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Life Together: The Miracle of Abundance

A young pastor, who just graduated from seminary, was invited back to his home congregation to preach a sermon. He wanted to make a good impression so he prepared his sermon and practiced it many times.  When it came to the Sunday he was to preach, he was a little nervous preaching at his home church, and he began his sermon by hitting the pulpit and said, “Jesus took 5,000 fish and 2,000 loaves and he fed five people!”  He paused very dramatically and pointed his finger at the congregation and said, “Could you do that?” Everyone roared with laughter and the poor confused pastor didn’t know what he had said.

          The story of the loaves and fish, as read today in the Gospel of John, appears in all four gospels, which shows its significance.  C.H. Spurgeon wrote that it’s in all four gospels so that we won’t forget how much the Lord can do with little things that are yielded to Him.  The feeding of the 5,000 precedes Jesus’ announcement on being the living Bread that comes down out of heaven to give His life for the world (6:32-58).  So it’s also a miracle that points to salvation.  John wrote this sign “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

          It might better be called the feeding of the 15,000 because there were 5,000 men, plus women and children.  It is a miracle witnessed by thousands of people, as well as the disciples.  It’s also a parable with many lessons about Jesus being able to meet the enormous needs of the world even though he had doubting disciples who thought 5 loaves and 2 fish weren’t enough for a miracle of abundance to happen.

          The other gospels inform us that Jesus had sent out the twelve on a ministry tour.  They have come back and reported their experiences to Him.  Meanwhile, they got world that Herod had beheaded John the Baptist and that is why Jesus needed to go to a quiet place, to grieve the lost of his friend and relative and to rest.

          The people weren’t following Jesus because they recognized Him as the Son of God who could save them from their sins.  Some were fascinated just seeing the miracles.  Others needed miraculous healing for themselves or their loved ones.  Overall the reasons for following Jesus were misguided and superficial.

          John wants us to see a parallel between Moses and Jesus.  Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments and Jesus went up on the mountain and was there with his disciples.  The Passover was near, it says in John, and Moses led the people out of Egypt after the Passover.  God gave Moses Manna to the people in the wilderness when they had no food to eat and Jesus is giving bread to the hungry people.  John wants us to see Jesus as the fulfillment of what Moses was for the Israelites in the wilderness.  Jesus was the Passover Lamb and Jesus gave himself as the permanent Manna or Bread of Life to all people. 

          Bread is the basic diet of people all over the world in some form or another because it is cheap and accessible for the poor and wealthy alike.  Second it satisfies you and fills you up when you don’ have anything else. Bread in many parts of the world is very sacred and isn’t to be thrown away, like we do in our country.  When we lived in Central Asia any unwanted bread would be put in a plastic bag and tied to a tree for anyone who was hungry and needed something to eat.

          Psychologist, Charles Allen tells a story in one of his books about orphans in Europe, during WWII, who had been gathered up and placed into camps where they would be safe and well-fed.  Yet despite the excellent care they received, the orphans slept poorly.  They seemed nervous and afraid.  Finally, a psychologist came up with a solution.  Each child was given a piece of bread to hold after he or she was put to bed.  This particular piece of bread was just to be held—not eaten.  This extra piece of bread produced wonderful results.  The children started to sleep undisturbed through out the night because they instinctively knew they would have food to eat the next day.

          In the same way that each of us has physical appetites that need satisfying, we also have spiritual appetites that need satisfying, and Jesus demonstrates in this passage that He alone can meet those appetites.  Jesus sees our real need individually and by the thousands.

          The Manna provided by God for the Israelites was for their physical life, but also to know that the Lord will provide abundantly for your needs.  The Israelites didn’t starve.

          Jesus, as the Bread of Life, is providing for the people’s physical needs that day they followed him but also proclaiming, for generations to come, that He provides for our spiritual needs, so that we would not be separated from God.  Jesus is the one who gives us life.

          Remember, death is separation from God if we don’t believe in Him as our Savior and Lord.  There will not be a spiritual thirst or hunger for the person who comes to know Jesus through his abundant miracle of forgiveness and new life.

          The name “God Provides” in Hebrew is “Jehoveh-jireh”.   God is willing to provide all that we need daily when we ask.  God provides abundantly in his grace and mercy and the forgiveness of our sins.    God has provided Jesus to give our life purpose and the Holy Spirit to abide within and give us the Fruit of the Spirit to fill us and guide us. 

          Jesus performed this miracle of abundance after facing great grief at the death of John the Baptist, and here he has great compassion on the people who had followed him, and he had abundant love for them in their hunger and need.  Jesus was never too busy or tired to care for the people, and he isn’t today either.  He knows the pain and struggles we face.  He knows the grief we may feel because he felt it too.  Psalm 34:18 says, “He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

          In verse 5 of John, Jesus asks Philip where they could buy enough food to feed the crowd.   Jesus was testing Philip’s faith by asking for a human solution.  The nearest town was approximately nine miles away (Bethsaida).  Philip looked at the cost.  How many of us would have responded like Philip? 

          There is a financial cost to inviting several thousand people for lunch.  We doubt God’s provision and ability to turn what looks impossible into the possible.  We should not let our view of the situation stop us from moving forward with the task God wants us to do.  We need to trust God to provide whatever the resources are needed to get the job done so that ministry can take place.

          The disciple Andrew noticed a boy had brought his lunch with him, but it was not enough—only 5 loaves and 2 fish.  They knew that what they had could not feed so many.  It was also a miracle that a hungry boy would willingly give up his lunch.  The boy gave what he had because of Jesus’ miracle of abundance it turned out to be more than enough.  Have you ever had a party or dinner and you were afraid that you didn’t have enough food but in the end it was enough and you even had leftovers?  Well, Jesus knew how to feed his guests.  After all, they were like sheep and he was the shepherd.  The thousands sat in the grass that day to eat and they were satisfied.  As it says in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures and he leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul.” 

          We need to see what is in our hands and offer what we have to God so that he can work miracles through us. Jesus took what the boy had to offer and performed one of the greatest miracles.  Jesus, the worker of miracles, loving provider, took the bread and blessed it and broke it and it was passed around and everyone shared it. 

          It reminds us of the last time Jesus was with His disciples, and He took bread and blessed it and broke it and said, “Take and eat. This is my body that is broken for you.”

          There was an abundance of food that day. There was so much that the baskets of food never ran out.   Just imagine the doubting, practical disciples that said, “Send the people away we have nothing to feed them.”  Now they are looking at the never empty baskets of bread and fish being passed around to the thousands. The disciples were obedient to Jesus and did what he asked amidst their concerns, but I’m sure they doubted there would be enough to go around. Jesus looked at the people with compassion, and the disciples looked at the people with complaints. Wouldn’t you doubt? We can see ourselves in these disciples. But what a party it was for all!  What would we do today if we saw that miracle happen?

          Listen to this miracle story: It was 1989 and Hurricane Hugo hit North Carolina. Trees were uprooted, power lines were down, homes and stores were destroyed.  Reb and Jackay hurried to their new restaurant they were about to open.  They had electricity but no permit to open their restaurant that day after the hurricane. So, with a refrigerator stocked with 300 pounds of bacon, beef, tomatoes, lettuce and bread, there was only one thing to do, give the food away.

          They told the deputy, “Tell your coworkers and other emergency people you see that we’ll have free BLT’s and coffee for anybody who wants to drop by.” Soon firemen, policemen, linemen, and other workers were filing into the restaurant. When the owners heard that another restaurant was charging $10.00 for breakfast, they placed a sign in their window: FREE BLT’s –FREE COFFEE.  Families, travelers, and anyone were welcomed.  Then something began to happen.  People started to clean counters and sweep floors.  Volunteers took over the dish washing from the owners and helped at the grill. Having heard about what was going on at the restaurant from the local radio station, people from a neighboring town brought food from their freezers. Stores and dairies sent over chicken, milk and food of all kinds.  And so the long day went.  Those first cups of coffee and BLT’s had somehow stretched to 16,000 meals.  The restaurant’s small stock increased by 500 loaves of bread, cases of mayonnaise, 350 pots of coffee and bushels of produce.

            The miracle of abundance happened because people reached out and shared what they had until there was abundance for the whole community.  Sometimes out of our need comes abundance.

          Jesus didn’t ask Philip to collect money to buy food to feed all the people that were gathered.  No, Jesus asked what do you have?  What can you do?   When we respond with what we can do, sometimes miracles happen, and people are fed literally and spiritually.

          Obedience paves the way for great things to happen. Jesus desires our trust and our hearts to be fully yielded to Him, and great miracles can occur as a result today.

          This miracle captures the very essence of God’s abundant and extravagant care of those around him.  Don’t worry about what little you have to give.  Whatever it is, God will bless it and spread it to all who are in need.

          What little thing can you do?  A word of hope?  A helping hand? Though it may seem useless to you against the needs of the world, use what you have in your hand.  A little boy’s lunch fed thousands with Jesus Miracle of Abundance.  Bring to God what you have and let him create the miracle. 

          “Seek first the Kingdom and God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus took the bread.  Have you allowed him to take hold of you?

Jesus blessed the bread.  He wants to bless our lives.

Jesus broke the bread and he shared it with those around him.

Jesus blesses us abundantly with miracles so that we might be a blessing to those around us.

          Ephesians 3:20 “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”   Our Lord of miracles is more than able.  Just watch and see what He can do.

Life Together: The Miracle of Recognition

During WWII, when Hitler conquered France, he immediately shut down the borders to keep the people from leaving the country.  But one small border town’s population was decreasing somehow, so the Germans searched for the answer.  It turned out, this town had a cemetery that bordered a neighboring country, which was free from Nazi control.  The people opened up an ancient gate in the wall of the cemetery, and they kept having “funerals,” except the people attending the funeral never came back.  They went out to the tombs, but they kept on walking, right out the back gate, to their freedom.

          This morning we are looking at the story of a man who also found freedom in a cemetery.  The healing of the demon possessed man—the Gerasene Demoniac—a man who was bound by the power of Satan, but he found freedom among the tombs when he recognized Jesus at a distance and ran to Jesus and fell on his knees in front of him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  He recognized Jesus as the one who could bring him freedom in his life. 

          This was a man who was in the grip of Satan and mental anguish.  No one knew how to help him or what to do.  He was a danger to others and to himself, so they chained him, but not even the chains bound him anymore. He was unclean, so the town people didn’t want to touch him.  When Jesus told the demon to come out, he asked him his name.  He said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  So, there were evidently many demons in this man. Day and night this man screamed among the tombs and gashed himself with stones.  He was totally in the grip of Satan’s power.

          There is a story of a man in South America who was visited by a missionary.  The man told the missionary he wanted to show him something in his house.  The man showed him a table with skulls and sticks on it and a long wooden pole wrapped in colorful sheets.  The man said this was his “god.” Then the man said, “This is what I know. This is what I believe. This is what I grew up with.” And with his fists lifted up and clinched he said, “ I hold to these beliefs tightly, and I do not want to let them go!”  As the missionary talked with this man about Jesus, he continued to say, “I cannot let them go or these spirits will kill me.”  This man lived in fear.  These spirits had a grip of fear on him.

          So many people in our country and in our world live under Satan’s power and in the grip of the enemy.  The truth is if you do not fall on your knees at the feet of Jesus and give your life to Jesus as your Savior, YOU are also in Satan’s grip. It may be a more subtle grip and influence, but it is real.  If you are not in the grip of God, you are in the grip of something else or someone else.  God is fighting for your life and wants to free you from the power of evil.

          Ephesians 2:1-2 says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. “ Verse 4-5 says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved.” Verse 8, says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

          If you know Jesus as your Savior, you are in the hands of God, but if not, you need to change your ways and recognize the power of the living God, as this Gerasene Man did the day he recognized Jesus.  Jesus was always ready to help and to heal.

          “Seeing Jesus, he ran up and bowed down before Him” verse 6.  There is a greater power in this world, the power of Jesus.  As strong and evil as the power of Satan is in this world, Jesus’ power is greater still.  This man worshiped Jesus that day knowing Jesus saw him and valued his life beyond what anyone else had ever seen.  To the village he was worthless.

          The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.”  So Jesus gave them permission to leave.  The demons could do nothing without Jesus’ permission.  So the demons went into the pigs.  The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep band into the lake and were drowned.  Jesus had the ultimate authority to heal this man and to tell the demons where to go.  Satan’s power is strong and destructive in our world today, but if you are a Christian, you do not need to fear his power in your life, but you need to constantly be aware of his deception around you and his lies and destructive influence and how he uses all of that to weaken us.

          As Ephesians 6 says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” That is our protection we have against the evil in this world.  We are to put on the armor of God, belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet ready with the gospel of peace, shield of faith with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  Prayer is also a major part of our defense and protection.

          Recognizing Jesus at work in our lives through His Holy Spirit is greater than the powers of Satan.  Jesus knows each person is unique and special and wants all of us to come to Him and recognize Him as Lord and Savior and King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

          1 John 4:4 says, “Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world.”

          That day Jesus set that demoniac free.  He cast the demons out and restored him to his “right mind.”  Although the demons knew who Jesus was, they did not know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  You must have a personal experience and a time of decision that you know Jesus and he becomes your Lord and Savior.

          After the man was in his right mind he was sitting there dressed, and those from the village were still afraid.  Jesus must have given him new clothes to start his new life.   He was now a new creation in Jesus.  The man was so excited about his new life that he begged to go with Jesus and his disciples.  But Jesus said “Go home to your people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.”  Jesus knew that this man was going to share his story of God’s amazing love for him and how Jesus had loved him into a new creation.  “So, the man went away and began to tell others what Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” 

          Can you imagine how amazing his story was? And people who knew him saw this dramatic change in his life; they were probably speechless.  Jesus touched his life with his love; gave him worth and value and he couldn’t help but share what Jesus did for him.

          That is what we should be like.  Excited about what God has done or is doing in your life because you follow him.  This man thought that God was going to call him to go to some far-off location, but Jesus told him to stay where he was.  It may be like that for you.  God may call you to a ministry right where you are or maybe far away.  Keep alert to God and listen to him carefully because God may call you to serve Him in a way that you do not plan or expect. 

          Jesus gave this man a new beginning to his life.  He was  unloveable and the untouchable, but Jesus gave his life new meaning and made his life beautiful.

          Psalm 23 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”  Verse 6 goes on by saying, “Surely goodness and mercy, or love, will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

          God follows us on our journey of life and he never leaves us.  He is patiently persistent and faithfully present and gives us goodness and mercy all the days of our life.  He promises us a place to go and live when this life ends.  We need to trust God in our new beginnings as this man did.  And we need to be ready to serve in his Name.  The touch of Jesus changes the beast in us into something beautiful to serve him.

          There is a poem called “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” written in 1921 by Myra Brooks Welch. It is a beautiful poem about the touch of God’s Hand upon our broken, battered, and scared lives.

“T’was battered and scarred and the auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin, but held it up with a smile; ‘What am I bidden, good folks,’ he cried, ‘Who’ll start the bidding for me? A dollar, a dollar; then two! Only two? Two dollars, and who’ll make it three? Three dollars; once; three dollars twice; going for three.’

But no, from the room, far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; then, wiping the dust from the old violin and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as caroling angel sings. The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said, ‘What am I bid for the old violin?’ And he held it up with the bow. ‘A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two? Two thousand! And who’ll make it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going and gone,’ said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried, ‘We do not quite understand what changed its worth.’ Swift came the reply: ‘The touch of a master’s hand.’ And many a man with life out of tune and battered and scarred with sin. Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like this old violin. A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine; a game – and he travels on.  “He is going once,” and “going twice, He’s going and almost gone.” But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.”

          God sees our value and changes our life so that we are priceless in his eyes.  The man who was chained and alone in the tombs was touched by the master’s hand and became a missionary for Jesus.  No one is beyond change. No one is beyond forgiveness.  No one is beyond hope.  In the eyes of humans you may seem worthless, but with the touch of God you are valued beyond measure.

          Today, begin again by recognizing Jesus and kneel before Him confessing your sins; desiring his healing touch that will make all things new.  Love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of his Holy Spirit.  The Touch of the Master’s Hand makes all things valuable.

Life Together: The Miracle of His Presence

Something almost always goes wrong at a wedding; you can count on it.  You plan and you plan and you check your list twice, three times even 50 times, but still, something you didn’t plan for happens.  Can you remember anything at your wedding or someone else’s wedding that went wrong?  I know at our wedding several things happened before, during, and later at our reception, but you know, I didn’t even realize things had happened because that wasn’t my focus that day.  This coming May my husband and I will be married 25 years, and our marriage is more important than the little things that go wrong during the wedding day.

          If you had been a guest at the wedding in Cana, do you think you would have known what was going on?   This wedding in Cana that Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were invited to probably lasted seven days.  Seven days of eating and drinking.  A wedding was a time of feasting.  It was a time to have a banquet of meat and to have wine for your guests.

          But like I said, every wedding has a crisis and this wedding in Cana had a huge crisis. The wine was gone. Hospitality is very important at a wedding in our country as well as other countries.  It is important that everyone has enough to eat and drink.

          When Mary, who was possibly a relative of the bride, comes to Jesus and says: “They have no wine for the guests,” she is aware that this could be a disgrace to the family. The wine had run out.  To invite guests and not have enough means that this family is forever disgraced among its neighbors and friends in this small village.  Mary wanted Jesus to help this wedding crisis.  She knew Jesus would help solve the problem and meet their need for the celebration. Mary, like any mother, got involved in the crisis.

          Jesus replied to his mother’s statement, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?  My time has not yet come.”  Mary knew Jesus would help because there was a need.  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Just like a mother—involving her son to fix the problem.  How could Jesus say “no” to his mother. Then Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water;” so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  When the master of the banquet tasted the water it had been miraculously turned into the finest wine.  It was the miracle of Jesus’ presence that changed the whole situation.

          How often do miracles happen right under our noses and we don’t know it.  This is known as the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs.  It says it revealed his glory and his disciples put their faith in him.  It was an “Aha” moment for the disciples.  This was only the beginning of the miracles.

          It was a simple miracle but yet it revealed Jesus’ glory and he blesses the wedding abundantly with the finest wine.

          What was empty was now full because now there was an abundance.

          There is more to this simple miracle than meets the eye.  It is a resurrection story – a third day story.  The miracle here of changing water into wine also speaks to us in that God takes ordinary people, ordinary things, ordinary events and changes us into new wine and gives us love and grace to overflowing.   Jesus’ grace and love never runs out; there is an abundant supply of the finest love and grace we could ever imagine.  It takes trusting and believing in him that he could fill us with the finest when we feel empty and alone.  Jesus offers only the best to us when life seems empty and dry.           

What parts of your life are dry or empty today?  Do you see others, in your life, that are living life dry and empty?

          Each of us can relate to this story when we need a miracle in our life.  We feel lost, unloved, guilty, searching for meaning in life, we have doubts, and questions and we need to see God working in our lives. 

          We need the Bridegroom, Jesus, to fill us with a miracle and to give us new hope and new life.  Just like the water was transformed into the finest wine so can we be transformed into a new creation.  The old is past away and behold the new has come.

          Regardless of how it feels or what we think about it, the day the wine runs out is the beginning of a miracle.  Christ does not simply refill our glasses. He transforms our lives and changes our heart.

          After all, this time of Lent points us toward the third day, the Day of Resurrection and new life.  Our resurrection faith fills our lives to the brim with love, encouragement, and forgiveness.

          That is the miracle at Cana, and the miracle keeps happening each day.  Every moment of every day Christ pours himself into the empty dry jars of our life.   He is the good wine; extravagant, abundant, and endless.

          Every time he pours life into us by his Holy Spirit our lives are changed and transformed.  We are brought out of death into life.   Knowing that miracles happen with Jesus, we see death turned into life, sorrow into joy and despair into hope, fear into courage and the impossible into the possible.

          Sometimes we need to be Mary and name the empty and dry places in life for ourselves and others in need.  Sometimes we need to be the ones to carry and pour the water and sometimes we need to be the chief steward naming and recognizing new life, helping others taste the new wine.

          When we look at Psalm 23 in relation to this miracle at the wedding in Cana we see that Jesus’ presence at the wedding changed the direction of the celebration.  The one who guides and directs us was there.  Jesus, the shepherd, knew what was needed and wanted. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.”

          In a time when we are feeling empty, during a time of suffering, as we’re trying to make sense of it all, the presence of our Savior changes our lives. The Lord is our Shepherd.  The Lord is the one that is watching over us.  The Lord is the one who is guiding us and transforming us.  The Lord knows what we need so we shall not want. 

          This psalm reminds us, as the wedding in Cana does, that the Lord provides for us.  We are all in this together as we say now with Covid-19.  Everyone can be changed and transformed in the presence of the Lord.

          The Lord leads us to lie down in green pastures and leads us beside quiet waters, and he restores our souls when we need it.  When we are resting in the green pastures of life we are being fed by God and strengthened for the journey ahead.  By the quiet waters we are to drink and be refreshed daily.  God leads us to those places of rest and refreshment.  That is God’s way of filling us and transforming us.

          Life together with God, we see the miracles of his presence around us by resting in His care and being filled by His Spirit.

          We gather together to be fed as a church family.  The bread and the cup, are God’s way of restoring our souls as we remember Jesus death on the cross for us.  The shared sacrament of communion feeds us and fills us.  The waters of  baptism move us from death to life.

          There in the midst of the wedding at Cana, the blessings of God arrive. From the waters of creation to the baptismal waters of New Life, we again see the miracle of the resurrection show us the promises of restoration and hope in the blessings of the new wine. 

          This Lenten Season God’s promise of new life is for all of us.  Let us trust in Jesus.  As our hymn says, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give: I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live. All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at his feet I bow, worldly pleasures all forsaken; take me, Jesus, take me now.”

          As we surrender and give our life to Jesus, he brings abundant new life to us and many miracles occur in his presence. 

          When we give God our emptiness the Holy Spirit leads us beside still waters for refreshment, peace and rest. What refreshes your soul?  Jesus longs for us to be in his presence so he can have fellowship with us.

          Our world is so busy on Sundays anymore that people don’t think it is important to come to church or even to be in God’s presence.  It is sad that many are running dry in life and need to be filled and transformed.   It is when we are filled with God’s Spirit that we have abundant life.

          This Lent, begin by believing in your trustworthy God who will do miracles with your life and those around you.

Costly Love

Today, the season of Lent begins with ashes being bestowed virtually in a time of Covid-19.  We are marked today for a special reason.  Today marks the beginning of a journey that we will take together.  It is a journey that most of us have traveled before.  We know the destination.  It is the resurrection and the empty tomb.  We know the end of the story.  It is a story of joy and victory.  Yet, we must take this journey each year for our own spiritual growth and relationship with God.  For the next 40 days we will journey together just like the last year with Covid-19 has been a spiritual journey together.

During Lent we are invited to take a deeper look within ourselves and ask God to show us where we need to be cleaned and forgiven, and where we need to forgive and where we need healing in our soul.

The word “Lent” means “Spring Season” so during these 40 days it is like a “Spring cleaning” of our soul.  It is a time of introspection where we can hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness.  It is a time of prayer and fasting.  Fasting doesn’t have to mean food, but fasting from things that take our time and attention away from God.  It is a time to slow down and contemplate our relationship with Jesus and listen to what God wants to tell us.

Besides the inner journey we are on during this time, there is also a second journey that takes us outside of ourselves and into the world around us.  It is a time to see and hear the needs of the world and those who hunger and thirst in the world.

We are reminded by the prophet Isaiah that a fast that just focuses only on ourselves is a selfish fast.  As Isaiah said in our lesson, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

Tonight, as we think about the meaning of Ash Wednesday, we recall the ashes remind us of our mortality.  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  It is good for us to remember how frail life is.  As much as we hate to admit it, one day each of us will be reduced to dust.  Our flesh will fail.  Through these ashes we are reminded that life is a gift from God, not to be taken for granted.  This past year, with close to half a million people dying from Covid-19, we know how frail life can be.

The ashes also remind us of the messiness of life.  No matter how hard we try, or how much we pretend, we mess up, don’t we?  No one is perfect.  Everyone has brokenness in some part of their life.  We are all imperfect human beings that have sinned and need cleansing and forgiveness.  We need God because we can’t become new creations on our own.

Today we come together to be humbled by our sin.  Like the people in our Bible that we read about we are also called to repent.  We are called to step out in faith knowing we are powerless to make ourselves clean.

The 40 days of Lent is our wilderness time as Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness.  It is a time to let God search our hearts with a microscope to see what needs to be cleaned out.

While Lent is a season of introspection of prayer and fasting, it is also a season that we reflect on the cost of what Jesus did for us and the cost of our discipleship as we follow his calling on our lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a German Lutheran Pastor and theologian who was arrested in April 1943 because he was an opponent of Nazism.  He was hanged in prison on April 9, 1945 only days before the American Liberation of the POW Camp. In his famous book The Cost of Discipleship, he wrote, “If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.  

The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross.  But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and a life committed to Christ.  The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest.  Only a person thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God.”

Luke 9:23 says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Luke 14: 25-32 says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

To be a disciple of Jesus’ is a costly love. It will be hard, but Jesus will be with us. We are not suffering pointlessly.  When we suffer for Christ and his message of hope, we’re suffering for the growth of the Kingdom and the family of God.  It is putting our faith into action.

The apostle Paul said, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” (Colossians 1:24)

So, when we talk about the cost of discipleship, we know we are going to have to suffer because, in a world at war with God, there is no other way. 

There is a story about Min-ji who was arrested and imprisoned in North Korea for selling South Korean DVDs on the black market.  Her husband was a high-ranking member of  North Korea’s State Security Department, and he fled to China to delay his own capture.  While in China, he met a Christian family who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. When he returned to North Korea after Min-ji’s release from prison, he was a different person.  He began sharing the gospel with other North Koreans and praying regularly with his family.

Soon after Mi-ji’s husband returned from China, someone reported his Christian activities to North Korean authorities.  Even a mention of Jesus Christ can lead to arrest in this restricted nation.  He was arrested and sent to a concentration camp without a trial.  Min-ji never saw him again and believes he died in the camp. 

Min-ji was in danger because of her husband’s Christian faith, so for her own protection, her uncle, a North Korean government official, had her sent to a labor camp before authorities could send her to a concentration camp.  Min-ji endured six years in the North Korean labor camp for a faith that wasn’t her own.  But God wasn’t finished with her yet.       

When she was released from the North Korea labor camp, Min-ji decided to defect to South Korea by way of China.  After a 10 hour walk through the mountains, she crossed into China, where she spent a month working as a caregiver for a Christian woman with Alzheimer’s disease. Min-ji participated in regular prayer and Christian worship, but she didn’t yet believe in Christ.

A short time later, Min-ji decided to resume her journey to South Korea.  But when she reached Beijing, she and some other North Korean defectors were reported, and Chinese authorities sent them to prison.

A month into her imprisonment, Min-ji discovered that a North Korean woman from her defection group was a follower of Christ.  One day, the woman used her toothpaste to write “Jesus Christ” on the prison wall.  “It was my first time to see the words ‘Jesus Christ’, so I asked her what it was,” Min-ji recalled.  “She began to share with me what Christianity is.”

The woman also began reading the Bible with Min-ji.  “The first time I read the Bible,” she said, “I felt it was odd to do so because it was on account of the Bible that my husband was killed and I ended up in prison.”

In addition to her North Korean friend, some Chinese Christians in the prison showed Min-ji kindness and shared the love of Christ with her.  Gradually, she began to understand their love and the gospel responsible for it.

Min-ji said, “I had received so much grace from them. I began to wonder about the God who was consistently intervening in my life.”

Min-ji decided to put her faith in Jesus Christ.  After her release from the Chinese prison, she finally made he way to South Korea, where she is being helped by an organization called Voice of the Martyrs.  Min-ji now wants to follow in her husband’s footsteps, ministering to others and doing God’s work. 

We need to pray for Min-ji and many others in North Korea, China, and other countries where believing in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord is a costly love.

This Lenten Season let us be mindful of how we can be drawn closer to Jesus and to feel his love surrounding us and to be mindful that there is a cost to discipleship as we proclaim his love and forgiveness.  Let us pray for our own spiritual growth as well as our brothers and sisters around the world that truly know it is a costly love to believe in the name of Jesus. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Years ago, my husband and I traveled to Yellowstone National Park, and we learned something about forest fires.  There are certain kinds of trees that need fire in order to reproduce.  Their seedpods will only open under extreme heat.  So, on occasion, lightning will strike a deed tree, it will catch fire, and a devastating fire will sweep through the forest and leave nothing but ashes.  But then, in the dark soil of devastation and ash, new life begins.  A green shoot forces it way up into the sunshine and the forest is reborn.

May all of us, here and around the world, who bear these ashes of today remember that God is working in us; refining and purifying us and refreshing us with His Spirit so we will continue to grow and mature in our faith.

Journey with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and have your life changed.

Going Home

Before the days of modern navigational aids, a traveler made the Atlantic crossing in a boat equipped with two compasses. One was fixed to the deck where the man at the wheel could see it. The other compass was fastened up on one of the masts, and often a sailor would be seen climbing up to inspect it.

The passenger asked the captain, “Why do you have two compasses?”

“This is an iron vessel,” replied the captain, “and the compass on the deck is often affected by its surroundings. Such is not the case with the compass at the masthead. That one is above the influence. We steer by the compass above. As Christians, where is our compass? It is on the earth, or is it on thing above?

From the prophecies of a coming savior, to the birth of our Lord, to the death and resurrection, we celebrate these events, but we don’t give the same attention to the ascension of our Lord. For 40 days, Jesus walked the earth after his resurrection. For 40 days, he witnessed to many and showed himself to his followers. God showed that Jesus fulfilled the scriptures by allowing Jesus to walk, talk and be with others for 40 days.

He talked with his disciples during this period, after the resurrection, giving them directions of what to do next and starting to breathe on them the Holy Spirit and giving them his peace. In Mathew 28, that we read this morning, Jesus gave a direct command to his disciples. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy  Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

At this point, the disciples had seen numerous miracles, and he was preparing them for the things to come. He used this time to build them up and commission them to go out to tell others about the way to eternal life. Jesus had no intention of remaining on the earth this way, and he told his disciples this. When the time was right, he was going back to his father and let the disciples carry on his ministry. The ascension ended Jesus’ ministry on earth and began his heavenly Kingship. The ascension demonstrated that Jesus is still alive and still at work with his Father.

The ascended Lord Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to help his people. Jesus told his disciples, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

God promised in Joel 2:28, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh,” and this promise is fulfilled by the heavenly Lord Jesus. The ascended Lord sent the Spirit to be present with his people (John 14:16) to empower them for worldwide mission (Acts 1:8; 4:31) and to transform believers to live new lives reflecting the King in heaven. This is what we will celebrate in two weeks on Pentecost Sunday – which is the giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.

God’s kingdom now has a true King of the world. According to the Apostles’ Creed, he “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Jesus is taken up to heaven in a cloud, and Stephen, in Acts, declares that he sees the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. These texts suggest a fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14.

At Jesus’ ascension, Jesus sat down with his Father on his throne, where he receives unending praise. Jesus will reign at God’s right hand until all enemies are subdued. Thus, God’s kingdom has begun with the enthronement of Jesus, who now sits on heaven’s throne and will return on day, his second coming. The time and day are unknown.

In John 16:28 it says, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” Jesus was clear with his disciples that he would be leaving this earth and would not be with them physically. Jesus said to Mary at the resurrection, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.” (John 20:17)

Jesus was “going home” at the ascension and returning to his Father. Jesus fully accomplished his mission and glorified the Father on earth, and at Jesus’ ascension, the Father glorifies the Son in heaven. John 17:4-5, Jesus says, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

Jesus’ homecoming to his Father prepares the way for our homecoming to be with Jesus forever. John 14:2-4 says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Someday, we will be going home to be with our Lord.

The ascended Jesus is also our heavenly mediator and high priest. Jesus sympathizes with our struggles and promises to do whatever we ask in his name. Hebrews 4:14-15 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of G od, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”

Jesus is the mediator between God and humans. 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

Jesus’ death and resurrection secure our forgiveness, justification, and reconciliation with God. Jesus is in heaven interceding for his people – he is our advocate. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his work was limited geographically, but now he is at work everywhere and able to hear and respond t our prayers. He knows our hearts and our needs, and he knows how we can serve him. In John 14:12 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.”

In Acts 1:11 two angels explain to the disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Jesus’ heavenly reign will one day be fully realized on earth, for Jesus will come again. The angels who spoke gave us a promise that Jesus would again come. His coming would not be in a vision or a dream but would be a physical appearance. He will come back in another unexpected way, just as he left in an unexpected way.

His ascension was for only his disciples and not for the crowds of Jerusalem. Jesus left the world into a cloud and one day will return in the clouds. 1 Thessalonians 5:2 says, “For you know very well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.” Just as the disciples didn’t know when Jesus was going to leave them, we don’t know when Jesus will return, so we need to be ready for him and prepared in our hearts to serve him and live for him.

Matthew 24:43 says, “But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” The second coming of Jesus is represented by the coming of the thief in the night. This is not to be understood in a bad sense, in which Satan is called one who comes to kill and destroy, but this only reflects the manner of Christ’s coming, which is like that of a thief, secretly, suddenly, and unaware.

Everyone needs to consider life knowing Christ. Everyone, especially during this pandemic, needs to consider living their life for Christ and being ready to meet him either now facing life and death or in the second coming. We are in a time of active waiting for his return, and we should be ready, our lights burning to greet him, our houses in order for his coming.

There is a story about a young lady who was getting ready for a blind date. Wanting to make a good first impression, she had taken the day off from work. She cleaned her apartment; she went out that afternoon to have her hair done and get a manicure. When she got home, she put on her best dress and was ready for her date’s arrival. The time came and went, but her date did not knock on the door. After waiting over an hour, she realized that she had been stood up. She took off her dress, let down her hair, put on her pajamas, and sat down to watch TV. Sometime later, there was a knock at the door; it was her date. He looked at her surprised and said, “What! I gave you two extra hours and you’re still not ready to go?”

Jesus has given us many extra hours, but he is coming. Does your life reveal that you are ready for his return? When Jesus was celebrating the Lord’s Supper, he said, “Do this in remembrance of me until I come again.”

Do you believe that Jesus ascended into heaven to be with his Father? The waiting began many years ago with the ascension of Jesus into his heavenly kingdom. He left because his earthly ministry was over. His heavenly job had begun. Jesus was excited – he was going home. Believers, that same heavenly home is waiting for us just as we wait for the coming of our savior. Be prepared for his second coming for he will arrive when we least expect it.

Remember that Jesus is presently reigning as King and remains active and engaged in our world and our lives. Therefore, live boldly, confidently as servants of the exalted King of haven. During this pandemic remember that Jesus knows your struggles for he has endured great suffering and is also the most merciful and sympathetic counselor and mediator. Take to your ascended Lord your cares, anxieties, fears, and joys. He hears your prayers and knows your heart.

Finally, have hope in your future. Both here on earth and in heaven, we will be with our King forever when we believe in him. In order to win the Christian race, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:20)

Revelation 5:13 – “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever.”

The ascension draws our hearts away from earthly things and causes our hearts to desire more heavenly things and helps us focus our hopes, desires, and fellowship on Jesus, the One who sits at the right hand of the heavenly Father.

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