Jesus's Ascension

BY REVEREND RYAN MASCHHOFF

May 1, 2016

 

Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

 

SERMON

The Bible verse for today is really a summation of everything about Jesus. Really, if you very quickly summarized who Jesus was, why he came, AND what we as his followers are to do, it's all there. There is even evidence of how we as his followers can let our own wants and desires seep in. This is evidenced by the disciples asking Jesus, "Lord, is this the time you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?" Is it now? How about now? Okay, how about now?

As you may remember, during the time Jesus was on the earth, most Jews believed the Messiah would free them from their oppressors (in this case the Romans) and make them a great nation. And we can see that even Jesus's disciples, who had been with him for a few years, hoped that Jesus would free them and make them great again, as well.

The book of Acts was written by Luke, and can you guess what other book Luke wrote? The book of Luke, correct. We actually don't know that much about Luke, but here is what we do know. He was from the ancient city of Antioch, which today is located in the southernmost part of Turkey, just across the northern border of Syria. Luke was reportedly a physician, and, oddly enough, no one is really sure if he was a Jew or Gentile. We know he followed the Apostle Paul quite a lot and was probably with Paul when he was arrested and beheaded in Rome.

Luke never met Jesus face to face, but he did convert sometime shortly after Jesus went back to heaven. After Luke converted to Christianity, he moved to Jerusalem and lived there for almost 30 years. This is where he would have spent many years with the disciples who were with Jesus, and this is where he would have acquired all the information to write the two books now in our New Testament.

Early Christian tradition states that Luke lived to the age of 84 when he was finally attacked by a mob, flayed open, and then hung on an olive tree. Unfortunately many early disciples and followers of Jesus did not have a good ending. But what is worth noting is that what each of them believed was so true and real that even the threat of losing their life didn't cause them to change. Jesus was the Messiah whether they lived a hundred years or died much earlier.

 

The book of Acts starts with:

“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.”

 

Luke, once he wrote these two books, appears to have sent them to a man named Theophilus. Theophilus's job was probably to care for them and keep them safe. And then at some point to make copies and share them with others. Obviously, Theophilus did this and appears to have done a good job of it. How do we know this? Because we all have a copy of the book of Luke and Acts in all our Bibles. While we always talk about the disciples and what they did, which is a good thing, we frequently forget the next generation of disciples--the ones who took notes, who jotted everything down, and then just as importantly made copies (by hand) and shared those copies with local believers.

This was in some ways just as dangerous as preaching the Gospel on the street corners because if you were caught making copies of the teachings of Jesus, you had no defense. It was obvious what you were up to. It is important to never forget the many lesser-known people who helped in many ways to spread the word, and our friend Theophilus was one of them.

Luke writes the book of Acts as the next installment in the story of the growing church of Jesus Christ. We see Luke recount how, after Jesus had just died but before he returns to heaven, he appears to the disciples several times over a period of 40 days. During these appearances with the disciples, Jesus gives them encouragement and teaches them more about the kingdom of God.

When we sometimes think of the disciples, we think they understood the whole process of what was going to happen from one day to the next. But as we can see from this Bible verse for today, that is not true. We find Jesus telling the disciples to stay in Jerusalem. They are not to leave yet. Some day very soon the Holy Spirit will come upon them.

The fact that the disciples didn't know what was going to happen from day to day should give us some comfort because each of us wishes we knew what God had planned for us from day to day. But that is not how God works. Being a follower of God means trusting in him and not knowing what the future holds. That's usually the norm. So we shouldn't get frustrated or upset about what is normal and expected. It's part of growing in faith, and even the disciples had room to grow.

Jesus says to them, "Wait here in Jerusalem. John baptized with water but you will be baptized with Holy Spirit." We know what Jesus meant when he said this, but the disciples did not. They had no concept of what would happen when the Holy Spirit arrived and baptized them with fire. Remember the New Testament had not been written yet so they were experiencing this as it happened.

We also need to remember that almost every time someone was visited by an angel of God, the angel always had to start by saying, "Do not be afraid." Why? Because it was usually frightening for the person experiencing the vision. So can you imagine what was going through the disciple's minds as they waited those several days for the Holy Spirit? It was probably a little scary because they didn't know who or what was coming, just that, whatever it would be, it was going to be huge.

Think about it for a second: if the only description you got was that God was sending His spirit to baptize you with fire, how many of you would jump to the front of the line and say, "Me first" I am sure the disciples were quite restless: anytime a knock at the door, "Was that it? Or hear a noise outside, "Was that it?"

But eventually the Holy Spirit comes to them, and it is a wonderful but powerful experience. This is the event where tongues of flame rest on each of the disciples' heads and they begin to talk in different languages. Not babbling like you see on TV today, but actual, real languages. In fact, Acts Chapter 2 lists the different types of people that the disciples spoke to in their native language:

“Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.

During this time when Jesus is explaining all that will happen, a few of the disciples ask, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"

Even so soon after Jesus's death and resurrection, even with the Holy Spirit descending upon them and the speaking in tongues, what are a few them still wanting to happen? The nation of Israel to rise up and be a great nation again. What about our national pride? When will we be great, as we were when King David was in charge?

This is no small question. Think of it like this. If this is what Jesus's own disciples want as part of the deal that comes with him being the Messiah, how much more did the rest of Israel want the same? How much did the whole population, even the Pharisees and High Priests, want the same? And what happened when Jesus did not give that to them? They turned on him.

This is a theme we see throughout the Old Testament and unfortunately into the beginning of the New Testament where people ask the question, "Is this Messiah going to do what I think is important? Is he going to start working on my to-do list? I am not wealthy, financially secure, I have health issues, I am not always happy.

Is he the Messiah that is going to solve the problems I want solved? Namely money, health, long life, easy life.”

But very quickly Jesus brings the disciples back to the most important thing. Namely, who is in charge and what the real purpose is. Jesus tells them, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority."

Meaning, "It is not your place to know such things. The Father alone sets the timelines, and he decides when and if that will happen."

Then Jesus really directs them back to their one true purpose. Their one true reason for being called to be his disciples: to take the message to the world. Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

They will receive power from God. He will go with them, and they will take his message of forgiveness and love and salvation to the ends of the earth. That alone is their purpose and their quest.

Then, in what has got to be one of the most dramatic exits of all time, Jesus ascends to heaven right before their eyes.

 

As Jesus rises, a cloud surrounds him and takes him to heaven. Can you imagine standing there as that happens? Jesus, this man you have been following for years, you saw him do miracles, you saw him nailed to a cross, die, then rise again, and now you see him rise up. No magic tricks, no hidden wires, he just rises. Can you imagine what that would have felt like? And when he is finally gone, now you are really on your own.

The same high priests, Pharisees, and Pontius Pilate who just executed Jesus would have no problem executing you, as well, if you keep doing the things Jesus did.

Now I imagine the very air becomes heavy as the seriousness, the weight of it all comes down full force. This is what you were called for. This is why Jesus chose each of them and you: to continue his work. Now you also begin to understand why Jesus would send the Holy Spirit--because you are going to need all the help you can get.

We also need to remember that the disciples had no idea how big the world was. They still thought the world was flat and probably had no idea the world went much beyond modern-day southern Europe countries such as Italy, Greece, and Turkey. They probably couldn't fathom Russia, Australia, or North or South America, let alone how they would get there. But they once again understood and felt that call to be good stewards of the gift they had been given.

But the story does not end there. Not by a long shot. What does the Bible verse say happens as they stand there looking up in the direction where Jesus went?

“Suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'” Jesus will return. He is coming back. Now go take his message to the ends of the earth.

Jew, Gentile, man, woman, child--no matter who they are they're worthy of the message.

Now let's go back to Luke. Let's picture him sitting there learning all this from the disciples and then writing it all down. Think of Theophilus keeping those books safe and making copies and sending the copies out to new churches as they sprang up.

Think about us sitting here. Think about how many hands these books passed through over two thousand years to get to us. Now think about the part we play as the current holders of Jesus' message. Think about what Jesus wants from us as his disciples on earth. This is our time, our time to hold dear to the words, as Luke as Theophilus did. It is our time to do our part to make sure the next generation knows how much Jesus loves them and how they are forgiven.

Then occasionally I want you to look up. Look up to the clouds. The same clouds that took Jesus to heaven will one day bring him back. One day we might be lucky enough to stand here and see Jesus come back, to see with our own eyes the Messiah who knows your name. Who knows your name. Who knows the number of hairs on your head. The Messiah Jesus who has come back to take you home to be with him forever.

May the Lord give each of you the strength to carry on the way the disciples did, the way Luke and Theophilus did. And most of all, may each of you one day see our Lord face to face in His great kingdom.

 

AMEN

 

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Mother's Day 2016

BY REVEREND RYAN MASCHHOFF

May 8, 2016

 

Proverbs 31:10-31

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

 

SERMON

Our Bible verse for today comes the the Old Testament book of Proverbs. The vast majority of this book was written by King Solomon (son of King David) around 950 B.C. It is about 3,000 years old. One interesting note about this book is that chapter 31, which is where our Bible verse comes from today, starts out with the phrase: “The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.”

We don't exactly know who King Lemuel was. There is almost nothing in the rest of the Bible about him; Jewish legend hints that King Lemuel was actually a nickname of sorts for King Solomon. So it is quite likely King Solomon wrote our Bible verse for today, but we can't be exactly sure because there is no other reliable reference to King Lemuel in the Bible or any other document that states Lemuel is King Solomon.

But regardless, the information is this chapter was taught to him by his mother. And King Lemuel believed in these teachings and felt they were important enough and trustworthy enough to pass on to future generations. That is a little background on our Bible verse today, so let's continue.

Today is Mother's Day. Since this is such a great day, I thought we should look at what makes a mother, a wife, or a woman great. What characteristics does a woman need to possess to be considered a good wife, good mother, or in general successful?

That's a fair question, so to get an accurate idea of what that is I did some research and found what those qualities are for women from different time periods. First we will look at the Victorian age, which is from around 1850-1900. Then we will look at the modern-day idea of what qualities a good woman should possess. Finally, we will look at what the Bible says on the subject. Specifically, we will look at what the Old Testament says.

Before we begin I want to remind everyone that I did not make up any of this information. Please do not shoot me or congratulate me on anything you might like or dislike. I am simply an innocent messenger.

In the Victorian age, these are the qualities I found that were thought to be biologically inherent in women, wives, and mothers--meaning this was simply part of their make-up and how nature made them, so it was considered normal.

weak, passive, timid, domestic, illogical, emotional,

susceptible to madness, hysteria, dependent, unable

to resist temptation, pure, content, not sexual/sensual,

private

Interestingly, I found that the medical establishment (meaning doctors) of the time believed that "true" women felt little or no sexual desire, and that only abnormal or "pathological" women felt strong sexual desire. Further, in the 1850's a historian named Barbara Welter identifies four main virtues that a "true" woman must exhibit: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity.Notice the obvious theme here: weak, domestic, submissive, passive, and dependent.

Now let's proceed to the modern day ideal of what a good women, wife, and mother should be. For this information I did some more research and found two very reputable organizations that post the information on their Websites. Those two organizations were Fox News and the Huffington Post. Here is what they listed as qualities of a good woman, wife, and mother that men would want.

Fox News: confidence, intelligence, not materialistic, spontaneous, laid back, playful, sensual, honest, independent, and supportive.

Huffington Post: sweet, makes you smile, good partner, you want to be with her, she thinks you are sexy, you think she is sexy, trustworthy, gives you space, supportive, and everyone likes her.

Notice the big difference from the 1850's to today. Women used to be seen as weak, passive, dependent, etc. Today they should be confident, intelligent, honest, and supportive. As we can see, there has clearly been improvement, which is good.

So now that we have seen what makes a "good woman, wife and mother" in the past two hundred years, let's look at what the book of Proverbs says. Remember this was written over 3,000 years ago, and all these qualities come right from our Bible verse for today.

noble character, worth more then precious stones,

brings good, provides for the family, buys land and

cultivates it, works with strong arms, successful

merchant, cares for the needy, does not fear difficult

times, has strength and dignity, teaches faithfully,

watches over the affairs of the household, receives

praise and blessings from her children and spouse,

fears the Lord.

Notice those descriptions are immensely different from the qualities listed as normal or expected in the 1850--or even today. It's almost like we have taken a huge step back since Biblical times. Here is a quote from our Bible verse that I particularly like: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Many women do noble things, but you do more. You are far greater.

Let's think of that in contrast to some of the other ideas about women, mothers, and wives that I listed a few minutes ago. The Bible verse says, "Many women do noble things." Not that it is something rare or unusual. But it is common, very common. And the writer of this Proverb says proudly about the woman next him, "but you surpass them." So the idea that women are secondary or completely dependent on men—that they are passive or weak--is just not true. It certainly wasn't true in Biblical times. Women, wives, and mothers were active. valuable participants in the success of the house and in business.

And there is no difference when it comes to the family of God. In the Old Testament book of Joel, there is a prophecy about the end times when Jesus will return, and it says this: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” Who does it say will prophesy? The men-- and women only after men give them permission to speak? Or is it both men and women? Both will be given the Word of God to speak to others, to teach those who have never heard about God. Those who teach others must be strong, honest, upstanding, and trustworthy. These are the characteristics of disciples of Christ.

There is a similar story in the New Testament where Jesus uses a woman, one who had been divorced many times, to preach the word to her entire town. In this story you'll notice he didn't use a man, a rabbi, or a high priest/Pharisee. He used a woman. In this story Jesus approaches a well late in the afternoon because he is thirsty. A woman comes out to draw out water, and he asks for a drink. In the ensuing conversation he tells her that he is the Messiah, and through him she can have living water, that she will be made clean and become part of God's kingdom.

The woman, in her excitement, runs to her village and tells everyone about Jesus. She evangelizes, she preaches, and teaches that Jesus is the Messiah. The Bible says many from her town come out to the well and believed in Jesus because of her.

The last story I want to share with you is the story of Mary Magdalene's role when Jesus rose from the dead. On Easter morning all the men were hiding behind locked doors, and only the women had the courage to go to the tomb. When Mary saw that Jesus was gone, she became upset because she thought someone had taken his body away. But Jesus appeared to her and gave her words of comfort. Part of what he told her was: “I am going to my Father and your Father.”

Notice he didn't say, "I going to my Father and their Father," meaning the disciples. But rather "my Father and your Father." The point is that in Christ's eyes we are all equal in belonging to the Father who created us, the Father who sent his son to die for us. And when it comes to our most important duty as Christians, to spread the Gospel, we all have a role.

So today on Mother's Day, please take time to remember your mother, your wife, your partner in Christ. Thank them for their kindness and patience in helping us to grow. Thank them for their wisdom in teaching us. And thank them for their life-saving work as part of the body of Christ.

To our mothers, wives, sisters, best friends, and leaders in Christ, I say may God bless you and have a wonderful day.

AMEN

 

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Pentecost 2016

BY REVEREND RYAN MASCHHOFF

May 15, 2016

 

1 Samuel 10:1-7

Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance? When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, ‘The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, “What shall I do about my son?”’

Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.

After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.

 

SERMON

Pentecost is a special time of the year. It's when the Christian world celebrates the Holy Spirit coming like a rushing wind to the disciples. This is the same story in which the disciples have tongues of fire on their heads and begin speaking in different languages. What most people don't realize is that same thing has been happening for thousands of years. It didn't just happen once with the disciples. God has used the Holy Spirit to empower his people since the beginning of creation.

Now, every time the Holy Spirit came to someone, they did not have a flame of fire above their head and speak in a foreign language. That is just what happened one time. The Holy Spirit is not a one-trick pony. It has the ability to make change in many different ways.

Primarily, God uses the Holy Spirit to drive change and to accomplish His goals. Most notably, when the Holy Spirit comes on a person, that person is completely changed. They are new. They walk with the power of God (think baptism and washing clean and becoming something new).

Here is a hint for today's sermon. Look for similarities in what God did in the Old Testament and then again in the New Testament. Look for ways in which this is connected to that. Or how in reality two things that looked different are actually the same or intimately connected.

To God we are all people who need to be saved. So let's get back to our story. As we just saw with King Saul, what happened when the Holy Spirit came to him?

“The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” He began to prophesy, which means to speak about God publicly. To tell others about Him. To give others a message from God.

It also says he will be changed into a different person and he will become something new. Then there is this strange statement about doing whatever your hand finds to do. What does that mean? It means that whatever God has plans for you to do, do it. Even if is seems strang--like moving mountains, healing the sick, or casting out demons. If God calls you to a particular place, and there is something big to do there that you could never do on your own, you are to do it. God will use your hands to accomplish great things. This is not a warning but a glimpse of great things that God has planned for Saul.

The Holy Spirit will come on him and use him, so he better be ready because some of the stuff is going to blow his mind. He won't be able to use the excuse, "I don't know how to do that," or "I can't talk to them about God; I wouldn't know what to say." This verse means the Holy Spirit is coming, and he is bringing his A game. Be prepared for God to use you.

Interestingly, one of the first mentions of the Holy Spirit is when God created Adam. The Bible says He breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life. Literally, God took dirt and breathed the Holy Spirit on it, and it became man. Us.

At funerals we say, "Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. From dust you came and to dust you will return."What are we reminding people of at the funeral service? That God gave us the breath of life. His spirit. And when we die our physical bodies return to the earth. This is not the end; our spirit, our soul lives on. As I said a few minutes ago, we Christians tend to think of Pentecost as a holiday we alone possess. "It's for us. It's only for us Christians." But in reality Pentecost is a holiday the Jews had been celebrating since the time of Moses, and Moses lived around 1,400 B.C. So it is a very old holiday. The Jews do call this holiday Pentecost, but they also call it the Festival of Shavuot and the Festival of First Fruits. It has many names, but they all point to the same thing: God reaching out to His people, to be a part of their lives, and to provide for them.

As the name suggests, Pentecost is a holiday that is 50 days after Easter and Passover. The Jews celebrate Pentecost for two reasons. First, 50 days after Passover is when the first fruits of the harvest are brought in from the fields. They are celebrating a bountiful harvest. Second, it is also the day the Jews celebrate the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. So this really is a great day. They celebrate a harvest that the Lord has given them (think Thanksgiving), and they also celebrate the Ten Commandments.

Unfortunately, we tend not to think of the Ten Commandments the way the Jews do. In our Western society we have more the attitude, "You can't tell me what to do." Ten Commandments? Great, more rules for me to follow. Do this, don't do that, etc." But the Jews celebrate the Ten Commandments as a gift, a true gift from God.

There actually needs to be a celebration, a party (think 4th of July), to celebrate that God loves us enough to give us these laws, as well. When I encounter someone who doesn't quite see the Ten Commandments as the gift that they are, I give them this analogy. Picture two towns. One town doesn't know anything about the Ten Commandments. And if they did everyone would respond, "You can't tell me what to do. I am going to do what I want when I want." So there are no general rules that stealing, lying, adultery, murder are against the law. Just no one can tell you what to do.

Then there is another town where all the people see the Ten Commandments not just as compulsory or a "have to," but rather as a gift. They hold up the Ten Commandments as the ideal. They all strive to follow them, and they take pride and joy in doing it.

Now picture your teenage daughters driving with their friends, and their car breaks down. Which town would you want then to break down in? Why?

The law in this case, like the Holy Spirit, is meant to change us and truly make us better people. And what is so cool is we have a holiday just to celebrate that! The Jews have just done a much better job of celebrating that than we have.

Now that we have covered a bit of history of Pentecost, let's look at what Jesus did with it and how it was supposed to impact the future and his church.Are you all ready to have your minds blown? Did you all bring your umbrella today because it's about to start raining some cold hard facts in here.

The Jews celebrate Passover (which is God freeing his people form Egypt and giving them a new life) at the same time we celebrate Easter. We know Jesus had the last supper (which is our Communion) with the disciples on Passover, and the purpose of it was for us to remember him. Then he was crucified and rose again that same weekend. It's wrapped up together. Prior to Jesus dying on the cross, he taught baptism. And baptism is about washing us clean and making us a new creation. In fact, when Jesus was baptized, the Bible says the Holy Spirit came on him like a dove. And he taught us to do the same. In fact, we are to baptize all nations. Everyone.

Two of the central parts of Christianity are baptism and communion, baptism being washing us clean and the Holy Spirit coming into our lives, and then communion (which is actually part of Passover celebrating God freeing his people and making them new).

And then 50 days later both Christians and Jews celebrate God's presence in our lives (Pentecost), which involves the Ten Commandments and the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples. All this is completely connected and not supposed to be separated and walls put up. Instead, we need to see all the connections, how it's all related. How one thing is completely and totally related to the other.

The Ten Commandments, Passover, Communion, Easter, Pentecost, a good harvest (think our Thanksgiving), the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples. Again on Pentecost the Jews celebrate the law and a good harvest. Are you starting to see how you can't pull one thing out without taking away from the rest. And, better yet, is everyone starting to see how one thing, for example the Ten Commandments, is related to Passover and Communion and Baptism, and then on Pentecost we celebrate essentially all of it?

In reality Pentecost should be a holiday on par with the two other Christian holidays: Christmas and Easter. The whole world should know that when they talk about Christians, the three major Christian holidays come up, as well. Christmas is when Jesus came into this world. Easter/Resurrection Day is when he died for our sins and literally took all our sins away. Pentecost is the day we celebrate God literally being in our lives. We know this because of Passover, the Ten Commandments, Baptism, Communion, and the growth of his church due to the Holy Spirit.

It actually breaks my heart that we do such a poor job of knowing and celebrating Pentecost. So today on Pentecost celebrate. Have a wonderful meal with family and friends. Celebrate and give a great toast to family, friends, and to God for all the blessings. And, most importantly, treasure in your heart all that God has done for you to bring you back to him.

Have a wonderful day.

AMEN

 

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Why Do Good People Suffer

BY REVEREND RYAN MASCHHOFF

May 22, 2016

 

Romans 5:1-5

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 

SERMON

Today we are going to discuss a topic that will come up at some point in every person's life and that is suffering. Basically, why do we suffer? Actually, when we start to ask about why we suffer, another question always comes up and it is: Why do bad things happen to good people? Because that is really what this comes down to. This is a very big question and one that, unfortunately, many people will base their faith on.

When bad things do happen, people begin to ask why, and, if there is a god, how could he just sit there and let this happen. And on the far end of the spectrum you even get people who say they don't believe a "real god" would let bad things happen to good people. In fact, that is one of the most prolific arguments that atheists use to convince others there is no god: how could a god let this happen? I am a human with morals and can judge right and wrong, and yet this God of yours seems unwilling or unable to do anything about bad things happening to people.

 

You see what happens is the very existence of God gets pinned on whether, for example, there is starvation in this world, or murder, robberies, war, torture, and a host of other bad things. One of their big arguments is simply because those things exist (and anyone can see how bad they are), if God exists, He must stop them entirely. And if He does not intervene the way I think He should intervene, then He is not real. Therefore, there is no God. Our difficulty with understanding suffering (and this is where it can get hard) lies at the heart of these arguments.

Before I go further, please do not hold anything against anyone who feels that way. If you know any atheists, please truly love them as your brothers or sisters and treat them no differently than you would treat me. They are simply humans beings like us, trying to understand and rationalize how awful this world can be.

The reason this Bible verse for today is important is because it highlights an important fact within this world and most importantly for us Christians, namely that suffering is part of this world. If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying and trying to deceive you. Not only does Paul (who wrote this book of Romans) tell us that suffering will occur, but that we should boast in it. Boast? Why would we boast in suffering?

Paul is not telling us to go out and start trouble, and then when we are persecuted, we boast in our sufferings. It's kind of like poking a bee's nest with a stick and then crying out loud how bad it hurts when you are stung. Oh woe is me! How I suffer!That's not it. What he is talking about is that throughout our lives we will experience suffering. And if you truly take the Gospel to the darkest places here on earth (think Syria, Iraq, and ISIS), there will be persecution. It is in those sufferings and what they do for us, if we endure them properly, that makes the difference.

Paul specifically says sufferings produce endurance, endurance - character, and character - hope. It's kind of like a parent teaching their teenager about character. No one really likes times in their lives where they build character. Because those are difficult times. No one really builds character the day they win the lottery.

Taking a cruise to the Caribbean or that European vacation--now those are known for building character. One time I flew first class to New York. I built a lot of character with all that leg room and complimentary champagne.

Building character means you endure something that is not easily endured. It is difficult, and many times people going through it don't think they can make it. Because it feels too difficult. Further, what makes this idea of suffering even harder to swallow is the exact opposite when good things happen to bad people. We all think, “What? How? Why? That is the most unfair thing possible. That's why there is no God.”

Whether we like it or not, that does happen. And there is a Bible verse that addresses it. I am sure at one point the disciples asked the same question of Jesus. And this is what he said in Matthew 5:45: “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

What Jesus is saying with this statement is that by judging rainfall or wealth or number of cars someone has is not a good way of judging whether God exists or whether He loves you. If anything, Jesus is saying that is NOT how God shows his favor or disapproval. It rains--get used to it. The sun shines all over the world. Get used to it.

The problem that arises when we begin to ask these questions is we impute our values, our wants, and desires and then judge God's very existence based on that. Because this occurs, how can there be a God. Because I suffer how could He do this to me? This can also occur when we read the Bible. We only notice the good things, the parts that talk about blessings and forgiveness and God loving and caring for us. Oh, that is good to hear. We read that all day long. We talk about it in church and even sing songs about it.

But, in reality, if you actually read the Bible from cover to cover and take good notes, you would see that the Bible talks far more about the struggles we will have here on earth than of the successes. In fact, Jesus says if you truly follow me you will be persecuted. If you really do what I do, people will give you a very hard time.

So for me or any other pastor to tell you otherwise is heretical. It's a lie. Let's look specifically at what Jesus said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Notice you will have peace through him. Which is good and sounds good. But in this world you will have trouble. That is why his peace is so valuable and great and wonderful and special. Because you are going to need it!

Here is also a little background on what was happening when Jesus said this. Jesus was nearing the end of his time on earth, and he began to really have the difficult conversations with his disciples—such as what it will be like when he is not there to lead them. And when he leaves them, he will be leaving them in a very hostile environment, and their job is to remain strong. To remain true to their purpose.

Sounds like the disciples are going through some character building, right?

This is where Jesus is also planting seeds for them to understand that when things get hard--and I mean really hard--it has no bearing on how much God loves them. Just so we all understand how hard it is about to get for the disciples, Jesus also tells them this in John 16:1-3: All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.”

Jesus tells them this and to us so that, when bad things do happen, we don't fall away, we don't question his very existence or whether he loves us. Then he says that, not only are people going to try to kill you, but they will think they are doing God's work.Any normal person could then easily say, "I'm not sure I want to do this anymore."

How many of you would want to go on a mission trip with me to the Middle East if part of the disclaimer you would have to sign said, "People there will try to kill you and they will think they are doing God's work. Sign here _________ that you want to go." Sounds wonderful, right? Fantastic!

The purpose of the church in Jesus's time was now shifting to taking the message to the world. Instead of survival, which is what the Israelites went through in the Old Testament, now it was spreading out to the world. And sometimes that world would be hostile.

Let me just make this huge point right now. If something bad happens to you (loss of a job, bankruptcy, loss of a spouse, cancer, car accident, etc.), it is no indication of whether God loves you or not. If you only judge the amount of wealth or length of life you have as a measure of whether God exists or how much he loves you, you are wrong. If my children only judge me by how much money, clothes, ice cream, vacations I gave to them, it would be a horrible indicator of my love for them. They, just like me when I was a child, need to hear "No." I needed limits, I needed to be taught that money is a terrible way to measure my happiness.

And I needed to be taught as an adult that we have no idea how much time we have on this earth. So we shouldn't waste it. Instead, we should use it wisely to find happiness in things that can't be lost in the stock market, or real estate values, or the value of a car. And I also needed to be taught that God loves me too much to lie to me. I needed to learn that sometimes God will let you crash and burn if that is what you need to become a better person. He may let you hit rock bottom so you have the chance to rebuild and find out what real happiness is built on.

There is a really great Bible verse where Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock on which his church would be built. When Jesus said this. I can imagine someone within hearing saying "Well, I could be a better rock for the church than Peter. Why is Jesus not letting me be the 'rock' for his church? It's just Peter, Peter, Peter." When Jesus described the rock as being necessary for the foundation of his church, I doubt even Peter fully grasped what he meant.

Let me ask you a question: do you need a rock-like foundation for easy times or hard times? Do you need a rock-solid foundation for good sunny days or for terrible storms? I think that, if most people understood the full impact of what the church was going to go through, perhaps they and even Peter might have taken a step back and said, "Why do we need this rock foundation? What is going to happen to this church that it needs such a strong foundation? I am not sure I want to be in that church when a storm hits. I don't think I want to be anywhere near it.”

So in our Bible verse when Paul talks about boasting about our sufferings, he means that, instead of us crying out "woe is me," we should be looking at how God is going to use us. Maybe God has a bigger purpose for each of us. And perhaps for us to achieve that purpose, we need to be stronger. Maybe we need to grow in our faith because God is going to use us. Even on our death bed God could use us to reach one of the doctors or nurses caring for us. Or maybe a family who has never really reached out for God yet. Either way, you can know God loves you because He sent his Son to save you, to wash you clean, and to one day bring you home.

As a further help to you in your life, we gave you a slip of paper this morning called "Bible Emergency Numbers." [See below.]

When you do go through hard times, suffering, job loss, or whatever life throws at you, you can pull out this paper, and it will direct you right to the Bible passage where God speaks to you personally, where his words are meant to give you strength and peace.

Have a wonderful day today, my friends, because you are blessed!

AMEN

 

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Counting the Cost

by Reverend Ryan Maschhoff

May 29, 2016

 

Luke 9:57-62

They were walking along the road, when a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

 

 

Sermon

 

The Bible reading for today is one of those verses that can make us a little uncomfortable when we read it. And that is nothing to be ashamed about. Jesus meant it that way. He meant for all those who claim to be his followers, who claim the forgiveness he brings, the salvation, he meant for them to count the cost of following him. He knows not everyone has done that, so what he is doing is saying "Do you know what you are getting yourself into?"

In this verse Jesus is walking along a road, and it appears he is getting very popular. His message is starting to take hold, and wherever he goes people come out to see him. It is a very good time to be a disciple of his. As they are walking along, people are coming up and are saying "This is great! I want to be a part of this! Count me in."

This is an exciting time, and unfortunately the celebrity of Jesus's name is attracting as many followers as his message. One man comes up and says, "I will follow you whoever you go? Wherever the road takes you, I will be there, too." Jesus replies, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

Wait a minute--what is this about foxes and bird nests? That may sound strange, but what he means is that animals and birds have their own places to sleep (dens and nests), but he has no home. He has no bed. Each night he doesn't know where he will be sleeping. He doesn't know where he will get his next meal. When it rainsk he will get wet. When the temperature drops, he will be cold. When it is hot, he will feel the heat.

Let me say the exact same thing Jesus said but in a very 2016 way. A guy comes running up to him and he is all like, "I am totally with you. This looks awesome. Wherever you go, count me in." Jesus then responds "Truck drivers have rest stops, travelers have hotels, but if you follow me and my disciples, you will have to sleep outside, and there will be no place to charge your phone."

 

"Wait a minute, what? What do you mean sleep outside and no place to charge my phone? Why are you sleeping outside? And how is it there is no electricity? You have all these people cheering for you; how is it that you choose to sleep outside?"

 

Remember, these people were equating the celebrity of Jesus with all the normal things that go along with being a celebrity (money, nice house, lots of food to eat, parties, etc). That's what they wanted in on. The other aspects about caring for the poor, the homeless, preaching the gospel is doable but only if it comes with the fame. 

As the reality of what it's like to follow Jesus starts to sink in, we see the man who had just ran up and said, "I am totally in no matter where you go" is now taking a few steps back, saying, "Wait a second, this is not what I thought I was signing up for."

You know what we call people today who follow around others because of their fame? Groupies and fans. Those people loved all the attention and the “wow factor” of Jesus. But very quickly and poignantly Jesus puts it into perspective. "Even animals have a place to sleep at night, but I and my followers do not." What he was doing is seeing who really gets it and who just wants to be with him because at the moment he seems cool.

Some people may think that sounds harsh; perhaps instead Jesus should have given them a chance. Maybe in time they would change and begin to buy into what his real purpose is. But the problem with that is if you are only interested in the celebrity of Jesus, than you don't know the real Jesus.

If he let you follow him for that reason, you both would be living a lie and both be deceived because that is not who he is or what he came for. Also, what do you think those same people would do the moment the authorities started to hassle them? They'd leave if they weren't totally sold on the message, if they didn't have true faith. 

Let's look a little further at the verse for today because this was just the first person Jesus talked to with this issue. There was another man standing there contemplating joining Jesus' group, probably had been standing around for a while, and Jesus said to him "Follow me." But the man replied, “Okay, but first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus responds, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Jesus means the man's father was not a believer, and the same was true for rest of his relatives. Hence the phrase, "Let the dead bury the dead."

That may sound harsh; it sounds like Jesus is saying, "Forget about them; they are dead, anyway." But in reality some meanings and context are not easy to translate, especially when you consider the 2,000 years between us and Jesus. The man simply wanted to leave Jesus and go back to his old life and bury his father the only way he knew how.

Let me stress that again. He wanted to leave Jesus--and the purpose for which he came--to go back to his unbelieving family and bury his father in whatever way seemed best to them. Jesus said, "No, don't go back to the spiritually dead while you are spiritually dead. Come with me. Come with me and proclaim the Kingdom of God."

What does proclaiming the Kingdom of God mean? It means to convert people to the faith, to bring them into the family of God. Jesus wanted him to go back to his family and all over the Middle East as a preacher of the gospel, preaching life. 

It wasn't so much that Jesus didn't want him to go back to his family. But rather, he didn't really have faith now, and he was going to leave the Messiah (still not having faith) and go back to his faithless family. Let's be honest: what would be the chances he would make the trip back to Jesus once he left (after he buries his father)? Probably next to zero. Once he left, he would be gone for good. So Jesus was calling him to his true purpose. Jesus was trying to convert him and then use him to spread the message to others, hopefully even to his family. 

But our story doesn't stop there. As soon as Jesus is finished talking with this second man, another runs up and says, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

 

The man is saying, in effect, "I am all in, totally, done deal; I am bought in and I am throwing away the receipt because there is no chance I am going to return it. Let me just sign off with the family." Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

 

This third man's response, in current terms, is: "Plow? Who said anything about farming equipment? I just need to say a quick goodbye. You guys are going to be here for a few minutes anyway, right? Be back in 10 minutes, tops." Jesus says "No. If you want to come with me, you cannot look back. If you want to be a part of what I am doing, we are leaving now. And we are not coming back."

You see, every time Jesus encountered people, he could see into their hearts, and he knew which ones were truly "totally bought in," whether they said they were or not. He knew what was in their hearts, and he challenged them. He was honest, and gave each one the chance to follow him--if they really wanted to.

But we know these three men didn't really want to. It was only under certain conditions. The first person was totally bought in IF it would be fun and comfortable. If crowds were always present, and they got to sleep in nice hotels with good cell service, free wifi, and plenty of places to charge their phones. "Jesus, if you have all that, I am in."

The second person was totally in tune, but first he wanted to bury his unsaved father, and he wasn't to keen on sharing the gospel with his family and friends. He wanted to keep Jesus and his family separate. "You know, it might make things weird. They don't know you, you never met them. You know they would have these questions, and I wouldn't know how to answer them. Let me just do my thing. You go on ahead, and I'll catch up with you down the road a bit. 

The third and final person was totally committed IF he could keep his same priorities. "I've got a few deals in the hopper, and I just need to finish them off. Then I am in." This would be the person, who while the disciples were preaching to a crowd, his cell phone would go off. He'd say, "This is important; I've got to take this call. While I am talking, tell them the story about Moses and the stone tables. It's smashing--get it?"

Each one for different reasons is not really bought in. Their commitment is conditional, and Jesus doesn't want conditional.

What would Christianity look like if the disciples conditionally followed him? What would they have done when the crowds started chanting "Crucify him!" to Jesus? They would have said, "This is not what I signed up for. I am leaving. Jesus? Never heard of him."

Jesus wanted followers without condition. No matter what happened, he wanted them to remain strong. The message was that important. And more important than that--you are that important. How many of us in this country 2,000 years later on the other side of the earth would have heard of Jesus if the disciples were conditional? None. How many of you would have been baptized if the disciples were conditional? None. These are the reasons this was so important to Jesus.

Jesus wanted his followers to follow him no matter what. And the biggest question is why? Why was it so important they not be conditional? Why MUST they follow him no matter what? I'll tell you why. It's because of you. It's because of you, your parents, your brothers and sisters, your children, and your grandchildren. If the disciples failed, then the message would not get around the world. 

So this Bible verse is a testament to how much God loves you. In fact, the next time you are wondering how much God loves you, tell yourself to never compromise. He loved you enough that He made sure Jesus trained disciples who would give their very life to make sure you found out, so that you had a chance to be baptized. That is what love and forgiveness is all about, and that is what a true Father does for His children. 

On this Memorial Day weekend, have a wonderful time. Enjoy your families, enjoy the beautiful weather, and enjoy good food. Then at some point take a moment to look up and give Him a quick "Thank you."

 

Have a great weekend.

 

Amen