Sunday, September 4, 2011

Following Jesus Where You're At

Here are my preparation notes for tomorrow's preaching.  I'm thinking of this for a variety of reasons, partly because someone I have cared about and spent time with recently came to a very sad end.  I don't know what else to do but go back to scripture and cling to the promises of our Lord. 

I love the Bible stories of Jesus and his disciples.  I love them because, from a spiritual point of view, they are so deeply connected with the lives of the followers of Jesus who are alive today.  I love these stories because they are so honest.  They show God at work in the mess of everyday life.  These stories show what God can do through the lives of his disciples, through the lives of people like you and me, even when we don't look so good.

It sort of reminds me of First Corinthians 5:17 - 6:13.  You can read that at the bottom of this post.  That passage speaks of the new creation, that, as Jesus' people, we are new.  But even so we live in a broken and sinful world, a world that not only has its effects on other people out there, but also on us, on you and on me.  First Corinthians 5:17-6:13 tells us that yes, we are new, and that God is at work in us on behalf of others, but that things do not always go so well.  Beginning in verse 4 of First Corinthians 6 it says this in the translation called "The Message."
People are watching us as we stay at our post … in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.
The life of a follower of Jesus, you see, isn't about us at all.  It doesn't really matter what the circumstances of our lives are.  We don't look at ourselves and we don't want anyone else to do that either.  We look to Jesus, and to him alone.

I have to do that because, as the song "Everlasting" says:
A thousand times I've failed
Still your mercy remains.
And should I stumble again
Still I'm caught in your grace.
Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades.
Never ending, Your glory goes beyond all fame.

So I love the stories of Jesus and his disciples in the Bible.  I love them because guess who gets the glory and the honor and the praise?  The disciples?  No.  It's Jesus.  It's Jesus every time.

Yesterday I asked my brother Randy to come and read scripture this morning.  Randy, would you come now and read another one of those true and honest stories.  As he reads, let's close our eyes and imagine ourselves in the real life situation they were in.  They've had an incredible day of being with Jesus.  He had just fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread... this should have shown them that they never had anything to worry about... but they didn't get it... in any case, Jesus now sends them out ahead while he goes alone to pray.

Mark 6:54-56
     45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
     47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
     Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
     53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

So who is it that looks good in this story?  Is it the disciples?  Hardly.  Their hearts were still so hard that, when they came to land on the other side of the lake, they were no good at all.  But, honestly, did it matter?  Did the disciples do the healing work?  Were they the ones who the people over there were glad to see?  No way.  It was all about Jesus.  It was NOT about them.  And it's not about us either.  In fact, when miracles do happen when we pray, when we DO get a chance to participate in God's incredible healing and saving work, there's a bit of danger there.

Turn over with me to Acts chapter 3.  Now we don't have time to go through all of this, but you'll see here in Acts 3 that two of Jesus' disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, are going to the temple in Jerusalem at the time of prayer, and they meet a crippled man who asks them for money.  They didn't have any money, but they did have Jesus living in them through the Holy Spirit, so, speaking in the name of Jesus, they said, "'Get up and walk!' Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong."  He jumped to his feet and went with them into the temple, "walking and leaping and praising God!"

Then look at Acts 3:11 and following:
11 While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
When success comes to Jesus' disciples, whether it's then or now, when we pray and someone is healed, or when we help someone get to know the Lord and they are saved, it's a great thing, but it's also something of a problem because it's so easy then for people to start looking at us instead of at the one we serve, Jesus Christ himself.

The miracle stories of the Bible, and the miracles that God does in the world today, they are very good and very precious, and we ought to be seeking and praying for these mighty acts of God to take place among us.  But more often than not, we human beings who have found our Savior Jesus and have been filled with God's Holy Spirit, more often than not you and I are going to end up being used in more humble ways.  We shouldn't be satisfied with that, and we should keep pursuing great and mighty signs of God's presence among us, but we should not be discouraged when things turn out differently.  Because, in the end, it's not about us at all.  And God will us ALL THINGS for his glory--even when all we do is to just let someone know something about the Lord, even when all we do is give someone a sign of Jesus' love in a rather small way.

Because, in those circumstances, Jesus is at work too.  Right where you are at.  Even before everything becomes clear and perfect in your Christian life.  What's important is that Jesus shines.  Not you.  Not me.

[At this point of my message tomorrow, I'm going to ask my son Jon to speak about his experiences in his every day life, helping people to come just a little closer to Jesus, and then we'll pray and encourage one another to do the same.]


First Corinthians 5:17--6:13
     17 ...If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
     6:1 As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
     3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
     11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. 12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. 13 As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.

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