Monday, April 27, 2009

This Week's Schedule 4/26/2009

Tuesday April 28th-
Friends Women Meet at Church to go to Manhattan 9:30am
Women of Faith Encourage Each Other 7:00pm

Wednesday April 29th- Kid's Club! 5:30-7:30pm
End of Year Picnic and Celebration

Sunday May 3rd- Sunday School for Adults 9:30 am
No Kids Sunday School
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.

This week's message: God at work?

Acts 28:1-11.

There is a new movie coming out, called Angels and Demons. I am not recommending it for watching, but I think that the title is representative of a continued obsession throughout human history to ascribe the things that happen in our lives to either powers for good or powers for evil. Particularly for negative events, we want them to either be divine retribution or a demonic attack. We talked last week about how God’s plan for Paul could not be stopped by a storm and a shipwreck. We saw how storms come in our lives and things happen that are simply part of the natural order of things. This morning we are going to see how God is continuing to work to bring about his plans for Paul to testify in Rome, protecting him from a snake-bite and using him to minister to the people on the island of Malta.
Read Acts 28:1-11.

The people on the island were kind and hospitable. Paul went to help them gather firewood, and as he threw a bunch of sticks on the fire, a snake came out of the bundle and latched onto his hand. I think I would too, if I were the snake. Poor thing was just trying not to die a fiery death, which he did anyway as Paul shook him off into the fire. The islanders all stood around then, convinced that this was a man in trouble with the gods. Surely a man who comes out of a giant storm and shipwreck washing up on shore only to be immediately bitten by a terribly poisonous snake is someone the gods have it in for. We would not be hard pressed to find those who would react the same today.

If you had a coworker whose car stalled on the way to work and was hit by another vehicle totaling it, then when they finally got to work, having walked from the accident site, only to get bitten by a copperhead as they took a shortcut through the landscaping, there would be at least one person in the office who would claim it was bad karma coming back to get them. We never want bad things to just happen. We want bad things to only happen to those who have it coming. Then we don’t have to feel bad for them. And we don’t have to worry about bad things happening to us, since we can’t possibly be as bad as they are. It is human nature. And the people on the island of Malta were showing forth their human nature with gusto.

They knew the men who had washed up were prisoners, probably it was the shackles that gave that away. They already figured these men were guilty and deserved whatever punishment they received. So when one gets bitten by a poisonous viper, they quickly assure themselves that it is only because he must have murdered someone and the gods are getting justice. And they all sit back and wait for Paul to swell up and die. Nothing happens. In the space of two sentences, Paul goes from doomed recipient of the gods’ wrath to a god himself. Does anyone else here see the irony of that quick-change?

First Paul is an evil murderous man, now he is a god. Let’s go back to that coworker who was bitten by the copperhead on the way into the office, turns out the snake bite didn’t make her sick, she put in a whole day’s work and on the way out the door, the same person who was claiming karma was coming back to get that coworker is now saying how lucky and blessed she is—“Man, her guardian angel was working overtime today!”

We want to be able to figure these things out. We want to know if the person with a snake bite is getting what they deserve or when they are fine that they have some kind of supernatural power to withstand poison. I think when we get caught up in the judgment cycle, we have our focus in the wrong place. Everyone was fixated on the snakebite and the storm.

When we get caught up in the event, we lose sight of where God is at work. The important thing is not that these events happened, it is that God was at work in spite of them. Paul and his companions were on this island for three months, and during that time, Luke tells us that God used Paul to heal the father of this high official, Publius. God used Paul to heal the sick as they were constantly brought before him for the next three months. But what do we remember? That he was bitten on the hand by a snake the first day he was on the island. God was at work for 3 months among these people, but we remember a few hours of suspenseful waiting for Paul to swell up and die. God changed the lives of the people on this island of Malta, but even now we want to make Paul the hero because he survived the snakebite and the storm. Sure, Paul was an important guy, but God is the hero in this story.

God is the hero of all of these stories. God was at work. God is still at work today. He may use certain people, but they aren’t heroes, they aren’t angels, they are vessels. Paul himself said we are clay pots, meant to hold and transport the message of the gospel. We said last week that every event in our lives is an opportunity for us to meet God, to see him at work. But in order to see God we need to stop focusing on the event and start asking God to reveal himself. It wasn’t about the shipwreck or the snakebite, it was about God bringing his message of hope to the people of Malta in the clay pot we like to call Paul.

We need to stop passing judgment on a situation and ascribing credit to angels or demons for making things happen. We need to start asking God what he wants to teach us in every situation. God show me yourself in my boring day at work. God show me yourself as I face challenges in my family. God what do you have to teach me in the blessings I receive and the struggles I have? It’s not about the circumstances, it’s about what God is doing behind the scenes to bring about his will, to show us who he is, and to bring us closer to himself.

Monday, April 20, 2009

This Week's Schedule 4/19/09

Tuesday April 21st-
Coffee at Amanda's 9:30am
Women of Faith Encourage Each Other 7:00pm

Wednesday April 22nd- Kid's Club! 5:30-7:30pm

Sunday April 26th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Coming Up:
Friends Women Spring Luncheon at Mcalister's in Manhattan April 28th
Business Meeting April 26th-Only items on the agenda are the parsonage roof and treasurer's report.

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.

This week's sermon: Finding God on a Sinking Ship

Somehow we have come to a conclusion as a culture and a people that God at work in our lives means smooth sailing. Some groups are so convinced of this that if you experience hardship or trials they start to look at you sideways like you are somehow in trouble because of sin in your life. And not that sin doesn’t wreak havoc on your life, it does, but not every problem in life is a result of sin. Let me give you an example:

Let’s say there is a man named Sam-any Sam’s here? And Sam cheats on his taxes. A few years later the IRS comes knocking on Sam’s door to collect and prosecute. That is trouble directly related to sin, we could counsel brother Sam and say, “Brother your sin brought you to this place, you need to repent.” In contrast to that example, let’s say Boyd-any Boyd’s here? Boyd was driving down the street following all the traffic laws and out of nowhere his transmission drops out of his car, and he gets rear-ended. Now, Brother Boyd was probably not suffering from consequences of his sin, unless he knew the transmission was about to drop, and he didn’t care and drove his car anyway. Do you see the difference? Sometimes the unfortunate events of our lives do not come as a punishment for our sins, but rather as a natural part of the world in which we live. Regardless of the origin of our trouble, it is always an opportunity for us to see the hand of God at work in our lives.

Read Acts 27.

Paul, who has been imprisoned for two years, is finally going to Rome to be heard by Caesar. They set sail and realize half-way to their destination that this may not be the best time of year to travel by boat. There are storms that rage during this time of year and the decision-makers know it, but they are determined to press on. In their persistence they run across a storm that pounds them for two whole weeks.

Every person on that boat was terrified, even Paul’s traveling companions, even Luke. They all thought that they were going down with the ship. Paul stays calm because he has an assurance that God has a plan for him to testify in Rome. That means he has to live to get to Rome to testify. That assurance is backed up by an angelic visitor who confirms that not only will Paul make it to Rome, but that God is graciously giving him the lives of every person on the ship, all 276 of them, as long as they stay onboard.

We have seen other storms in the scriptures that did come as a result of sin. Jonah comes to mind. There was a big storm, he knew in his heart of hearts that it was a result of his sin in not following God’s directions. Here we have a different situation. Yes, the pilot and owner of the ship were sailing at the wrong time of year and they ignored sound advice to wait for better weather, but no one is being punished with this storm. It is simply what happens in the Mediterranean at that time of year. This was Boyd’s transmission dropping out of his car. It is an event that belongs to the natural order of the world. But in the middle of that event, God shows up and saves their lives. This was an opportunity for each one of those people on that sinking ship to find out that there is a God who knows their situation.

How many of you feel like your life is a sinking ship? Or maybe it isn’t right now, but you have had sinking ship moments before, or you will in the future. Sinking ship moments are when you sit in the middle of your circumstances and everything looks grim. And our first response is to do what those sailors on the ship did: we start throwing things overboard. We start looking for a way to save the ship we are on, dragging the anchors, trying to tie the pieces of our lives together. Or we start hatching a plan to steal the lifeboat and leave everyone else to fend for themselves. Those are human reactions. But I believe God calls us to trust him no matter what happens.

The angelic visitor did not promise that the ship would be saved. In fact it wasn’t, it sunk, dashed to pieces by the waves. But every one of the people on board was saved. Your ship may feel like it is sinking. It might be sinking, but we need to stop looking for our own solution to saving the ship. In those moments we have a choice to give in to despair or to trust that God who knows right where we are.

God had a plan for Paul and those people on the ship, and he was going to accomplish it regardless of the obstacles. What is a storm to him? He made the elements that cause weather patterns, storms are nothing compared to his power. What is a sinking ship to God? He made the waves of that sea, and he used them to deliver everyone up onto the beach, safe and sound.

God has a plan for you and he will bring it to pass regardless of the obstacles in your circumstances. We read the scripture in Ephesians 1 last week that tells us the resurrection power of God is at work in our lives. If we believe that, then we can trust that nothing will stand in the way of God’s work in our lives. No storm is too big, no problem too great for him to overcome. When you find yourself in the middle of a sinking ship, trust that the God who knows everything about you, who knows the plan he has for your life, will in his infinite power bring that plan to pass no matter what.

Monday, April 13, 2009

This Week's Schedule 4/12/09

Tuesday April 14th-
Elder's Meeting 6:30pm

Wednesday April 15th- Kid's Club! 5:30-7:30pm

Thursday April 16th- Potato Bar Fundraiser for
Burundi Saltshaker Mission Trip

Sunday April 19th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Coming Up:
Friends Women Spring Luncheon at Mcalister's in Manhattan April 28th

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.

This week's sermon: He's Alive!

Matthew 27:45-28:10.
We have been talking about the upside down kingdom of God. We looked at how the God of the Universe came to earth in the form of a man and took on the role of a servant. We saw last week how Jesus suffered in the Garden anticipating the cross and betrayal by a friend. Today we are looking at the most ridiculous, upside down, nonsensical events in all of history: the day that God chose to die on a cross for you and me, and the day he didn't stay dead.

We have a lovely cross in the front of our sanctuary. It is made from pretty wood and sanded smooth with several coats of poly to give it a nice sheen. The cross that Jesus hung on was rough cut. They didn't care what kind of wood, as long as it was sturdy. They didn't take the time to even rough-file the edges, this was a use-once item. They hung people on crosses and threw them away, no extra time was spent to make them well-crafted.

Our cross has a nice light behind it, illuminating the edges and making it glow. Matthew tells us in this passage that while Jesus hung on his cross the sky turned black. Our cross hangs in the light, while he died in darkness. Jesus was put to death on a cross, like a criminal. He was mocked. He was teased with vinegar when he cried out that he was thirsty. The death of Jesus was not pretty. It was terrible. It was horrific. It was a painful, agonizing death, but it was not in vain. Jesus did not die without a reason. He did not die just because some evil men didn’t like his message. He died to heal a broken relationship. He closed the gap between God and mankind. Matthew tells us here that as he gave up his spirit, the temple curtain was ripped from top to bottom.

This curtain separated the sacrificial area of the temple from the most holy place. It was in this most holy place that the ark of the covenant was to be kept and only once a year could anyone enter this room. Only the High Priest to bring the atoning sacrifice could enter, and even he was in danger of losing his life if he was not completely cleansed from his own sins. This was the place that God had said his presence would dwell among his people. The curtain was a reminder to all that they were not worthy to stand in the presence of God. When Jesus gave up his spirit, when he died, he offered an atoning sacrifice for all mankind for all time. The curtain was ripped in two to show that now anyone could approach God’s presence because of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.

Jesus body was buried and the women watched and marked the place in their minds and hearts. They knew where their Lord was placed. They went home to observe the Sabbath, to mourn and wait for the first day of the week so that they could return and finish the job of preparing the body of Jesus for proper burial. The chief priests and the Pharisees, however, were more concerned with Jesus’ prophecy that he would raise from the dead on the third day. They went on the day after preparation day—that is the Sabbath—into the presence of Pilate and asked for a guard to be placed on the tomb. The disciples are scattered. The women are mourning. The opposition are the only ones who remember Jesus’ words that he will not stay in the tomb.

After the Sabbath the women went to the tomb, sad and determined to lay their Lord to rest in a dignified way. But when they got there, they didn’t see Jesus’ dead body. They didn’t face guards turning them away. They came upon an angel sitting on a rock. They came upon an angel of the Lord waiting for them to show up so that he can deliver his message. That was his purpose there. He had rolled away the stone, and then sat back to wait for the women. When he had told them the message, he said, “Now, I have told you.” He fulfilled his purpose by showing them the empty tomb and proclaiming the resurrection.

The women, who were sad and troubled, are now afraid yet filled with joy. They are still figuring all of this out as they hurry back into the city to find the disciples. Suddenly, Jesus appears. And he says again to them, “Do not be afraid!” Why would they be afraid? Because any time a dead man steps into your path and says, “Greetings!” you are going to be afraid. That is the natural human reaction to something that is so out of place. “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers that they will see me in Galilee.”

Why was the resurrection so important? Why was it so important that Jesus rose again? So often we focus on the death of Christ. His atoning sacrifice. But death is not so upside down according to the kingdom of the world. People die all the time, in fact they say that the only two things that are guaranteed are death and taxes. This week comes tax day. But today is resurrection day. Today is the day we celebrate the risen king of glory. So this week, we may have taxes, but we celebrate the one time that death failed in it's guarantee.

If Jesus had stayed in the ground, we wouldn’t be here. People would maybe have remembered the obscure rabbi two thousand years ago who died at the hands of the Romans. He would have been a martyr, but not Messiah. This morning I am excited about the resurrection, because it means we serve a God who cannot be overcome by even the most final, most terrible foe: death. Death could not keep him down. Jesus is alive. And his resurrection power is available to all who believe according to Paul in Ephesians chapter 1.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in you and me. And we need to go and tell just like the angel gave instructions to those women, and Jesus gave instruction to them again—go and tell that Jesus is not in the grave. He is risen just as he said. He rose to give us new life. He rose to give us victory in this life and a glorious life in heaven with him. He rose to show us that what he said was true. And the resurrection still testifies today in the lives of those Christ Jesus has entered and changed. Have you let him in? Is that resurrection power at work in you? I challenge you to seek his face. Ask him to come and resurrect your life and make you more and more into his image. Then share that hope of resurrection with others.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

This Week's Schedule 4/5/09

Tuesday April 7th-
Women of Faith: Encourage Each Other 7:00pm

Wednesday April 8th- Kid's Club! 5:30-7:30pm

Friday April 10th- Good Friday Service at Cottonwood Friends 7pm

Sunday April 12th- Easter Services
Sunrise Service at Cottonwood Friends 7 am
(Dress warmly for outdoor service!)
Breakfast to follow
Morning Worship at First Friends Church 10 am
Easter Egg Hunt after the ten o'clock service

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Coming Up:
April 16th- Potato Bar Fundraiser Dinner 5:00-7:30 pm Proceeds go to Burundi Saltshaker Mission Trip

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.

This week's sermon: Man of Sorrows

We have been talking about the upside down Kingdom of God.Last week we saw that in the Kingdom, the King of Kings is the greatest servant of all. This morning we are continuing that theme with a look at the experience of Jesus in the Garden. There are two prominent garden experiences in scripture. One is in the beginning when God made man and woman and placed them in the garden. We know that their garden experience and their choice to follow their own way into sin turned the world on it's head, making the Kingdom of God appear upside down. It is fitting that we should find ourselves this morning in another garden--Gethsemane, where Jesus looks ahead to the sacrifice that will offer a way for us to return to life in the Kingdom of God.

A lot of people have a big obstacle to faith--suffering. Whole books have been written on the subject. All of them try to answer the question, “How can a loving God allow there to be suffering in the world?” We have all faced hard times. When we are in the middle it is tempting to think that we are alone or that no one understands what it is we are going through. We don’t see that we are surrounded by love, and that God is present and that he understands. Hebrews 4:15 says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.”

Why would the Bible say that? Isn’t God perfect, all powerful, all knowing? Doesn’t he have the answers? He never has to worry about anything. How could God understand what I am going through? That is the question we are going to look at today. I know it is Palm Sunday, but we are going to skip the triumphal entry and go right to the Garden of Gethsemane. Read Mark 14:32-52.

In this passage we get a picture of God in agony. Do you see the words that Mark uses to describe Jesus? He says he was deeply distressed and troubled. Jesus said “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Mark tells us he went a little ways from his disciples and fell to the ground. Matthew 26 says that he fell on his face. Jesus was in agony over what was about to happen.

Have you been there? In the middle of an impossible situation, knowing what was happening and the inevitable outcome, and feeling like you couldn’t live through those moments? Did you feel like God was far away? Did you know he was close at hand, and did you pray like Jesus? “Abba, Daddy, Father. Everything is possible for you. Take this away.” Jesus, creator of the universe, God-man, miracle maker was begging his eternal father to do something.

I have been there. At the early signs of my second miscarriage in a period of four months. I knew what was coming. I knew what it required of me to wait while my body rebelled against me and I lost another baby. I didn’t think I could live through the grief. I know many of you have suffered loss as well. You have sat with your loved ones as they slipped away. You have stood in moments where your faith cried out, “Oh, God, you can do anything. Do something now, please.”

Jesus prayed that prayer three times. Luke tells us he sweat drops of blood because of his internal angst. And where were his friends? They were right by his side…sleeping. We think we know what it is to be abandoned because people don’t do what we want in times of stress and grief. We don’t have anything on Jesus. He was about to take on his shoulders the sin of the entire world. Every sin that was ever committed, and every sin that ever would be committed for all eternity.

He was about to suffer the penalty for all those sins in one moment, and his friends weren’t too busy to be by his side. They didn’t make excuses because they were uncomfortable with his situation. No, they didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. He told them all about his betrayal, his suffering, and they didn’t hear him. He told them that the son of man would be handed over and put to death, and they thought he was being figurative. He asks them to come with him to the Garden, they tag along. And while he is sweating drops of blood in his turmoil, they are napping.

He asks them to pray. He goes a little ways away and falls on his face and cries out to God, and they fall asleep. He comes back and wakes them up. He goes and does the same thing again, and when he comes back and finds them sleeping again, Mark says they didn’t know what to say to him. He goes again and comes back again and they are sleeping still! Now they have run out of time to pray, because Judas is coming up the hill.

Jesus is in agony, his friends are clueless, but somehow he continues on. Somehow he returned to his disciples and as he found them abandoning him already by sleeping when they should be praying, he was able to go back and pray again. How did he find the strength to go on? How was he so calm when Judas showed up with his mob? The secret lies at the end of his prayer.

He cried out to his father and wanted to pass on the suffering to come. But he finished his prayer in an astonishing way: “Not my will, but yours be done.” In his agony, his struggle, he surrendered. Jesus knew the plan. He knew the purpose, and he knew his Father. Jesus had been hanging with the Father for all eternity. He knew he could trust God the Father, even when it looked like what was happening was impossible to endure.

When I was in the middle of my miscarriage, my soul cried out to God. I knew that I was not strong enough to go through that experience again. But here I am. My faith did not fail because I surrendered. That is how we each can press on in spite of our pain. I didn’t walk through those days in my own strength. I walked on in His strength. That is how we pass through each day, by surrendering our strength, and trusting that God will provide our needs.

It is hard to know exactly what to say about Jesus in the Garden. What do I say about the suffering of the Son of God? I think the most important thing, is simply that he suffered. He didn’t sail through the betrayal. He didn’t see the coming crucifixion as a cake walk. He agonized over the day to come. And in that moment, we see that what Hebrews says is true: we don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us--if anything, we can never sympathize fully with him. He endured everything that we endure, and more. The way he kept going is the same way we continue on, by putting his trust in the Father.

God is present with us in our suffering. He alone has the strength we need to face the pain and sorrow. He understands what we are going through, because he has suffered--and that suffering was on our behalf. The same God who suffered for you wants to walk with you through your times of difficulty. Trust him to be by your side. Trust him to give you strength. Trust him to not be bothered by the fears and sadness in your heart. Once you move through your time of pain, take that comfort you have received from him, and pass it on to others.

Think about what would happen if those around us could see that God is not far away. He is not a dictator in a palace in the sky. What if they could see that he is present with them in suffering. That he suffered on their behalf and wants to comfort them, strengthen them, and walk with them through the most difficult days in their lives. They would have their eyes opened to the upside down Kingdom of God, and it would change their lives.