Devotional Message, The Journey of Faith

Are You Pushing God Away?

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The story has been told of a believer, Frederick Nolan, who was fleeing from his enemies during a time of persecution in North Africa. Pursued by them over hill and valley with no place to hide, he fell exhausted into a wayside cave, expecting his enemies to find him soon.

Awaiting his death, he saw a spider weaving a web. Within minutes, the little bug had spun a beautiful web across the mouth of the cave. The pursuers arrived and wondered if Nolan was hiding there, but on seeing the unbroken and unmangled piece of art, thought it impossible for him to have entered the cave without dismantling the web. And so, they went on. Having escaped, Nolan burst out and exclaimed:

“Where God is, a spider’s web is like a wall,

Where God is not, a wall is like a spider’s web.”

Where God is not, a wall is like a spider’s web.”How often I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings! But you were not willing! (GWN) Luke 13:34b

Jesus Christ has shown himself more than willing, to receive and entertain any poor soul that comes to him, and put themselves under his Lordship. “How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, with such care and tenderness!”

How willing are we to give up control?

I can’t speak for other sinners, but I personally like to be in perceived control of my life.  Now mind you I have not often done a great job with that control, but I still love the idea that I am in control.  Take a step back and look at the reason we sinners struggle with the above verse.  It summarizes a struggle we have with Jesus for control.  Jesus enlightens us with the divine truth here.  You are not protected, not under the wings of Jesus, because of one reason, our “unwillingness.”  God didn’t turn His back on us. It’s is just the opposite.  We reject His care.  People chose self-reliance.  Our strength is more appealing. Independence rules that day. The pull yourself up by your own bootstraps has led us to desire to do things our own way.   Consequently, we come running to God when our strength fails. This desire for control left the blood of Jesus on Israel’s head and covers ours as well. Jesus laments the choices humanity makes. You read that remorse in the verse above. Oh, how I wished you had taken a different path.  That you made wise choices. Would it be better for you if you trusted in the One who cares for you deeply?  Jesus cares for you.  His care led Jesus to give His life to save you from your sins.

As we face the tough choices and times in our lives today may God guide us.  May He encourage us to trust in Him. The Holy Spirit points us back to the power of the Cross “It is my desire to gather you, to protect you from the trials of life, and through the blood of Christ gives you eternal life.” So, often in the midst of life’s toughest moments, we feel alone, isolated, wondering where is God in all this?  Know that God is there.  Waiting to bring you under His protective wings, if you are willing to give up control. God stands ready to encourage, ready to protect. Are you listening, are you seeking, are you willing? Maybe we are not trusting that the spider web is God’s wall and seeing only the spider web?

Prayer: Dear heavenly Father gives us hearts ready and willing to receive that word of encouragement and the protection offered by you. In Jesus name. Amen.

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Devotional Message, Psalm 23, Transitions

Are the Needs of the One Greater Than the Needs of the Many?

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“He brings me back.” Psalm 23:3

 The Camden, Maine Herald ran two photos on the same page: one of Camden’s board of selectmen and town manager; the other of a flock of sheep. Unintentionally the captions were reversed. Under the picture of the sheep the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; the one under the photo of the city fathers grouped around a table read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.” —Down-East[1]

Shepherds in the Holy Land, when asked to describe how sheep operate, have said that once a sheep knows that it is lost, it tries to hide under a bush or rock and begins quivering and bleating. The shepherd must locate it quickly lest it is heard and killed by a wild animal.

The psalmist, King David, provides some insight here to one of Jesus’ most popular yet misunderstood parables.  The parable is of the lost sheep.  It will add to our study of the Good Shepherd.  One thing about the parable that is often most misunderstood is, why would the shepherd leave the 99 to go after the one?  Isn’t bad stewardship?  Do we just count that as collateral damage?  If you struggle with this logic, you are thinking like a human and not like the divine.

The Background of the Text

Jesus is addressing this set of three parables to the self-righteous Pharisees, who believe they are so right with the Ancient of Days that they have no need for a savior.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So, he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 1

Why Does the One Matter?

Here is where the next and most important lesson about sheep comes in to explain Jesus’ odd mathematical calculations.  Once a sheep is lost it becomes so traumatized that it is unable to walk and must be carried back to the flock or the village. Unaided, the lost sheep cannot find its way home and will most certainly become the victim of a predator.   That is the same fact that awaits the sinner who is lost and outside God’s sheepfold.  He/she cries out to be found.  The sheep may not even realize it is crying out, but the Good Shepherd hears that plea for help.  He sees it in the choices the sheep is making.  The shepherd hears it in the prayers of desperation that are prayed in their hour of deepest need.  And just like actual sheep, the lost soul’s only hope is the Good Shepherd who will come after us and hopefully find us, pick us up and carry us back to safety.  There are two critical actions the shepherd must take.

The shepherd must come after the lost sheep, which in itself is a costly endeavor for the Good Shepherd to come rescue it.  The Good Shepherd has to lay down His life on Calvary’s cross and then three days later pick up that life again.  He does this because a price must be paid by the shepherd to restore the lost sheep to the flock.  That is why when any lost sheep is restored there is rejoicing in heaven, because the cost for each sheep is precious.  God desires all lost sheep be restored.  That is just how valuable the sheep are to the Good Shepherd.  Now you see why Jesus will drop everything to go after the one.  The one matters to God.

[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (pp. 1533–1534). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

 

Other posts on Psalm 23.

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/18/do-you-know-any-shepherds

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/25/still-waters-runs-deep/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/06/07/how-to-navigate-the-valley-of-death

 

Devotional Message, Psalm 23

Still, Waters Run Deep!

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He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.

3He restores my soul. Psalm 23:2-3

 The Shepherd Provides

The early Native Americans had a unique practice of training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting, and fishing skills, he was put to one final test. He was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then, he had never been away from the security of the family and the tribe. But on this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods, and he was terrified! Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke, and the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was his father. He had been there all night long.  -Our Daily Bread.

Stop and ponder that picture for a moment.  We go through life so often feeling terrified of all things happening around us. Like the blindfolded young braves, we attempt to man up and get through life all alone not knowing or understanding that we are never alone.  The Good Shepherd is there all the time never more than a few feet away, saying it is ok.  It is safe.   As we continue to slow walk our way through Psalm 23, there are just two imagines to meditate on here.

He settles me down in green pastures.

Sheep are skittish creatures and with good reason.  They have no weapons with which to defend themselves.  So, a sheep will not simply plop down for a nap unless the conditions are ideal. No one can make a lamb lie down. And only very young sheep can lie down and get up without assistance.  Sheep will only lie down when: 1) they have had plenty to eat, 2) have quenched their thirst, and 3) they are not threatened by any wild animal or disturbed by biting insects.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says you can have that feeling of complete protection and provision.  I will take care of all your needs so that you can rest secure in the bosom of your Savior.

He leads me beside still waters.

Sheep are afraid to drink water if it is moving.  So, to accommodate the sheep the shepherd must plan his entire day around the availability of water in the middle of the day.  Sheep remind me a lot of people.  We need to be pampered and cared for; we tend to be easily disturbed by the things around us beyond our control.  In spite of how difficult we can be to care for and even love, Jesus the Good Shepherd, knowing all of this about us still provides “still water” no matter the cost. And the cost to the Good Shepherd was His life.  He still leads me.  He still loves me.  His still waters truly run deep.

Other posts in this series:
https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/18/do-you-know-any-shepherds/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/31/are-the-needs-of-the-one-greater-than-the-needs-of-the-many

https://revheadpin.org/2017/06/07/how-to-navigate-the-valley-of-death

Devotional Message, Psalm 23

Do You Know Any Shepherds?

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“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

 Most of us are not familiar with shepherds.  I bet we would have a hard time naming three off the top of your head.  Just to test this theory name three now, and Jesus does not count (his profession was a carpenter).

To help us better define what a shepherd is we will use as our primary text Psalm 23 written by a famous shepherd, David. We hear the scriptures describe the Lord as a shepherd, and Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep, but we don’t resonate with that. However, Jesus provides some context for his definition of the role the Good Shepherd plays in the life of his flock of believers.  The Shepherd heals and restores the broken.  You see that demonstrated in John 9 when Jesus heals the man born blind.  Jesus also heals the sick, brings back the lost and provides for the needs of the sheep, i.e. the feeding of the 4,000 and 5,000.

Over the next several weeks we will look at a few aspects of how King David defines the Good Shepherd.  I think it will help you better understand Jesus’ identification of being the Good Shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; Psalm 23:1a

 The shepherd is the only real line of defense the sheep have.  Sheep are like babies.  They are entirely dependent on the goodness and care of the shepherd.  Jesus points to this in John 10, 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” The sheep have no way to protect themselves when the wolf comes.  If the one protecting the sheep abandons them, they are toast.  All the sheep can do is run.

 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

 

Most of us are not familiar with shepherds.  I bet we would have a hard time naming three off the top of your head.  Just to test this theory name three now, and Jesus does not count (his profession was a carpenter).

To help us better define what a shepherd is we will use as our primary text Psalm 23 written by a famous shepherd, David. We hear the scriptures describe the Lord as a shepherd, and Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep, but we don’t resonate with that. However, Jesus provides some context for his definition of the role the Good Shepherd plays in the life of his flock of believers.  The Shepherd heals and restores the broken.  You see that demonstrated in John 9 when Jesus heals the man born blind.  Jesus also heals the sick, brings back the lost and provides for the needs of the sheep, i.e. the feeding of the 4,000 and 5,000.

Over the next several weeks we will look at a few aspects of how King David defines the Good Shepherd.  I think it will help you better understand Jesus’ identification of being the Good Shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd;

 

The shepherd is the only real line of defense the sheep have.  Sheep are like babies.  They are entirely dependent on the goodness and care of the shepherd.  Jesus points to this in John 10, 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” The sheep have no way to protect themselves when the wolf comes.  If the one protecting the sheep abandons them, they are toast.  All the sheep can do is run.  The Good Shepherd provides protection for the sheep in the midst of all dangers, with Jesus in charge there is no need for any other security.

 

I shall not want.

 

Madonna, the singer not the Mother of our Lord, once had a song called, “Living in a Material World.”  And that title is so telling.  We do live in a very materialistic society.  To counter that Jesus makes a bold claim, “I am the Good Shepherd, I care for the sheep.” Translation “You shall not want.” Notice Jesus did not say you shall not desire.  Jesus never promises to satisfy all my desires, and that is a good thing.  I have lots of desires.  I love shoes.  That drives my wife crazy.  I have shoes for every mood I am in. Lately, I have given away most of them some only worn three or four times.

Best Buy is always a bad idea for me, because I love technology.  I saw this brand-new television that curves and is in 3D with surround sound speakers so you can feel like you are in the movie theater. And on top of it when you watch sports on it you can see the sweat drop off the players.  Do I desire that? You bet, does Jesus promise me I will get that, No!  Jesus says you shall not want, in other words, the Good Shepherd promises to provide me with the basics in life, food, drink, tranquility, to rescue me when I am lost, give me freedom from fear and death.  Jesus never promises to grant all my desires, if he did I would need a bigger barn to store all those things.  Jesus gives me what I need so that I am not in want.  He knows me.  He understands my situation. I can put my trust in him for the things I need today.  Jesus reminds us that in Matthew 6, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

 

Come back next Thursday as we continue our walk through Psalm 23.

 

I shall not want. Psalm 23:1b

 Madonna, the singer not the Mother of our Lord, once had a song called, “Living in a Material World.”  And that title is so telling.  We do live in a very materialistic society.  To counter that Jesus makes a bold claim, “I am the Good Shepherd, I care for the sheep.” Translation “You shall not want.” Notice Jesus did not say you shall not desire.  Jesus never promises to satisfy all my desires, and that is a good thing.  I have lots of desires.  I love shoes.  That drives my wife crazy.  I have shoes for every mood I am in. Lately, I have given away most of them some only worn three or four times.

Best Buy is always a bad idea for me because I love technology.  I saw this brand-new television that curves and is in 3D with surround sound speakers so you can feel like you are in the movie theater. And on top of it when you watch sports on you can see the sweat drop off the players.  Do I desire that? You bet, does Jesus promise me I will get that, No!  Jesus says you shall not want, in other words, the Good Shepherd promises to provide me with the basics in life, food, drink, tranquility, to rescue me when I am lost, give me freedom from fear and death.  Jesus never promises to grant all my desires, if he did I would need a bigger barn to store all those things.  Jesus gives me what I need so that I am not in want.  He knows me.  He understands my situation. I can put my trust in him for the things I need today.  Jesus reminds us that in Matthew 6, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

 

Read more as we continue our walk through Psalm 23.
https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/25/still-waters-runs-deep

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/31/are-the-needs-of-the-one-greater-than-the-needs-of-the-many

https://revheadpin.org/2017/06/07/how-to-navigate-the-valley-of-death

Devotional Message

Are You Oblivious to the Obvious?

lightstock_88429_small_byrene_haney      That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (ESV Luke 24:13-15)

“Can’t see your nose in front of your face “

Idiom Meaning – Being oblivious to something obvious, in clear view

On the Road to Emmaus Jesus, had His faithful disciples not recognize him.

It is easy to focus on the disciples short-comings.   To see the disciples as men with a weak faith or just too spiritually dense to be effective witnesses. Why were the disciples unable to see the obvious?  Jesus is right there in front of their face, and they can’t see him.  Could the answer also be obvious?

A Cultural Blindness

Early in the Easter story account, we know that God used the witness of the women at the tomb to broadcast the news that, “Christ, is Risen!”  In that period of history, women were not allowed to testify in a Roman court because they were considered by the men of that time to be untrustworthy witnesses.  I love how God turns man-made customs and rules on their head.  In all four of the accounts in the Gospels, the people who gave witness to the resurrection were not the faithful male followers, but women. Societies second-class citizens were given the honor to announce to the world, God keeps His promise and has rescued Israel.

Is it possible that what contributed to the disciple’s spiritual density is that they were reacting to the societal norms of rejecting the untrustworthy witness of the women?

What is causing you blindness in your Emmaus road journey?  What group of people in your life if they were the ones God called to tell you Christ is risen would you struggle to find reliable?

But the disciples did something right. In this story.

How to Welcome the Stranger?

  1. Be Inclusive- The disciples on the Emmaus road even though they were still dealing with their internal grief were still opened to widening their circle to include this outsider. I can’t speak for you, but when a stranger comes near, my first reaction is suspicion and then caution. But to their credit that is not the response of these followers. They don’t walk a little faster to get to their destination sooner. They didn’t ignore the stranger hoping he would just get the message and go away. After, all this is a time of mourning, who has time for idle chit chat? Even, though they did not recognize Jesus, the interacted with him. They had a welcoming heart and spirit to include him in their lives at this most vulnerable time. They had the wherewithal to have a deep faith conversation with someone who seems totally unaware of one of the most epic events in the history of mankind, The Son of God, has been killed, which leads to point number two.
  1. They Shared their Faith. Even though they were unaware of who this stranger was, they shared with him the events of the last three days.

“And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

You can hear in this conversation the disappointment in the disciple’s voice.  All their hopes and dreams of who Jesus was and what He would do to rescue Israel were dashed on the that Good Friday, but Jesus would not leave them in that despair.  He would open the Word of God for them, and He would open their eyes when He is invited to their house.  And that is the final point.

  1. They Entertained the Stranger in their home. These two disciples do the right thing through their hospitality. In that culture, guests were expected to refuse an offer of hospitality until the host firmly insisted that they stay and eat. These disciples do just that and what a faith-filled blessing that was for them.

So, they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So, he went in to stay with them.

Jesus not only remains but He takes control of the meal. Jesus takes the bread just like He did at the Passover celebration where He redefines the meal.  He says this bread is my body broken and given to you for the forgiveness of sins.  This wine is my blood, sealing a covenant with God and mankind. Jesus gives thanks and takes the bread, the host, and in the breaking the bread their eyes are open, and they see Jesus.  We too recognize that Jesus appears to us in the meal of Holy Communion, in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine. That was true then, and it is true now. When we are courageous enough to open our hearts and lives to welcome the stranger, we show them Jesus in our midst.

Devotional Message

The Cure To Overcoming the Thomas Syndrome of Doubt

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What to do when you have doubts?

21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  John 20:21

Three things:

  1. Live in the Shalom of God.

Peace. It’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Shalom.” Words are meaning peace, wholeness. Fullness. Harmony. As resurrection people, we are called and equipped to live life together in the manner we were created.  We were created to live in community with one another,  sharing the highs and lows of life together.  To model to the world the power of forgiving one another when others offend and cause us pain.  The peace that comes only through authentic fellowship with God openly inviting those who have strayed back to the love of God. Like the disciples discovered over 2,000 years ago, fear short-circuits faith. Jesus short-circuits fear and rekindles faith.

How does Jesus bring peace where there is fear? He shows up.  He encourages.  He breathes on the disciples, a foreshadowing of what is to come on Pentecost.

Jesus is understanding.  He is compassionate.  He dispels doubt.  Jesus meets the disciples and us where we are, in our fears, dealing with faith crippling doubt and He speaks into out lives and says, “I understand you’re afraid, but have Shalom. Know that you are not helpless. You are not without hope. You will never be alone again. I have overcome death and the grave and I am here to help you overcome your fears and doubts. Stop unbelieving and believe. Live in the confident power of the Holy Spirit. Live in faith, trust and hope, and not in fear. I will be with you always even until the end of time.”

  1. Realize you have received the Holy Spirit.

22After he had said this, he breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22

 Gordon Brownville’s Symbols of the Holy Spirit tells about the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first to discover the magnetic meridian of the North Pole and to discover the South Pole. On one of his trips, Amundsen took a homing pigeon with him. When he had finally reached the top of the world, he opened the bird’s cage and set it free. Imagine the delight of Amundsen’s wife, back in Norway, when she looked up from the doorway of her home and saw the pigeon circling in the sky above. No doubt she exclaimed, “He’s alive! My husband is still alive!”

So, it was when Jesus ascended. He was gone, but the disciples clung to his promise to send them the Holy Spirit. What joy, then, when the dovelike Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. The disciples had with them the continual reminder that Jesus was alive and victorious at the right of the Father. This continues to be the Spirit’s message.  -Thomas Lindberg.

The same Jesus who sends the disciples and us into the mission field also enables those whom he sends.  Jesus empowers us with the enabling gift of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Remember why Jesus came and that now He Sends us to be on mission for Him

As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” John 20:22b

David, a 2-year old with leukemia, was taken by his mother, Deborah, to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to see Dr. John Truman who specializes in treating children with cancer and various blood diseases. Dr. Truman’s prognosis was devastating: “He has a 50-50 chance.” The countless clinic visits, the blood tests, the intravenous drugs, the fear, and pain–the mother’s ordeal can be almost as bad as the child’s because she must stand by, unable to bear the pain herself. David never cried in the waiting room, and although his friends in the clinic had to hurt him and stick needles in him, he hustled in ahead of his mother with a smile, sure of the welcome he always got. When he was three, David had to have a spinal tap–a painful procedure at any age. It was explained to him that, because he was sick, Dr. Truman had to do something to make him better. “If it hurts, remember it’s because he loves you,” Deborah said. The procedure was horrendous. It took three nurses to hold David still, while he yelled and sobbed and struggled. When it was almost over, the tiny boy, soaked in sweat and tears, looked up at the doctor and gasped, “Thank you, Dr. Tooman, for my hurting.” -Monica Dickens, Miracles of Courage, 1985.

That is at the heart of the Easter message.  Jesus came to take the hurt and the pain that was ours to endure.  He went willing to the cross, with a willing spirit and never blamed us for putting Him there.  And now he sends us His followers out like He did that first band of frightened brothers out to continue the work He began.  But does not send them or us out unprepared nor ill-equipped but He sends us out with all the authority and power of His position as King.

Jesus boldly says to us, “I the Lord, Jesus Christ, who has been given all authority in heaven and on Earth, command you, my devoted disciples in every age to go to the ends of the earth, to teach all people of every tribe and nation my gospel. Make all people my disciples who in turn will produce other disciples to expand my kingdom to the ends of the earth.”

What a bold, majestic command of our Lord and Savior. No one else would dare make such a decree.  Not only does Jesus command we “go out” this same Jesus backs up that order with all the authority of heaven and seals it with the promise of salvation in His precious blood shed on Calvary’s cross and verified with the empty tomb.

Jesus came back to move the disciples from fear to mission.  And He calls, equips and empowers us to do the same.  He reminds us that we have His Spirit living and dwelling inside us and that Holy Spirit points us back to the resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. That same Spirit comforts our soul when it is dealing with uncertainty and doubt so that we can have the peace that comes only from our relationship with God.

The other post on faith:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/04/25/is-there-a-place-for-doubting-thomas-in-our-churches

 

 

Devotional Message

Is There A Place for Doubting Thomas in Our Churches?

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24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord! But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” John 20:24-25

The Biblical account we will focus our spiritual radar on today is famously known as the chronicle of “doubting” Thomas. Many scholars of all theological persuasions have commented that the description of the account of what happened isn’t fair to Thomas, and it doesn’t do justice to the story. A careful look at the translation of the word “doubt” in the original Greek does not appear anywhere in the story. In Verse 27b, a more accurate translation of “Do not doubt but believe,” is “Do not be unbelieving.” 

The account of “Unbelieving Thomas” has always been one of my favorites. Of course, it’s not just a narrative about Thomas. It’s also an eyewitness account about a group of frightened disciples. So, scared, in fact, that, they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the horrible, humiliating death of Jesus Christ the one they confessed to being the Messiah.  They stood by helpless as He was betrayed by one of his own, Judas, one of the most famous traitors in history.  They witnessed the most lopsided, miscarriage of justice trial in history that the Jewish religious leaders quickly put together in the dead of night.  This mock trail pulled together in a matter of hours had Jesus tried and convicted by both Jewish religious leaders and Roman civil authorities.  From there they took this innocent man and had him brutally beaten and executed between two actually guilty criminals.

Stop for a moment and put yourself in the disciples’ shoes.  It is little wonder they were afraid?  If they could do this to Jesus as popular as He was with the crowds, and did nothing but improve the lives of those He came in contact with, then what is next?  What would those same people who had Jesus killed have in mind for His followers?  Logic would dictate that next they round up Jesus’ followers and snuff out the movement.  In the midst of all this fear and uncertainty.  Jesus reappears alive on the scene, their fears are sweep away and are replaced by unbridled joy.

Just the way you imagined faith to work, right? Yes, perhaps you’ve got doubts and questions and fears, but then God arrives and those all fall away, replaced by joy, wonder and, of course, unshakeable faith.

But that’s not the way it works with Thomas nor the way it works for us, either.  He is uncertain. He questions. He disbelieves. He has a moment of shaken faith.  He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And who can blame him? He was, after all, one of those who saw his Lord and friend mistreated, beaten, and then crucified and has probably spent the last few days pulling the broken pieces of his life back together and trying to figure out what to do next. In fact, he might have already started getting on with his life.  Why else, I wonder, is he out and about when the rest of the disciples are hiding behind locked doors. It is possible he is thinking it is time to get back to the grind of life and restart my career that was placed on hold as I chased after this charismatic Rabbi. But Thomas is not alone in his questioning.  He joins a long list of those who struggled to believe.

♣    Epicurus– Greek Philosopher” -Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

♣    Stan Lee, Comic Artist”- Q: Is there a God? A: Well, let me put it this way… [Pauses.] No, I’m not going to try to be clever. I really don’t know. I just don’t know.”- Onion AV Club Article, Oct. 9, 2002

♣    Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft”- Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”- Time Magazine – January 13, 1996

  • Heidi Klum, Model”- I believe I have a healthy common sense and therefore have no need for religion.”- Vogue (Germany), June 2009

♣    Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek”- We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.”- Free Inquiry, Autumn 1992

Some Questions to Ponder this season after Easter:

Does doubt mean faith is not working properly?

Thomas comes to faith because he first has the chance to voice his doubt and questions and then experiences Jesus for himself. Perhaps if this is the opportunity before us this week, I want to provide the same opportunities for the many Thomases sitting in our churches and traveling this journey of life and faith.

Why Are We Here Questioning? 

Some observations:

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. 

If ever there was a sure thing, Jesus should have been it. I mean, this was the Messiah, the one Israel had spent generations waiting for. He walked for miles and spent his precious moments healing the sick, casting out demons, verballing challenging the religious institution, and raising the dead. He shook up the world.  He was on this path to greatness.  And in a week’s time from His triumphant march into Jerusalem to Good Friday, everything is brought to a screeching halt.  Jesus was incredible. He should have been their greatest Earthly King.

The disciples find themselves in this odd place. Their world has been rocked, and their faith was shaken to the core with one horrendous weekend turn of events.  Their leader had been crucified.  He died a death without honor, one reserved for the lowest of criminals. If Rome had their say, they were going to prove this Jesus of Galilee was no Messianic king.  And would display that fact publicly on one of the most traveled roads for all the world to see.  Israel would see their king dangling above the crowds on a cross on a hill placed between two thieves.  With a sign above his head declaring to the crowds who once followed and cheered him, here is your King.  Bow down and worship him now!

The followers of this disgraced king now spent their frightened saturated moments huddled together in a room filled with fear and anxiety concerned at the pending retribution of those who have unfinished business.  They wanted to wipe any memory of this Jesus of Nazareth off the face of the earth. The religious leaders will move swiftly to destroy this grass roots movement of the man from Galilee.

This fear was thick and tangible. Surrounding everyone, and filling each word and look.

We know this fear. Every single day we have very valid reasons to be afraid.  Whether that fear comes from the senseless crimes that happen too often innocent bystanders. To the fact that many of us are just one pay check away from financial ruin.  That fear could be due to the knowledge that there are dangerous people in the world with a different belief system who seek to terrorize us. There are many trapped with social anxiety that leads to the fear and reality of isolation.  No matter what it is you are afraid of many people are living in fear. And that fear can cause us to struggle with unbelief and doubt of the existence of God.  But let’s redirect here and ponder this.

Is there a place in our pews for the Thomas’s of the world?

So, here’s what I’m wondering a day or two, after a joyous Easter service: do we make room for the Thomases in our world? I remember as a teen when in religious instruction class that one teen brave enough to raise his hand and dares question “is this all real?”, only to be quickly shut down.  There is no room for doubt, “Stop doubting and believe” we were told.  I suspect that there are those among with us this Sunday that struggle with the Thomas syndrome. Who need a little bit more than, “Stop doubting and believe.”  Some followers who would like a little hard evidence, maybe even a personal appearance of Jesus.

Ponder this questions until we address on the next post how we deal with doubt:

What is that fear that is pushing faith to the back of your heart?

The cure to dealing with doubt:
https://revheadpin.org/2017/04/26/the-cure-to-overcome-doubt

Sermon Prompts

How Do You Overcome The Post-Easter Blues?

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Well, the mountain-top experience is over. You came to heard a great Jesus-centered, uplifting, hopeful message. You left feeling you could take on whatever ugliness life will throw at you. The music was moving. Inspired. You have never heard the choirs and bands sound more polished. The fellowship was warming, authentic, and heartfelt, it has you thinking, “I really should come back to church. I need this weekly spiritual boost.” Let’s face it life have been rough lately. Things are not going according to plans. Something profound and meaningful is missing in your life. Could it be that God is calling you back to him? Maybe this Easter service was the spark?

But you have tried this before. You come back to church the Sunday after Easter, and you don’t experience the same energy, the same focus. People aren’t as warm and friendly as they were the week before. The pastor who preached that powerful sermon is on vacation and there is a guest preacher who is not bringing that same energy. And this text is about Doubting Thomas. Boy, does that speak to your heart? You have doubts about all this church stuff. You drift away again, hit right between the eyes with the realities of life. It will take you eight months to get up the nerve to try it again. Once the weather turns cold, and the songs turn from “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” to “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” How can you avoid those wide swings in your connection with God? Here are a few suggestions to overcome the Post-Easter blues.

Connect with Other Believers Outside of Sunday only:

Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It must stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me. John 15:4

As a believer, you were not created to be a self-contained unit. We cannot exist outside of the community. The network of people who share a common confession, united mission, and deep love for the Savior creates a robust support system for each other. When you voluntarily exclude yourself from that power source, you can see how your spiritual juices get depleted. To take John’s analogy deeper, just as a branch cut off from the vine is separated from its supply of nourishment so it cannot produce fruit, that also applies to the believer. If the Christian is not connected to God and community, they are cut off from spiritual nourishment. The longer a believer is removed from the power source, the more aggressive the efforts need to be to infuse life-giving sustenance into the parched soul.

Taking Spiritual Inventory

If you are unsure of your spiritual condition, John points out that “fruit bearing” is an indicator of spiritual health. We need to be cautious in this area. “Fruit-bearing” has been used to point believers away from work done for them by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Bearing fruit in the life of the disciple is entirely dependent on a direct connection to Jesus. That “fruit bearing” flows naturally out of our faith. Attachment to Jesus or abiding in Him is, therefore, the focal point, the foundation of Christian discipleship.

Receive the Love that is Waiting for You

What most likely moved your heart at the Easter service was that you heard again just how much God loved you. He loved you so completely that He gave you His most precious gift, the life of His one and only, unique son, Jesus Christ. You heard again that God reached into the fires of eternal separation and pulled us out. God values our relationship so much that God will not be satisfied with a twice a year family reunion. God desires to draw all people to himself for eternity, but He also wants an on-going relationship with us. God sent Jesus to bring back all the lost sheep into the Fathers sheepfold. All people of every race, nationality, matter to God. You matter to God if you are so secure in your skin you don’t feel you need the Creator, God still loves you.  If you feel you are to messed up to warrant love, you still matter to God, and you are loved by God.  If you are confused with your identity, broken by life’s circumstances, tormented by the weight of your past mistakes, know that Jesus forgave all of that on Calvary’s cross all because before you were formed in your mother’s womb you were know by God and you mattered to God.

If after that Easter high you are feeling lost, or you are experiencing a sense of spiritual confusion and “emotional disconnectedness” in life, Jesus, the Risen Savior, is seeking you.
Jesus will not stop searching and with relentless grace won’t stop until he finds you.
Don’t just drift away when your spirits are down. Don’t allow the post-Easter blues to give you a feeling of hopelessness. That same Jesus you experienced on Easter is there for you every day of your life. There are power and connectivity in the Resurrection. Resurrection and Christmas joy last not just for a week, but for eternity. The Lord of the Resurrection wants to connect with you. Stop running away from Him. Instead, live in the power of the resurrection.
You have been redeemed and are loved!

Congregational Life and Ministry, The Journey of Faith

Remembering A Strong-willed Woman

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My mother, Elma Haney was a proud and very strong will woman. Strong-willed is a kind nice way of saying whatever was on her mind, she would share with you. Now if you asked for that option that was your own fault. There were plenty of times she would give you the advice you did not solicit. On a side note for those who know me, that is where I get it from. I would love to say that is something I am working on but that would be untrue. Therefore, I will own that flaw and blame it on my mother.

As the day arrives each year that we have set aside to remember and give thanks to the unique way God used the spirit and heart of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr I thought now is a fitting time to share some unsolicited thoughts, a few of the lessons my mother shared with me.

Now keep the opening description in mind, she was a strong-willed woman. Unfortunately, she grew up at a time in our society where being a strong-willed at that time colored woman, was not a trait that was encouraged by society in the deep south where she grew up. As a matter of fact, her outspoken nature could have gotten her in really deep trouble. We would often ask her, “How in the world did you survive in that context?” I just figured she like Mary kept those thoughts close to her heart. Unlike Mary when she got the chance never stop letting those bottled up thoughts out on any and everyone who would listen.

As I reflect back on her life and witness, though, I understand with greater clarity why the things she valued in life were so much a part of her character. 1) She valued that fact that as a known African American woman she accomplished a lot of firsts. The first president of the Telephone Company’s employee union, first African American Trustee of Trinity Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge just to name a few. It was her way of letting the world know that you may limit what you think I can do, but God does not. She would often say nothing is too big for God. 2) She demanded high achievements from her children and grandchildren. I never appreciated why until later in life. However, she knew how hard her road had been and did not want us to let any opportunity get away instead she would encourage us to take advantage of what God placed before us. Her motto was never settled for what was given to us, but strive to be the very best. And 3) She celebrated every accomplishment. Whether is was me making the Marching Band at Southern Lab, home of the Mighty Kittens (yea I know not the toughest mascot name) or finishing third in a reading contest. We celebrated every accomplishment and every achievement. And when her grandkids started college, got their first job, finished confirmation or just got a base hit in a little league baseball game, grandma was on the phone with a big way to go.  She knew what Dr. King and others had worked so hard to achieve through the working of the Holy Spirit moving in the course of human history. God used this southern preacher to secure her freedom to be strong-will and opinionated. That now is passed down to her kids and grandkids so watch out the world.

Thank you, mom, for instilling your spirit, your heart for hurting people and your desire to cheer us to achieve great things. Your spirit lives on in us. To God be the Glory!

Bittersweet Memories