Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shepastor: "Team Work Sounds Great...!"

Matthew 28: 16-20

16Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 17And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

In our text for today, Jesus has risen from the grave and is giving his disciples some last instructions before returning to His Father in heaven. He reminds them of some specific things and outlines some specific responsibilities or “commands.”
He tells them…
- All power is given to Him in heaven and in earth
- Teach all nations
- Baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost
- Teach others to follow everything He commanded
- Remember that He is with them always – even unto the end of the world.
The church I pastor has adopted a motto based upon this passage, “T.E.A.M…”Teaching, Evangelizing, Accountable and Making a Difference for the Kingdom!” “Teamwork,” sounds wonderful, but the development and “gelling” of the team takes much prayer, time, patience, forgiveness and work!

In this text, Jesus is giving His “team” if you will, the instructions they will need to be effective witnesses in the world. They started out with 12 and now they only have 11. Judas has forsaken the team, betrayed Jesus and committed suicide. Although Peter denied Jesus, he ultimately repented and returned. Although the others, except John, the beloved forsook Jesus, they ultimately came back to be His witnesses and spread the word that Jesus is alive.

They were a small group of scared men – uncertain, wrestling with doubt about what they were really seeing, what they were feeling and what their faith was saying. The task before them appeared daunting. The threats around them were real. Few if any really believed them. But the Words of their Master would powerfully and profoundly overshadow any doubt or fear that sought to bind them. They would become one of the most powerful and influential evangelism teams in history – the disciples would become “apostles,” evangelizing individuals, communities and nations – teaching the words of Jesus, baptizing new converts, establishing churches and providing the New Testament scriptures that we read and follow today.

The saints from on high were yelling, “GO TEAM!”

In this day of mega churches, tele-evengelist that minister to thousands, and radio broadcasts that reach millions, those of us who minister and serve in smaller churches and congregations may at times feel that our labor is in vain. But we must remember that this Christian revolution that we read about week in and week out didn’t start out with thousands, but with 12. And the 12 were not the best candidates according to our standards.

Look at who Jesus chose to work with:
Peter – “cussing” fisherman and zealot – one who was quick tempered and somewhat impetuous

James and John – the two brothers they called the “sons of thunder,” also quick to call down fire and brimstone on anyone who opposed them. Hungry for position and power, hid behind their mother who asked Jesus for the chief seats next to Him in the Kingdom

Matthew – A tax collector who was a robber of his own people, working for the Roman Government.

Thomas – Who vacillated between doubt and confession of faith – needed proof to truly believe

Judas – A thief and a schemer who would ultimately betray Him

The other disciples didn’t have much to say, except for Andrew who brought his brother Peter to Jesus, Phillip who encouraged Nathaniel to come and see Jesus for himself after he asked “Could any good thing come out of Nazareth?” and John, whom the text called, “beloved.” He was one of the only disciples other than the woman who stayed with Jesus until the crucifixion.

What a challenging crowd to work with! When we consider this “team” that Jesus assembled, we should be encouraged! Could it be that He deliberately selected broken, fragmented, sin riddled, frail men to be in His inner circle to help us understand that He – Jesus is the one that transforms us from bruised, broken, seemingly worthless beings into vessels fit for the Masters use. The only requirement is that we be yielded to Him. In other words, we have to say, “yes” to His outstretched hand.

No matter how flawed, no matter how damaged, no matter how broken, no matter how unsightly, no matter how rejected – God can and will use us on His TEAM! There are, however, some responsibilities associated with being a part of this TEAM!

Team members must walk with Jesus. In order for the disciples to impact others for Christ, they had to know Him for themselves! It is difficult to play on a team if you don’t know the plays, know and understand the rules and follow the leader. You can’t teach what you don’t know and you can’t lead where you don’t go!

Team members are to teach about Jesus. One of the first and visible lessons that we teach is the lesson of our lives. People will not listen to our words if our lives scream something all together different. Your life first has to be a lesson.

Team members are to evangelize. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are all called to be witnesses – to tell the lost that Jesus saves. That may not mean that you go from door to door inviting people to church or walk around malls or on streets handing out tracks (booklets that teach about salvation). But it does mean that we should ask the Lord for a spirit of evangelism, asking the Lord to create opportunities for us to naturally begin conversations about trusting the Lord as personal Savior. We should have a concern for the souls of the lost. As “team members” we should be in prayer that each day, our lives are used to draw, to convict, to compel somebody to seek Jesus. We should ask the Lord to open our eyes to the people He has placed before us that we can witness to and reach. Witnessing takes on many forms. Sometimes it’s just being a listening ear. Sometimes, it’s giving them support through friendship or finance. Sometimes it’s giving a wise word. But ultimately, it’s building a relationship of trust and sharing our faith as the Lord opens opportunities. We are to be Christ’s witnesses and evangelize.

TEAM members are to be Accountable. It’s so easy to say, witnessing, sharing the Gospel, supporting the ministry financially, volunteering to carry out the work of the ministry is somebody else’s job. It’s so easy to come in from week to week, sing some hymns, hug some friends, give a few dollars and keep on going. But TEAM members are accountable to share in lifting the load. We each are accountable for the building of this ministry, the spreading of the Gospel, the support of the work of the church. It’s not “their” responsibility, it’s “our” responsibility. We all have gifts, we all have talents, we all have treasure that the Lord can and will use for the up building of His Kingdom. When only a few of the few lift the load, it makes it extremely challenging. But many hands make work light.

If 11 frightened, flawed and half determined men could take the commands of Jesus seriously and turn the world upside down, what could we in the church accomplish today if we took the assigned TEAM work seriously?

Finally, Team members are to make a difference for the Kingdom! When you yield yourself to God’s precious Holy Spirit, listen for His voice, pray for opportunities to share God’s messages of love, hope, redemption, deliverance and restoration – God will open doors and you will make a difference for the Kingdom. You will touch some man, some woman, some boy, some girl – you will encourage some discouraged spirit, you will cause someone on the verge of giving up to change their minds – you will challenge someone who is wallowing in backward and destructive ways of thinking – you will make a difference for the Kingdom!

Although not easy, being a “TEAM” for the Lord is possible through Christ!

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Shepastor: "Why Did I Do That?"

Esther 1:10-12, 19; 2:1
The King’s Banquet

10 On the seventh day of the feast, when King Xerxes was in high spirits because of the wine, he told the seven eunuchs who attended him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas— 11 to bring Queen Vashti to him with the royal crown on her head. He wanted the nobles and all the other men to gaze on her beauty, for she was a very beautiful woman. 12 But when they conveyed the king’s order to Queen Vashti, she refused to come. This made the king furious, and he burned with anger…

19 “So if it please the king, we suggest that you issue a written decree, a law of the Persians and Medes that cannot be revoked. It should order that Queen Vashti be forever banished from the presence of King Xerxes, and that the king should choose another queen more worthy than she. 20 When this decree is published throughout the king’s vast empire, husbands everywhere, whatever their rank, will receive proper respect from their wives!”

2 But after Xerxes’ anger had subsided, he began thinking about Vashti and what she had done and the decree he had made.

The book of Esther, though never mentioning the name of God is one of the most powerful images in the Bible of God’s protection over His people and poetic justice. The Jewish Festival of Purim is based upon the story of Esther, how the Lord used her uncle Mordecai and ultimately Esther to stop the wicked official Haman from succeeding in his plot to annihilate the Jewish Nation.

But today, the focus is neither upon Esther, Mordecai or Haman. Today’s focus is upon two decisions that changed the course of Jewish history…a decision that is frequently mischaracterized and wrongs that are often overlooked. Today, we shall focus upon Queen Vashti and King Xerxes.

Shepastor: “Why Did I Do That?”

When I was growing up, my mother would frequently say, “An angry word is not easily recalled.” How often do people, in fits of rage say and do things that have long lasting consequences. The writer of Proverbs declared, “A man without self-control is like a city with broken down walls” (Proverbs 25:28). In ancient cultures, nations built walls around their land to protect themselves from enemy attacks. In the same way, self-control protects us from the enemies of dysfunction, foolish choices, life and death decisions made in the heat of the moment.

Some people can’t maintain jobs because they don’t know how to overlook an offense and easily and flippantly say whatever comes to mind. Some people, under the influence of drugs and or alcohol make foolish statements, spewing crazy words from their mouths or getting behind the wheel of a car or harming themselves and or others in other ways – all due to a lack of self-control. And some, in an effort to show themselves to be great and grand, make foolish decisions, an effort to show that they are in control, they are large and in charge, they are not to be defied.

Such was the case of King Xerxes. King Xerxes held a wild part for approximately 180 days! That’s about SIX MONTHS!!!
He entertained his officials and ultimately all the people of the Kingdom from the least to the greatest. No expense was spared. The text describes the atmosphere…white cotton curtains and blue hangings, which were fastened with white linen cords and purple ribbons to silver rings embedded in marble pillars. Gold and silver couches stood on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and other costly stones. All kinds of delicacies and wine…wine…wine in abundance! Everyone could drink as much as they wanted.

After much wine had been imbibed the king wanted his queen, Vashti to come and parade either naked or scantily clad (only wearing a robe and crown) before his drunken friends. Vashti, in the meantime was in the process of entertaining the women of the kingdom in her own banquet.
Can you imagine? Not only was this a disgraceful and humiliating request, the customs of the day demanded the chastity of the women, particularly the “1st lady of the land.” Her body was for her husband…certainly not his subjects! But look at the King…drunk, showing off, and basically saying… “Look at what I got – isn’t she gorgeous – don’t you wish you had her?”

Vashti refused. Interestingly, sexist commentators over the years have demonized the queen by calling her disobedient, “haughty” arrogant and a bad example for women. But more sensible theologians have declared the opposite…she was a woman of class, dignity, strength and honor.
An important lesson we can learn from Queen Vashti: Standing upon principles and integrity will not necessarily protect you from being displaced…
Doing the right thing is not always rewarded in terms of human response. She was stripped of her royal title, she was deposed…kicked out…shunned. But she did the right thing. Ultimately, her removal opened the door for Esther, but God used Vashti to make that possible.

If Vashti did what was requested of her, Esther would never have become Queen. God used Vashti. Queen Vashti is certainly and “unsung” shero! There is no record of what happened to her after being taken down. There is no indication that she was killed. It simply said she was replaced. Her integrity, however, speaks volumes. She had the courage to say no, even if it meant losing earthly status, perks, comfort, opulence, luxury. Doing what is right sometimes is a sacrifice with great cost. But ultimately, many are blessed, saved, delivered as a result of the unselfish act.

Those who sacrificed their lives, martyrs of Christendom, the Civil Rights Movement, our service women and men, missionaries, etc., all stood and stand against the onslaught of evil dictates, unjust laws, inhumane practices, wicked deeds against humanity – they did and do so at great cost, but with huge potency in terms of opening doors, saving lives and promoting justice.

Now let’s consider King Xerxes…what lessons can we learn from his behaviors?
One: Showing off sets you up for regret… Xerxes was a showoff…he wanted to show off how much he had, show off all that he believed he was able to do and show off his queen. Obviously he was very insecure. He was the king. Why did he need to show off? When you are insecure in who you are, you always need to “prove” who you are.

By virtue of his position, the kingdom understood who he was. Why did he have to throw a six month party? This “show off mentality” led to both the shame of he and his queen. This behavior placed him in the position to prove that he was in charge. When we behave in such irresponsible ways, we not only set ourselves up for shame, but also those closest to us. Bad decisions never just impact us. Bad decisions impact those around us…our families, those who care about us, those who work with us, those who may serve under us.

Leaders who make shameful decisions hurt and disgrace their families, co-workers and those serving under them. They disgrace the office in which they serve. Think of church leaders that have chosen to lead over the top life styles, have illicit affairs, embezzle funds, etc. Look at politicians who have chosen to do disgraceful things behind the scenes, dragging their wives and children into the spotlight to be shamed and laughing stocks.
Always remember, your decisions don’t just impact you…they impact all those to some degree within the sphere of your influence. To whom much is given, much is required.

Xerxes was a weak man…Why did he have to consult astrologers to tell him what to do concerning his wife? He didn’t consult anybody, it appears when he decided to throw and orgy and demand his wife to prance around naked! He was far from a wise ruler. His behaviors brought him shame and possibly this was his way of trying to get back some dignity. His behaviors had already set him up to look like a fool.

Avoid allowing what others think to shape major choices. Instead, allow your choices to be based upon principles and integrity. This is not to suggest that we should be insensitive or oblivious to the concerns of others, this is to say, however, that the primary basis of our decisions should not be what others think of us, but what we believe, what we see as truth, what we know to be pleasing in the sight of God. Queen Vashti exemplifies this principle.

Finally, King Xerxes regretted his actions…
The text says,
2 But after Xerxes’ anger had subsided, he began thinking about Vashti and what she had done and the decree he had made.

In the common vernacular, after a while, Xerxes found himself say, “Why did I do that?” Scholars suggest that it was about 3 years before Queen Esther was chosen. During that time, Xerxes was given the opportunity to sleep with numerous women across the kingdom, looking for a new Queen. One might think that this was fun for him, but obviously, it was not. Maybe it seemed great at first, but he found himself missing Vashti. She was beautiful. She was strong. She was filled with integrity. But now, because of his foolish debauchery and weak mindedness, she was gone. According the laws of the Medes and Persians, he could not change what he had done.

We may not be under the law of the “Medes and Persians,” but there are some choices that cannot be undone…saying ignorant and insensitive things that deeply wound a trusted friend…flying off of the handle and losing a good job…having an extra marital affair and crushing the trust and love in a lifelong relationship…contracting an incurable sexual disease after a foolish tryst…killing someone and or maiming others and/or yourself due to getting behind the wheel after drinking…spending too much time away from family in pursuit of foolish dreams and missing out on a lifetime with your children…neglecting to love and care for your parents in their old age, before they leave this world.

The weight of regret is extremely heavy! Did King Xerxes ultimately recover by getting a new beautiful queen? Yes. But did he leave behind a trail of shame, hurt, brokenness and failure – yes indeed!

Remember, your decisions today can impact the rest of your life – choose wisely. Pray and think before you respond. Let the ink dry over night before sending that letter. Count to ten before you react. We all make mistakes, but with the help of the Lord, those mistakes can be fewer and certainly less destructive.

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Shepastor: "Blessing in a Different Way..."

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8 NIV
For many years now I’ve heard preachers and Bible teachers speak about the “Dead” Sea… “Nothing can live there…it is stagnant, selfish…waters flow into it but it gives nothing back…” I heard ministers use the Dead Sea illustration when doing stewardship appeals, referencing the fact that it holds all that it gets and therefore it is basically useless, characterized by death.

On our recent trip to the Holy Land, both my husband and I, along with the other participants on our trip were shocked as we approached the Dead Sea. Instead of some murky, nasty, ugly body of water, we saw a beautiful, crystal blue sea, outlined with white rock salt! The tour guide explained, “You all have named it the “Dead Sea,” but we (the indigenous people) call it the ‘Salt Sea.’ It is true that nothing can live in this body of water because of its high salt content, but it is not dead…it is life giving, full of rich minerals, calcium, potassium, sulfa, sodium. The ancient kings and queens used to come here and use this Sea as their private spa…soaking in the mineral rich waters to soothe their aches and pains, increase their skin’s elasticity, making it smooth and youthful.”

Today, people come from all over the world come to soak in the edges of the Salt Sea. Beautiful products that soothe and heal skin and joints are made from the Salt Sea. Ironically, people are now using “Sea Salt” more and more to season their meals because it is believed to be better for our bodies than regular table salt. God had a purpose in creating the Salt Sea, not for death, but for life!

As I considered the mischaracterization of this beautiful body of water, I began to think about how often we mischaracterize the gifts, the blessings, the opportunities, the wonders God has given, purposed and made for His glory. I began to think about how often we dismiss, name ugly, reject and even demonize things that don’t fit into our “cookie cutter” mindsets and modus operandi.

How often do we dismiss children and adults that are “differently abled,” assuming they have very little or nothing of significance to share? How often do we overlook or even demonize those who offer something different in terms of gifts and talents that don’t necessarily suit our taste (different forms of music, art, writings etc.) How often do we reject the very ones that the Lord sends us because they don’t look like us, talk like us, behave like us, process like us?

Jesus called us the “salt of the earth.” Salt preserves. Salt can purify. Salt gives flavor. The Salt Sea is not dead. It simply blesses us in a different way. May we resist the temptation to label things as dead and useless, without first considering God’s purpose for the creation.

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Until Next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Shepastor: "The View From Golgotha..."

They came to a place called Golgotha (which means "the place of the skull").

Matthew 27:33

This past week my husband and I were privileged to travel as delegates of the Progressive National Baptist Convention in collaboration with the Fellowship of Christians and Jews to the Holy Land, Israel. It was, to say the least a trip of a lifetime!

To literally walk where Jesus walked was amazing, empowering and haunting. We stood on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea, sailed the Sea of Galilee, dipped our feet into the rich minerals of the Dead (Salt) Sea, overlooked the "Old City" Jerusalem, stood on the Mount of Olives, walked around the Garden of Gethsemane and touched the rock where it is believed Jesus prayed for the "cup" to be removed!

Many more places were also visited...too many to discuss here. But what was most striking for me was our time in the place where Jesus was thought to have been arrested, crucified, buried and ultimately rose again.

As Christians, we love to paint (literally and figuratively) pictures of three crosses up on a hill. Movies show the hill with Mary and the other women weeping, wind blowing, lightning striking, Roman soldiers looking upon the one they just pierced. But when we visited Golgotha, the "The Place if the Skull," the tour guide shared some eye opening factors with us...

We saw the boulders that indeed look somewhat like a skull. We saw the hill on top of the boulders that many like to imagine was the place of the crucifixion. However, that was not the common practice of the Romans. Brutal and sadistic, the Romans wanted to make an example of the "criminals" being crucified. Therefore, they would not have crucified Jesus on top of a distant hill, but rather, by the side of the road...the boulders facing Jesus as He was slowly, cruelly and unmercifully murdered.

Today, a bus station stands where it is believed Jesus was crucified. Not very scenic or sacred... I know!!! What a message...a common, "worldly," mundane structure such as a bus station stands where our Lord was most probably crucified! But isn't that the real message of the Cross? Jesus died for the "worldly," scummy, common, mundane in us all!!!

It was not pretty. It was not picturesque. It was not beautiful. It was not on a "On a Hill Far Away..." as we sing in church on Sunday mornings. No! It was near the side of the road, ugly, bloody, gruesome and haunting. Yet Jesus endured all of this for ALL of us!!!

As we prepare to enter the Lenten Season next week, may we truly meditate upon Jesus' love and sacrifice for us. May it move us beyond pretty pictures and common hymns to a place of reflection, service, love and praise.

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris