just like in Egypt, when God passed judgment over the houses that placed their faith and trust in Him by signifying with the lamb’s blood, God today is doing the same thing. When we choose to place our faith and trust in Him by signifying it with our belief in Christ’s blood, He passes over our sins and grants us mercy. The same goes for us today as during the Passover; where there’s blood, there is mercy.

Isaiah again tells us: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Tonight as we close, as you are preparing to leave this place. If you are willing to place your faith and trust in God, and to follow the Way of Christ; I would like for you to go over to the table in the back. You will find on the table, a bowl of red paint and several brushes. If you are willing tonight to place all of your trust and faith in a God that you cannot physically see but can spiritually sense. Then as a symbol of your trust, I would like for you to paint your name around the outside of the door entering this room. If you are a believer already, but you would like to show your devotion to Christ, I ask that you join us in this as well tonight.

If this is not something that you are ready to do. If this is something that are not willing to do. It is ok. I am not seeking to point out anyone in the room or force anyone to make a commitment that they are not ready to make. If this symbolizing act is not for you, please take this opportunity to spend some time in silence talking to God about the questions that you may still have. The Bible tells us, “we have not, because we ask not” and that “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Spend this time now asking God to reveal Himself to you over the next few months, ask Him to mold your heart to receive the truth of His Word, ask Him to reveal the truths of His love so that you can see them.