Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Tangible Kingdom: The Books Arrived!

Beginning this Sunday, we will be launching a new Message Series entitled The Tangible Kingdom. This exciting new adventure will be accompanied by a small group series focusing on the importance of living out in tangible (practical) ways the teachings of Jesus in our daily lives.

“The Tangible Kingdom Primer” will be made available this Sunday (cost - $12) in the Southwest CafĂ©: These extremely helpful study guides include the following:
• a daily reading for the next eight weeks
• space for personal journal entries
• individual exercises that will lead to spiritual growth
• group discussion questions that will cultivate healthy relationships
• thought provoking diagrams and drawings to help foster deeper insights.

The authors of this extremely useful spiritual guide described it in this way: “The Tangible Kingdom Primer is about learning how to live in the Kingdom and how to create pathways for others to experience it along with you.” Jesus taught, “For the Kingdom of God is already among you.(Luke 17:21 NLT)

Are you ready to start an exciting new adventure?! Are you willing to invite others to join you?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Think Orange: Leverage Influence

Personal Comments: Before we get into our message this morning, I want to thank all of you for your prayers and words of encouragement this week following my car accident this past Sunday afternoon.

As you can see from the photo on the screen, I am truly grateful to be able to walk away from this “head on accident” with just a few bruises and a banged up knee. The amazing thing is that last Sunday, Cindy Garland shared during a Communion Meditation about her recent car accident and some spiritual lessons that she learned from that experience. As I listened to Cindy’s testimonial, I had no idea that in approximately 5 hours, I would be experiencing a car accident of my own!

It is truly amazing how many times what is shared or discussed on Sunday mornings, I will personally experience that specific challenge during the coming week. With that said, we would like to schedule upcoming testimonies of individuals who have recently won the lottery, or have recently experienced the challenges of unexpected blessings in their life! If you have had that experience, then please let me know and we would like to schedule you to share in the weeks to come!!  Seriously, we are looking for more individuals who would share communion meditations as we plan for an exciting fall at Southwest Church. Let’s Pray (Hurricane Irene)!

Introduction: This morning, we are going to wrap up our 5 week discussion on learning the importance of beginning to “Think Orange.” Throughout this message series, we have looked at the importance of the church (represented by the color yellow) and families (represented by the color red) combining efforts to Think Orange and have a greater impact in the lives of children and students!

This morning as we draw this series to conclusion, we hope that it is only the beginning of us Thinking Orange and learning to Leverage (our collective) Influence to make a difference in future generations not only in the church, but in the community. And as we think about our theme this morning which is for us to understand the importance of learning how to work together as a church and families and Leverage Influence to make a difference in the lives of children and student. How are we doing? And how can we improve? Traditionally the church has approached children’s ministry and student ministry with a “teaching approach” model seen through Sunday School Classes and/or some type of classroom instructional model. And yet we have to ask ourselves: Is that the most effective way to lead the next generation to become passionate followers of Christ?

Bear with me this morning, as we seek to draw a parallel from a popular activity for some of our teens and adults … rock climbing or its more challenging cousin, “mountain climbing.”

Can you imagine how silly it would be for us to schedule an hour presentation or class on the subject of “Mountain Climbing” and think at the conclusion of that presentation that everyone in attendance would be proficient rock climbers? Or even for that matter would you be inspired to begin rock climbing?

The truth is that the best way to learn how to climb a mountain is to begin climbing … whether it is in Joe Garland’s garage or at the Urban Crag in Dayton and then eventually build up to climbing a mountain. My hunch is that Joe Garland, would tell you the best way to teach someone how to climb is to hand them a rope!

Well … what’s the best way to help the next generation become Lover’s of God and followers of Christ? Is it to simply put them in a class once a week, or is it to help them put into practice what faith they do have so they can exercise and develop their faith. That is why I was so encouraged a few weeks ago, when I walked out of the Y following our Sunday morning services to find a note on my windshield that my car windows had been washed by the 5th and 6th Grade Students! I thought … wow we have teachers who are getting it!!! The same is true for students and adults as well … this fall along with our 4 week September series, our small groups are going to be experiencing in October and November a very different small group series entitled, The Tangible Kingdom, in which we will be encouraged and challenged in small groups to put our faith into practice in tangible ways.

Remember what the Bible says …

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:17 NIV

That is why I like what … Reggie Joiner the author of Think Orange said, when he wrote …
“If what they have heard doesn’t move from their heads to their hands, it will probably never make it to their hearts” - Reggie Joiner “Think Orange”

So as we plan for the future “Thinking Orange” let’s look for ways that the church and parents can work together to help leverage our influence to help future generations truly experience in a personal way, Wonder, Discovery, and Passion.

Let’s first help the next generation of worshippers to experience the wonder of …

A Dynamic Faith in God (Wonder)
Listen to the powerful instruction on this matter found in Psalm 78 …
O my people, listen to my instructions. Open your ears to what I am saying, for I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past— stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us.

We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD, about his power and his mighty wonders. For he issued his laws to Jacob; he gave his instructions to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them— even the children not yet born— and they in turn will teach their own children.

So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands. Then they will not be like their ancestors— stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God.
Psalm 78:1-8 NLT

Let’s look for creative “hands on opportunities” that the church and parents can work together to help the next generation set their hope anew on God!!! Let’s continue to look for worship experiences both in our collective setting together and in our homes & beyond to help our children and students to truly be amazed at how great God is and give their hearts to the LORD!!

Back to our parallel this morning, let’s not simply talk about rock climbing … let’s hand them a rope! Let’s not simply talk about worshipping God, let’s create opportunities for our children and students to sense the wonder of God and to give Him their hearts!!!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Think Orange: Elevate Community

Introduction: As we continue to think Orange, we have on stage not only the Orange Cones, but also three Orange Basketballs.

Does anyone know why basketballs are Orange? And it is not because Syracuse or Tennessee invented it! Before 1950, Basketballs were dark brown, but Tony Hinkle, the coach of Butler University (in Indiana) came up with the idea of making basketballs orange, so they could be more easily seen by both players and spectators.

It is very appropriate for the object of a great team sport to be the color Orange. As we continue our present discussion of the importance of the church and parents working together to have a greater impact in the lives of young people we want to learn more about how parents can team together with others in the church to help impress upon our children and teens to love the LORD with all of their hearts, soul, mind, and strength and to become lifelong followers of Jesus!

In fact today, we are going to be combining yellow (representing the church) and red (representing family) in a practical way this morning as Tony (dressed in red) and myself (dressed in yellow) will be tag team teaching to share the importance of emphasizing the Elevated role of Community in the mission of leading children and students to Christ!

This morning we are going to continue to examine the example of a guy named Nehemiah, who lived 450 years before Christ and led an amazing effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. As we shared last week this was a major undertaking (just as raising kids and teens to love God). And even though Nehemiah serves as a great example of spiritual leadership, the successful re-building of the walls of Jerusalem was also a testimony to the collective effort of the Jewish Community. This morning, we want to examine some important Catalysts for Spiritual Growth (in the context of living out our faith in community) …

Our first catalyst this morning is …
Pivotal Circumstances
The pivotal circumstance of Nehemiah’s day was the destruction of the walls around Jerusalem. It was this circumstance that lead Nehemiah to rely on God and to call the Jewish people to work together as a team to rebuild the wall around that great city. Let’s read about this tremendous effort in …
We worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard. I also told everyone living outside the walls to stay in Jerusalem. That way they and their servants could help with guard duty at night and work during the day. During this time, none of us—not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me—ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water. Nehemiah 4:21-23 NLT

We can see it was truly an intense team effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. There is a strong parallel between Nehemiah’s leadership of the Jewish People and the combined effort of parents and the church in the lives of children and teens. The parallel is to accomplish this major undertaking it takes tremendous teamwork!! And it took a collective turning to God to see this feat accomplished. In fact this circumstance led a whole nation to turn back to God!!

In the lives of children and teens, there are pivotal life circumstances that can lead our children to either see their need for God or turn away from God. Pivotal Circumstances, such as entering a new phase of life (jr hi, hi school, or college), peer pressure and rejection, life challenges, life disappointments and setbacks. It is a natural temptation for parents to try to soften the blow of these pivotal circumstances and yet it is these pivotal circumstances and the pain that accompanies them which help people of all ages see their need for a relationship with God.

Let’s make sure that both the church and parents are there to lend support when our children and teens go through pivotal circumstances and the challenges of life change. It was in the midst of this challenging time that Nehemiah reminded the people of a very important …

Life Changing Truth
So on October 2 the wall was finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God. Nehemiah 6:15-16 NLT

Nehemiah reminded the people when they completed the construction of the wall in only 52 days, that this great feat was the result of God’s intervention in their lives and God’s miraculous help. Let’s make sure that we continue to rely on God’s help and power as we seek to impact children and teens. This is why we have launched a new initiative of seeking prayer sponsors (Show Picture) for each of our jr hi and high school students. If you would like to participate it is not too late to sign up … just put on your communication card that you want to serve as a prayer sponsor!

The greatest life changing truth that we can hold out for our children and students both in the church and in the home is that God loves them and He is the true source of hope for their lives!

Significant Relationships
Nehemiah could not have rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem by himself; he needed others to accomplish this great faith feat!! As we continue our reading, we see that Nehemiah continued to see his need for help from others …
After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were chosen. I put my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah, the commander of the palace, in charge of Jerusalem. Hananiah was honest and feared God more than most people. Nehemiah 7:1-2 NCV

Nehemiah learned the importance of having some trusted significant relationships in his life to accomplish God’s calling in his life! The same is true for parenting. Christian Parenting is not simply an individual calling but it a responsibility to be lived out in the context of community.

It is important for parents to recognize their need for additional significant relationships in the lives of their children. One such significant relationship is another Christian adult who can serve as a mentor in the lives of your children. Author Reggie Joiner wrote in Think Orange, “As kids grow older and move toward independence, it is critical to establish another clear voice in their lives, especially in a culture that challenges their faith at every level.”

As I think back on my own faith development, as much as I respected my parents and their personal faith, it was another genuine follower of Christ closer to my age who really influenced me to become a follower of Christ. Frankly sometimes as my kids were growing up, I didn’t recognize how important it was to have other important role models in their lives. At times, my personal pride led me to think if I could just be a “super dad” then my kids would all become devoted followers of Christ. Looking back I overestimated my personal example and influence. Now I am not contradicting what we said last week about the importance of parents taking a personal responsibility to do something each and every week to help impress upon our children the importance of love and serving God.

And yet at times, personally I went to the other extreme of thinking that it all depended upon me. The truth is that as our kids get older they will listen to other “voices” and it is crucial that we intentionally welcome, pray for, and seek those positive voices that can point them to Christ.

The truth is that I am far from a perfect parent and my 3 kids that I love dearly are far from perfect as well. And as I look at my own children’s faith development and at times faith struggles, I can see a pattern or direct correlation between when they have done well and when there was a Christian Mentor besides myself or my wife in their lives. And at times when they struggled or continue to struggle with their faith, it is due to them having no other significant “faith voice” in their lives!

Who are the significant faith relationships beside yourself in your children’s lives? Who will come along your children and speak consistently into their lives so that they too will become a follower of Christ!! Let’s recognize our need for help in the area of parenting and let’s pray for and welcome other trusted followers of Christ to speak into our children’s lives, whether it is their small group leader, a youth sponsor, a faith mentor, or an older follower of Christ.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Think Orange: Reactivate the Family

As we continue our focus on Think Orange, we want to begin with a random trivia tidbit on the color “orange.”

Did you know what color carrots were originally? They were originally purple, yellow, or red. It wasn’t until about 500 years ago (16th century) that the Dutch crossbred yellow and red carrots to produce the color that we know today of Orange.

Now some of you might wonder what that has to do with our message today on “Reactivating the Family.” And the answer is absolutely nothing! And yet we wanted to review the importance of Thinking Orange and as we focus this month on combining the color of red (which represents the family) and yellow (which represents the church), we discover orange, which is the color that represents a combined influence in the world to make a difference in the helping children and teens live lives shaped and led by God!

This morning, we are going to look at a fantastic story in the Bible that will help us recognize a parallel path to “Reactivate the Family” and influence our children and teens to Love God and Love People! We are going to examine the incredible leadership of a guy named Nehemiah.

Nehemiah lived about 450 years before Christ walked on the earth. He was a Jewish man who was living in the powerful ancient country of Persia (modern day Iran). Nehemiah, we will learn was living in Persia because his family’s native city of Jerusalem was destroyed almost 140 years earlier originally by Babylon (which was located in Modern day Iraq), only to be later taken over by the nation of Persia (in modern day Iran).

While Nehemiah is in captivity serving the King of Persia, he learns that although some of his fellow Jews had returned to Jerusalem, the city remained in shambles after being destroyed more than 100 years earlier! We read in the first chapter of the Bible book, Nehemiah, that the title character receives bad news (or a bad report) about the condition of Jerusalem. Let’s read it together as Nehemiah …

Recognize the Problem
They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 NLT

I don’t know about you, but I am impressed with the heart of Nehemiah! Nehemiah had a heart for God and His People. He was deeply troubled by the condition of the capital of his homeland, Jerusalem, which was also the focus of their worship of God!

This past weekend I attended the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, which was a gathering of church and business leaders all over the world. One of the main speakers, an African- American Woman from Chicago, named Brenda Salter McNeil, moved my heart as she called the crowd to allow our hearts to be broken by the things that breaks God’s Heart!

So I have made it my commitment to pray every day, that I will love the things that God loves; hate the things that God hates, and have my heart broken by the things that breaks God’s heart!!! Will you join me in praying that prayer? (Let’s Pray that Prayer together right now.)

I am convinced that one thing that breaks God’s heart is the weakening fabric of families!

Approximately 1/3 of the people living within 20 minutes of where we now sit are 18 years of age or younger; and we have to ask ourselves are they spiritually prepared for the challenges ahead that life will bring! With the problems that our region faces with social pressures such as materialism, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, cutting, destructive cliques, bullying, teen pregnancy, depression and suicide, we have to admit that many are not prepared to even face the teen years.

For some of us we need to assess the strength of our own families and the present spiritual condition of our family, children and teens. Now don’t get me wrong, I am encouraged by many of the children and teens in this church, who are growing in their love for God. And yet we must recognize the problem that exists in many families and for many young people in this community and surrounding communities.

In face of the challenge that laid ahead for Nehemiah, he did the only wise thing … he turned to the LORD in prayer! And I would encourage you to read this amazing prayer of Nehemiah recorded in chapter 1 verses 5-11, so that you can read this prayer of praise, confession, thanks, and remembrance (which sounds like it could have been taken directly out of our song, “Your Grace is Enough.” “Remember your promises!”). [And by the way as I mention the importance of reading this prayer, it is a great reason to bring your Bible to our Worship Gatherings, so that you can always read the context of every verse that we read together.] But in light of our focus this morning, let’s zero in on the last portion of this powerful prayer, in which Nehemiah specifically prays for SUCCESS! Let’s read this bold prayer as Nehemiah:

Pray for Success
O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer. Nehemiah 1:11 NLT

Did you know it was OK to pray for success?! It is OK for us to pray for success in school, at work, in relationships, and in our families. … And of course the question that begs to be asked is … What is successful? I think we get some insight into that question from the context here because Nehemiah is one who had as his greatest delight to honor the LORD in everything! That is why I believe true success is defined as being & becoming what God designed you to become!

From time to time, I drop by our new worship and community center (show picture), walk inside, and pray that we would be successful in honoring God as we move into our new worship and community center. And I want to encourage you to stop by sometime (preferably the workers aren’t working) and pray for the LORD to be honored in this new facility!!

And as we prepare to start another school year (and students I hate to tell you that this is your last full week before school start … but just be thankful you don’t live in Indiana, because most of their schools have already started), it is OK to pray for success in your pursuits in school. And it is also a great time to kick off a new initiative here at Southwest Church and that is to have an organized approach to be praying for our jr high and high school students. And we would love for you to consider signing up today (on the communication card) to be a prayer sponsor for one of our teen students, and that you will commit to pray every day for this particular teen! Let’s pray boldly for success in our own lives and in our ministry to children and teens.

Not only did Nehemiah pray, but he was willing to …

Take Personal Responsibility
As the king’s cup-bearer, Nehemiah served in the trusted role of testing the King of Persia’s wine prior to him drinking it to make sure that he wasn’t poisoned by a political enemy. Pretty cool role unless there was an assassination attempt. After Nehemiah told the King of Persia the condition of Jerusalem ….

The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied, “If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
Nehemiah 2:4-5 NLT

I love Nehemiah’s response to the King. He didn’t say can you send a committee to evaluate the damage and develop a plan to rebuild the city. He didn’t say send someone else. Nehemiah said instead, “Send me so that I can rebuild the city!”

My fear is that many parents shift the moral and spiritual development of their children to someone else. It is easy to think that it is the school’s role to teach character and values, when the primary role lies with the parents. It is easy to think well it is the church’s role or the children’s minister or student minister to teach my kids faith and to instill in them a sense of right and wrong. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe the church has a very important role to play in the life of children, and this is why we are heavily invested in providing a strong children’s and student ministry and yet the primary role continues to remain with the parents.

One of the observations that I have noticed through the years is that sometimes when a parent is facing a difficult time with one of their preteens or teens, who for some reason is not connecting with the youth/student ministry of that church, they will sometimes think if we just switched churches then my teen will miraculously get involved and fall in love with Jesus. Now again, I am not minimizing the importance of us having a strong student ministry (and frankly I think Tony is laying a strong foundation for an every growing student ministry) and yet what I have seen play out so many times is that the parents who themselves are connected into relationships within a church leave and go to a church with a bigger youth group and often times when I check back with the family a year or two later, their children are still not plugged into a student ministry and the parents themselves are drifting in their spiritual walk. Parents, we have to be careful that we don’t communicate to our children the wrong (unhealthy) impression that if you don’t like something in a church then simply leave and find another one, as opposed to teaching our children to take personal responsibility for their spiritual growth and to even take responsibility to address a problem within a church or a specific ministry within a church.

Nehemiah was a man of action!! And as we keep reading in the book of Nehemiah he called others to …

Answer the Call (to Action)

This morning, we don’t have time to read the entire book, but if you would go back and later read this fascinating book, you will learn in chapter 2 and 3, Nehemiah mobilizes God’s people, in the face of opposition, to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. This was an incredible feat when we realize that Jerusalem was a city that had a land mass of @ 12 acres (approximately the size of the Y and Church property combined) and they together completed the wall and fortified the entire city in 52 days! Hey maybe we could start praying for our church building to be completed in 52 days from the beginning of September … that would be late October!

By the time we get to Chapter 4, we learn that Nehemiah has received quite a bit of opposition and even some discouragement from within the Jewish People. Let’s read about their progress and Nehemiah’s leadership in light of some of the opposition and challenges to others who had answered the call to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem as it is described in chapter 4:

So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. Nehemiah 4:6 NIV

Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”
Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”
Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
Nehemiah 4:10-14 NIV

This is a great example of Godly Leadership and a great example to those of us who long to provide spiritual leadership for our families. This morning in the rest of our time together, I want to ask each parent here this morning … What kind of parent are you to your children? This morning we are going to identify four types of parents … which one best describes you?

Aware Parents

These are parents who are aware of their need to provide spiritual leadership for their children, and although they are interested in becoming better parents, they don’t really know how to begin. Often times these parents have not placed spiritual growth as a high priority in their own life, so they find it difficult to provide leadership for their children or teens. And often times as the children get older the parents become more desperate for answers and help. And yet for some aware parents they can be searching for that “magic” youth group or peer group (that we talked about earlier) to solve their parental dilemma and all of their preteen or teen’s challenges.

Involved Parents

These are parents who have started taking steps to get involved in the life of the church so that they can influence their children in a positive way. Possibly for some it is simply sending or bringing their children to church services or activities. Although a good step, Reggie Joiner the author of the book, Think Orange, writes, “There may be a belief on the part of both the church and the family that these are better parents simply because they attend church. Unfortunately, most church strategies stop here. Most leaders assume that if parents are attending adult programming and kids are plugged into kid’s programming, they have accomplished their goal of being a place where families experience spiritual growth.”

Joiner goes on to write, “These activities are like ministry placebos that make us feel better about connecting parents when nothing really changes at home.” Our goal as a church as we plan for the future is to not simply call parents to be involved in the church, but to become personally engaged in the spiritual leadership of their children not just for the one hour a week that we worship together, but the 3,000 hours during the rest of the week, that you can influence your son or daughter to love the LORD and to love and serve others!

Invested Parents

These are the parents who are devoting time and energy to partner with the church to make a difference in this world. They understand the mission of the church to Love God, Love People, Serve the Community and to Share Jesus with others and they have bought into it, and as result they are growing personally spiritually! This is a fantastic place to be as an individual and as a parent and yet it is important that these parents not fall into the trap of thinking that if I devote my time, my money, and my energy in the life of the church, that my children will automatically catch on and become followers of Christ as well. You see that is not always the case!

And this is why we are calling every parent here no matter what category you might have identified yourself as being up to this point, to become an…

Engaged Parents

Become personally engaged in the life of your children’s spiritual development. Become intentional about doing something each and every week (apart from church activities) to help your children develop spiritually. Become prayerful and passionate about your role as a spiritual leader in the life of your son and/or daughter. Joiner writes, “Just remember that parents who engage in small ways can make a big difference in the lives of their kids or teenagers.”

Maybe for some of you it begins by asking your child or teen over Sunday lunch or dinner … “what did you learn in church today?” We send home every week a little handout to encourage parents to ask your children about the value for that particular morning.

For some of us it might mean initiate praying with our children. Reading a Bible story together, or build into our schedule a family devotional once a week. Possibly for some of us it is writing out in a card a Bible verse or Bible promise or possibly for some even texting a Bible verse to our teen. Realize that we aren’t talking about necessarily spending hours in intense Bible Study, but it is important that we begin to build into the rhythm of our week intentional small ways that will impress upon our children the importance of seeking the LORD in their lives and Loving Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength!!

In closing just as Nehemiah taught the Jewish people to fight for their family, their sons and daughters, we are each called by God to …

Fight for Your Family
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10 NIV

Closing Illustration: Reggie Joiner tells the story of a time that he had a confrontation with his 7th grade daughter. In the midst of the conversation, she said something very personal and painful to Reggie. He was so deeply hurt that he left the room, left the house, and went for a drive. About 15 minutes into the drive, his mobile phone rang and it was his daughter calling and saying, “Dad, I’m sorry, you know that I didn’t really mean what I said.” And then she continued, “Why did you leave? Why did you walk out? I need to know that our relationship is worth fighting for!” … Are you willing to fight for your family? Let’s Pray!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Think Orange: Refine the Message

Welcome to Southwest Church and our special Family Worship Experience. We thought it would be very appropriate to provide an opportunity for the entire family to worship together as we have come off a fantastic week of Vacation Bible School (or VBS).

And by the way the whole concept of a Family Worship Experience made a lot of sense during our present focus as a church to Think Orange!

During the month of August, we are going to be examining together as a church what it means to combine the efforts of the family (represented by the color red) and the church (represented by the color yellow) and to create a combined effort of Orange!

This morning, we want to talk about what it means to refine the collective message that we want as a church and parents to teach our children and students. Well during the week of Vacation Bible School, we tried to keep the message really simple as we focused on a story from Jesus life every night. Jesus told us that our simple focus should be the Bible verses on the bulletin cover:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”Matthew 22:37-39 NLT

In fact, to help remember or relive the highlights of VBS, I brought up on stage with me some souvenirs from our week at VBS. First of all I have my baseball cap that says NYC, because the theme of VBS this week was Big Apple Adventure. So I wore every night this actual souvenir from our family vacation to NYC a few years ago.

2ndly, I brought up on stage a sword (show picture of Roman Centurion) to remind me of the Roman Soldier (or Centurion) that we learned about the first night as we learned that …
“Jesus loved people and helped them.” Matthew 14:14

And on this occasion, he healed this Roman’s Soldier’s helper!

I also brought up on stage a vase that I actually brought back from my recent trip to Jerusalem as a souvenir, and this vase reminds me of a perfume container and the woman we learned about on Tuesday night who cleaned Jesus feet with her tears and hair, and then poured perfume on his feet as she said,
“I love you, Jesus.” John 21:17

We also have on stage this morning, a beard that I wore on Wednesday night as we learned that Jesus walked on water and so did Peter as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. On that night we learned that,
“Jesus is God’s Son.” John 20:31

Now some of you might say, well my Bible reads a little different on these verses. Realize that since I had the privilege of working with preschoolers all week, that I am quoting this morning from the PSV (Pre School Version).

I also brought up on stage this cup to remind me of the Samaritan Woman who was asked by Jesus for a drink of water, and she in turn found living water, and then went and told her whole town about Jesus. And we learned:
“Tell everyone about Jesus.” Matthew 28:19-20

And my final souvenir from VBS is this small stretcher (which actually carried Winnie the Poo), and it reminds me of the story we learned on Friday night of the man who was paralyzed (couldn’t walk) and his friends wanted so badly to get him to Jesus that they lowered him into the house that Jesus was staying and teaching at the time so they could be healed. We learned on that night the importance of each of us taking to heart:

“Help one another in love.” Galatians 5:13

Well as you can see we had a great time at VBS this week, and these objects or souvenirs help me remember all of these special moments that we shared in the preschool portion of VBS and the children, who were known as Broadway Stars!

This morning, I also have brought up on stage two other objects that Jesus told us to use as reminders of him. I have a loaf of bread and a cup of juice. Jesus told us that when we take these two objects they serve as souvenirs if you will of the time that that he spent on earth and showed us how much God loves us.

In the Bible, we find the following description of what is supposed to take place during a time of communion:

For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NLT

So as we observe this time of special communion, we want to encourage all of the children and parents alike to be really quiet and allow these objects (or souvenirs from Jesus) to remind us of what Jesus means to each and every one of us and to remember that it is only by GRACE that any of us can have a relationship with God, forgiveness of our sins, and eternal life!
Let’s Pray!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Think Orange: Create Synergy

Now as we have announced the title of our present message series, some of you have maybe wondered, “What are we going to be talking about with a title of “Think Orange?”

Well first let me say what we are not going to be talking about …

We aren’t talking about Sun Tan in a Can or any particular representative in congress. We aren’t going to be talking about the Orange Barrels of Construction Sites … Tennessee Volunteers … and definitely not the Cincinnati Bengals!

Instead, we are going to be Imagining Together the Impact when Church and Family Collide! You see Orange is the color that is created when we combine the influences of two primary colors: Yellow and Red.

To illustrate Yellow, I have on stage this morning, a yellow flashlight, because …
Yellow - represents the church which exists to shine the light of God’s love and God’s Son!

The Bible describes in the extremely encouraging and symbolic book of Revelation, the church as a light in a dark world. As John the writer of the book describes the Revelation that he received from Jesus he wrote …

12 When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands …20 … and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. Revelation 1:12, 20 NLT

You see the church and the people who belong to it are called to be a light in this world. And yet this light is a reflective light of the True Light of the World, Jesus. In another book that the Apostle John wrote in the Bible, he quoted Jesus as saying that he was the Light of the World. John also recorded that Jesus taught,

32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32 NIV

Now I think this is an important reminder for us as a church that our responsibility as a church is to make sure we shine the light on Jesus Christ. He is the one that is going to draw people to Himself! You see a temptation for churches is to shine the light on themselves, their building, their programs, their ministries. And yet everything the church does should result in one thing and that is to point people to the “True Light” Jesus Christ!

Does the church have a responsibility to influence young people and future generations to follow Jesus? Absolutely and yet we are going to learn today that the church by itself will have limited impact on the younger generation without combining efforts with our other entity represented by the color red.

To illustrate Red, I also have on stage a warm, bright red pillow, which reminds us of the warmth and love of the home. And by the way, I am not sure why wives and mothers have so many pillows in the home, but I have accepted that is part of the female influence of the home. 

Red – represents the family which exists to demonstrate love and unconditional relationships!

God has created family to be a nurturing influence in the lives of human beings. In fact, the entire Old Testament (portion of the Bible) is a description of God leading an extended family of people who all descended from Abraham and specifically his grandson, Jacob (or Israel) and this extended family is typically described as the children of Israel. In the 5th book of the OT, Moses who was the greatest leader in Israel’s history is trying to prepare them for his upcoming death. Moses assembled the people of Israel and reminded them that they had a responsibility to pass on to future generations their faith in God and their understanding of His teachings for their lives. Moses reminded them of the LORD’s promise:

10 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands. Deuteronomy 5:10 NLT

So as we combine Yellow, which represents the enlightening influence of the church and Red which represents the warmth and acceptance of God’s unconditional love in the family, we discover Orange, which is represented on stage with my new orange shirt or this book:

Orange – represents the synergy of church and family working together to influence children and teens!

The inspiration for this message series came from a wonderful book written by Reggie Joiner entitled, Think Orange. This is a book that our ministry staff has been reading together as we seek to rethink how we can be more effective in influencing this next generation to become whole hearted followers of Jesus! I would like to read to you a powerful excerpt from this book (read page 93-94).

You see as a church by the time you count in vacations, sick days, and other miscellaneous reasons for missing church meetings, we will have possibly only 40-50 hours in a given year to influence a young person’s life and faith. (Each of the dots on the page represents an hour in the life of that child.) And yet, the average parent has 3,000 hours per year to influence a young person’s life and faith.

So as we begin to “Think Orange,” the church can help influence the parents to have an even greater influence in the life of a young person. And I think this is why Moses as he gathered the people of Israel together at the end of his life to remind them of God’s commands and promises, he left them with this famous charge. By the way this is described by the Jewish people as the “Shema” which is the Hebrew word for “Hear.” And even to this day, the orthodox Jews will recite this synopsis of the Law of Moses every morning and night. Let’s read it this morning and then will make a few important observations as we begin this rethinking process:

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV

The Shema begins with the reminder to individuals and families alike to …
• Start with God

The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Deuteronomy 6:4 NIV

Now there is a lot to unpack here in this first sentence. It serves as a reminder to them and to us that there is only one God and his name is “LORD.” And we come to know the LORD through His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ! This One God, the LORD will be the unifying influence in our church and our families! And not only is He One, but He should also be the number One focus of our church, our families, and our lives!!

My fear is that often God is viewed as the means to the end, instead of the end. You see if we are not careful, we can erect in our minds and hearts the false god of the perfect, happy, American family, and then we possibly even turn to the LORD to try to accomplish that end. And yet, let’s ask ourselves, do we just want a little bit of God to help our family life be better. If so, then this is starting with the wrong focus. I like what Joiner said, when he wrote, “If we don’t start with God, we may end up in the wrong place.”

So let’s resolve that instead of having as our goal to have a perfect family that doesn’t exist, let’s set as our focus to Honor the LORD with our lives, our families, and our Church. Let’s start and end with the LORD. Let’s resolve to make great effort (as the means) to accomplish the end which is to Honor the LORD!

• Fight for the Heart
Secondly, let’s fight for the heart of our children or teens and the children/teens that we can influence. Moses in our Bible passage this morning wanted to fight for the Hearts of the people of Israel. He wanted to make sure that they didn’t forget the LORD, so he reminded the people, what Jesus would later describe as the greatest commandment to …

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV

The remainder of Deuteronomy 6 in many ways is a commentary on the six verses that we are examining this morning. In the rest of this chapter and in many ways the rest of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses warns against simply passing down traditions, rules, or doctrines for our children (or the next generation) to adhere, without the context of a loving relationship with God. Moses instead challenges parents to fight for the hearts of their children.

Are you simply trying to teach your children what is right and wrong, and the importance of being a moral person? Or are you instilling in your children a love for the LORD, for His Word, and for His People, the church?

Sometimes as parents, we can fall into the trap of focusing on helping our kids develop morals, character, behaviors, and even at times success in academics, the arts, or athletics, and yet we can overlook the most important focus is to “fight for their hearts” to love the LORD!

And of course the best way to do this is to model for them what it means to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This is why it is crucial that we …

• Make It Personal
Moses began with the reminder that before one generation passes on faith to another generation, that they must first make their faith personal. He wrote,

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Deuteronomy 6:6 NIV

I like what Reggie Joiner wrote on this point when he wrote, “Moses is implying that before I can ask who my children are becoming, I have to examine who I am becoming. As church leaders, it would fundamentally change the way we look at our ministries if we really believed “the greatest thing that could happen in the heart of a child would be what happened in the heart of a parent.”

You see if we want our children to put the LORD first in their lives, then we have to make sure that we are putting the LORD first in our lives. If we want our children to be in an ever growing relationship with the LORD, then we have to make sure that we are continuing to grow in our relationship with the LORD! (Note: Possibly read page 63 excerpt or paraphrase it.)

And yet Moses doesn’t simply say to be an example to the next generation, he tells them that they are to intentionally and deliberately …
• Create a Rhythm

Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 6:7 NIV

The phrase “impress them on your children” is translated in the NLT,
“Repeat them again and again to your children.” Deuteronomy 6:7 NLT

As parents, it isn’t simply telling your children once the importance of Loving the LORD and Seeking the LORD, it is the continual repetition of what is right and more importantly … who they can trust!

Do you ever feel like your children aren’t listening to you? That is why Moses says, repeat it again and again! This is another reason why parents can’t simply rely on the 50 hours or so a year that our children are in children’s worship, junior high or high school class, or Remix on Sundays, but we must take responsibility to impress upon our children the importance of seeking the LORD with all their hearts! And yet we impress upon our children, not simply with our words, but even more effectively with our actions and example in our daily interaction.

Our text gives us four daily opportunities to impress upon our children the way of the LORD!

Talk about them when …
“When you sit at home.” When do we sit at home? Typically… at meal times. Meal times are a great opportunity to have more formal discussions with our children not only about the activities of our day, the current events of the day, but also what is the most important things to remember! Reggie Joiner cited a study in his book that reports that “the more meals families eat together, the better chance their children have of never taking drugs or going to prison.”

Are you making every effort to protect and make the most of your meal times with your family? For some of us we need to turn the television off and reinstate the importance of family meal time. Also, something that my wife and I weren’t as consistent as I wish that we had been when our children were younger was having weekly brief family devotionals.

In our attempt to begin to “Think Orange,” we have started including a family devotional in our bulletin and also in our weekly e-mail newsletter. I would love to receive input from you on whether these are practical. And I would also encourage you to make it part of your weekly routine to have at least one evening meal a week a time for a family devotional.

“When you walk along the road.” When do we walk along the road? Well I am not sure how much we walk today, but I know from experience that as our children get older, we spend quite a bit of time driving them to activities, practices, games, and events. These times in the car are a great time to have informal discussions. I found this was a great time to listen to your child and what was on their heart to really deepen your relationship with your child.

“When you lie down.” Bed time, is a great time to develop the routine of Bible Stories and prayers in the life of our children. This is also a great time not only to build faith, but also to build intimacy within the family as often it is at bedtime that children will open up with great questions and also sometimes sharing their worries and fears. Of course sometimes those questions can simply be stall tactics to delay the need to go to sleep, but it can be a great time to develop that personal connection between parent and child.

“When you get up.” The morning routine of waking up, eating breakfast, and preparing for the day ahead can be very influential on the outlook of the child as he/she begins her day. It is through the encouraging words and positive atmosphere that we seek to establish for our children, that we can set them up for success in the day and life ahead. When our children were younger, we had the practice of praying with them prior to them going out to the bus stop. Joiner writes, “Parents should ask themselves the question. What can I say or do to give them fuel for dealing with whatever they have to face today?” … I like that! Many teachers will tell you that they can get a sense the atmosphere of the home by the attitude of the student as he or she arrives at school.

Now I wish that I could stand up, here to tell you that as a parent, I have lived out this passage consistently and perfectly with my three children and yet the truth is I haven’t. The truth is that I am humbled by the task at hand in this series to stand up here and talk about parenting. Although I love deeply my three children and am very proud of each and every one of them, in retrospect I recognize ways that I fell down as a parent. At times, I focused too much on the wrong things (whether it was emphasizing too much athletic development or academic pursuits or at times being a bad example with either having a bad attitude or using harsh words in my interaction with them.) And yet none of us are perfect in our parenting and that is why we need the help of others who share a common faith and common values. This is why we need to …
• Widen the Circle
In closing, we need to remember the context of this text we looked at this morning, it was in the context of the reminder to an entire nation. And it began with the phrase …
Hear, O Israel Deuteronomy 6:4 NIV

You see not only are parents responsible to impress upon their children, but the entire nation was reminded of their responsibility to pass on to the next generation! Actually some of you who don’t have children or no longer have children at home, might be tempted to think well these messages don’t apply to me. But the truth is as we begin to Think Orange, we will learn that every person of faith has an opportunity to impress upon children through word or deed the importance of Loving the LORD.

If you are a grandparent, you have a very important role in the life of your grandchildren to impress upon them the way of the LORD. If you are single or a married couple without children, you can help be an inspiration to those who are younger, by investing time as a mentor. You see as we widen the circle, we can have a great impact on the next generation!

Closing: Belgian Plow Horses can pull 8,000 lbs. But trained to work together in an integrated strategy can pull up to 32,000 lbs. Now that is synergy! Let’s learn to work together. Let’s Pray!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Via Dolorosa: The Way of Suffering

As we draw to a conclusion our six week series Retracing the Steps of Jesus, I want to begin this morning, by thanking you for the opportunity to share with all of you some of my memorable reflections from my 15 day pilgrimage to Israel and bearing with me as I have shared some of my 3,000+ pictures that I took while in Israel.

This morning, we want to begin by describing more fully the picture that has been on the front of the bulletin the past six weeks (and seen above).

These steps are outside of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu.

We believe that this was the location of the home of the Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas. So it is believed that Jesus actually walked these steps on his way from Gethsemane to stand trial before Caiaphas.

Following Jesus arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, which we talked about last week, Jesus was taken to Caiaphas home, where he was questioned by the Jewish Religious leaders. It was here that Jesus was rejected by his own people and even deserted and denied by his closest friends. This is a reminder to us that if we seek to follow Jesus, it will mean at times that we too will face rejection by those who don’t understand our commitment to follow this Jesus of Nazareth.

The Way of Rejection
Then the people who had arrested Jesus led him to the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered. Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and came to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and sat with the guards and waited to see how it would all end. Matthew 26:57-58 NLT

This is a reminder to us to not simply be content to follow Jesus at a distance and play it safe, but to take seriously what it means to be a follower of Jesus every day even when it is challenging. In Peter’s attempt to only follow Jesus at a distance, he ended up denying the one that he had earlier professed his loyalty. Let’s keep reading …

Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”
But Peter denied it in front of everyone. …
Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed.
Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.
Matthew 26:69-70, 74-75 NLT

As I shared earlier these steps are outside the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which like so many of the church buildings we visited in Israel was a beautiful structure with fantastic art work.

And yet one of the consistent objects of art in this location was the rooster.

In fact, the Latin word "Gallicantu", meaning cock-crow and while we were visiting this church building, our guide told us to listen closely and we could still hear a rooster, and sure enough while we were visiting this location and contemplating the arrest and trial of Jesus, I did hear a rooster crow!

Don’t you imagine that for the rest of Peter’s life, every time he heard a rooster crow, he was reminded of the time that he had denied Christ?

And yet the good news is that Jesus did not give up on Peter, and the incredible news is that he won’t give up on us, even when we have fallen down in life and are about ready to give up on him. In fact Jesus later confirmed to Peter his love for him and his confidence in him in spite of Peter’s denial. And as a result, Peter lived the rest of his life following Jesus and eventually died on a cross himself. So Peter eventually was willing to follow Jesus’ example on …

The Way of Suffering
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 NIV

One of the highpoints for me of our pilgrimage was (seven weeks ago) on Sunday, June 5th, when we spent more than two hours walking on the street in Jerusalem called Via Dolorosa - which means “the way of sorrow” or “the way of suffering.” During those two hours of quiet reflection we observed what is called the “Stations of the Cross.”

Now some of you have possibly observed the “Stations of the Cross” from past church experiences, but in my background, I had never participated in observing the “Stations of the Cross,” so this was something very new to me.

Personally, I found it a powerful experience, so much so that as we dream about the future as we make plans to move into our Worship and Community Center later this year, I would like to look for ways to offer this experience to not only this church but the community next spring in the week leading up to Easter. So I won’t share all the details of that extremely meaningful experience this morning, but I wanted to say briefly it was truly powerful to know that we were walking on the same narrow streets that Jesus had walked even if they were possibly streets that had been built on top of the actual streets that Jesus had walked on his way to the cross!

We observed the 14 Stations of the Cross in their original context, and this morning let’s just take a glimpse of one of them … Station 5.

It was here that we were reminded of what is recorded in the Bible in the Gospel of Matthew …

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). Matthew 27:32-33 NLT

It was at this station, that we prayed the following prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, our Teacher on the Way, sometimes we need help. We need companions on the way to help us shoulder our burdens when they get too heavy. And yet, we are embarrassed to ask for help or unable to receive it when is given.”

It was during this prayer I thanked God for the Southwest Church family and the many individuals that I receive regular support and help from in my life and in my walk with Christ. Are you willing to admit your need for help and support from other followers of Christ?

This week, I met with a close friend and confided in him and shared with him some of my personal struggles and weaknesses as I seek to follow Jesus. We all have weaknesses and we all need others in our lives to help us in our journey, because sometimes it is tough to follow Jesus … and sometimes it includes suffering. And sometimes no matter how strong we might try to convince ourselves that we are, we still need the help of companions along the way!

This weekend, we have four men from this church (Joe Garland, Jordan Barnhart, John Moreland, and Scott LeBlanc) competing in an Iron Man Competition at Lake Placid, NY. If you don’t know what an Iron Man Competition is, then let me briefly describe. It begins with a 2+ mile swim in water, followed by a 110+ mile bike ride, and then concluding with a 26.2 mile marathon run. Personally, I don’t know why someone would even attempt to do such a thing, but I am going to be remembering these guys while I stay in my AC house today and make a few laps to the refrigerator. And yet as I have talked with all four of these guys about this exercise in insanity, they have shared with me some of the challenges and injuries they have suffered during their intense training and the support they have received from one another as they have trained in this way.

The Christian Life is more like a marathon, than it is like a sprint and we need companions along the way to help us as we face challenges, setbacks, and discouragements along the way. Do you have any traveling companions? If not, then let me or someone you know and trust that worship here and we would be glad to point you to someone who can help you train and grow as a Christ follower!

Simon was forced to carry Jesus cross on the way to Calvary or Golgotha. While we were in Jerusalem, we visited two different spots that would have been outside the original city wall of Jerusalem.

One of them is called the garden tomb, and although most don’t believe it is the site. It was amazing to see the rock formation at that location and how much it looked like a skull …or as Matthew wrote, “the place of the skull”.

And yet as terrible of death and suffering that Jesus endured.

The good news is that his death was not the end of the story, and we want to emphasize this morning, that following Jesus includes traveling …

The Way of Victory
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.
Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.
Matthew 28:1-6 NLT

On one of the possible sites of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection, is called the Garden Tomb and inside the Empty Tomb there was a powerful sign posted that stated emphatically … “HE IS NOT HERE – FOR HE IS RISEN!”

At the end of our Stations of the Cross Experience, we ended at the site believed by many and held from tradition to be the actual location of the cross of Christ and the empty tomb of Christ.

These two amazing spots are both housed in this huge structure called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is actually not one church building, but six church buildings combined into one extremely large structure.

It was incredibly moving to kneel at the location that is believed by many to be the actual place where the cross of Christ was driven into the earth and to reach into the hole (#25) the size of a wooden post and feel the limestone rock of Golgotha.

And then to later also touch the slab of stone which is believed to be the slab that Jesus dead body was placed while being anointed, and covered with a burial cloth.

Yet what really grabbed my heart was visiting what is believed to be the empty tomb of Jesus. On the first day, we visited the tomb right around noon, the Sun shined in directly on the tomb … it was powerful to try to grasp that the most important event in all of history took place on this spot!!!

My heart was so grabbed by this experience that I woke up the next two mornings at 4:30 am so that I could visit the empty tomb once again! You see this historic event is why I am a follower of Jesus, because I really believe that this Biblical event took place and I wanted to just soak it in, while I had the opportunity to be in Jerusalem, because this is the Victory that I am clinging to as a follower of Christ!

Have you come to embrace this victorious message in your life? Have you experienced the victorious power of the Holy Spirit in your life, which is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead?

In the midst of this phenomenal experience and all of the significance of each site that we had to witness, I was saddened by some of the “Religious Trappings” that surrounded these historic sites. One that especially saddened me was the story behind the ladder at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This ladder has been on this ledge for approximately 150 years. Unfortunately, the six churches (Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Egyptian (or Coptic), Ethiopian, and Syrian) have had difficulty getting along and sharing this large structure that most believe was the actual site of the crucifixion and the tome of the resurrection.

In fact, approximately 150 years ago the arguing between these six groups became so intense that the government in power had to get involved. They finally got the six groups to quit arguing about space and possessions within the church building, that they passed a law that nothing could be moved in the building. So when the law went into effect someone had placed a ladder on the ledge and now 150 years later the ladder still stands there, because no one can move it.

And as sad as this is, I discovered something even more troubling. More than 900 years ago, these six groups could not agree upon when to open the church building and who would have keys to the building. So more than 900 years ago someone acting as in the role of a judge issued a ruling, that a specific Muslim family who lived in Jerusalem would have the keys and open the church building every morning. And the sad thing is to this day a descendant of this Muslim family has possession of the keys and opens it every morning. This is a sad commentary of living out Jesus prayer for …

The Way of Unity
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23 NIV

Let’s resolve as a church that not only will be willing to embrace the one who was rejected, suffered, and ultimately victorious, but that we will also make his prayer our own and that we will strive to follow the way of unity and recognize that this will be the ultimate sign to the world around us that we are truly followers of Jesus if we can continue to learn to love one another as Jesus taught and maintain unity as we work together to hold up the one that we are following!!

And as we see the walls of our future worship and community center going up next door, let’s make sure we keep the prayer that is written on this wall hidden in our heart!!

In closing, although this present message series is coming to an end, my prayer and my resolve is that our focus on walking in the way of Jesus … has just begun!
Let’s Pray!