Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Sunday: Living a Risen Life

This morning people from around the world are filling Christian church buildings. Most of the world agrees that today is a special day. The day Jesus rose from the grave. The day God defeated sin and death once and for all. The day our sins were finally wiped off the face of the map. Because of an event that took place two millennia ago, you and I have the hope of eternal life.

But I have to tell you this morning, in all honesty, I’m not sure we really get it. I mean, yes, our buildings are full. More people will attend church this morning than any other Sunday of the year. More people remember Jesus and His sacrifice on this day than any other occasion. But I’m convinced we still just don’t get it! Sometimes the Easter story becomes like rote memory. We can recite it. We know it backwards and forwards. We believe it! But have we lost sight of its significance?

Sometimes, it helps me remember the significance of my story by hearing my story through someone else’s words.

Some of you may remember a movie that came out in 1997 called Amistad. Amistad is the true story of a group of Africans who were captured from their homeland and sold into slavery. They were forced upon La Amistad, a slave ship that was bound for America. During the journey, however, they overtook the slave traders and gained control of the ship. Eventually, however, they are captured and put on trial for murder, knowing they might die for their actions, or worse yet, be turned over once again to the slave traders. There is a great scene in this movie. Two of the these Africans lay awake at night, the night before their trial. One of them has obtained a copy of the Bible—a book he’d never seen before. He began reading it. And in this moment, he is sharing the story—that he has learned simply through the pictures—with his friend. Watch with me as we see our story through someone else’s eyes.


I have a question for us church. If Easter is so special, if this event means so much, if this event is not just a “story,” why do so many of us live our lives with our heads down as if we’re chained and headed toward certain doom? I call you this morning, on Easter Sunday, to take the advice of Sinque, this African prisoner. Pick your heads up, because you are no longer dead. You have been alive in Christ! You life may seem dark right now, but remember, the best news the world has ever heard came from a graveyard near Jerusalem!

READ LUKE 24:1–12 (CEB)

Don’t you just love Peter? I love Peter because I am able to empathize with him so often. A man who made so many mistakes. A man who wanted to do right, but so often found himself in the wrong place or making the wrong decision. If you remember, the last time Peter was mentioned by Luke, Peter was denying Jesus! Look at that passage with me.

READ LUKE 22:54–62 (CEB)

Look, it doesn’t get any worse that that! Peter blatantly rejected Jesus and then had to look Him in the eye. Don’t you wonder what the next 72 hours must have been like for Peter? In the mire of depression. Thinking he had messed up beyond repair. I imagine Peter sitting in a room and not saying much for these three days. Wishing he could make it right. Wishing he had just one more chance to speak to his friend, to say he was sorry, to say he didn’t mean it. Wishing the world would just end so he could escape the pain and humiliation.

The next time we see Peter is here in Luke 24. It’s no surprise to me that when these women return with this news that Peter is the first one out the door. While everyone else was doubting the story of the women, Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He saw for himself the rolled away stone and the fallen strips of linen. Later that day, he would speak to Jesus face to face. Do you know why Peter got up and ran to the tomb?
  • He, perhaps more than anyone else, needed a resurrected Jesus.
  • He, perhaps more than anyone else, knew what “lostness” felt like.
  • He, perhaps more than anyone else, needed a reason to live.
  • And Jesus’ resurrection gave him that reason to live.
Church, Jesus is risen! The question for us is this: Does His resurrection instill within us a will to live? Yes, Jesus’ resurrection gives us the promise of eternal life in heaven one day. But Jesus’ resurrection gives us even more than that. It gives us the will to live today! News of His resurrection made Peter get up and run. News of His resurrection ignited a fire in the lives of those disciples. Those timid, scared people turned the world upside down. Jesus’ resurrection changed their lives. Has it changed yours?

Are you still sitting in that dark room with those first disciples? Shrouded with fear. Feeling sorry for your actions. Without a purpose for life. Or, have you heard the news: Jesus is alive!

During the Second World War, the US Army was forced to retreat from the Philippines. Some of their soldiers were left behind, and they became prisoners of the Japanese. The men called themselves "ghosts." They were “souls unseen” by their nation. They were forced on the infamous Bhutan Death March, forced to walk over 70 miles knowing that those who were slow or weak would be bayoneted by their captors, or die from dysentery and lack of water.

Those who made it through the march spent the next three years in a hellish prisoner-of-war camp. By early 1945, 513 men were still alive at the Cabanatuan prison camp, but they were giving up hope. The US Army was on its way back to help. But the POWs had heard the frightening news. Prisoners were being executed as the Japanese retreated from the advancing U.S. Army. Many of the POWS gave up all hope for survival. Their wavering hope was however met by one of the most magnificent rescues of wartime history. In an astonishing feat, 120 US Army soldiers and 200 Filipino guerrillas outflanked 8,000 Japanese soldiers to rescue the POWs.

Alvie Robbins was one of the rescuers. He describes how he found a prisoner muttering in a darkened corner of his barracks, tears coursing down his face. “I thought we'd been forgotten,” the prisoner said. “No, you're not forgotten,” Robbins said softly. “We've come to take you home.”

So many of us live our lives like this scared POW in the corner, feeling we’ve been abandoned by God. I don’t know all of your stories. Some might be in the midst of a broken relationship. Some might be in the midst of an addiction. Some might be like Peter (having rejected God outright). Some of you might even wonder why you came this morning. Well, it’s Easter, that’s what people do. Can I share with you some good news?

Easter is more than an international holiday. It’s more than Easter eggs and bunny rabbits. It’s more than nice Sunday clothes and high worship attendance. Easter is our annual reminder that we’re not forgotten. You’re not forgotten. God came to rescue you.

Let me leave you all with the advice given by an African prisoner, bound in chains on the way the trial that would determine his fate. Lift your head up. See the cross of Christ. And notice something: Jesus is no longer hanging there! He’s alive. Won’t you join Him in that life?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday: Even These Stones Will Cry Out

READ LUKE 19:29–40 (CEB)

All over the world this morning, Christians are reading this text. This is Palm Sunday. On this Sunday we remember the last time Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem. In the span of the next week, a lot would happen:
  • Jesus would take the Last Supper with His disciples.
  • He would pray with them in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • He would be arrested and killed.
  • Next week, we will remember and celebrate His resurrection.
The Triumphal Entry (as it has been called) was an ironic moment in history. On the one hand, we grieve that Jesus had to travel the road that would lead to His death. On the other hand, we are so grateful that Jesus made that trip! So, this morning, as we worship, we sing songs of praise—thanking God for this tremendous sacrifice. We acknowledge at the same time our sin that made that tremendous sacrifice necessary in the first place.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Deliverance: Turning the Boxes Over

She was never the most moral person. Her family, however, was filled with saints! Her father a minister in a local congregation. Her mother an active Bible class teacher. Both of her siblings were active members in the local church. Deborah herself was named after the mighty judge of the Old Testament. But she did not turn out to be a mighty woman. At least not in the way the biblical character was mighty. Church never interested Deborah very much. Maybe her family burned her out. Maybe she got lost in the shuffle. Or maybe she just chose to take another path. She was in trouble from day one. Her siblings were “angel children”—you know the type! But Deborah stayed on the wrong side of the rules. Constantly being reprimanded by her teachers at school. By her parents at home. When she was old enough, the local authorities took this responsibility. She got involved with drugs at an early age. She had a little girl of her own at age 17. Eventually, her family would have nothing to do with her anymore. By the time she was in her early-twenties, she was alone. No family. Few friends. Isolated from everything she knew on the cold streets of the big city. And it was at this time that she learned her fate. She did not have long to live. Her mistakes had caught up with her. She would die in a matter of weeks from AIDS. Can you see Deborah in your mind? Have you ever met Deborah?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Deliverance: Worrying About Tomorrow

Have you ever had a really rotten day? A day when nothing goes right. A day that you would never want to live again. A day that started out bad from the very beginning. There are warning signs for days like this.

You know it will be one of those days when:
You see a 60 Minutes news team waiting in your office.
Your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.
You turn on the news are they’re showing emergency routes out of the city.
Your twin sister forgets your birthday.
You arrive at the office and the boss tells you to not bother taking your coat off.
Your wife says, “Good morning, Bill,” and your name is George.
Or, worse yet, you may have had a day like this:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Deliverance: Treasuring the Right Kind of Treasure

Kim and I took a trip to New York last weekend. We had an interesting experience on the subway one evening. A teenage boy came onto the train and asked for everyone’s attention. He then presented us with his story: “I am going to be honest. I am not homeless. I have plenty of food. I hope you’ll respect my honesty; I need money to buy weed.” That young boy left the train without any money to help his cause!

We tend to think everyone asking for money is like that young boy. But some are different. It was November of 2003, and I was walking with some friends in downtown Atlanta after an evening session for an academic conference. The day had gone just as I expected: Meetings, lectures, presenting papers. But, there was one unexpected thing that day: Lester. As we walked in the shadows of Atlanta’s multi-million dollar skyscrapers, we were suddenly blocked from going any further. Because a smelly man in rags was yelling at us! He was just talking out of his head, rambling on about who knows what. We, being the good Christian men that we were, tried to get away from him, fast. But we soon realized Lester wasn’t going anywhere. I know his name was Lester because, he proceeded to tell us his story.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Deliverance: The God of Integrity

As they filed into the courtroom, everyone’s thoughts were on the key witness. He was the most important witness in the most talked about trial in history. His testimony would make or break the case. A person’s life depended upon what words he would reveal to that audience.

The people eagerly awaited the moment when he would be called. Everyone wondered what he would say. The tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife.

Finally, the judge came in. Everyone rose to their feet.
They were asked to be seated. Then the Judge asked for the first witness. The prosecution replied, “Your honor, the state calls John Hodges.” The noise level rose in the room. Feet began to stir. Photographers readied their cameras.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Deliverance: Adultery, Divorce, and Deliverance

Our subject this morning has been the source of great contention in our world. Our passage has been used to “put people in their place.” It has been used as “a line in the sand”—delineating those who are in and those who are out. But, as we return once again to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I want us to find the good news of this message.

READ MATTHEW 5:27–32 (NIV)

OK, enough said. Let’s go home!