The Empty Grave

Easter Service MessageSundayApril 1, 2018

Scripture: John 20:1-10

411 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

In Psalm 23, David describes death as casting a shadow – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I bet, like me, you’ve been out on a sunny day when a large cloud moved between you and the sun. In fact, not that long ago, we had an eclipse in the middle of the day and the effect is even more complete. Whatever comes between you and the sun casts a great shadow on you. It steals the light. However brief a moment that shadow, cast over you, causes you to stop and take notice. It interferes with your day.

For David, death is like a shadow cast over your life. It’s always there, lingering like a thick cloud in the sky, ready to cast its shadow and steal your light. I bet you’ve had that shadow cast over you before. Maybe it was at a funeral or at the bedside of a dying loved one. The shadow was cast when you brushed up against death in some way – perhaps it was a time when your own life was in danger.

Death is our mortal enemy. When we are young, we think we are bullet-proof but it doesn’t take long before we realize our own life will end someday. No one gets out of this world alive – that’s how it works – and your eternal destination awaits you when you pass from this life to the next. The power of the grave is tremendous in our lives. It affects everything. It’s why we fear pain and punishment. It’s what causes us to pause and proceed with caution. It’s why we eat and drink. It’s why we fight to survive. It’s why we take life seriously and hold on to every precious moment. Yes, death casts it’s shadow over our lives and it’s hard to ignore. Eventually the darkness will fall and we know it.

This is why the Empty Grave of Jesus is so significant. Jesus defeated death and took away the fear of the shadow. It was in 1 John 5:1-5 where John said, 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” It’s in John 16:33 where Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus overcame the world and here, at the Resurrection, Jesus overcame death.

In 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, Paul says, ’Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I want to share something vitally important with you this morning so lean in and listen carefully: you are the reason that tomb was empty that morning. Jesus died for you. Jesus defeated death for you. His victory is your victory; His resurrection is your resurrection. The empty grave of Jesus is your empty grave. Jesus overcame death for you. On the cross, he paid for your sin; in the tomb he defeated your death. This is what the empty grave of Jesus means for you today!

You don’t need to fear death anymore. It may cast its dark shadow over you, from time to time, but you need not fear it because Jesus has defeated it on your behalf. Do you believe in Jesus? Have you accepted his sacrifice on the cross for you? If so, He has overcome death on your behalf. And for those who have yet to accept the death and resurrection of Christ, this victory can be yours as well. The shadow of death is defeated by the empty grave of Jesus.

I want to leave you with one final thought on this Resurrection morning: Shadows are cast upon you because there is light on the other side of them. God is light. In him there is no darkness at all. When you see the shadow of death, and you will, have no fear – Jesus is on the other side of that shadow and he’s already defeated it on your behalf.


Where is Jesus?

Easter Sunrise MessageSundayApril 1, 2018

Scripture: Mark 16:1-7

401When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

For some of my years in the Black Hills I was a chaplain with the Civil Air Patrol (or CAP for short). CAP is a civilian and youth organization connected to the US Air Force. The CAP works with teenagers and adults (especially pilots and retired military) to encourage discipline and train everyone involved in search and rescue operations. The CAP is used to help search for downed aircraft, both civilian and military. In my years in the Black Hills, there were two planes that went down and a third plane, a military one, crashed in the year before I moved there. They are also used search and rescue operations for missing persons. Most of the Black Hills are still pretty wild territory so we trained to search on foot, in vehicles and from the sky above in planes. We learned how to look for clues in the forest and use radio frequency detectors to pinpoint the location of the emergency locator beacons that were broadcasting from downed aircraft. We were also trained as First Responders so we could administer aid to those we found. We were trained to search and rescue those who were lost or otherwise in need.

I know it’s not the same but the two women went to the tomb searching for Jesus. There was no rescue expected but certainly there should have been a body to embalm. But Jesus wasn’t there. And they thought their biggest problem was going to be the big stone! Instead, they found an empty tomb. Well, not quite empty. Inside sat a young man dressed in a white robe but he wasn’t Jesus. The truth is, the world is still looking for Jesus. They’re doing the searching but they’re also the ones that need to be rescued. This is where you and I come in. We’ve been given a mission by Jesus – a search and rescue operation.

The women were alarmed at what they found in that tomb but the angel put them at ease. He said, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.” The sun has risen and the world is still looking for Jesus; where will he be found except in the hearts of those who have seen the empty tomb and heard the angel speak? You and I carry the resurrection of our Savior with us wherever we go. And wherever we go, we are on a search and rescue operation for Jesus: searching for the lost and rescuing the perishing. The world wants to know where Jesus is – it needs to know where He is – and you have Him dwelling within your heart.

Jesus has risen! Don’t keep that message to yourself.

Love Dimensions

Saturday – March 31, 2018

Scripture: 1 John 4:7 – 21

39“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

1 John 4:17 – 18

Along about the year 2000, I began experiencing intense feelings of panic. They seemed to come from nowhere and for no reason, and were uncontrollable. My heart would beat very fast; I would cry for no reason; I could not travel because of the speed and winding roads; there was always the feeling of impending doom – like I had to run, or hide, or whatever. I didn’t want to talk because it took every ounce of my concentration to fight this fear that had overtaken me! These anxiety attacks were infrequent at first, but by 2003, or so, they were often lasting all night and sometimes all day. My first line of attack was always fervent prayer. I knew I was in Christ and He in me, so how could this be happening?! I couldn’t share this with anyone, not even those who loved me most, because they would think less of me and assume that I had fallen away from God. Can you see my conundrum? So I suffered alone for quite a while. You may wonder why I did not consult a doctor about these symptoms – the answer lies in a scripture I had heard for years! “Perfect love casts out fear.” Surely it was my fault – if I had perfect love, I would not fear – right? I was sure it was a spiritual problem (though my heart did not condemn me) – so why would I consult a physician? Fast forward to the year 2008, or thereabouts, when my blood pressure read so high that it scared my daughter into scheduling an appointment for me with our family doctor. Long story short, a total wellness exam led to a diagnosis of Diabetes II. The change to a low carb diet, a loss of 50 – 60 pounds, some Diabetes Education, and the panic lessened by at least 50-75%! If I had only found out earlier, I could have saved years of misery and years of wear and tear on my heart and other organs which are adversely affected by Diabetes.

Let me tell you what I have since learned about 1 John 4:18 and other verses that talk about perfect love casting out fear – context, context, context! Here John explains carefully and thoroughly that because we have matured in a perfect love relationship between God and us, we no longer have to fear a coming judgment day. When you know for certain that someone loves you, you never need to fear what he/she may do to you, and THIS is the fear that perfect love casts out! As long as we live in this world, there will be situations that cause a natural fear – some of that fear is good and necessary, but not all. Just, please, as a child of God, try not to cause another child to stumble by quoting this 1 John passage out of context. It is a wonderfully reassuring passage describing: (1) How God demonstrated perfect (real) love by sending His only son to die for us; (2) If He loves us so much, we ought to love one another; (3) His Holy Spirit in us proves that we are living with Him and we can feel it; (4) as we grow more and more in love with Him, we are able to face the future with no fear of judgment (punishment) from God.

Truly, love comes from God and those who are loving and kind show that they are the children of God – We are to BE to others what He is to us – That is our purpose.

Walk in the Light

Friday – March 30, 2018

Scripture: 1 John 1:5 – 7

38“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

1 John 1:7

I have a physical ailment lately that makes it more important that I walk in the light and not just trust my instincts in the dark, like I usually do. People say to me, “Just don’t fall!” and of course I reply that “I had planned to, but because you ask, I won’t!” Truthfully, I had been extra careful for several years because some good friends had gone through a series of disastrous falls at night. We have lots of good visibility in this apartment from yard lights, so I usually feel pretty safe – the problem is that vertigo or dizziness has a mind of its own in the dark and in the light! I must be constantly on the watch, it seems, and be paying close attention.

Naturally, I can see what a good spiritual application can be made from all this attention to light. 1 John 1:5 – 7 reminds us that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” Obviously if I claim to be living in the light then I must be forever done with sin and all that spiritual darkness. I agree, and my desire is to always be in the light where Christ is, so that I am safe, and so that I can have wonderful fellowship and joy with Him and with others who walk with Him. This is a large part of what the Church does for me since it provides teaching, accountability, many ways to become mature in Christ, and much great fellowship. Living for Christ is a never-ending journey here in this world and we must be careful to walk it to its end so that we can then enter into “the praise group on the other side.” My walk with “dizziness” seems to be “never-ending,” too, and so it looks like I will be walking in the Light until this life is over – I guess I am more blessed than I know!

But, seriously, I know that whatever I may be doing on a physical level, I cannot take lightly my obligations on the spiritual level. I can walk into Heaven with or without steady legs and a clear head – but whether or not I get that privilege will depend on my total faith in Jesus’ substitutionary work on my behalf (His death) and his literal resurrection from that death. I must believe that He is the light sent from God, and that I must walk in His Light. The salvation from sin and the fellowship that results from such a walk are the reasons why Jesus came. Consider this from Hebrews 12: “So take a new grip with your tired hands, stand firm on your shaky legs, and mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that they who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves, but become strong” (Hebrews 12:12 – 13, TLB).

Declare the Praises

Thursday – March 29, 2018

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:9 & 10

37“But you are not like that, for you have been chosen by God himself—you are priests of the King, you are holy and pure, you are God’s very own—all this so that you may show to others how God called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (TLB).

1 Peter 2:9

When I accepted Christ as my Savior in July of 1955, I declared to the world that I was through questioning God’s importance in my life. I had heard enough and seen enough to know that His way really was the best way. I know, I know – you are wondering how could a young teenager know enough to make such a bold assessment?! Well, in the 3 years leading up to that Family Camp experience, I had seen so much love in action by my local church that I could not make a mistake about the source of that love. I had also seen the evidence of what a difference He made in the lives of the saved versus the unsaved. I saw what sin could do and where it could lead and I decided I wanted the better way – even if it meant I went that way alone. Most of my family supported me – or just ignored my new life – but some were downright hostile. Good friends at school did their best to lead me in a worldly direction, but by the time Senior High began, I knew what I had to do. I made the decision that “Though none go with me, still I will follow. I had decided to follow Jesus – no turning back!”

Immediately, I began to tell others how God had called me out of the darkness into His wonderful light. I took any and every opportunity to stand and testify of God’s kindness and the wonderful freedom from guilt that I felt. I began to find a song in every situation and was almost compelled to declare His praise everywhere I went. He had delivered me and I wanted to shout it – and so I did! How could I do less?! I could only share what He had done for me, how He had become my Savior, my comforter, my whole being – and I did it all the day long, publicly, privately, and especially in His Temple! My testimony was my praise to Him and my declaration to others that they, too, could find a way out of darkness and into light!

Looking back, and seeing how praise and testimony became the natural reaction to my deliverance, I understand better how the Holy Spirit inhabited me and helped me to reach others. This is how disciples are made and trained – we find Jesus, we share our story, others hear and believe and are changed and the cycle continues. The Church is headed by Christ and it is as we do His will and share His message that we fulfill our purpose to help others find a relationship with Him. Being the Church is as simple as telling our story and then equipping others to tell theirs.

Follow the Leader

Wednesday – March 28, 2018

Scripture: Hebrews 13:7 & 17

36Obey your spiritual leaders and be willing to do what they say. For their work is to watch over your souls, and God will judge them on how well they do this. Give them reason to report joyfully about you to the Lord and not with sorrow, for then you will suffer for it too” (TLB).

Hebrews 13:17

When I read this scripture I can’t help but go back in my memory to the much-loved leaders in my home church who taught me the Word so well! They loved me and tended me like a new shoot, then a bud, and all the way to a blossoming flower in the space of about 3 years. They never gave up on me! And when I did open my heart fully to the Savior, they kept on tending the garden – nourishing me, shaping me, pointing me always to God and never to their own selves. They taught me well and I know for sure that their reports of me to God and to others were always joyful. Their reward for all this is assured!

When Jesus began His earthly ministry He set the example for all who came after Him. He came at the Father’s bidding. He willingly did all God asked of Him. He was clearly a Servant. He taught His followers well, and, when He ascended into Heaven He carried His reward with Him (all those who had believed his message and all of us who would believe in the future). He, also, did pretty much all of this in 3 years, or so! Because there was so much work to do when Jesus finished His time here, he has entrusted that to all who now use His name and claim to follow Him. That is what my mentors did. That is what my generation did. That is what current and future generations will have as their purpose – to grow the Church universal – to connect God and man in a relationship that saves their souls.

In each instance I mentioned, there was a leader or leaders, teaching and demonstrating Truth. We have often said that there are no “Lone Ranger” Christians. Unless your particular situation keeps you all alone and with no connections to the outside world, you will need to be part of a local group or meeting house where God’s Word is taught and studied and where God’s love is modeled and sought. The leaders of these groups will have been charged by God to watch over your soul, and God will judge them on how well they do this. “Give them reason to report joyfully about you to the Lord and not with sorrow…” Especially remember, as Paul said elsewhere, to “follow them as they follow God” and so be discerning in your choice of whom to follow.

I am following my mentors as they followed wonderful saints of God from the past that had also followed saints who had also followed . . . all the way back to Jesus! Are you in this line following the Leader all the way to an eternity with Him and the other long lines that have formed elsewhere, doing the same thing? If so, keep your eyes straight ahead and on the prize. If not, then you are truthfully in the wrong line and following your leader straight to destruction. Quick! Change lines and begin on a new pathway – a pastor or a trusted Christ-follower is ready to help!

Spur One Another On

Tuesday – March 27, 2018

Scripture: Hebrews 10:24 – 25

3524 In response to all he has done for us, let us outdo each other in being helpful and kind to each other and in doing good. 25 Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (TLB)

Hebrews 10:24 – 25

We have all met the people who say, “I don’t need to go to church. I can meet/worship God anywhere.” This is always such a sad thing to hear, and my answer is usually that Christian life lived this way will surely not produce much fruit or last very long. We were made for fellowship and that is how we encourage each other. When hard times come, Jesus will be there to comfort and teach us, but at the same time we also need “Jesus in skin”- hugs and a human listening ear can make all the difference! In this scripture, the writer was also thinking about the fact that often in the darkness we doubt our decisions made in the light. We need to be meeting together regularly to warn each other of the danger of forsaking our salvation experience, and to remind each other of all Jesus has done for us. A warm, caring church group will be carrying on Jesus’ mission. They will be a reflection of Him and his love; they will be fulfilling His great commission by being his representatives wherever they go – telling His story; they will be His helpers and His hands, and His voice to the lost and downtrodden – in effect, the only Jesus that many will ever see. Such a loving and caring group will be a sending place, where Jesus’ people can gain confidence to go into all the world and spread his message. They will be a safe gathering place where healing and love and forgiveness can be found. They will be a learning place where studying and praying will help all to mature in the business of being helpful and kind to each other and in doing good (see verse 24). Such a church is what the writer had in mind when he wrote this letter to these believers and asked them to respond to all that Christ had done for them by outdoing each other in being helpful and kind to each other and in doing good. This can best be accomplished in a group of like-minded people.

If you were to read on in this chapter, you would find the writer, possibly Paul, telling us to never forget those wonderful days when we first learned about Christ. Whenever I think back to those days when I felt His presence so near that it was like I was enveloped by Him, when every moment was about Him and me, when all I wanted to do all day was talk to Him and bask in His love for me – well, I long for those days! Life goes on and we get busy in our jobs, etc., and things change just a bit. I know I could not remain there, but I don’t want to stop longing for it! I don’t want to forget how he sought me and brought me to Him. I don’t want to forget about His sacrifice and His love for me. The writer reminds us not to let this happy trust in the Lord die away, no matter what happens – and you know what the biggest factor has been in my keeping the faith? It has been “the regular assembling of or ourselves together in church meetings” and other fellowship times. The writer of Hebrews knew, and today WE STILL KNOW that this is essential. Thank God for the Church and His people and don’t ever forsake them, insofar as it is up to you.

Encourage One Another

Monday – March 26, 2018

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:1 – 11

 34“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Since this focus verse begins with the word “therefore” we must “therefore” look back at the previous section or sections to see why the writer is saying what he says next. Short form: When you see “therefore”- look back to see what it is there for. So, look at all of verses 1 through 10 to find the connection with verse 11. Those verses are a short “homily” by Paul about the concerns of the Thessalonians over “the Day of the Lord” – a reference to the second coming of Jesus. I have heard many people pontificating on this subject over the years when the truth is that we just do NOT know the day and time of its happening. Paul handles that issue very succinctly in just two sentences (as translated into English).  Basically Paul says that it will come “like thief in the night” and apparently very quickly. End of discussion, right. It is all there in a nutshell, so to speak. The thought is there that the only ones who need to “worry” about this event are those whose lives are not in order.

He then goes on and speaks to them as ones whose lives are in order (verses 4 – 10). First Paul speaks in the aforementioned verses about just who/what these believers are and are not (verses 4 – 7). Then, he focuses his attention on how they, and we, are to be prepared for “the Day of the Lord.” His famous illustration of the Armor of God is, in part, given here when he mentions a breastplate of love and faith (5:8a) and the helmet of salvation that he calls, “the hope of salvation (5:8b). The next two verses (5:9 & 10) give his reason for making those statements. The short of it is: God does not want to expend His wrath on us but desires to save us through our Lord Jesus. Also, Jesus died so that all may live together with Him.

The Father did all He could to give humanity the opportunity to escape “the day of the Lord” by sending Jesus to become our salvation for us to enjoy being in His presence for all eternity. Because of this, Paul then tells those Thessalonians to keep on encouraging one another. That is what they were already doing, according to Paul, and they should keep on doing the same. It bothers me a great deal when so many believers spend an inordinate amount of time puzzling over the end times and all the events leading up to it and beyond. The actuality is that you and I can do nothing to change those things even one little iota. What we can do is simply believe in and live for Jesus in the here and now, thus showing His love and mercy to those around us to see as many presented to the Lord for salvation, as much as it is possible in the time we have on this earth until the end time comes.  Blessed is he whom the Lord finds doing what he is supposed to be doing until Jesus comes again. If we are working in a field when that happens, let it find us witnessing to anyone else working alongside us so he/she will also be taken to heaven on that day. Wouldn’t that be a much better use of our time and energy than concern over something we have no power over? The thought of that day is important only in that it should spur us on to BE better “story tellers” for Jesus so many others will be joined with us. Always remember that history is His Story being worked out among men.

Blessed is He

Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018

Scripture: John 12:12-16

Blessed Is He - Logo12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” 

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

Way back in 1945 (some of you remember 1945) there began a radio program called “Queen for a Day.” In 1956 the show arrived to television on NBC. It moved to ABC in 1960 and finally came to an end in 1964. On the show, the Host, Jack Bailey, would bring out several women contestants and interview them. They would tell all about what they would do if they were Queen for a Day. They would talk about the difficult times in their lives and then Bailey would ask them what they needed the most. Maybe they needed medical care or equipment for a sick child, maybe a hearing aid or a new kitchen appliance. The winner was decided according to the applause of the crowd which, of course, was measured on the applause meter. After the winner was determined, they would play Pomp and Circumstances and drape a red robe on her. They would place a glittering crown on her head, sit her down on an upholstered throne and given a dozen long-stemmed roses while they listed the prizes she had won. Naturally, she would weep uncontrollably at her good fortune. The prizes, donated by their sponsors, attempted to meet her greatest needs along with lots of extras. The host would then give his trademark sign-off: “This is Jack Bailey, wishing we could make every woman queen, for every single day!”

How does that sound to you? Have you ever wished to be queen, or king, for a day? I’m telling you about this show because it’s Palm Sunday. It’s the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on donkey’s colt to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” Jesus had, very recently, raised Lazarus from the dead and the crowd was going wild over it. They were ready to give him a crown and make him king. In fact, when they said “king of Israel,” it was a messianic reference. They were calling him Messiah. But it didn’t last. He was king for a day but, by the end of the week, he would be nailed to a cross and abandoned by just about everyone.

Actually, Jesus is King for all eternity. You and I know that already. But the people didn’t expect the Jesus we all have come to know. We understand the messiah as our savior from sin and death; those in Jerusalem were looking for a king to save them from Roman rule. They were looking for an earthly king, not the savior and giver of life for their souls. King for a day and executed soon thereafter. Some king.

They were shouting “Hosanna!” It literally means, “save now.” This whole procession is fascinating for two reasons: first, these shouts were typical for the festival of booths and, second, these shouts were typical of a victory celebration when a conquering leader came home from defeating the enemy. In the festival of booths, this song would be sung to welcome worshippers to Jerusalem. Using the messianic reference here, the crowd is connecting this feast to Jesus and urging him on to victory.

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.”  It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t explain all this to the disciples. The Holy Spirit guided them in understanding this later, when they saw more clearly who Jesus really is. Like the disciples, we don’t always understand what is happening, or why it is happening, until later.

Looking around the world it’s plain to see that people still don’t understand King Jesus. They live in the here and now and the future is always in the future. When they see Jesus, they’re hoping for someone who will come and fix their lives – make it easier and give them what they really want in life: riches, comfort – heaven on earth. They want absolution for their sins and permission to live the way they want to live. They’re looking for a god who affirms the way they live and always gives without ever asking for anything. They want the world; not heaven. Many will meet Jesus and see the promised fulfillment of what they most desire. Some will meet Jesus and see the hope of eternity, forgiveness of sins, life breathed into their spirits and fellowship with their Creator.

The branches are waving and the crowd is shouting. Palm Sunday is here. What are you looking for today? Which King will you show the world when you leave this sanctuary? The king they want, or the King they need? King for a day, or King for eternity?

Actions Grow from the Soul

Saturday – March 24, 2018

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1: 2 & 3

33“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 1:3

We will be sharing in this devotional about where our actions come from. The title I chose was “Actions Grow from the Soul,” as that was the closest I could come to describing three separate actions and what brought them into being. However, I have no idea at this point what title will be given by our publisher. That is kind of a new title, or hat, our pastor can wear. He wears many different ones all the time. I used the word “Soul” to indicate what takes place in our inner being.

Three different physical actions are spoken of in these verses and each is paired with an inner force which brings that action to fruition. It is an Action paired with its Cause. I hope this becomes clearer as we proceed. Those “actions” and “causes” are: Work + Faith, Labor + Love, Endurance + Hope. All of these are mentioned because Paul is giving thanks for them as a part of his thankfulness for the Thessalonians. It would appear that when Paul thinks of the Thessalonians, he remembers these three things about them.

The first of these pairings of remembrance is their “work produced by faith.” Wait, where have I heard of that before? Oh yes, it is in the Book of James where James writes about this very thing in James 2:14 – 26. Perhaps one of the most well-known verses is James 2:17, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by deeds, is dead.” Pretty blunt, isn’t it? Paul puts in slightly different words but with the same result. Work is produced by faith. Which means that the impetus to do (likely) good works springs out of a person’s faith. What you believe and trust in is the ground from which this work grows. It comes from our deepest beliefs. The Thessalonians were a “body of believers” that put their faith into action and produced work for the Kingdom of God. Paul saw this in them.

The second pairing of remembrance is their “labor prompted by love.” Love produces specific things as it is exercised, doesn’t it? As I write this we are only a few days away from a special day we celebrate called, Valentine’s Day. Hearts, roses, dining out, small gifts (some expensive in money, others expensive in love), cards and whispered, sung and shouted words of love are just some of the things we envision happening on that day. They are all prompted by love. The first valentine card I can remember giving was given to my grandmother, Hazel. She is the one who raised me and my siblings after her daughter, my mom, died. We loved her totally and tried to show it in tangible ways – by our actions – and in the other ways mentioned above, which are also actions using props, of a sort. We really need to express love through action to show, or “prove,” its veracity – that it is true. Labor, which is something that personally costs us something, is somehow more real. Have you ever surprised someone you love by doing something that reduced the amount of time they spend caring for you? Have you ever thought of that as a labor of love? So, our labor can be a gift of love – produced by love.

The third, and last, pairing of remembrance is their “endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Lord Jesus Christ is eternal in nature thus the “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” has overtones of eternity in it. Paul uses the word “endurance” to indicate something that continues for a long time. Usually he has used it in terms of a race that is run which requires endurance.  Life, itself, can be seen as a race that requires endurance. You keep on, keeping on, in spite of all that conspires to cause you to quit. “Finishing the course” takes endurance. Our “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” can be the catalyst for much of our desire to “stay the course” in life and one day enter into the “joy of the Lord.” Don’t sniff at “endurance!” it is never too highly rated for our lives. Our time on this earth is unknown with regard to length but it is marked by many other things that are, can we say, like hills, valleys, rain, snow, sleet, hail and other difficulties that want to stop us from forging ahead. The ability to endure for the Christian comes from our “hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” We look ahead to the day when he says to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter now into the joy of my rest.”

Christ came and showed us faith by His work in our midst, love through His labor on our behalf, and to give us hope so that we can endure until either Jesus comes or we go to Him. Now abides faith, hope and love. How do we express these things of a spiritual nature to those around us? How are we BE-ing what Jesus was and what he teaches?