When Jesus came, the world was in a difficult and dangerous place. Israel, where Jesus began his ministry, was occupied by Rome. Enemy soldiers were everywhere. They had to pay taxes through traitors to their own country. The economy was in the pits. Poverty was rampant. There were no good doctors, so people with ill health were most often left to suffer with little hope. A large number of people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Only a few enjoyed the rights of citizenship. To add to this, Rome itself was constantly at war, either threatened by so-called barbarians or attacking them to expand their territory. The religious beliefs of Israel were at direct odds with the pagan idolatry of the Roman Empire. Fear and anxiety were a constant for everyone.
In the middle of this, God sent his Son, who said to people, “Come unto me,” “Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men,” “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor like you love yourself.” He never addressed the chaos of that world other than saying, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Rather than attempt to explain the world they lived in, he just said, “Follow me.”
Jesus was already well-known, having worked a number of miracles and becoming an important rabbi in Nazareth, Capernaum and around the Sea of Galilee. A rabbi was another name for a Jewish teacher. There were many rabbis in Israel, but not like Jesus. When he entered the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, he was asked to read the scripture, a common practice for visiting rabbis. He read the words from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
Then after he gave the scroll back, he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
There is no mistaking what Jesus meant. This was a prophecy applied only to the Messiah when he would come. Jesus is saying “I am the Messiah, and this is what God sent me to do.”
Rabbis had disciples. A disciple was simply a follower of that rabbi, men who would learn from the teacher by seeing what he did and learning from his teaching. There were 12 who were early disciples, men who would be taught to be fishers of men, who would preach good news, set prisoners free, give people their sight back, release the oppressed, who would proclaim the good news of God. There were also women followers, Mary Magdalene, Mary, his mother, another Mary and Martha.
After three years, Jesus would die, be raised from the dead and give one last command, “Go make disciples of all nations, teaching to observe all that I have taught you.” The Church would be born a few weeks later at Pentecost with 120 then 3,000, and now 2,000 years later, 2,180,000,000 of them. Now I know that not all are that good of a disciple, but not all those in that day were that great either, Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied him, Thomas doubted him, Philip questioned him, etc. It’s the nature of a disciple to always be learning and the nature of the teacher to always be teaching. I am still learning, I hope. But I am his disciple because he invited me, and I said “yes.”
The center was, is and will be the same — following the life, example and teaching of Jesus Christ. This is what a Christian is, someone who has accepted and believed in Jesus as Savior and then committed to learn from and follow him. Romans calls us to this full place in Christ, where we accept him as our Savior and then make the decision to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, meaning we live for God.
When we experience chaos and confusion in our world — as we always seem to — what do we do? What Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest,” and, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The invitation still stands.
If you want to be a hero, what’s stopping you?
America is fascinated with heroes today. My favorite is Captain America. In fact, he was an important figure in my sermon on Independence Day weekend. Every few weeks it seems a new super hero movie comes out — Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, the Black Widow, Thor, the Fantastic Four (to name a few). It is inspiring and entertaining to see men and women do things, come to the rescue, save people and change the world in ways most of us only dream of. Wouldn’t it be great to be a super hero?
Super heroes come to the rescue while the rest of us watch. They change the world while the rest of us cheer. They make the difference the rest of us wish we could.
Wait a minute, why not me? Can I come to the rescue for someone, can I change the world at least in a small way, and can I make the difference in my family and the church and in the community and world in which I live?
Superpowers are not required to be a hero (unless someone is fighting Loki, Dr. Doom or the Red Skull who only exist in comic books). The hero God calls us to be is just to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
- I saw a picture of a father teaching his 5-year-old to ride a bike. That’s a super hero to me.
- I worked with a 4’ 10” inch woman on a Habitat house a few weeks ago. That’s a super hero to me.
- My father, who left the military after a career as an officer, could not find a decent job, went to work at a convenience store to take care of his family, that’s a hero.
- A Sunday School class that tackled a mission in Romania, yep, super heroes;
- A postman who gave a God Is Big Enough wristbands to a family losing a husband and dad — hero;
- Every day modeling faith and faithfulness for families, friends, coworkers, neighborhoods, church and community — super hero;
- Two men who will pick up wheelchairs in Kansas and drive them to Mexico;
- The friend who sits with a family in the ICU waiting room, suffering and praying with them;
- The friend who grieves with a loved one with tears and a hug;
- Men and women who spend time in prison sharing Christ with the men and women in white — heroes;
- The one at the door of the church greeting week after week, offering a welcome for Christ — hero;
- The mom who packs the lunches, packs the car with kids and gets them to school day after day — a hero;
- The volunteers at the Wesley Mission Center;
- The mission teams who have done work in Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Colorado, all over Texas and all over our community and world, and those who serve day-by-day in their own homes, schools, churches and neighborhoods — yes, heroes.
A hero can be someone who risks his or her life for others; but heroes are also people who give their lives for others, their family, their spouses, their church, their neighbors, their world. In a world where people do a great deal of talking, heroes are the ones doing the doing.
In a season of chaos and continuing confusion, a world that creates fear on a daily basis (our news media is overwhelming in this), the follower of Christ lives by faith. Faith will always call us to be a hero for the people around us. And in seasons of distress and survival, we remember that life is fragile. God is faithful, and faith is where the two intersect.
If you want to be a hero, what’s stopping you?
The Bible lists in Galatians the fruit of the Spirit, meaning the evidence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. Some are obvious — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness — but the last fruit listed in 5:22-23 is not so obvious, self-control. Why do you think self-control is a fruit of God’s Spirit and listed last? I think it is so because all the rest depend upon it. Without self-control, life can fall apart, and all the good intentions of the Spirit in our lives can fall short.
Take a look at Proverbs 25:28.
“A person without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (from Proverbs 25)
In the day that this word was written, a city without walls wasn’t a city. It would be just a matter of time — a day, a week, a year — when it would be destroyed by its enemies, and what the city had would be stolen. The laziness, or even pride, that kept the wall from being built would seal the doom of the city.
If we connect this analogy to the Galatians list of the fruit of the Spirit, we might say that without the wall of self-control, then all the peace, goodness, patience, even love can be lost from our lives. In many ways, self-control is the wall around our lives that allows the fruit to ripen and be enjoyed as well as bless others.
I have learned that often when I lose self-control in one area, it extends into others, that when I enter an area of undisciplined living, that it is almost impossible to isolate. Either I am disciplined, walk in self-control in my life around my priorities, what I believe and what I value, or I do not. It’s a big deal.
God has given us a choice, a choice to build walls around that which we value — the rules and values that guide us, the lines we will not cross, the boundaries we will not give up, the choices that we are determined to make, centered around our faith, our families, our friendships, our own hearts dedicated to the Christ who gave his life for us.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness — build the wall of self-control around those fruit.
First, I must say thanks to the First Family and my own family for the 20th anniversary celebration this last Sunday at the 11:00 a.m. service. I was completely surprised and unprepared for the moment, but I am grateful. The last 20 years have been amazing years of a shared mission and ministry, and I look forward to many more years to come. I am especially appreciative of the Mike Ramsdell Next Generation Leadership Fund and Thomas Mitchell being the first recipient of $3,000 toward his work with the UTA Wesley Foundation. I look forward to the many young people whose lives in mission and ministry will be furthered by grants from this fund. I am a blessed pastor. It was heartwarming to receive the applause and to see my family in the congregation there to celebrate with me and Rhonda.
Now my thought for the week.
We often present a connection with God as a relationship. I believe this is true, that the journey of faith is a journey to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
My point is that the relationship is offered, offered by God’s grace, by a cross-based grace. We call this the Gospel or good news, that God gave us his Son — he lived, taught, worked miracles, died on the cross to grant us forgiveness of sins and was resurrected to grant us everlasting life.
I think it is like this.
First Methodist Mansfield has a great friendship with ZOE Ministry, for us a mission to orphans in Rwanda and Zimbabwe. In fact, our church family has given (including the building of a secondary school) almost a million dollars in recent years to this cause.
It works like this.
ZOE offers an orphan a tremendous opportunity, a large support community, a new family, education, health care, faith, a home, and then training to help them become self-sustaining. This can include working with other orphans on a farm or creating their own personal business.
A leader or social worker in ZOE targets a known orphan, one who is typically living on the edge, hungry, often abused, parasite-ridden, sleeping on the streets or in the jungle, often with no friends. The orphan is invited to visit with the social worker and then offered a spot in the ZOE program where in three years he or she are guided to be self-sustaining, independent, with a support family of other orphans and a new life full of hope and faith.
ZOE brings everything as an act of amazing grace; the orphans bring little or nothing. In fact, all they really bring is a “yes” or “no,” because they can say “no.” Surprising enough, some do say “no.” They, for whatever reason, choose to stay an orphan. Maybe it is because they are used to it or afraid of the unknown life being offered by ZOE, or more likely, the accountability and supervision they will experience for the first time. But kids do say “no.” We are grateful that the more than 2,000 orphans we have and are supporting have said “yes.” We see the difference when we go every three years.
When we respond to Jesus’ invitation to “come unto me,” it is much like this.
God brings everything to the table, we bring nothing except “yes” or “no.” God brings everything that God can bring — forgiveness of sin, salvation, everlasting life, the Holy Spirit, a new life. We bring all we have to bring to this newborn relationship — “yes” or “no.” I think the accepting of Christ as Savior is this simple.
I hope that each of us says “yes” to the invitation.
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with the heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved." Romans 10:9-10
First Methodist Church is in the middle of a message series on the book of Romans. I am enjoying the series and appreciate the fact that we are reading the entire book together through our GPS readings. If you want to connect here and have not yet, go to www.growpraystudy.org.
The theme of Romans is simple for me and built around a simple idea:
Would we rather trust in our own ability, goodness, righteousness or the mercy, grace, love and gospel of God rooted in Jesus Christ?
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteousness person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8
It is as simple as looking at our own reality. The more of life that goes by, the more life experiences I have, the more aware I am of humanity and my own reality. I am not enough, and neither is anyone I know. We mess up, fall short, hit limitation after limitation and face death.
I used to hope that one morning I would wake up and be past all of that, reach some level of spirituality and godliness, that I would be above my own humanity. Not yet, and I don’t anticipate that happening any time soon.
I used to think that one day I would wake up and all the people around me, including the church, would be past all that, have reached some level of spirituality, of godliness, that it would be above the core of our own human nature. Not yet, and I don’t anticipate it happening anytime soon.
We work so hard to make ourselves better and bigger than we really are (or at least to appear so) and, in the same journey, attempt to make God smaller than he really is.
God is big, and we are small. I want to live in the shadow of God’s mercy. The more I embrace my own humanity, the more I am able to embrace the divine. The more I embrace my own need, sin and limitations, the more my heart and faith reach out to a merciful and loving God. We need you, God. I am glad that you love us.
It is the core of God’s mercy from which the Christian life is lived — where we love, forgive, serve, bless, survive, overcome and even begin again. I think this is why Romans is so insistent that we are not saved or made right with God based on our works but on faith in God (confidence in God’s mercy expressed through Christ). This restored relationship is what fuels the rest of our lives, the relationships we build and the treasures we store in heaven.
The story of humanity is the story of a relationship with God lost. The story of God is the story of the initiative to restore that relationship.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1
Heavenly Father, I admit that I am not enough, that I fall short, that sin marks my life. Forgive me; grant me grace, save my soul. I give my heart and life to you and accept the salvation and eternal life you give me in return. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.