“God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace” 08/19/18

Part III of the Sermon Series: The Grace-Full Life:

Text: Ephesians 3:14-21

Theme: “God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace

One of the little things that fascinates new comers to the US, especially those of us from developing countries is a garage sale. But there is something about it that is more intriguing to me. Sometimes I see a brand-new item that I partly recognize, but then I notice that it’s a much more modern brand than what I thought. In some instances, I would ask the seller “How do you use this?” At that point, I would get this surprising response, “I don’t know either. It was given to me as a gift by, _____, but I never used it; as you see, it has been in the case or box since.”
Let’s imagine someone having the thought about you; followed by their search online or in the stores to find something they were pretty sure we would love, appreciate and use. Not only that, but they go on to use their hard-earned money for the item and give it to us as a gift. We receive it, and it remains in the case or box unused!
Well, my aim of bringing this up is not to beat upon those who receive gifts and don’t use them, because several factors could be responsible. But I want to make a comparison between this scenario, and the subject of God’s grace as I transition from God’s saving(justifying) grace, to God’s character-shaping(sanctifying) grace in this series. Just like every gift given without any strings attached, God’s saving (justifying) grace is a gift given. Once again, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But when it comes to God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace, it requires our participation and collaboration with God. To set the basis for our text this morning, let me read Philippians 2:12 &13. Paul writes, “Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God,”. Here Paul is asking us to redouble our effort and be energetic in our life of salvation. In the ending part of this verse, Paul says, “That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you. For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
To put in a nutshell, God saved us freely, which brings us into a new season and gives us an experience where our salvation must be put to work. This is the period of sanctification. But God does not leave us alone during this time. God provides the strength and keep shaping us into the image of Christ.
In his prayer for the Ephesians believers and to all of us today, Paul says, I asked God to strengthen you by his Spirit. -not a brute strength, but a glorious inner strength-that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly in love, you will be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depth! Rise to the height! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
This is a great challenge, but it’s not impossible because we are not alone on this journey. Therefore, Paul concludes the text with these words. “God can do anything, you know, far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request. He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
In other words, you and I are under construction. God is not done with us yet. He is shaping and molding us into what we must become. This is God’s character-shaping(sanctifying) grace; the grace of this moment.
Let’s consider the birth of a child, which is an event. But after that, real life which is a not an event but a process, begins. In the same way, God’s saving or justifying grace is an event. A person accepts Jesus Christ, or a child is brought forth for baptism and later for confirmation and God’s accepts us and gives us salvation as a gift. A new life begins. But God also provides the nourishment through his sanctifying grace, so that we can grow, crawl, walk, talk and mature.
Through God’s All-Saving or justifying grace, we are born anew. But this is just the beginning process of our spiritual journey and relationship with God, at which we don’t sit idle. God has his role, as well as we have ours.
In his book, The Cross Centered Life, C. J. Majaney, writes, “Sanctification is about our own choices and behavior. It involves work. Empowered by God’s Spirit, we strive. We fight sin. We study Scripture and pray, even when we don’t feel like. We flee temptation. We press on; we run hard in pursuit of holiness. And as we become and more sanctified, the power of the of the gospel transforms us. We just cannot remain as we came to Christ with all our baggage. We must respond to God’s character-shaping grace and be transformed.
The mission of the United Methodist Church is to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” This is our mission. It means you and I are God’s agents of transformation wherever we find ourselves; be it in our work places, our communities and the world around us. But once again, we are not alone. God is shaping us for this very purpose through this sanctifying grace. Where are you on this journey. Are you growing? Are you maturing? Is your inner transformation being reflected in your actions?
Look church, God did not save us just for saving sake. He did so for a purpose. God wants to reclaim his creation; God wants to transform our world. And that transformation must begin with you and me.
Acevelo and Olds, writes, “Just as little kids dream of the day they will become tenagers, and teenagers dream of the day they will be adults, we have an invitation from God to “grow up” in God’s Character-Shaping grace.”
I am sure when we allow God to shape us, it’s going to impact our outlook of life: our love for another human being, regardless of geography, color, and creed; it will impact our willingness to reach out to the needy, to use our time, energy and even money to make a difference in our community.
May the Lord who has freely saved us through is justifying grace, continue to empower and shape us through his Character-Shaping(sanctifying) grace so that we may be empowered and transformed and serve as his agents of transformation in our community and our world.
God bless you.

“God’s All-Saving Grace” , 08/12/2018

Sermon Series Part II

Luke 19:1-10 1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the LORD, “Look, LORD! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Ephesians 2:4-10 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do

Theme: “God’s All-Saving Grace”

Do you know that the narrative of the Bible is a dramatic love story? It’s the story of a loving God going after the ones he loves and calling us into relationship.

It is like the story of how a young man met his future wife to whom he has been married now for many years. She was on the University of Kentucky marching band field-a dancer with blond hair. She was a freshman and he was a junior. He narrates “I watched her the entire practice; her every move captivated me. To my delight she showed up about a week later at Bible study that met on our campus. I honestly cannot tell you anything the study was about, but I remember every move she made. I remember watching her laugh with her friends and cry as she was touched by God’s word.

I do remember making one decision that night: to get to know her and her friends so that I could soon ask her out on a date! I worked hard at this, and on one great night I got up the nerve after the Bible study to walk across the room and asked her out, to which she agreed. Then I realized that I had a problem. I didn’t have any nice clothes to take her out to a respectable place. I panicked and called my mom, “Mom, you can never tell anyone this, but you’ve got to take me shopping.

Wearing a new outfit, I took her on our first date. At the end of the night, I summoned all this courage and asked her if she would go out again. The next day, he picked up the phone and called his mom again. “Time for more shopping.”

After eleven months of this drama, he was ready to make a full commitment to her. He goes on, “I had earned extra money and bought a small ring. I took her on a date dressed in more new clothes, nervously sang a song to her while playing my guitar and gave her roses. After the song, I got down on one knee and asked the question: “Will you marry me?” And she said “Yes!”

If we compare the season of grace to a love relationship, then the dating period is the season of prevenient grace. All this Youngman’s effort, made in the background and unknown to this young lady was to bring her the point of saying, “Yes” to him.

In the same vain, in God’s All-Reaching or Prevenient grace, God works behind the curtain to bring us to the point to say “Yes” to Him. Like a love relationship, the moment we say “yes” to God and put our faith in Jesus Christ, the dynamics of the relationship changes immediately. We then experience God’s Saving Grace, which is also called “Justifying Grace.” God forgives all our sins and gives us a clean slate. We enter a new season of grace with God, which is his Saving or justifying grace, which brings us into a genuine relationship with God for the first time.

Talking about this grace in Ephesians 2, Paul tells the Christians in the Roman province of Ephesus, remember all of us, including you and me at one point lived according to our human cravings, and by nature we were children of wrath. But God who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive in Christ. Paul goes on, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing. It is a gift of God, not a result of work so that no one may boast.”

In Romans 3:23-24, the Apostle Paul writes, “ Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ.

Church, this is God’s Saving Grace at work. This is God’s Justifying Grace, given to us not on the bases on merits, but freely. It’s this grace that saves us.

Most of us grew up hearing messages from parents and those who cared about us, that sounded like this. Do your best, keep your chin up! Work hard! There is no free lunch. Pull up your bootstrap!

There is nothing wrong with doing our best and working hard. Hard work is a virtue that we should ascribe to. But when the notion of our effort, ability and achievement creep into our relationship with God, when we try to climb the performance or goodness ladder to earn a place in heaven, then we miss the mark. For all our goodness is not good enough to earn us a place in God’s Kingdom. That’s why Isaiah 64, says, “all our righteousness is like a filthy rag.” But through God’s Saving (justifying) Grace, God accepts and make us his own, not because of who we are, or what we have done, but in spite of who we are and what we have done.

That’s why the people in Zacchaeus’ story grumbled. A man like Zacchaeus did not deserve to have Jesus at this home. As far as a fellow Jews were concern, Zacchaeus was a notorious sinner empowering the Roman oppressors by being their chief tax collector and extorting money from his kens to enrich himself. So, his entire community hated him. In their eyes, Zacchaeus deserved nothing but condemnation and judgement, because the OT law (Deut. 25:1), says, “the judge must justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. But to the contrary Jesus says,For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” So, when Zacchaeus heard about Jesus, he would not allow anything to hinder him. Something stirred up in him. I am sure this was God’s All-Reaching (Prevenient) grace propelling him. And when Jesus saw him in the tree and extended the self-invitation, “come down Zacchaeus; for today, I will be at your house, and Zacchaeus said “Yes. “Jesus entered his home and into his heart as well. Thus, Zacchaeus experienced God’s saving grace.

Zacchaeus was not saved because he offered to give half of his goods to the poor, but he made the offer because he had already been saved. It was a sign of his new life. And Jesus confirmed, that, “today, salvation has come to this house,”

Every Christian, including you and me, is a recipient of not only God’s All-Reaching (Prevenient) grace, but also God’s Saving (justifying grace) as long we have said yes to God. If you have not, Jesus says “behold now is the acceptable time; behold today is the day of salvation.” ( 2 Cor. 6:2). All you must do is to say Yes to Christ.

Our yes to God can come in a moment or in a season in life, according to Acevedo and Olds. Some of us say “Yes” to Christ in what they called a “light switch” salvation experience, like Zacchaeus. It’s like you flap on the switch and it brightens instantly. Such people still remember the date, time and every other detail about their conversion experience. Then we have the “dimmer switch” salvation experience. These are Christians who cannot trace any date or time. When their parents presented them for baptism, the dim light slowly shone brighter and brighter and has kept shining since.

It does not matter how yours happened. The fact that you are here this morning tells me that you have said “yes “to God. It means you have placed your faith in our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and he has wrapped his gracious arms around you. If you have not, the chances are yours even now.

You are I are saved not because of anything we have done, but because we have said Yes to God and embraced him as our savior. This is the work of God’s Saving Grace.

As we leave from here today, know that God’s arms are open to everyone. To those who have not said yes to him yet, God’s All-Reaching (Prevenient) grace is being pouring out on you each day, as his Saving or justifying grace awaits you. To us who have been saved through his Saving or justifying Grace, God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace is available to us each day. Continue the journey with me next week, as we talk about this third season of God’s grace to us in this sermon series: A Grace-Full Life from the Womb to The Tomb”

God bless you.


A Four Week Sermon Series: “A Grace-Full Life Journey (from the Womb to the Tomb) August 5, 2018

Psalm 139:7-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.

Theme: God’s All-Reaching Grace, Even There”

Few weeks ago, Eva and I stepped out of the house, held hands and walked around the neighborhood. Like something propelling us, we ended up at the little docked almost at the corner of Teal Lake and US 41. There we sat for a while talking as we watched the sun go down across the colorful sky at the far end. As we also listened to the sound of the waves of the lake crushing upon the rock, the words of David recorded in Psalm 8:3-8, became very real to me in a renew sense. David wrote:

When I look up at the night skies, and see the works of your fingers-
 the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place-
 what are mere mortals that you think about them;
what are human beings that you pay attention to them?

When David looked at the spender and majesty of God’s creation, he just could not understand why God loves human beings so much. Whether you believe it or not, I come this morning to remind us once more that God loves you and me so much that there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

In our text this morning, David says there is nowhere he can flee from God’s presence. The Hebrew word “burrah,” that is translated flee in this text, usually indicates an attempt “to get away from.” David is saying that God never lets him get away. Even when he tries to escape to the highest height or the lowest depth of the ocean, even there, God’s hands will lead and hold him.

This is good news. It means that we stand in the inescapable presence of God. God loves us so much that He just won’t let us go even when we turn our backs. The word used to describe this love of God is grace.

From its Greek origin, Grace is Charis. It literally means ‘favour’, to bend or stoop in kindness to another as a superior to an inferior.

In its use of scripture, grace is God bending or stooping towards fallen and broken humanity with His love. It’s God chasing after us to show us unmerited favor. It is a gift of God to us. So, the bigger picture of this is that God is offering human kind something precious; something not on basis of merits; we don’t deserve it; it’s God’s gift of salvation.

But grace comes in four different facets which experienced at different times of our life journey. In the words of Acevedo and Olds, the first of these is “God’s All-Reaching Grace.” The fancy theological name for this is Prevenient Grace. The word Prevenient comes from a Latin word, meaning “to precede or to come before.” So Prevenient Grace is the God’s grace that comes before we even to acknowledge God.

Think about an unborn child. Although the baby has not yet been seen, touched and embraced by the parents, yet the parents love the expected child. We cannot wait for it to arrive before they show love. We go to the store and purchase the best things we can for the child that is yet to come. This is prevenient grace.

God does not wait until we turn to Him. God’s All-Reaching (prevenient) grace is available to us from the moment we enter this world. This is the first phase of God. It is God wooing and pursing us. It is God’s love that will never let us go. That is why the Apostle Paul writes, in Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God did not wait for us to make it right. It is the grace that draws us to God. That is why Jesus declared that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

God has chosen to be gracious to us because God knows everything about us. Eva and I have been together over two decades now, but we still don’t know everything about each other. Once in a while we discover something new about each other. But this is not with God. God knows all about us.

We see this in the first four verses of Psalm 139, we read, “Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up. You know my thoughts even when I am far away.”

An older version of our confessional prayer says to God, “all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden. God has the capacity to look past the externals and into the core of who we really are. Theologians call this God’s omniscience; it is God’s capacity to know everything there is to know. Sounds frightening, right? But it’s for our good.

God knows our shortcoming; He knows our hidden deeds; He know the poor choices and mistakes we make at times; He knows our struggle; He knows our pains. That is why God is extending to everyone His All- Reaching Grace, even there, to the criminals, to the outcasts, the drug addicts, to the alcoholic. God’s All-Reaching grace is being made available even to the ones on death-roll.

God is calling, inviting, and pursuing us with His All-Reaching grace. God is persistent, tireless and lovingly reaching out with His grace. Will you respond?

In his famous song “Your Grace Finds me, Matt Redman writes,

From the creation to the cross. There from the cross into eternity,

Your grace finds me; Yes, your grace finds me.

There in the darkest night of the soul

There in the sweetest songs of victory
Your grace finds me
Yes, your grace finds me

To everyone here this morning, God is seeking and calling you and me into deeper relationship with Him. Jesus says in Revelations 3:20, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. This is God’s All-Reaching Grace, reaching out to everyone in this room this morning. Will you open up the door of your heart? Will you allow God to come closer to you as He desires?

This is may be a word for someone you know who may be on the run from God, or it may even be a word for you. Know that God’s All-Reaching Grace surrounds you and that person each day, and you and I can be the channel of God’s grace to that person and the world around us.

God bless you.



The Power of the Resurrection- Sunday, April 22, 2018

Scripture Lessons:

Acts 3:12-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites,why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.

Luke 24:36-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

The Power of the Resurrection

Whenever a young person dies, it is considered a tragedy.  Such death is termed as being untimely. This does not suggest that the death of elderly people is not painful, but we often feel that the life of the younger person was not been fully lived. In Liberia, the friends of deceased young person in most instances print T. shirt labelled, “WHY SO SOON?”

But when Jesus died at the age of thirty-one (31), we celebrate his death. In fact, we term the day he was brutally and disgracefully killed as “Good Friday.” And we celebrate.  Why do we do this? Why do we not mourn the death of Jesus?

 The most obvious answer is because Jesus died for our sin, and rightly so.  We hold this belief because scripture is the primary source of our doctrine, belief and practice, affirms it. Here are few:

    • Romans 5: 8, says: “God commended his love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
    • I Corinthians 15:3b, “The Messiah died for our sin  
    • He loved me and give himself for me(Gal.2:20)

Besides scripture, our hymns also bear witness to the Christian belief that Jesus died for our sins. The third verse of the hymn: How Great Thy Art, reads:

And when I think that God, his Son Not Sparing,

Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in;

That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and die to take away my sin.

All this focus on the death of Jesus and what it does for us is personally. But this is just one piece of the good news. There is a larger element of the picture which is the Resurrection. When we become too focus on this personal aspect, without paying attention to the larger element(Resurrection) it can lead us to a private or even a selfish way of seeing things in which our immediate needs may seem to have been met (our needs for forgiveness in the present and salvation in the future). Christians who focus on only this personal aspect of the good news may be content as long they are members of a church. We become Christians for ourselves.

This is not what we see in these passages. Once Jesus appears to the disciples in their fear-stricken state and convinces them that he is their risen Lord and Savior, it changes everything. The Resurrection and its power changes everything for the disciples: There is a complete change in their mood and attitude and their view of life.

What follows next is that he commissions and empowers them:

We see this in the gospel reading last week when he tells them: “As the Father has sent me I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22).

Our gospel reading this morning also capture similar commission (V.46-49).

, 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Once again Jesus reminds the disciples and all of us this morning, that his death is not the end of the story. He reminds them that he was going to rise again on the third, according to the scripture and even that is not the end of the story. That repentance and forgiveness is to be preached in his name to the entire world, so everyone would be given the opportunity to hear the good news of Christ.

This is the mission that is being carried out by Peter and John in the reading from Acts that we heard. They are making a great difference in the name of Jesus, by healing a cripple beggar at the gate of the Temple. The text says everyone who saw the man leaping and praising God recognized him as the cripple beggar who sat at the gate, were astonished and amazed at what had happened.

From here onward, the life of the disciples who were fear-stricken when Jesus was crucified, became changed for every. They had the boldness to stand in front of the very authorities they were hiding from to announce; “although you handed Jesus over and he was killed, God raised him from the dead, and we are witness to us.  What made the difference is power of the resurrection.

Like these men and women, God saved us for a purpose. Being forgiven of your sin by the death of Christ and destined for heaven is not the end of the story. In fact, this is the begging of what God saved us for.  It is to spread the good news of God’s saving grace to a broken world.

If we were to ask a question to you this morning, it would, now that Jesus has died for your sin, what next?  It certainly is not to be a solitary Christian, but to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through words and deeds.

Mitchell provides several means through which we can carryout our God given mission. Yesterday was a classic example. We thank all those who turned out for the bag distribution for the Feed a Neighbor campaign. You can volunteer to serve a ministry need that we have, like the Nursery that we have been talking about. Right now, we need a volunteer to help me with the youth program.

Remember, we are saved not to ourselves, but to be God’s agents of redemption to our world that needs to know him  

May we take hold of this post Resurrection mission and power that Christ has given us to fulfill this mission.

God bless you.

The Easter People- Sunday, April 15, 2018

Scripture Lesson:

John 20:19-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Living as Easter People

Have you heard the fancy word called “claustrophobia?”” It comes from two words: claustrum, meaning “a shut-in place,” and Greek “phobos” from which we have phobia, meaning fear. From these, we have, claustrophobia, the fear of having no escape or being closed in, especially in a small, confined space. Normally people who suffer from claustrophobia fear been trapped in small space. So, they fear riding an elevator, or fear being crushed in a crowded stadium.

In life sometimes, we fear or feel trapped by circumstances. At times some of us feel trapped in an abusive or painful marriage or relationship. Some feel trapped by grief or anger, or debt, or physical condition, etc, so much so that it becomes an obstacle that limit, confine and make us powerless. We feel being trapped in a condition that there seems to be no way out.

This describes the experience of the disciples after Jesus was crucified. Their Lord and Savior was confined to a tomb, sealed out with a large stone. As our text reveals, the disciples too are behind locked door. They are trapped by fear of the Jewish religious and Roman authorities who had crucified their Lord. They are confined and hiding in a little space/room even though they had gotten the news on early Easter morning, that Jesus had risen from the death.

While the disciples were trapped behind the locked doors,  Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst, and his first words to them were, “peace be with you.”   Isn’t this what we want most when we find ourselves in the state of fear and uncertainty due to peril of life? We certainly need God’s peace that transcends all human understanding. This is the peace that nothing in life can give us. It is the “shalom” of God. This what Easter brings to us. God’s peace.

The text says after this, Jesus showed them his hands and his side. He did this to dispel their doubt. It was like saying, it is I Jesus, your Lord. Verse 20b says, “then the disciples rejoiced after they had seen the Lord.” I wonder why we treat Thomas unfairly by naming him “Doubting Thomas?”, For all the disciples fear and doubted. Thomas was only asking for the same opportunity theys had. He wanted the same personal experience.  He did not want their second-hand information. “Unless I see the marks of the nails in hands and put my fingers in his side, I will not believe, “Thomas said. He wanted no pretense. Faith in God must be a personal experience for each of us. We cannot pass it on to our kids, or grand kids.

Verse 26 says, A week later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. “Although the door was shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he told Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas, the made his famous confession: “My Lord and my God.”

Like these fears-stricken disciples trapped behind locked doors, sometimes we too feel trapped by the circumstances and conditions of life. We are trapped in painful marriages and relationships, trapped in addiction, trapped in grief and depression, trapped by job insecurity; trapped by uncertainty of life; trapped by the feeling of lack of self-worth, and the list goes on.

As he did to his disciples, the resurrected Jesus comes to meet us where we are. He comes to meet us right in those trapped conditions.  Jesus is aware that we may not be able to get out of such situation; so, he comes to meet us right there.

Next, like the disciples, the resurrected Jesus comes to also give us assurance. He showed the disciples his wounded hands and side and gave them the opportunity to discover that it was their Master.   This is what Easter is. Easter assures us that Christ is alive, that the price of our salvation has been paid and we can now have peace with God and be at peace with others and ourselves.

Romans 5:1, says, “Therefore since we have been put right with God through faith, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Not only does Jesus assure us of his presence, but his resurrection points to the fact that we serve a God of possibilities. The ground could not withhold him; the stone could not stand in his way and the locked doors could not prevent him from reaching the disciples.  This is Easter. Go on and live it.

Easter reminds us of the beginning of something new, of a fresh start, of a time to triumph over our fears and insecurities. Easter offers a time to focus on the possibilities of life, rather than what we perceive as limitations. It is a time to trust that God through Christ has removed the barriers that hold us back, that keep us in fear or that close our hearts and minds.

Easter is a dawning of a new day; it’s a new life. Just as the stone that sailed the tomb of Jesus was rolled away, things that trapped us, things that stand in our way, or hold us back, or hinder us from realizing our true potential, can be overcome. Therefore, we must live as Easter people.

You and I can begin to look at life with freshness, worshipping God with a deeper sense of awe and appreciation, and living more fully in his grace. Easter offers us a new lense to look at the possibilities of life, instead of the limitations. So, let’s live the Easter.

Sometimes we have been trapped in some conditions so long that overcoming it seems impossible, but you and I can live the Easter by taking new steps that will liberate us.

New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright suggests, “But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your inner most life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way and this is what Easter is all about. “We are Easter people; let’s live as such.

When we focus on the only the negatives, or the obstacles, we often tend to lose sight of the possibilities, the opportunities, and even the miracles God has placed right before us.

During this Easter, you and I can begin to take some new steps of faith and live as Easter people. It’s possible to make your marriage or relationship move loving, or score better grades, or get admitted to your dream school, or get out of debt and begin saving for retirement or give some of your time to help make the world a better place.

As we continue to celebrate Easter, may we seize the opportunities and possibilities that God has placed before us as a congregation and individuals.

May we live the hope and victory of the Resurrection.

God bless you.


The Tide Has Turned – Easter Sunday 2018

Scripture Lesson:

Luke 24:13-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiahshould suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Tide Has Turned

On this the journey of life, many if not all of us sitting here this morning have felt a disappointment either by someone we did not expect or even by God. Maybe it has been the untimely death of a parent, a child, a mate, or another loved one. It may have been through a painful divorce that took place despite all your efforts and fervent prayer against it. Or perhaps it was the lost of a job and you were gradually worn down as every door slammed shut in your face. Or maybe it is a personal matter that you have prayed about for months or even years, but God has not answer in the manner you wished. Whatever the case, we all have had times when we felt disappointed by someone we had hoped not, or even God.

In like manner, the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday was a great shock to the disciples. For three years, they had built a good relationship and their hope on Jesus. But now everything seems lost; they were bewildered and disappointed; their hope was shattered, and it seems their world had come to a crushing end.  Like I mentioned before, some of life experiences have got us to feel this way at times.

We get a sense of this hopelessness in the words of Cleopas, ones of the two travelers making the seven-mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus this morning.  As they discussed in deep grief about the crucifixion, the text says, Jesus came up and walked with them, but the men were kept from recognizing him. Then Jesus asked them, “what are you discussing?” Luke says, the men stood with their faces cast down. And Cleopas asked the unknown intruder, “are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who do not know “all the things that have happened these few days?”

“What things?”   Jesus’s question stops them in their tracks, and they stood sad, and downcast. “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, Cleopas responded. He was a prophet mighty in words and deeds, and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be crucified………..

I realize how patient our Lord is as he listens to us every time telling him things he already knows about us. Sometimes he even listens patiently to our distorted version of the truth he already knows.

The two travelers’ utter despair is voiced in verse 21: “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. “These are the words of men whose hopes and dreams are buried, and this is what despair and doubt can do to us. They prevent us from seeing nor depending on God’s assurances and promises.

I have preached this passage many times, but for the first time I come to discover something in this text that had never occurred to me before. That sometimes we allow ourselves to be guided by conventional wisdom instead of God’s word. This is what is hindering the faith of these men.

  1. The first one is: “Where there is life, there is hope.”

I have held on to this conventional wisdom and even quoted to people many times, but from my study of this text, I have come to realize that this is just half-truth. These men believed that without life, all hope is lost.      This explains why their hope is crushed. For us, our hope goes beyond this physical life.

  1. The next conventional wisdom guiding these men over scripture

is “seeing is believing.”

The men have already been told that the tide has turned; Jesus has been raised; the tomb is empty, yet they cannot believe. Look at their own words in verse 22-24:

” But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

So, what more did these men want? The evidence was there. The apostles, in addition to the women have confirmed this morning that the tomb is empty; an angel has proclaimed that Jesus is risen.

Like these men, sometimes our troubling emotions blinds us to what God is doing right before our very eyes. Sometimes the presence and work of God are evident in our life, in our family and in our church, but we just can’t see it because our hearts and minds are troubled.

It took two things that Jesus did to open the eyes of these men to the reality that that the Tide Has Turned; that Jesus is alive.

This is the Goodness this morning. God has turned the tide. Christ is risen. There is Victory over sin and death.  No need to live in fear, or doubt or shame. Christ is risen. Alleluia!

The two things Jesus did to dispel the despair of these men, to bring them to the point of accepting that the tide has turned:  

He cited and reviewed the Holy Scripture with them. v.25-27, he says:

How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter into this glory?” And beginning with Moses and the prophets, he explained all the prophets had said about him in scripture.

I know of no other evidence to turn to regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the Holy Scripture. That is why we must give time to the study of scripture. Bible studies, Sunday school and Sunday worship are all intended to help us understand God’s will and purpose for us.

  1. The last thing that Jesus did to dispel the despair of these men,             he

sat with them at the fellowship or dinner table, which underscores the importance of Christian fellowship. Sitting around the table. It was when Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke, and gave it to them, that starred their awareness of his presence, and they recognize him as their risen savior. Once again, Christian fellowship is very important.

At this point, everything changed for these men. They asked each other: “Were not our hearts burning while he talked with us on the road when he opened the scripture?” Their entire mood changed; for the tide has been turned from despair to hope; from sorry to joy; from death to life; from doubt to faith; from condemnation to redemption; from defeat to victory and from sinners to be the saints of Christ.

This is what the Resurrection does for us; this is what Easter means to us. The Tide that Turned for them, also turns for us .

Finally, they got up and ran back to Jerusalem with the Good news that God has turned the tide this morning. This is what Easter challenges us to do. It gives us hope and empowers us to share the good news.

May the God who has brought Christ back to life continue to strengthen us in our Easter faith.

God bless you.

“Following Jesus Beyond the Parade” – March 25, 2018

Scripture Lesson

Mark 11:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Philippians 2:5-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

“Following Jesus Beyond the Parade”

When the Cheering Stopped, is a book that tells the story of the last years of President Woodrow Wilson. The book talks about how President Wilson was hailed as a war hero not only at home but also in most of Europe for his outstanding role played during World War I and the founding of the League of Nations.

The text   highlights the great optimism that characterized most of the world as people believed that World War I was the final war and thereafter peace and democracy would flourish. This was the new world order envisioned by President Wilson.

On his first visit to Paris, President Wilson was greeted with great cheers as a great international war hero, incomparable to any other.

But barely after a year, the leaders of Europe began to focus on their national issues; President Wilson faced opposition at home. Congress refused to rectify the League of Nations. His party was defeated at the next elections. He suffered stroke and his health began to deteriorate leading to his death.

The central message of the book is captured in these few lines of the Foreword.

When the Cheering Stopped is a gripping true story of duty, courage, and deceit, and an unforgettable portrait of a visionary leader whose valiant struggle and tragic fall changed the course of world history.”

The story of President Wilson mimics the experience of Jesus in so many ways. During his ministries over the three years, Jesus embodied the message and act of love, peace, compassion, justice, liberation, resistance against oppression, etc.  His was a new message that called for a new world order. Beyond all of these, was his ultimate mission to lay down his life for sinful humanity.

The gospel recalls that many time when Jesus did something great, like healing the sick or restoring the sight of the blind, or displaying his deity, he would warn his disciples, or the person healed not to tell anyone. But two weeks ago, he told his disciples and some Greeks that the hour had come for the son of Man to be glorified.

Today he has given his followers the permission to give him a public demonstration of honor, as God’s anointed One. Today, he is seated on a young donkey, and makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem in a parade amidst great cheers, waving of branches and shouts, Hosanna; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

 I love the conclusion of Matthew’s version of this story.  In chapter 21: 10-11, of the NRSV, He says, when he(Jesus) entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “who is this? The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee.

What is happening today is prophetic fulfillment of Zachariah 9:9. He says:  Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

But this great proclamation will be followed by desertion, abandonment, betrayal and even denial. By this evening, Jesus will be left with only his disciples; by Thursday, the disciples will abandon and deny him. He will be a lone man in the hands of his enemies. Why?

One obvious reason for this is the people had wrong expectation of Jesus.

When the crowd spread their clothes, they were giving Jesus a conqueror’s welcome. Over one hundred and fifty years prior to this Palm Sunday, they had welcomed back a Hebrew family called the Maccabees which helped stir a revolution against the Romans. They spoke those the same words, “Hosanna” which means, “save us” or “save us now” (Psalm 118:25-26). They were saying to Jesus, save us from the Romans now.

Indeed, Jesus is a conqueror, but not a military one.  He was battling against the forces of evil. He was going to save his people, but not by destruction and violence, but his death.  For Jesus, the enemies to be conquered were not another human being but sin and death.

When the Roman military general made a triumphal entry following his victory over his war enemies, he rode on the back of a horse, but Jesus is riding on the back of a young donkey, which is symbolic of his humility.  The Roman victor displayed his trophies and captured men of war, but Jesus’s triumph is a victory of love over hate, truth over error, and life over death.

For the generals, death would be defeat, but for Jesus, his death would become the means of conquering. He comes to the city with peace, love and compassion but not violence.

Sadly, this is not the kind of messiah the people expect. They want one who would meet hate with hate, violence with violence, and the stronger vanquishing the weaker. This contrast will lead to desertion, betrayal and denial. The crowd in this parade will desert him, the disciples will betray, desert, abandon and denial.

The question that comes to you and me is, after our shouts of Hosanna and waving our branches this morning like the crowd, will we follow Jesus to Golgotha after the parade, or will we turn back?

One author wrote: “It seems the ultimate reward of someone who tries to translate ideals of peace into reality is apt to be frustrated and defeated.”

We have seen this the world over. There is always a price to pay for standing up for love over hate, peace over violence, compassion over indifference and cruelty.  Jesus was no exception. He will give up himself and human wickedness to the highest order will be inflicted upon him for our sake.

But this is the way of Christ that he calls us to follow (beyond the parade.) In Luke 9:62, Jesus says, anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for reward in the Kingdom of God

The Christian faith calls for commitment and being ready to give yourself for the sake of the gospel.

This is what Paul sums up in our first reading. Philippians 2:5-11. He says;

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ, who though he was in the form of God, did not claim equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.

There is nothing we can give and do to match what Christ will be doing for us. The only thing we can do is to follow him beyond this parade today.  Be with him at the Last Supper on Thursday; be present at his Crucifixion on Friday and be present at the empty tomb on Easter morning.

Finally, we can follow Jesus consistently by embodying all that he stands for; by  loving everyone, evening our perceived enemies; being an instrument of peace wherever we are, by standing up and raising our voice against injustice in whatever form it presents itself; having compassion on the needy, and by being the hands and feet of Christ.

God bless you.

“Dying to Self”- March 18, 2018

Scripture LEsson

John 12:20-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

“Dying to Self”

The gospel reading today presents some of the striking paradoxes of the Christian faith. It contains some of the shocking statements of Jesus that turned some of his hearers away.  And in our time, can leave us scratching our heads and wondering whether we are prepared for it. Yet, this is text tells us is the new way of life to which Jesus calls to live, if we truly his followers.

Jesus made the statements contained in this text when two of his disciples, Andrew and Philip took some Greeks who had requested to see him.  Addressing them, the Lord says, “The hour has come for the “Son of Man” to be glorified.” These first words of Jesus, I am sure, did not shock his audience, because they were too familiar with the expression “Son of Man” found in Daniel 7:13.   If anything, this statement certainly excited the hearts of those who heard him.  Daniel 7:13-14 reads;

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He appeared the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will have no end.

To the Jews, the Son of Man stood for the undefeatable world conqueror sent by God. So, when Jesus said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” his listeners would have caught their breath. They would have believed that the mighty armies of heaven were now on the march, and the Champaign of victory was on the move. But to the contrary, when Jesus spoke these words, he did not mean the conquest of armies, but the conquest of the Cross.  He was speaking about his pending death on the cross. This may have left his audience bewildered.

In verse 24, Jesus goes on to explain about his death, the self-giving life to which calls us. This is the new way of life that contrasts with way of life we know today. Christ is using an agricultural illustration to drive home his message. He says “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many fruits.”

In this analogy, Jesus is saying, only by death comes life.  The grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful as long it is preserved as it is in safety and security. Only when the seed is thrown and buried into the cold ground and dies, that it gets new life. It sprouts, grows and produces more fruits. Unless it goes through that process, that seed becomes a single seed.

You and I are a part of about 2.5 billion Christians the world over today because one man gave up his life. It is the life of self-giving that he calls us.

Jesus expands on this concept in verse 25. He says, “The man loves his life will lose it, while the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Christ is not calling us to die or hate ourselves literally. He means the essence of your life or my life is not just centered around you or centered around me. Your life should not just revolve around you as much as that you become the center of your little universe. He wants to put to death the self.  

Each of us must realize that God created us not just for yourself, but as a part of God’s created world, called to be an active participant of God’s mission in this world. This is what gives meaning and purpose of life.

A story is told of a famous evangelist called Christmas Evans, who was always on the move working for Christ. His friends urged him to take things easier, but his answer always was: it is better to burn out than to waste out.

The world’s philosophy says: “Live for self,” but Jesus calls us to die to self. In the words of William Barclay,” the person who live for self is moved by two aims: by selfishness and by the desire for security.

Like Evans friends, sometimes we want to preserve, and secure our lives. We want to ensure that we store up sufficient resources to preserve and keep us secured.

But in his book, “Colors of Hope”, Richard Dahlstrom describes what he calls: Safety First Mentality in these words: Lock your doors at night. Get an alarm system. Save 10 percent and make sure your investment is insured …. Take your vitamins, minerals, etc. Eat lots of soluble fibers. Exercise. Get eight hours of sleep …. Go to church regularly, being certain to drive carefully both on the way there and on the way home (it’s best if your car’s the biggest, because then you’re the safest). Don’t go on mission trips to places where you might contract staph infection, malaria, intestinal parasites, or face a terrorist plot. Risky hobbies? Forget it. Read books instead …. Eat organic. Get a colonoscopy.”

Richard continues, “The safety-first posture is wrong on several levels. First, and most significantly, the good life is never defined by Jesus in terms of either length or comfort. To the contrary, Jesus says that those who seek to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their lives, spilling them out generously in service to others because of love for God and humanity, will find them.

Imagine those of you who are sponsoring kids in Liberia. You have no idea how many persons who are giving life and hope through your assistance.

In our world of instant self-gratification, dying to self is a concept that is not just foreign but also unacceptable. But this is the new way of life that Jesus not only sets the example of but calls us to live.

As we continue this Lent, let’s think about what Jesus will go through for our sake. Despite his deity, it was never an easy mission. In this text, he says his heart is troubled, and wonders what to say. Should I ask the father to save me from this hour? He answers, No. It was the reason why I came to this hour.” He says.

As I close this message, let me leave you with the words from Richard’s book, Colors of Hope, that I quoted earlier. The author writes,

 The Christian life, should be guided by the intentional goal of blessing the lives of the friends, loved ones, and strangers in our midst. We are called to impact a culture that, for all the rhetoric about hope, is overwhelmingly preoccupied with personal peace, prosperity, protection, and survival. Christians should be artists who paint with the colors of hope in a broken world, embodying Christ’s redemptive presence in our personal lives, our work, and our relationships. 

As we follow Christ to the cross, let’s allow the self in us to die, that the will and mission of Jesus come the focus of life.        

May we use our hands, our voice, our time, our strength, our skills, and our money for the work Christ to make a difference in Christ’s name.

God bless you.

“The Depth of God’s Love”- March 11, 2018

Scripture Lesson

Numbers 21:4-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

John 3:14-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”


Sermon: The Depth of God’s Love

Anyone who has looked at someone and told them intentionally,”I love you” knows that those words are weighty. They come with a cost, if we mean it. Sometimes we say them without considering their full implications. But this is not the case with God. When we read in scripture that God loves us, or when the preacher tells you that God loves you, these are not empty words, because God’s love for us comes with a very high cost.

In his conversation with Nicodemus in our gospel passage, Jesus pointed to an OT incidence recorded in Numbers 21:4-9, which foreshadowed the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross on Good Friday.

In our OT text, the Isrealites are complaining and murmuring against Moses about the harsh wilderness conditions. Remember this is not the first complaint. At Marah (Exodus 15:22-25), they complained about the taste of the water, and the Lord made the water taste sweet; then they complained about the lack of food (Exodus 16:2-3); and again, the Lord provided manna; then they complained about water (Exodus 17:3). At God’s instruction, Moses struck the rock, water gushed out and they drank; then they complained about meat (Numbers 11:4-6), and God gave them quails (birds). There is this pattern of complaint, Moses intercedes, and God provides or remedy the situation.

But now in numbers 21, they are complaining about everything, and even regretted leaving Egypt. This time they did not just speak against Moses, they spoke against God. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” They complained! “There is no food; no water, and we detest this miserable food.”

Every additional step we take in life that advances us brings with it its own challenges. We often say, “good things don’t come easy.”

Moreover, in our relationship with God, faith is an indispensable virtue. The Bible says, “without faith, it is impossible to please God”, Hebrews 11:6. God wants us to trust him despite what mountain that may stand before us today.

All the Israelites had to do was to look back and see God’s hands in their journey. Sometimes all you need to do is to look back on your life and see how far God has brought you, instead of complaining about everything before you today.

So, this time, God got angry with the Israelites for their faithlessness and rebellion and punished them. God sent poisonous Snakes that bit them, and many died.

Then the people pleaded with Moses, saying, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the snakes.”

When Moses did, God instructed him to fix a snake and put it on a pole. A victim only had to look up at the snake on the pole to be cured and live. That bronze snake on the pole became a means of God’s grace to heal and restore god’s people from the penalty of their sin. God’s grace is free but it always requires a response from us.

In comparison Jesus says in our gospel text, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so (he) the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him  may have everlasting life” (John 3:14-15). Like the bronze snake on the pole, Jesus Christ provides the perfect remedy for the sins of broken humanity through the cross that he takes upon himself on Good Friday. But unlike the snake that provided healing and recovery just for that moment, Jesus provides forgiveness and eternal life.” This verse proclaims that God’s extravagant love for us is a self giving act. This is the depth to which God went just for you and me. The first thing we see here is that:

The Depth of God’s Love Reveals its Costliness

It cost God his only son as was read in the 16th verse of our text. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son.” And it cost Jesus his life.

Jesus says, greater love has no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). It is this love that led the hymn writer to wonder: “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul. What wondrous love is this, that cause the Lord of  Life to lay aside his crown for my soul.”

Sometimes non-Christians and even so Christians asks the question, Why did it have to cost the life of Jesus Christ? Why couldn’t the almighty God just pronounce forgiveness of sin?

Here it is. God does not violate His own law. there is no contradiction in Him. The scripture says: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). and there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). That is why each year, the Old Testament priests had to slaughter animals to preform the sacrifice on behalf of the community. But in Jesus Christ, Paul says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

Jesus’ death satisfies the demand of the law of sin. He will take our place on Good Friday.

Secondly- The Depth of God’s love reveals how little we deserve it:

We know someone’s love for us by how little we deserve it. If we have treated someone well all the time and done all that is expected of us, it will not prove much when he loves us, but if he loves us when we have offended him, shunned him, and disdained him, that will prove a great love for us. The more undeserving we are, the more amazing the depth of his love for us. Therefore Romans 5:8 says: But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” He loves us inspite of; not because of.

Finally- The Depth of God’s love shows our true worth and Value:

In our youth group two weeks ago, we discussed the topic: In God we are valued.

There we learned that we don’t find our true value and worth in external things, like: our looks, our abilities, skills, background, athletic ability, relationship, or what others may say about us. We find it in God, as revealed in Genesis 1:27 (We are created in the image and likeness of God), but our text also reveals our value and worth. That God’s only Son would die for me and you? That it took the life of Jesus on the cross for our sake? Think about it!

Among several things, Peter says we are God’s special possession. This means that nothing external can diminish our values and worth. not even being handicapped, or aged, or ill, or as society makes us to feel sometimes. Our value and worth are not found in any labels of society. But in the price paid by Christ. 

As we celebrate Lent and move closer to the cross, let’s remember that it’s all because of you and me. Let’s embrace, or continue to embrace the Light that Christ brings to the world and reflect that light.

As we experience God’s love, may we become channels of that love to the world around us.

Caring for God, by Caring for the Least of These” Nov. 26, 2017

Nov. 26, 2017

Text: Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24

Matthew 25:31-46

Theme: Caring for God, by Caring for the Least of These”

What would happen if Jesus were to show up today in our midst clearly identifiable as a destitute person? Surely, there will be no shortage of persons wanting to care for him. But the truth is, Jesus is in our midst right here and now. Each day the opportunity to care for Jesus Christ is available to us. It shows up in the faces and conditions of the needy among us.

This is the biblical truth that Jesus unveils to us in his parabol found Matthew 25. When we Acknowledge that the Source of all we have is God, then it becomes easy to honor God with some of what we have to care for the needy.