Sunday, June 28, 2009

We All Need a Little Encouragement: Barnabas

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Your encouragement has been very refreshing. Today we’re going to continue to look at some character studies in the Bible, some of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly people from within the pages of scripture.

Do any of you have a nickname? Rudy is always teasing me because whenever I talk about college, I start telling a story about a friend in the fraternity, and they always have some wacky nickname. My pledge class had such nicknames as Homey Dog, Scud, Shack, and Goat. One of the fun things we would assign to pledges was to find out (or make up) how certain brothers got their nicknames. Honestly, most of them came because guys were messing around and decided “that would be a good nickname for so and so...” and it stuck.

Most of the nicknames weren't all that flattering, though. Today we are focusing on someone whose nickname was a little more flattering than the fraternity names I mentioned.

Early in the book of Acts, the early church was in a very precarious position. Persecuted by almost everyone, and often in hiding, the church continued to meet. One of the ways they got by was on the generosity of the believers. We find out about this in Acts 4:32-35.

As we read about these believers, Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, pinpoints one individual. This is Barnabas, the guy we're going to focus on today. We can read about him in Acts 4:36-37.

In the Bible, names were extremely important. If you're reading through the Old Testament and someone's name has a footnote, check it out. Often those footnotes tell what that name means. And when someone gets a nickname in the Bible, that's important as well. Joseph the Levite's nickname was Barnabas: the Son of Encouragement.

We learn a little bit about his character when we first meet him. Unlike Eli last week, who was always sitting or lying down whenever we meet him, Barnabas is selling his personal property and giving the money to the church. We can understand from this action that Barnabas was generous.

But he had more going for him than just his generosity. Let me put it another way. Barnabas wasn't the type of person who, if you said you needed help, would just write a check and be done with it. Barnabas had a heart for people.

When the Apostle Paul, who wrote many of the letters in the New Testament, was converted, the new Christians were afraid of him, and justifiably so. He had been out persecuting Christians and throwing them in prison – with the blessing of the Jewish leaders. He had a radical conversion experience, in which he saw a bright light, and a voice spoke to him, telling him this was Jesus, whom he had been persecuting. After this encounter, he was a changed man. He went from persecutor to persecuted. He went from being against the church to being the biggest missionary. But before Paul was traveling on his missionary journeys or writing letters to the churches, he was in a bad spot.

Acts 9:26-28

Here's an admission: if someone randomly comes in and says that God has told them something, I'm skeptical. But if someone I trust tells me that God has spoken to someone or that this person has something important to say, then I'm much more apt to listen. The new church had every reason to doubt Paul's sincerity. I'm sure some of them thought he was just trying to infiltrate them to imprison them. But Barnabas came to the believers to tell them that Paul really had changed. In all actuality, by doing this, Barnabas put himself on the line on Saul’s behalf. If Paul had betrayed them, Barnabas would have been held responsible as well.

You can see further evidence of how Barnabas put himself on the line in Acts 11:19-26.

Because of the great persecution that the church experienced, believers scattered. And because their belief was so strong, everywhere they went, they shared the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Word of God never returns empty: when God's people are faithful to tell others about Jesus, people will respond. That's one of the reasons that our Vacation Bible School and Faithweavers ministries and our cell groups are so important to our church – they are front-line ministries where people are being discipled into Jesus Christ.

Anyway, as the Christians in Jerusalem heard about the new believers, they sent Barnabas to them, and he encouraged them. Acts 11:23 tells us that When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

Let me stop for a moment and encourage you. Some of you have really been struggling. Maybe you're struggling with specific sins, or maybe sinful attitudes or ways of dealing with certain people. If you're struggling, it just might be because Satan knows you aren't on the sidelines anymore and that really ticks him off. He knows you are making Kingdom differences, making eternal differences, and he hates that. If you don't have any problems at all, it might be because you aren't making any difference. It seems like it would be really easy to be the pastor of a dying church, because there aren't any real significant problems, no spiritual warfare problems, because that church is already counted in Satan's camp. But when we're doing Kingdom work, Satan will oppose it.

I want to encourage you in the face of Satan's opposition that God is so much bigger than Satan – it's no competition. It's not even like a long shot in a horse race: Satan has no chance of winning. And you are on the right side if you are living for Jesus Christ.

Notice how Barnabas is described by Luke (Acts 11:24): He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. He was known as a good man. Why? Because he was full of the Holy Spirit and had great faith. Those two necessarily go together. If you are full of the Holy Spirit, God will increase your faith. And if you continue to pray, asking God to transform you into the person He wants you to be, He will fill you with faith and make you into a good person. And the result: people will be brought to the Lord. One of the difficulties we have in sharing the Good News with people who aren't Christians is that they've often already been tainted by someone who has said they were a Christian, even attended church, but was filled with a judgmental spirit, with hateful words, or with un-Christian actions. But on the other hand, if you are truly filled with the Holy Spirit and you bear Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, then people are going to stand up and take notice.

And there will be people in heaven because of your willingness to carry the Holy Spirit with you wherever you go.

And it was because of the actions of Barnabas (and later Saul) that the believers in Jesus were first called Christians. We carry that name to this day, because of the impact Barnabas, the son of encouragement made.

Certainly Barnabas was a gifted encourager. I wonder if Paul was thinking specifically of Barnabas in that role when he wrote to the church in Rome.

Romans 12:4-8 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

If your gift is encouraging, then encourage people. Don't wait! When I was in seminary I had a friend named Stewart who was going through a tough time of discernment. One evening he was on my mind, so I just stopped and gave him a call. He wasn't home, so I left a message on his answering machine – nothing fancy or indepth; just a “hey, I just wanted you to know that I'm praying for you” message. He told me later that he'd had a really bad day and just wanted to give up, but when he got home, there was that encouraging message on his machine.

Some of you aren't gifted encouragers. I urge you to encourage someone anyway.

We can learn how to be encouragers from Barnabas.
First of all, if you want to truly be an encourager, you have to be generous. This doesn't mean that you necessarily have to sell your possessions and give the money to the church, like Barnabas did, but you do need to be generous with your encouragement. Don't just encourage once and be done with it. Keep on encouraging others. Be a generous listener and then remember what the person said. Then you have a way to encourage someone. Be generous with your time, willing to give it to someone, to ask them how things are and actually listen to their response.

You're going to have to put yourself on the line to be a good encourager. It isn't always easy. You might have to search to find something encouraging about someone. Or in other cases, you’ll find that there just aren’t words to encourage the person who is suffering. In the book of Job, when he was suffering, his friends came to him to sympathize with him and comfort him. Basically they came to encourage him. Job 2:13 tells us that they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. They were doing awesome until they opened their mouths. But here’s the hard part: sitting in silence when you want to say something. I’m not always comfortable with silence, and I remember times when it’s been extremely hard to shut up and let the Holy Spirit work. But when you encourage, make sure that it’s the Holy Spirit who is encouraging through you.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. It’s part of who we are supposed to be as Christians. Maybe you’re not a very encouraging person. What can you do to become an encourager? It might take work… but here are some ways you can go about it.

In 2007, the Heartland Film Festival Short Film of the Year winner was a movie by Kurt Kuenne called “Validation” –a fable about free parking. In this movie, the protagonist is the guy who validates parking for a mall parking garage. Instead of simply stamping people’s tickets, he validates them. “You’ve got really strong features.” “Have you been working out?” People go away with a smile.

It’s a great movie – if you are internet savvy, look it up on YouTube: just type “validation movie” in the search box (or just click – right here). This guy goes out of his way to validate people. To make them feel special. If you’re willing to be an encourager, here’s your assignment: pick someone out who you are going to encourage. Then find something new to encourage in them every day this week. My mom made me do this once as a punishment for being particularly squirrelly in Mrs. Harris’ 8th grade class – I had to say something nice about her every day. And it changed my entire outlook on her.

Here’s the advanced assignment: if you’re already an encourager, find someone you don’t like, and encourage them in the same way. If you can’t find something to encourage, how about asking the Holy Spirit, who is The Encourager, to do it for you!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father Knows Best?

Did you know that there are three specific days that have greater church attendance than any other days of the year? They are Christmas, Easter, and … Mother's Day. For Mother's Day, a lot of mom's kids know that their moms love their church and they know that one of the best ways they can honor mom is, even if they don't usually do so, this one day they can honor her by going to church with her.

Meanwhile, how many come to church to honor their fathers on Father's Day? It's not usually one of the top attended services. What does this say about fathers?

This summer, we've been doing some character studies, looking at some Good, some Bad, and some Ugly people from the Bible. This morning in honor of Father's Day, I'm going to attempt to look at two Bible Fathers: Eli and Job.

When it comes to lousy priests, Eli's name rises toward the top. He was the priest of Israel, but he seemed to be a spiritual midget. From the first time we meet Eli in the book of 1 Samuel, we can see that something is wrong. We meet him when a woman named Hannah had come to the tabernacle to pray. She was childless and had struggled with this for years, but on this particular day, she was weeping and praying, making a vow to God, that if God would give her a son, she would give him to the Lord.

Let's look at Eli's response, as seen in (1 Samuel 1:12-17) As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."

"Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."

Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."

Can you imagine this? You're here at church, and we've had services you're full of grief, praying at the altar, and there I am, sitting in my easy chair, and I mistake your prayers for drunkenness... wow.

Eli was supposed to be the spiritual leader of the people of Israel, but he doesn't even recognize it when someone is praying.

That's not Eli's only failure, though. As I was reading up on him, I noticed something interesting. At least I found it interesting. Actually I didn't notice it while I was reading; I noticed it while I was out running.

Though Eli is mentioned several times in 1 Samuel, only three times does it mention specifics about what Eli was doing – and twice he was sitting in his chair and once he was lying down. Though I understand that this doesn't mean that Eli never stood up and never did anything else, I think it's telling that every time we find him, he's on his backside.

And this laziness is not just in his manner of relating to people like Hannah. He carries the same attitude to raising his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. They ministered as priests as well, but they were flat out evil. As much as I am knocking Eli, he did raise up Hannah's son Samuel to minister before the Lord. In the meantime, however, Eli lost any semblance of control over his own sons. In 1 Samuel 2:12-17 we read this: Eli's sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, "Give the priest some meat to roast; he won't accept boiled meat from you, but only raw."

If the man said to him, "Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want," the servant would then answer, "No, hand it over now; if you don't, I'll take it by force."

This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD's sight, for they were treating the LORD's offering with contempt.


If you wonder what Eli did about this, here it is.

1 Samuel 2:22-25 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So he said to them, "Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD's people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?" His sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke, for it was the LORD's will to put them to death.

Now before you go thinking that God had already decided to kill them, understand that Eli's sons had freedom to obey or to disobey, but their disobedience was not beyond God's power. God planned all along to judge their actions. It's similar to when Jonah went to Ninevah to preach about God's impending judgment on them – but when they repented, God relented and did not punish them as He had promised.

Did you notice what Eli's reaction was? He complained. He whined at them. That's it. There were no real ramifications. Nothing happened to them, and they continued in their sin.

What I'd like to do now is to draw a comparison. I've shown you an ineffective, even evil, father. Now let's change gears and look at a father who actually cared about his children.

Let's turn in our Bibles to Job 1. In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.

His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom.

Did you notice how Job related to his children? Job's sons knew how to party. Their parties would be huge. But when they finished feasting, Job would make sure his children went through the appropriate purification rituals. He was concerned enough to pray and make sacrifices on their behalf.

What can we take from these biblical fathers?

1.Your priorities are important. I've often told people that my priorities are as follows: God is first, my family is second, and the church is third. I'm not sure where Eli's priorities were, but I can make an educated guess that he had them all messed up. As priest, he doubtlessly spent a lot of time at the temple. In fact, it seems like he had a near-permanent spot set up where he sat there. But here's something to think about: if you sacrifice your family at the altar of the church, you've done nobody any favors. Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, was a prime example of this: he founded a wonderful ministry that continues to feed thousands, yet he was estranged from his entire family. 1 Timothy 3 has an interesting line about leaders in the church; verse 5 asks the rhetorical question: if anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church? Eli lived this out.

2.Lazy leadership will bring you predictable results. If you want to help bring up a generation who doesn't give a rip about what their parents say, then live like Eli. When your children do evil, sit by silently. Complain at them at most. But whatever you do, don't get out of your chair and do anything about it. There are times when it seems easier to just sit back and let things happen as they happen, but that will not help your children grow into mature Christians. This isn't just true for parents, but for leaders in any arena. If you want to lead people to spiritual maturity, it won't happen by accident.

3.When it comes to leadership, especially with your kids, better safe than sorry. Job understood this full well. While Eli was afraid to confront his evil sons, Job was sacrificing on their behalf in case they had accidentally sinned. I know that none of us can make our kids accept Jesus Christ, but we can pave the way. How? We can live out a Christian life in front of them. This week as I was preparing for Wanda Keller's funeral, her daughter-in-law Kathy told me something touching. She told me that Wanda shone the light of Christ to her, loving, never judging, and that it was because of Wanda's witness that Kathy – and then her children – accepted Jesus. I've had people tell me, “Oh, I want my kids to make their own decisions on Jesus” and then they refuse to give their kids any information whatsoever. That would be like saying, “I want my kids to come to their own conclusions on math” but not teaching them numbers. I've also met people who said that their kids didn't understand everything that was going on in church, so they didn't “make” them go. Yeah, so instead of spending the time teaching them, using those things they didn't understand as teaching moments, they didn't bring them at all. And instead of having them understand a small amount and grow from that, they let them miss out on all of it. Dumb leadership.

4.It's not all about you. There are lasting ramifications for the way you lead, whether it's in your family or in your church, we are all a part of something bigger. Job's good parenting was a concrete demonstration of his faithfulness to God. Eli's poor parenting likewise reflected on his faithfulness.

Some of you are probably thinking, “My kids are already grown.” You can still have an impact on them. Do they know the Good News of Jesus Christ? That God desires a relationship with them and loves them so much that his Son Jesus Christ went to the cross for their sins?

What do you have to lose by telling them? Yes, I understand that evangelism within your own family is the hardest kind, but it's the most important kind. Having two funerals and losing a close friend this past week has served as a real reminder to me how important this is. That we have the hope of resurrection, of eternity with Jesus Christ, of knowing and seeing God face to face, of a reunion with our loved ones, but not outside of a relationship with Jesus.

Some others of you are thinking: I don't have kids yet. If that's your situation, it is not too early to begin praying for your future kids. Even those of you who aren't even married yet; start praying for your future spouse.

The judgment on Eli was swift. Because of his lack of leadership, God allowed his sons to die in battle, and their enemies took Israel's ark of the covenant. As Eli heard this information, he fell backwards off his chair and died. I'm not saying that you're going to die today if you are a poor leader, but I'll be honest and let you know that if you're not willing to step up and lead, there are consequences. And if you are, there are rewards as well – eternal ones.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Peter: More than a Bass Master

1One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, 2he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." 5Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." 6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." 11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11

I want to be clear on this: I don't watch fishing shows. But if I did, I'd notice that there are two kinds of fishing hosts. The first kind is super boring. Nobody wants to watch this kind of fishing show. The host is completely dull.

There is another kind of fishing host, however, the kind who makes fishing exciting. It's this kind of host who makes reading a depth finder exciting. What is it about this kind of person that makes them fun to watch? It's their passion.

I think Jesus' disciple Peter would definitely have been the second kind of fishing host. Why? Because Peter was a passionate man. Can you imagine the scene: Simon (he wasn't named Peter yet) was fishing all night, and had caught no fish. Then this traveling teacher came along and wanted to teach from the boat then to do some fishing. He went along with Jesus, probably telling him, “Now over here by these trees is a good fishing hole!” Jesus had something else in mind, however, and put out into deep water and ended up with a huge catch. Peter was quick to speak. Whatever was on his mind, Peter said. That's a hallmark of a passionate person; not necessarily thinking through what they say. Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. Do you think that's really what he meant? No, but he had to say something.

Much like when Jesus took him and a couple of other friends up onto a mountain and while they were there, Jesus was transfigured before them, and Moses and Elijah showed up, and Peter, astonished, started spouting “let's build three booths here, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one from Elijah. He didn't think, he just spoke.

Peter was passionate. He was also a verbal processor, an extrovert who was uncomfortable with silence. He had to say something. SO he blurted out whatever was on his mind. Even if he didn't know it was on his mind yet.

Peter is the kind of guy who gets in trouble a lot. Maybe you know someone like him. He is always talking, usually out of turn. Maybe it's something inappropriate, or maybe it's just at the wrong time. I know what that's like: I have this friend who has a friend who has said some really insensitive things, meaning them as a joke. Once I, I mean, my friend, was joking with someone about the fancy car he was driving (it was a Toyota). I, my friend asked him who he had to kill to get that fancy car. I didn't know that it had been his late mother's car. Yeah, that was ugly. Yeah, my mouth got me in trouble. And I know that Peter's did, too.

Why?

Because he was passionate and he said whatever came to his mind.

But that passionate mouth wasn't limited to gaffes. I don't want you to miss this: it can be easy to dismiss someone just because he or she says the wrong things. It can be easy to pay no heed to the loudmouth or to the one who speaks most quickly. But Peter's passion didn't only go to his mouth: it went clear to the heart.

When Jesus asked his disciples who people said he was, they replied that some thought he was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. But when He asked them who they said He was, Peter piped up: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). He got it.

Passion isn't always good. Peter often said the wrong things at the wrong time. I'm sure Jesus sometimes wondered “And I chose this guy... why?”

Let's look at another time when Peter's passion shows itself. At the Last Supper, Peter famously announces to Jesus that “I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:36). Indeed, in the Garden, as the mob had just shown up to arrest Jesus (in John 18:10), we read that Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. Jesus told Peter to put his sword away. This wasn't Jesus' kind of revolution. But Peter was passionate. He was willing to do whatever it took. Including violence.

You see, sometimes passion can be misguided. Someone can be passionately... wrong.

In Matthew 14:25-31, we find a fantastic story. Jesus' disciples were in a boat, trying to go across the sea against the wind. Let's look at that together. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples say him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It's a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.” “Lord, if it is you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Here's the thing: sometimes passion can get you so far, but it doesn't finish the job. Peter's passion took him out of the boat – going on beyond what anyone could possibly think of doing. Nobody can walk on water. But Peter did. However, passion only took him out of the boat, but fear made him sink.

Peter saw that there was some opposition. Strong opposition. He realized: Whoa! I can't do this! This is impossible! People just can't...

How often does this happen? Someone gets a great idea about something fantastic, something supernatural that God could do, and they step out of the boat. But what happens next? We see the wind. We see that there is opposition and we panic. We look around at the natural world and say “This can't happen!” We look around and realize that nobody else is out there with us.

And we sink.

Because passion all by itself is not enough.

The cool thing is that Jesus took passionate Peter and made him the Rock. After Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus told him (Matthew 16:18), “You are Peter (which translates: Rock), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Peter's natural passion made him a natural bass master. He was that exciting kind of fisherman. He was the guy who talked and you just shook your head and said, “I guess that's what's going to come out of his mouth today.” But Jesus had something else in mind for him; he would be the Rock.

That's not what Peter looked like when he was sinking in the sea. That's not what Peter looked like when he was cutting Malchus' ear off. That's not what Peter looked like when he was denying that he even knew Jesus at all.

But let's look at Peter a little while later. The same Peter who had taken up the sword to fight for Jesus, endured prison on Jesus' behalf. And in Foxe's Book of Martyrs, we read that the Roman Emperor Nero sought to have Peter put to death. Some believers heard of this and begged Peter to flee from Rome. As he began to leave the city, it is said that Peter met Jesus. As Peter worshiped Jesus, he asked the Lord, “Where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “I have come again to be crucified.” At this point, Peter returned to the city and was crucified upside-down, by his own choice, because he perceived himself unworthy to be crucified in the same form and manner as Jesus was.

Peter, the passionate one who was so often buffeted by the wind, ended up being the Rock. He stood firm in his faith even to death.

What does this mean for us? First, I believe that it means we need to have some passion. Some of us live passionless lives, especially our spiritual lives. But we can't and won't have any passion for Jesus Christ if we don't know him intimately. So I ask you, where is your passion? Where does your passion intersect with Jesus' passion? Where does your heart intersect with God's heart? God will go from there with you. He found Peter in his fishing boat, his place of passion, and made him into a fisher of men. He can do the same with you. This goes hand in hand with this: misplaced passion is not good enough. I'm talking about those of us who can cheer our heads off at a sporting event but “church isn't the time or place for emotions.” Did you know that the American sign language sign for Methodist is two hands rubbing together – as a sign for the fervor that early Methodists had?

Know this: God can and will use passionate people. God uses impulsive people. Mouthy people. Step-out-in-faith people. God can use you. But God isn't finished with you. This past week at Annual Conference, Kara Russell gave a speech from the stage. Now this might not mean anything to you because none of you know Kara. Kara has been raising money over the past five years for a Children's Hospital, and she came to donate the money. You see, this particular children's hospital is in Haiti and $10 will care for a child, and Kara felt called to participate. So at Conference, she gave the $1023.47 she had raised over the past five years. You might not think this is very impressive until you know this: Kara Russell is nine years old. She started raising money when she was four. She said this to us: I am just a kid and I did this; you're grown-ups. How much more can you do?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Youth Sunday

This Sunday was Youth Sunday, so instead of a standard sermon, several junior and senior high students presented testimonies. I love their honesty and their willingness to get in front of the congregation and share their stories.

Here are some highlights I got as I listened to them share in the 9:00 service:
  • David B: talked about how he benefits from being mentored by the praise band.
  • Johanna W: talked about having a real relationship with God and how important that is, no matter how long you've been in church and no matter how old or young you are.
  • Travis T: talked about going to the altar, being surrounded by friends who are praying for you, and about doing his best to follow Jesus, even when it's hard.
Here are some highlights from the 11:00 service:
  • Sydney P: she also shared about how being a Christian is not simply about going to church, but is an active choice. She also (wisely) shared: It's not about me.
  • Elise B: talked about God putting something into our lives that touches us: for her, it is music. God uses these things to help us to get close to Him and at the same time helps us reach out to share Him with others.
  • Audrey B: shared how God works through the power of prayer and how we all have choices to follow Jesus or not - how Jesus moves us out of our comfort zones and helps us reach our goals.
It was a fantastic morning of worship!