A Convincing Story

5th Sunday of Easter
Scripture: Acts 11:11-18

Today's scripture is a watershed of reality of the Christian faith. We are witnessing that all people of every nations are open to salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Peter had initially been on trial for going into the home of a Gentile. Strict Jews would have never conversed with a Gentile. It is barely conceivable that one would only go into a Gentile’s home. A Jew sitting at the table and eating with them was unheard of. Here Peter outrages the ancient law and must defend his actions.

Peter’s defense was not an argument. It was a statement of the facts. Whatever his critics might say, the Holy Spirit had come upon the Gentiles and must be noticed.

Here is the kicker for Peter’s defense: Peter took 6 brothers with him, totaling 7 people. An ancient law, which the Jews would have known well, states that 7 people were necessary to completely prove one’s case. Roman law, which they would also have known, states that 7 people were enough to seal the authenticity to complete a document like a will. Here Peter is reminding the critics that 7 witnesses prove that Christianity is for all people, Jews and Gentile alike.

While this does not make a bad person good, it does bring a person to the Spirit of God. The duty of Christians is not only to talk about our faith. We are called to live it by our actions and to reach out to a world in need. God’s love and forgiveness is for all humankind.

True repentances is a change of spiritual death to spiritual life that leads to everlasting walk with the Lord of love. Let us confess how we have not been God’s little children when we fail to love as we have been loved.

Who are we to get in the way of our Holy God? We put people into neat, little boxes, but You rip them open so folks can dance in Your joy. We imprison others with our unmet expectations, and You set them free with a word. We build walls around those we don’t know, and You tear them down, so they can run wild in Your kingdom.

Who are we to get in Your way, Saving Power, especially in the way of Your forgiveness offered to all! Give us your vision that sees everyone as equal – forgiven, loved, and covered by grace – even as we seek to follow You, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let us pray a unison prayer for forgiveness, that we may be witnesses through our words, actions (including love), and unity as the body of Christ!

Call of Resurrection

4th Sunday of Easter
Scripture: Acts 9:36-42

Every time people run towards danger to help other, resurrection has happened. Every person chooses love over hate, resurrection has happened. Every time people come together instead of dividing, resurrection has happened. When the disciples rushed in to care for their friend Jesus’s sheep, resurrection had happened. It happened again when the women rushed in to care for their friend Tabatha. Resurrection happened.

We are called the people of resurrection and we are called to offer Jesus’s resurrection to others.

In our scripture today, when Peter first arrived it was an average pastoral call. Then he found his friend had died. I am sure he was greeted with solemn faces. Many were in tears. There were hugs and loving touches for all who were grieving. Many had received hugs and kisses from the woman they call Dorcas (Tabatha). The widows stood beside Peter weeping and showing him the tunics and other items Dorcas had made while she had made when she was with them. What a wonderful loving tribute for a precious friend that had just left them in death.

Peter dismissed the grieving widows. Now there was only their friend Jesus, a couple other friends, and Jesus’ disciples in the room. Here Peter initiated Jesus’s healing, telling Dorcas to get up and out of her death bed; immediately she stood up!

Then Peter call the saints and widows, showing them the risen Dorcas. For a few moments, it appeared that Peter commanded the limelight that show us Peter in action, yet it showed us the source of Peter’s power when he healed Dorcas. Peter did not say, “I healed you.” Rather, he said, “I heal you in the name of Jesus the Christ!”

It is here that Peter refers to Christians as saints. From then on, Peter continually referred to the church members as saints. That does not mean we are perfect in any way, only that we are holy agents of the Lord Jesus Christ, that we have been equipped to spread the Gospel story. And if and when we do, Jesus’ resurrection power is working within us.

We need a new, fresh, and exciting revelation that the Lord uses us in a multitude of ways to spread his word of love to the whole world. I love the hymn that gives us these instructions: “Count your blessings, name them one by one … see what the Lord has done us.”

Even the multitude of gifts of our lives given to others in Jesus’ name will bring some type of resurrection to those people. Still, we need to know and understand that the Lord loves us, regardless of whatever we might accomplish in His name.

Resurrection is happening all around us right now. This hemisphere of the earth has rested for several months. Spring has sprung! We have seen new life come forth in many ways. The trees are starting to bud, flowers are peeping their head out of the earth, and we see a multitude of colors. The resurrection of God’s creation is all around us, but the greatest resurrection is in our hearts and lives as we encounter a fresh awareness of the Spirit of God in our lives.

Praise the Lord! We are the saints of God. The resurrection is all around us, alive in our hearts and lives. Let us pray!

Love's Extravagance

3rd Sunday of Easter
Scripture: John 12:1-3

When is love is extravagant?

Throughout the scripture we read of love extravagant and often personal shame. In John’s Gospel we read that Jesus went to the house of a Pharasee and took his place at the table.

When a woman of the streets, who was a sinner, came in weeping loudly. She approached him, her tears fell on his feet, and she knelt down, drying his feet with her hair. This was a display of extravagant love.

There is the story of the good Samaritan, which shares both shame and deep love. A man traveling alone on the Jericho road was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. They even stole his clothes. 

When a priest came upon him, he passed on the other side of the road, offering no help to the injured man.

Later, a Levite came by, seeing the man lying on the ground, hurriedly passed by offering no help.

A third man came upon the injured man. He was a hated Samaritan, yet he got off his donkey to tend to the injured man. He bandaged his wounds, offered him wine, picked him up and put him on his own donkey.

Who was the one to show extravagant love?

A 6th grade teacher, a young married woman in her second teaching position, came to our town. My twin brother, who had rheumatic fever, was living with our grandparents some 6 miles away. She took his studies to him every week for many weeks. I was invited to go with her. She lived 20 some miles in the opposite direction, where her husband was in college, from my grandparents. She got no support from the school system, no pay. She did this out of extravagant love for one of her students.
This is something that every one of us who proclaims to be a Christian should do if we have an opportunity.

Let us pray that the Lord will open our heart eyes to someone who we might offer extravagant love for that is what the Lord did for each one of us on the cross.

Remember these words He spoke:
“Father if it is possible, may this pass from me, but not my will thy will be done.”

Pray for me.

I met a young man as I exited the parking lot at Walmart. I noticed he had a warm jacket on, and that his clothes were neatly pressed and clean. He had a sign that read, “I am homeless and need your help for lodging and food.”

I questioned his appearance and need, for he did not appear as many who stand on that same spot asking for help who are untidy, and often dirty clothes with 3-5 days of beard.

I did not help him.

Easter Sunday as the Swearingen clan was sharing their Easter dinner, a woman came in asking for help. She needed gas money.

Dean called me and asked where can she get that aid. It was the weekend, and she said she did not know of any places in Brazil. We asked several questions. She said she was from Terre Haute. She knew where the Light House Mission was but did not have enough gas to get to Terre Haute.

Dean and I questioned why she left Terre Haute knowing she did not have enough gas to get back.

Peniel is not on 40 or 340. It is one mile north, on Kennedy Crossing.

While serving the Richmond area, a young man stopped by the church one Sunday afternoon, stating that he had a job in Indy but did not have enough gas to get there. Could we help him out?

We offered him the help; he accepted it with a grateful heart and thanked us, saying he would be back next week to repay us.
Next week came, and as usual in most of these situations, we did not see him.

Two weeks passed, and on a Sunday morning when I went into the sanctuary, I saw that young man. He said he was sorry for being a week late, but they only pay once every 2 weeks. He said, “Here is your money and a little extra to help someone else who might be in the same situation.”

That is the only person who asked for help who said they would repay, in my ministry of 45 years, who kept his word.

When we help someone showing extravagant love, often is it a blessing for us as well as whoever we gave the help.
When we help someone there are 2 blesssings. A blessing for the one we helped, and one for us as a giver of extravagant love.


Two Bubbas and a Bible

2nd Sunday of Easter
Scripture: St. John 20:19-31

Let's say there's this person called Bubba. He is just there in the crowd in our scriptures today. He doesn’t make any great effort to do anything, but goes with the wind and is blown in a new direction with each breeze the comes by.

There is an interesting comment on our text in Matthew 28:14. A paraphrase of it is this: When they saw Jesus they worshiped him, but some doubted. Bubba was in the crowd.

Look at the disciples. They left their jobs as fishermen to follow Jesus They spent 3 years with Him, hearing Him preach and perform miracles. They saw him crucified. They experienced the empty tomb and his resurrection.

After several weeks in hiding, while some doubted his resurrection, they were overjoyed to see him once again. Thomas was not with them at the time. When Thomas was told they had seen the Lord, he said, “Unless I see His nail-scarred hands and put my finger in them and touch his pierced side, I will not believe.”

Jesus gave Thomas his request; He let him see the nail-scarred hands and His side, and Thomas cried out loudly, My Lord and my God.”

Contrary to both material science and traditional wisdom, seeing is not always believing. There will always be some just like Thomas, for there is a little bit of Thomas in each and every one of us. There was a Thomas in Bubba.

The Gospels were not meant to be a biography of Jesus' life. They do not follow Him day by day from place to place. The Gospel writers were selective. They gave us only bits and pieces of our Lord's actions here on earth. Thomas was a man who had to make sure in his mind and heart that Jesus was alive once again. And only when given proof that Jesus was alive, he stepped out in total faith and actions for Christ.

He had an uncompromising honesty as a man of God. Thomas would never chatter off a creed without understanding what it claimed and stated. He was a man of great virtue. He would not air his doubts just for the sake of obedience. Thomas’s faith was the real thing and without counting the cost he went forward for Christ in faithful service.

In last Tuesday’s upper room devotion, there was a story about being out of sync. We in the church are often out of sync when we make decisions. We don’t always think, plan, or dream for the life of the church for tomorrow. We permit our egos and envy to create discord and our actions become nothing more than noisy chatter. During these times, when our visions of the church don’t align, we can find unity and harmony once again if we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

This was the action between Thomas and the other disciples until they encountered the risen Lord. Yet when there was harmony between them, they became a mighty force with the aid of the Holy Spirit to build the infant church of Jesus Christ at the very cost of their lives. We know that conflict will arise, seeking to destroy our efforts to be a shining light for our Lord in our dark world .

It’s later than we think. We can’t continue to drift along on the tides of our history of the church. I pray that you will pray and ask the Holy Spirit to equip up for new and exciting forms of worship for Christ and His church. Amen!

Seeing is Believing

Easter Sunday
Scripture: St. Luke 24:1-12

The Jewish sabbath is our Saturday.  It was the last day of the week and it commemorates the rest of God after the work of creation.

The Christian sabbath, Sunday, is the first day of the week and it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus.

It was on our Sunday the women went to the tomb to attend the caring of the last rites for a loved one who was dead, embalming and anointing His body with spices and wrapping in white cloth.
The tomb had been sealed with a great cylinder-like stone at its entrance. But, when the women arrived, they discovered the stone had been rolled away.

The all-important and shattering question in this story is the question of the 2 men who appeared dressed in white raiment, who asked the women, “Why are you looking for him who is alive among the dead?”

The real problem yet today is many of us are still looking for Jesus among the dead. There are those who regard Jesus as the greatest man and noblest hero who ever lived, as one who lived the loveliest life that has ever been lived on earth and who died. That will not do!  Jesus is not dead!  He is not just a hero of the past; he is a living presence today.

There are those who regard Jesus as a man whose life must be studied and whose words must be examined and whose teaching must be analyzed.

There is a tendency of some to think of Christianity and Christ as something to be studied. Beyond any doubt, study is necessary, but Jesus is not someone to be studied. He is much more. Jesus is someone to be met and lived with everyday of our lives. He is not just a figure in a book, even though this book is the greatest book ever written and is still the best seller of the year 2000 years after His death and resurrection.

There are those who see Jesus as the perfect pattern and example for this life. He is that, but it remains true that a perfect example may be the most heartbreaking thing in the world. For centuries, the birds gave man the example of flight, yet it took until this modern time before men could fly around the world, but also walk on the face of the moon.

Jesus Christ is not simply the model for life itself; He is the living presence of life itself. It may well be that our Christianity lacked that essential something because we are still looking for Him who is alive among the dead.

We have built multi-million dollar showplaces and called the church, in the very shadow of poverty and starvation of many, at the very doorsteps of his house with locked doors, chained doors, and bars on the window to keep out those who need him most because they don’t measure up to our standard of Christianity.

We hear the cries of many who are in desperate need, causing our lord to still be tortured and hanging on the cross or lying dead in a stone cold grave.

This Easter season I sense that above the noise of society, Jesus whispers softly,  “Christians, wake up. I need your support to aid me that all my children might have all that is needed, for the simplest needs for this life until i return to establish my kingdom on earth.”

We have built multi-million dollar showplaces and labeled them as holy churches at the very site of a poverty stricken world, yet Easter is the reality that we worship and serve a risen Lord, the one and only loving father of all persons and all nations.

Let us pray.


Easter Sunrise Service
Scripture: John 20:1-10

Easter is the day we retell the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ with great hymns sung, joy bells ringing, choirs singing, and people dressed up in their finest and rejoicing.

Some Gospels accounts feature spectacular earthquakes and angels in lightning-white clothes.

Others preach the tomb empty,  with Mary standing at its entrance and Peter and John running to the tomb, where they hear the news, look in, and run back to the city. Many sermons reach their climax as they hear that the risen lord has appeared.

While it is in John’s gospel, he seems to say, "Wait, there is more."

For some reason he puts Mary center stage at the entry of the tomb. While she looks inside, Jesus appears and calls her by name.  Then he says, “Do not hold on to me.”

It is here that John begins to build a 3-point sermon:

  1. Death
  2. Resurrection
  3. Ascension.

He tells Mary to go and tell Jesus' disciples, “his brothers”, that he was going to ascend. The good news this Easter Sunday is the empty tomb and a resurrected Lord.

Sometimes we cling only to part of a Gospel story. Sentimentality surrounds the Christmas and Easter holidays. At Christmas we like gifts and we want Jesus to remain a cute infant with chubby cheeks who never grows up to become our redeeming lord.

Easter is a time to celebrate the resurrected Christ. Why, we are tuned in on new clothes and Easter bonnets, egg hunt and large family gatherings after church, and don’t forget sunrise breakfast! Easter is a time to celebrate and rejoice that the best is yet to come: a risen Lord who wants to live in our hearts and lives each and everyday until we meet Him face-to-face in the heavenly kingdom.


Jesus Washed His Disciples' Feet

Holy Thursday
Scripture: John 13

Can you imagine how you would feel to have jesus, our lord, kneel before you, and wash your feet?
  • how humbling
  • how loving
  • how powerful
This is how Jesus wants us to serve one another, just as he has served us.

When we remember Jesus' death at passover time, we recall His broken body for each one of us and the spilled blood for each of us so that God through the person of Jesus of Nazareth delivered us, the people of God, from the slavery of sin and spiritual death.

We replace the passover celebration, seeing Jesus embodied as the lamb of God sacrificed for our sins, offering us an abundant life here on earth, and eternal life in the heavenly kingdom.

It is through Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, we have been offered the cup of salvation.