Saturday, April 06, 2013

Leadership Tidbit #9

Leaders humbly accept Jesus' words, "apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Friday, April 05, 2013

Leadership Tidbit #8

Leaders know that they're neither as good as their biggest fans suggest nor as bad as their harshest critics claim.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Leadership Tidbit #6

Leaders don't care if others see them as leaders or not.

A saying attributed variously to Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, and a former Pepsico CEO puts it well: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."

I'd add that Christians are called to do everything to the glory of the God made known to the world in Jesus Christ and not to ourselves!

I Love Seeing Myths Dismantled

4 Church Leadership Myths: Busted!, I suspect, dismantles myths about leadership that exist not just within the Church, but everywhere.

Do Most Contemporary Christians Think That Christianity Is About Them?

Provocative assertion made by John Schroeder, inspired by Dan Edelen:
Most Christians these days think Christianity is about them. It's their salvation, it's their worship, it's their Jesus. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus saves us for His ends, not ours. Somehow our approach to evangelism has got to begin to make this apparent. All the blatant appeals to personal interest that we make DO NOT serve the Kingdom.
I think John's right! And it drives me to my knees in repentance and submission.

In the New Testament, Peter writes that through Christ, believers in Christ have become members of "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people," then says that God has not given us such elevated status for ourselves, but "in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him Who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9)

Often, as I pray, I'm forced to confess to God that I take a selfish and utilitarian view of my faith. My behavior too often betrays the real motivation of my "devotion" to Christ: "What's in it for me?"

In fact, there's a lot that's in it for me (or anyone) in daily surrendering to and trusting in Christ. He sets me free from sin and death, after all, and gives me the undeserved and unearned privilege of living with Him forever.

But salvation that isn't shared with others too easily becomes self-serving, self-worshipful, self-congratulating, self-promoting.

Jesus says, "No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house" (Matthew 5:15). Cover a lamp and two things happen: (1) It doesn't give light; (2) Denied of oxygen, it soon will go out.

From what Peter and others say in the Bible, I take it that the Holy Spirit sets the lamp of faith aflame within us not just for ourselves, but also to let others see how the God known in Christ can change people from enemies of God, to members of that chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation.

When we fail to live in service and love for others, we are failing in our essential call as Christians. And we risk snuffing out our own faith.

As Lutheran pastor, Brian Stoffregen, says in a piece I cited on Easter Sunday:
“Can we say that we really believe in the resurrection of the Lord if we aren't willing to tell others about it?” 
And, I might add, if we aren't willing to make others' salvation a higher priority than our own?

I'm not pointing any fingers. I'm looking at the man in my mirror. Lord, have mercy on me.

[Read John's post.]

Monday, April 01, 2013

Risen Jesus

Saint Paul, who encountered the risen and ascended Jesus on the road to Damascus in the first century, believed in the actual physical resurrection of Jesus.

Only a risen Jesus proves His power over sin and death. Only a risen Jesus can offer us forgiveness and new, eternal life with God!

Paul writes:
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. (1 Corinthians 15:1-20)

The Power of Christ's Resurrection

Tremendous thoughts from Chuck Lindquist. If Jesus was not physically resurrected from the dead, the Church can close up shop and Christians can transfer their memberships to the Kiwanis. (Nothing wrong with the Kiwanis, it's just not the Church.)

Lindquist cites words from Martin Luther:
“He who would preach the Gospel must go directly to preaching the resurrection of Christ, for this is the chief part of our faith.”  

Easter Faith

[This was shared during Easter worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, yesterday.]

Luke 24:1-12
Easter: When God in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, having been executed on a cross, though He was sinless and without fault, rose from the dead.

Strange things happen in the wills, minds, and hearts of people who realize that Christ accepted the punishment for sin that we deserve, then took back His life again in order to offer forgiveness of sin, everlasting life with God, and a purpose for living we could never manufacture through owning, knowing, controlling, or entertaining ourselves.

If people aren’t careful, in spite of the doubts every human being experiences, in spite of being unable to prove anything about Easter, in spite of wanting to keep charge of our own lives and not giving control to God, the message of Easter--the message that God the Father so loved this world that He gave God the Son so that all who believe in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life--makes people do crazy things.

Things like:
  • giving as God has given to us,
  • forgiving as God forgives us,
  • living voluntarily under the will of God and not our own desires,
  • telling others that their lives can be changed forever if they trust in Christ and not themselves, or their looks, or their 401(k)s, or their brains, or their brawn, or their work ethic.
Those are things of the world that either die, or give out, or from which you and I will be separated when we draw our last earthly breaths.

Easter says that the God we meet in Jesus Christ has overcome death, will never give out, and can be with us always.

In the eyes of a world turned in on itself, that sees life on this earth as nothing more than an extended effort to make ourselves comfortable before we die, faith in the Jesus of Easter is a crazy thing. The risen Jesus, now enthroned in heaven, isn’t as tangible as a 70-inch HDTV, a well-appointed man cave, or the illusion of the perfect life. Faith in the risen Jesus doesn’t dismiss any of those things. But it challenges us to live for different ends.

Hebrews 11:1, in the New Testament, teaches us: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

For the Christian of today, faith is trust in a God we’ve never seen, faith in a resurrected Savior we’ve never seen. Having faith isn’t easy. “It’s harder to believe than not to.

But here’s how faith in Christ works: If you refuse to believe, you will never believe. But if you confess to God how hard you find it to believe in Christ, how hard it is to surrender to a Savior you’ve never seen, but that you want to believe, God will use the Word and the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion), to build faith within you.

Sometimes our faith is minuscule. But if we will keep listening to the words of new life, forgiveness, and call to surrender that comes from Jesus through the Bible, the words of other Christians about Jesus, and the Sacraments, faith will come to us and even sustain us in the darkest times of our lives. “I don’t know how I could have gotten through without Jesus to lean on,” a widow whose joy of life had returned to her several years after the death of her husband, even though her grief would never completely go away.

Luke’s account of the first Easter begins: “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”

The women went to the tomb without faith. They loved Jesus. They revered Him. But for all their devotion to Jesus, all they expected to find on that first Easter Sunday was His battered, wounded corpse. They had seen Him die. They had helped take His body to the tomb. They weren’t expecting their worlds to be turned upside down. But something crazy was about to happen to them!

Luke continues: “And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments [angels]. Then, as [the women] were afraid [understandably, since angels reflect the brightness and perfection of God Himself] and bowed their faces to the earth, [the angels] said to [the women], ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still alive in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.‘ And they remembered His words. [Here’s where it gets crazy.] Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven [the eleven surviving apostles] and to all the rest [the hundreds of other disciples of Jesus grieving in Jerusalem].”

At this point in Luke’s account of Easter, the women at the tomb are just like you and me: They had never seen the risen Jesus. But hearing again Jesus’ words of promise created faith within them.

Listen: The Word of God has power.

It doesn’t matter if the person speaking it is a butcher, computer programmer, retiree, housewife, basketball star, preacher, or angel. When the simple truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection is shared, it can create faith.

It may require years of hearing and reading the Word about Jesus for a person to have faith. I was in this category. I was thick of head and hard of heart. It took time for the good news about the crucified and risen Jesus to penetrate and give me faith.

Others are fortunate in that they hear the Word from their moms and dads as children and always have faith. I remember the president of the seminary, Fred Meuser saying, "I never remember a time when I didn't believe." Fred's father was a pastor, his mother a woman of God, and they imparted faith to Fred, a faith he received.

But whether in a short time or a long time, it's the Word of God that creates faith in Jesus Christ within us. Romans 10:17 says: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

Another part of the Bible, Romans 1:16-17, says that the Gospel about Jesus “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith..For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous [the one who is right before God because their sins are forgiven and they know to go to God for forgiveness and direction]...The one who is righteous will live by faith.’”

There’s nothing you and I can do to convince ourselves that Jesus rose from the dead and will give new and everlasting lives to all who believe in Him. No recitation of convincing facts, not even the overwhelming evidence from the changed lives of once frightened disciples who willingly gave their lives to bear witness to Who Jesus was and what He has done.

Faith comes by hearing a Word you may not have expected or wanted to hear and your ability to hear it comes from the power of the Word about Jesus, what we call the Gospel, the good news.

When people come to faith in Christ or to the daily renewal of their faith that God gives to those who daily repent and daily entrust their lives to Jesus, they can’t  explain it. They know that faith is a gift and are gratified to have it because they know that only those with faith in Christ live with God.

Like anything that’s given to you, you can open it up or push it away. Luke writes in our lesson starting at verse 10: “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed like idle tales, and they did not believe them.”

The apostles should have believed, shouldn’t they? After all, they knew Jesus’ promises. In Luke 9:22, among other places, Jesus said: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” But here were the apostles pushing the gift of faith in the risen Jesus preached by the women, away.

This was a perilous moment for the apostles. They had to make what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis in the waning days of World War II, called “the decision.” We have to make the same decision every day. Bonhoeffer writes:
The time [on earth] is short. Eternity is long. [This life] is the time of decision. Those who are true to the word and confession [about the crucified and risen Jesus] on earth will find Jesus Christ standing by their side in the hour [when our lives are judged]. He will acknowledge them and come to their aid when the accuser [the devil] demands his rights [to take sinners with him into hell]. All the world will be called to witness as Jesus pronounces our name before his heavenly Father. If we have been true to Jesus in this life, he will be true to us in eternity. But if we have been ashamed of our Lord and of his name, he will likewise be ashamed of us and deny us. The final decision must be made while we are still on earth.
You don’t have to work to believe in the risen Jesus. But if you and I will not push Him away when He comes to us in His Word, the Bible, in the fellowship of believers, in His call to repent for sin, in His call to receive forgiveness, and in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, we can have life-changing faith in Jesus Christ.

We can know the peace that passes all understanding.

We can live knowing that while without Christ, we can do nothing of importance, we can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us.

We can know that Christ is with us to the close of the age.

We can live with the purpose that belongs to the children of God, who without faith in Jesus, were no people, but with faith in Jesus become God’s people, people who once lived apart from the mercy and power of Jesus in their lives, but now have received and live in that mercy and power.

We can know that our sins are forgiven and our names are written in the book of life! [See Luke 10:20; Revelation 13:8; 20:12]

But when we embrace the gift of faith in the risen Jesus, we dare not keep it to ourselves! When the women received the angels word and faith that Jesus is our everliving advocate, friend, and Savior had come to them, they ran back to tell all the others who had followed Jesus during His earthly ministry.

This is the real test of whether our faith in Jesus is real or just a hobby on Sunday mornings. Lutheran pastor Brian Stoffregen asks, “Can we say that we really believe in the resurrection of the Lord if we aren't willing to tell others about it?”

Jesus is risen from the dead!

Turn from sin each day and entrust your life to Him. He will give you life that begins with Him at your side in this dying world and life that lasts forever in the perfect eternal world to come.

That’s the good news of Easter!

Don’t push it away.

Take it into your life every day.

Dare to believe.

Dare to ask for the power to believe that comes from God only to believers in God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.

Tell others.

Then watch your faith grow!

Leaving the Past Behind (Good Friday, 2013)

[This was shared during the Logan Community Good Friday service on March 29, in the sanctuary of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church.]

John 18:1-19:42
Before the service, Howard and I were talking about what makes this Friday good? Humanity conspired to kill God in the flesh, an innocent man. That doesn't seem very good, does it? But Jesus offered Himself up voluntarily, the perfect sacrificial Lamb, to atone for our sins and open up the possibility of forgiveness and new life for all people. That's why, despite of the ugliness of the events, we commemorate this day as Good Friday.

Each year in fact, Good Friday comes as a brutal dose of reality for those prone to living in the pretend world of a perfect past, for those who look at episodes of The Andy Griffith Show and say to themselves, “That’s how life used to be.”

But the phrase "nostalgic Christian" is an oxymoron.

In fact, believers in Jesus want to leave the past behind, living with Christ in the now and looking ahead with excitement and anticipation to the perfect future ahead for all who believe in Jesus.

"Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead," the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Good Friday reminds us of the bad old days from which Jesus Christ wants to set all of us free.

From the moment that Adam and Eve bit into the fruit that God had warned them not to eat, the human race has been, collectively and individually, plunged into sin: alienated from God, from one another, from the creation God gave us to manage and tend.

Sin entered into the human gene pool, passed along from generation to generation.

It was to eliminate the condition of sin from us and to end our slavery to sin and restore our relationship with God that Jesus, God in the flesh, came into our world. He took death, the punishment for sin that you and I deserve, onto Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God the Father made Jesus "to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus entered into death. Based on Scripture, many of us in our creeds say that on Good Friday, Jesus descended to hell. Then He rose from the grave to claim new life and a perfect future for all who follow Him.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” He says. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  [John 14:6]

And, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” [John 11:25]J

And, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Those who believe in Him are not condemned; but those who do not believe in Him are condemned already, because they have not believed in the Name of the only Son.” [John 3:16-18]

It wasn't "bad Romans" or "bad Jews" or aberrant representatives of the human race who put Jesus on the cross. It was you, me, our parents, and our grandparents and the common human desire to "be like God," to flush God from our lives or considerations, going all the way back to Eden, that drove the nails into Jesus' flesh on the first Good Friday.

It was for us and our sins that He died, for us that He came to offer life in His Name. No wonder then that God inspired the witness of the first Christians about Jesus: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]

Different expressions of our sinful nature go in and out of style.

So in the morality department, you and I are no better or worse today than past generations were.

Good Friday shows us that.

But Good Friday also shows us that sin, the human race's ancient and ongoing alienation from God and the life only God can give, does not have to be the last word over our lives.

God has acted.

In Christ, God is reconciling Himself to all who confess their sins and entrust their lives to the rule of Jesus, the King of kings.

In Christ, the sins of our past that weigh us down are taken off our shoulders and put on those of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

All who are in Christ have the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, giving us and making us part of His holy catholic Church and the communion of saints, assured of the forgiveness of our sins, the resurrection of our bodies with Christ and all the saints, and of the life everlasting with God.

It's a lie to believe in some perfect past. It never existed.

But when we trust in Christ, the Savior Who died and then rose to give us life, our present is invaded by the presence, power, and love of God.

That doesn't mean that the world will be hospitable to Christ and the good news about Him.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus points to a time in world history when the followers of Jesus will be hated because of their allegiance to Him. Many will then fall away from trusting in Him, He says, “and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.” The pall of sin that made Good Friday necessary will even blanket the human race, Jesus says, after He has died on a cross and risen from the dead so that we might be saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. But even then, Jesus tells us not to pine for a dead past or to despair over the present or the future. He says: “...the one who endures to the end will be saved.” [Matthew 24:9-14]

If we remain steadfast in following Jesus, He will invade our todays with peace and strength and our futures will be more perfect than we could ever imagine.

On the Sunday after Jesus' crucifixion, some of the female disciples went to anoint Jesus' dead body. But they were met by a "young man, dressed in a white robe" who told them that Jesus was not dead, but risen. "Go," he told them, "tell his disciples and Peter that [Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you" [Mark 16:7].

Jesus has broken out of the dead past.

He's blown our nostalgic notions to bits.

He's ahead of us, pioneering a way for us through this life and opening up eternity to us.

Don't pine for the past. Follow Jesus into the future! That's the call of Good Friday. Amen

Comfort, Hope, Joy (Maundy Thursday, 2013)

[This was shared during worship Maundy Thursday worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church and our guests on March 28, 2013.]

John 13:1-17, 31b-35
On the first Maundy Thursday, in an upper room, Jesus enjoyed the last few uninterrupted moments He would have with the twelve apostles before His crucifixion. He had a message for them, something it was essential for Jesus to convey to them. Otherwise, everything about to take place--His arrest later that night, His trial before an illegal court, His death on a cross on Good Friday, and even His bodily resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday--would make no sense to them.

The twelve, along with the rest of Jesus’ hundreds of disciples, were about to be immersed in a chaos of events. Jesus wanted them to know, even when they experienced the first day, Good Friday, when He was executed; the second day, Holy Saturday, when His body lay in the tomb; and the third day, Easter Sunday, when Jesus, God in the flesh, rose from death, that He had been in control all along.

In the chaotic events of our lives, we need to know the same thing! Jesus is still in control.

Often, when Jesus wanted to make teaching points, He told parables. But here, in the upper room, Jesus acts out His message, as the Old Testament prophets sometimes did. We’re told by John, was in the upper room that night, that Jesus “got up from the table, took off His outer robe, and tied a towel around Himself. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.”

You’ve probably all heard enough Maundy Thursday sermons to know that washing the feet of dinner guests was the job of a household slave and not of a host.

You know that Jesus is demonstrating, as He said elsewhere, that He came into the world--God in flesh appearing--to serve.

You know about what Jesus says after He has finished washing the disciples’ feet: “You call me Teacher and Lord [that is, your master, maker, I AM, God Himself] and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Later on Jesus says that all of this points to a new commandment He gives gives to all who believe in Him, that just as He has loved us, we who are part of His body on earth are to love one another.

It’s this commandment that’s behind name of this day, Maundy Thursday. That word maundy comes to us from the French word, mandé, meaning something that has been commanded and goes back to the Latin translation of Jesus words in John 13:34. I don’t know Latin, but the words are, “Mandātum novum dō vōbīs,” or “I give to you a new commandment.”

That commandment to love our fellow believers is essential. We who belong to Jesus Christ are to love one another.

Love, of course, doesn’t mean approval. If, as a parent, your child is doing something that is dangerous to them, love will compel you to confront them or discipline them.

Christ has given the responsibility to proclaim the forgiveness of sin to the repentant and the condemnation for sin to the unrepentant. That’s called the Office of the Keys [see Matthew 16:19; John 20:19-23].

But love must always be the reason for exercising that responsibility.

Christ loves sinners and hates our sins, even yours and mine.

We are to love as we have been loved.

We are to humbly serve one another, just as the Lord of all creation has served us.

And we are, in the words of Ephesians, to speak God’s truth in love to one another, even when we would rather not. That’s part of love too.

But there is a deeper significance even than Jesus’ command to love one another in Jesus’ enacted lesson in the upper room.

Near the beginning of John's account of Maundy Thursday, there's a chilling passage. “Having loved His own who were in the world [the disciples], [Jesus] loved them to the end.” And then: “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray [Jesus].”

Imagine this moment: Jesus loves everyone around that table. Jesus washes the feet of all around that table. Though John makes no mention of it, Jesus will also give Holy Communion to everyone at that table. But on Judas, all this service, all this love, all this grace, was of no avail. The devil had already entered Judas’ heart.

How does something like that happen?

Judas had spent time with Jesus as an intimate, an apostle. He had heard Jesus preach and teach. He saw Jesus turn water into wine, give sight to a blind man, feed the 5000, raise Lazarus from the dead. He had received the Word of God from the One Who, John says, is the Word of God, the creator of the universe. It seems that His heart should have been filled to overflowing with faith.

But, as Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse, who can understand it?”

The New Testament teaches that faith in Jesus Christ is a gift from God. And we know that, by God's grace, it is faith in Christ that saves us from sin and death.

And blessedly, we know too, that God doesn’t command that we have faith of a certain magnitude. Just faith.

One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is still that of the father who asked that Jesus would cast a demon from the boy, if Jesus were able to do it. His initial prayer to Jesus was, “If you are able.” Jesus responds with the man’s own words, “If you are able--All things can be done for the one who believes. Immediately the father cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Once I heard a pastor recount how people, knowing that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone, would ask him, “How do I know I’m not going to hell?” His response: “The fact that you don’t want to go to hell is evidence of your faith.”

It’s similar to what I tell people when they confess that they’ve gotten mad at God, afraid that such emotions indicate no faith in God. I tell them: “If you didn’t believe in God, you wouldn’t get mad at Him. You only get mad at a God you believe is there!”

The problem with Judas was that His heart was closed to God. A heart closed to God is wide open to the devil.

That’s how, despite a constant exposure to the Word of God the Holy Spirit wanted to turn into faith, Judas turned down the gift. He turned down Christ. He wanted thirty pieces of silver more than he wanted Jesus.

He wasn’t the last person to choose the dying things of earth over the life that only Jesus Christ has to give.

But just as Jesus never gave up on offering faith to Judas, we in the Church must never give up on those in need of faith in Christ around us!

John says that Jesus, back in the upper room, confident that He and the Father were one and that He was returning to the Father, did this extraordinary thing. He took off His outer robe. Half naked, He wrapped a towel around Himself and did the work of a servant. No one made Jesus do this. It was a voluntary act. He chose to love His disciples in this way. He chose to lay aside His clothes and His dignity in a culture that regarded personal dignity as important. Later, after having done the work of a servant, Jesus put His outer garment back on and resumed His place at the head of the table, their Lord and Teacher.

Here’s what Jesus was telling the twelve. In a few short hours, temple police would arrest Him. Roman guards would strip Him of His clothing. They would mock Him, spit on Him, beat Him, whip Him, and then nail Him to a cross, naked to the elements, to die. Jewish and Gentile leaders, powers equivalent to the modern Church and State, and the opinions of the mass of humanity all would conspire against Jesus. And people would think, “He’s not such a big deal after all. We showed Him. He’s not God. We are. We’re the decision makers around here.”

In the rush of horrible events surrounding Good Friday, the disciples were in no shape emotionally, mentally, or spiritually to remember the lesson of Maundy Thursday. But later, they would remember Jesus saying of His life on earth, “I lay down my life in order to take up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”

No one took Jesus’ life from Him. He gave it up willingly. And He died at the moment He decided it was time, for only God has the right to give and take life away. “It is finished,” Jesus said. And He breathed His last. On Easter Sunday morning, Jesus took His up life again and He did it, as a servant, for us, for our needs for forgiveness, new life, fellowship with God, and a purpose for living.

After Easter, the disciples must have looked back on the events of Maundy Thursday and thought, “Of course! Of course the Lord of creation laid down His life in service and love for all sinners, hoping even to reach those in whose hearts the devil had entered, so that they might embrace the gift of faith. Of course, it was in Jesus’ power to lay down His life and take it back up again. Hadn’t he told Martha that day in Bethany, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die’? And then they would remember that Jesus asked Martha, ‘Do you believe this?’”

Jesus asks the same question of you and me tonight: “Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that I am the only way and the only truth on whom a life can safely be built? Do you believe I am the only way to eternity?

A few weeks ago, the pilot light on our furnace went out. We decided to put more blankets on the bed and call someone in the morning. When we hit the sack that night, the house was about 51-degrees. When we woke up the next morning, the thermometer was at 41-degrees. The absence of a tiny pilot light left a vacuum for the colder air to move in and take over where once there had been warmth.

Our faith may be small, like that pilot light. Our faith may only be our desire to have Jesus in our lives. I know that my faith goes small and dim sometimes. But then I think of Jesus laying down His dignity and His life, as He did symbolically on Maundy Thursday, and as He did really on Good Friday. I think of how Jesus took His authority and power back up when He went back to the head of the table on Maundy Thursday and how He took back power over the destiny of the whole cosmos when He rose from death on Easter Sunday. I’m amazed and overwhelmed when I think that He did that for me, a sinner who can sometimes be a Judas who betrays Jesus, a Peter who denies him, or a disciple who runs for cover when it comes time for me to stand up for Jesus and my faith in Him.

Maundy Thursday assures us that if we want Jesus and His Lordship over our lives, however dim our faith, He is glad to have us as His own.

In the chaos and the glad times of this life, may knowing and trusting that Jesus loves us enough to give the repentant freedom from sin and the believing eternal life, bring us comfort, hope, and joy. Amen