Friday, May 28, 2004

Pentecost Prayer Requests

This coming Sunday is Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. It was on the first Pentecost after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension back into heaven that God sent the Holy Spirit to the praying followers of Jesus. The Spirit made it possible for this once-timid bunch of "losers" to move into the world and communicate the Good News of a God Who is for us and has proved it through Jesus.

That continues to be the thing that makes the church the church: We're the community that in word and deed, shares the hope of Jesus Christ. Peter, who gave a great sermon on that Pentecost, writes elsewhere in the New Testament to Christians: "Be prepared always to give an account of the hope that is in you, but do it with gentleness and reverence."

In a world that has gone crazy with fear, hatred, violence, promiscuity, and war, may the Church always be so prepared!

According to Acts 1:14, Jesus' earliest followers prepared themselves to become the church and to share the Good News of Jesus by spending time in humble, submissive, surrendering prayer and worship. When we spend time with God in prayer and in looking at His Word, He pumps power, insight, courage, and compassion into our lives.

This Pentecost, we need to pray for forgiveness for our sins of selfishness and hard-heartedness. (I know that this rotten old sinner needs to do that anyway.)

We need to pray that as on that special Pentecost after Jesus' ascension, God will fill us with the Holy Spirit and we can be renewed in sharing Jesus with the world.

This Pentecost weekend, please also keep the following concerns in your prayers:

(1) Pray for the people of Chechnya. They continue to be subjected to the most oppressive and ruthless treatment imaginable, at the hands of their Russian overlords.

(2) Pray for the people of Sudan, also subjected to oppressive and violent treatment.

(3) Pray for the health and safety of the little girl our church sponsors through World Vision. Sinanzinkosi Moyo, who turned seven years old this past Sunday, lives in a little village in Zimbabwe. Pray that she will grow physically strong and spiritually strong, relying on the Lord Jesus Christ.

(4) Pray for the peoples of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. These two nations, which share an island in our Western Hemisphere, have recently been afflicted with flooding. Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the West and among the poorest in the world, has been afflicted for decades by political turmoil, by governments which inflict torture and murder on people, and by the grim oppression of voodoo superstitions. Pray that God will help both countries to be free of their past and to be open to the freedom of Jesus Christ as they rebuild their lives.

(5) Pray for those victimized by flooding in our own midwest. Ask God to help them rebuild their lives and to sense that they are being empowered by Christ as they do.

(6) Pray for an end to the fighting in Iraq. Pray for the people of Iraq, that God will help them to rebuild their lives. Pray for the protection of military personnel. Pray for the protection of relief workers and of innocent civilians. Please pray for the safe release of Matt Maupin from his captivity in Iraq.

(7) Pray for the imprisoned peoples of China, North Korea, and Cuba. Grant that God will make a way for them to be free even in their oprression, free from sin, death, and futility through Jesus Christ!

(8) Pray for an end to the deadly impasse between Palestinians and Israelis. Ask that God will insure that the legitimate aspirations of both peoples will be met and that peace will reign between them.

(9) Pray that God will bless the people of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Cincinnati, one of our neighboring parishes, as they dedicate a building addition on Pentecost Sunday. Ask God to help the church to use the new facility to His glory. Also ask God to protect the church from idolizing the building. Pray that God will help the people to see the bricks and mortar they dedicate as tools to be used in their mission of loving God and loving neighbor. Ask God to help them to wear the place out glorifying Him!

(10) Ask that God will protect the world from terror.

(11) Pray that we Americans will hunger and thirst for Jesus Christ. Ask God to help us to humbly submit to Christ, turn from sin, and love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Have a blessed Pentecost celebration!

Monday, May 24, 2004

Called to Be Jesus' AMEN!

John 17:20-26
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, May 23, 2004)

Today’s Bible lesson is part of a prayer by Jesus. It’s up to us to be the Amen to it.

Amen, you know, is a Greek word. It’s found often in the New Testament portion of the Bible. The New Testament was written in Greek because in the first century, Greek was the language of the world, the language of trade and diplomacy and scholarship, the way English is the language of the world today. Amen is a word which can translated variously: so be it; this is absolutely true; this is what we believe; or simply, Yes!

By custom, it’s a word we put at the ends of prayers. We do it to affirm our belief that the God Who has commanded us to pray in Jesus’ Name has heard our prayers and will fulfill His promises to answer those prayers.

It can be used in other ways as well. But, all these uses of the word Amen can get worn out and rob it of its meaning. A little boy was asked what he thought amen meant and he said, “Peace out, dude!”

I have often thought that some Sunday I should write the worship celebration so that every time we would ordinarily say, Amen, we would shout Yes! instead. In fact, let’s try that right now. I’ll make a statement and you respond with the word, Yes! Here goes...We believe in Christ; YES! We can do everything in Christ’s strength, YES! We will give the pastor a million dollars, YES!

Okay, I only meant two of those. But here is the point: Saying Amen to Christ and His authority over our lives isn’t nearly as important as living it.

The prayer of Jesus that makes up this morning’s Bible lesson is a segment of what Bible scholars call Jesus’ farewell discourse. Jesus is on the brink of offering Himself on the cross, the perfect Lamb of God Who will be killed for the sins of the world. In this part of the prayer, Jesus prays that all who follow Him, in every time and place, will be as united as He and God the Father are. He says that when we who follow Jesus are united, the world will see God’s glory and they too, will want to follow Jesus and become part of God’s family.

That’s awesome stuff. And, as Christians believe that this prayer must accord with Jesus' will and that God answers such prayers.

But there is a problem. A man died and was told to join the latest group of entrants who were going to be given a tour of the place by Saint Peter. Peter proceeded to take the group down a huge corridor from which large rooms ran. “Okay,” Peter would say, “you Baptists get off here.” They’d walk a little further, “Catholics here...” Still further, “Methodists...Pentecostals...Presbyterians...” About half of the new residents of heaven were still with Peter when he announced, “For the next 100 yards or so, I want to ask you to keep absolutely quiet, particularly as we pass the next door.” The group did as Peter requested. They passed the door in silence. After they’d walked further down the hall, the group came to another door and Peter announced, “Episcopalians here.” One person got curious though, and raised his hand to ask a question: “Why did we have to be quiet as we passed that one room?” “Oh,” Peter said, “that was the Lutherans. They think they’re the only ones here.”

The fact is that in spite of Jesus’ prayer, we who confess Jesus Christ as Lord don’t behave as if He and His blood on the cross have made us one. A look at the sorry recent history of Northern Ireland, where Roman Catholics and Protestants have fought and killed each other is all the reminder we need of that.

The reason is simple. Imagine for just a second that some time ago, you got a mail from an out-of-town address. It looked like it might be important. But because you didn’t recognize who the sender was and you were so busy, you just filed it away in a corner of your desk to be looked at later. More recently, as you prepared to move, you found the letter, still unopened, along with a stack of forgotten documents. Absently, you open it up and discover that it’s from a lawyer, notifying you that you have inherited a large sum of money. You immediately dial the number at the top of the letterhead and discover that yes, the money is still available to you. They’ve just been waiting to hear from you.

It’s just the same with Jesus’ prayer: The unity that He prays will be exhibited among all Christians is His gift to us. We just have to claim it!

But why should we claim it? I have to warn you that the answer to that question will be of no interest to those who have a “What’s in it for me?” attitude about their faith or about being part of the Church.

The only people who will be interested in the unity for which Jesus prays are those who let Jesus change them from being members of the me generation to those who are part of God’s we generation. Jesus wants us to claim the unity He gives to those who follow Him “so that the world [will] know” Him and the Father.

And that's an important goal for the follower of Jesus. A few years ago, Ann and I wanted to get the deck on our house cleaned and treated. Ann had done it a few years before and wasn’t satisfied that she’d been thorough enough. We asked around and found a company we thought would do a good job. They did. And you know that ever since then, we’ve recommended the same company to many other people. There’s nothing like the testimony of a satisfied customer. Our unity with other believers in Jesus is a powerful testimony that we are satisfied customers. We tell the world that even though we’re sinners who don’t deserve forgiveness and life, Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead to give us those things and has changed us into loving people.

And we want our lives to say Amen to Jesus’ prayer so that the whole world will know that Jesus really can a change a life from the inside out.

Today, we’re honoring someone—actually, two someones, because Tim could never do the things he does without the support, understanding, encouragement, and permission of his wife, Laurel. But let me tell you something: I am so proud of Tim, our youth director. He gives countless hours of time, attention, and prayer to what he does for the young people of this congregation and community and for others. And he does it for one simple reason: He wants to be an Amen to Jesus’ prayer; he wants everyone to know about Jesus’ love. And so, just as God has made Tim part of Jesus’ one family the Church, Tim wants to see that family grow in strength of faith and in the numbers who say, “I follow Jesus!”

A few weeks ago, I was feeling guilty because of all that Tim does and that we can’t yet pay him for it. We were talking on the phone and I was about to apologize to Tim, when he said, “Thanks, Mark.” “Thanks for what?” I asked. “Thanks for letting me do all this!”

That’s an extraordinary attitude!

It’s the attitude of a servant of Jesus.

It’s the attitude needed for each of us to roll up our sleeves and say, “Sure, I don’t agree with everything the person at my church or the person at the next church says and does, but I love them anyway and we work on the same team for the same Savior.”

It’s the very attitude that shows us—and the watching world around us—that the crucified and risen Jesus has taken up residence in our lives and in our congregation.

In coming weeks and months, you’re going to be hearing a lot about a special three-weeks that will be happening in the fall at Friendship. It’ll be called, new beginnings.

It holds the promise of elevating the life of our congregation to greater heights of faithfulness and love and unity. I believe that it can help us to be open to God acting powerfully in the life of our church and our own lives.

If that sounds good to you, I ask you to resolve right now that with God’s help, you will be a living Amen to Jesus’ prayer.

Take some time to tell God that you want to be so united with Christ and all who follow Him so that His love will power your every move and everyone will see the Jesus in you!

That’s what Jesus wants for Friendship Church and that’s what He wants for each one of us!

Do Christians Grieve?

The "five stages of grief" were first introduced to the world by Swiss-born psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Kubler-Ross worked with the victims of terminal disease and over time, observed that they typically went through five seasons of grief.

The five stages Kubler-Ross identified were, in turn: denial, anger or resentment, bargaining (in which the patient tries to strike a bargain with God for a few more years of life), depression (as the reality of impending death comes home), and acceptance ( a time of facing death with calmness).

What has subsequently been learned is that any person facing any grief in life–the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage, the loss of a job, whatever–must negotiate these same five stages of grief if they are to become psychologically and spiritually healthy again. Acceptance is the stage at which we are able to acknowledge our grief and move on with our lives.

There are some people who claim that Christians are exempt from grief. "I'm too busy rejoicing to grieve," they like to say. But that's rubbish and such an attitude can be downright un-Christian. It can cause us to get stuck in denial when grief strikes us and it can make us hatefully insensitive to the grief of others.

A man I know went to a funeral viewing one evening. The wife of a high school classmate had lost her battle with cancer. Later that week, the man spent some time with his twin brother and mentioned having been at the viewing. "Oh, yeah," his brother said rather breezily, and then asked how their classmate was doing. "As you can imagine, he's devastated," my friend replied. The twin was incredulous. "Devastated?" he repeated questioningly. "He's a believer in Christ. He knows he's going to see his wife again in heaven. How can he possibly be devastated?" The twin brother's response indicated his belief that there was something wrong with the faith of a believer who grieved.

But the Bible, God's Word and the Christian's authoritative truth source, doesn't accuse people who grieve of being unbelieving! For example, in talking about the promise of resurrection which all who turn from sin and follow Jesus Christ have, the first-century preacher, Paul, writes in the New Testament: "...we do not want you to be uninformed...about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who died" (First Thessalonians 4:13-14).

Notice that Paul doesn't say that Christians don't grieve. He says that there is a qualitative difference in the way Christians grieve: Christians grieve their losses, but live with hope that the risen Jesus will ultimately and eternally make things right.

Christians know that whatever befalls them, they have hope. "...[I]f we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him" (Romans 6:8).

But Christians also know that in this journey through life, we will grieve.

The person with hope in Christ can, over time, traverse the stages of grief healthfully, and through it, learn how faithful Jesus is to His promise to be with us always!