Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Temple Tending

19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
--1 Corinthians 6:19-20

“You are the only you you’re ever going to have.”  I thought of that phrase as I pondered how I would “tweet” the sermon if I was limited to a phrase or two.   
If you weren’t at Advent yesterday, we explored the above passage from 1 Corinthians.  Paul clearly declares that what we do to and with our bodies matters, because our bodies are temples, vessels of the Holy Spirit who is in us.  
The larger context of that passage is sexual immorality, but yesterday we focused on tending our temples, which we defined as caring for our bodies.  
I shared my temple tending story.  In August of 2011, I had my annual physical.  Here’s what my physician had to say to me that day: 
“Here’s the deal: When you first started coming to us 4.5 years ago you weighed 178.  Today you weighed 206.  You have a very strong family history of high cholesterol and diabetes.  Over the past 4.5 years your fasting blood sugar has slowly increased.  Today it was 123.  We consider 140 diabetic.  Michael, you’re running around taking care of everybody else, but you’re not taking care of yourself, and if you don’t buckle down, change your habits, lose weight and exercise, you are going to be diabetic before you turn 40.”  Then, he said, “Michael, you’re not taking very good care of your temple.”  
He knew I’d immediately know that he was referring to 1 Corinthians 6.  And, he was exactly right.  I wasn’t tending my temple.

As I shared on Sunday, I now weigh 174, which is down considerably from 206, BUT it is up from the 168 I weighed when I moved to Simpsonville at the beginning of September.  Our stewardship series, culminating with stewardship of our bodies, has been the fuel I needed to stoke the fires of discipline.  So, this morning I hit the treadmill for a little temple tending before anything else.
From your comments on the way out of the sanctuary on Sunday, I could tell that Paul’s admonition to remember that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit struck a cord.  I hope that you have taken the step of reaching out to a trusted friend to be your accountability partner.  After all, you are the only you you’re ever going to have.  Discipline is worth it.  AND, small lifestyle changes can make a big difference.  
Those of you reading this via email, please click on my blog page to view an eye-opening video created by a physician.  It should supply you a little more motivation. 

The Only Me I’ll Ever Have,
Pastor Michael

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Chris, Beat It

        This morning, after one of our Sunday services, a group of lovely women  came out to greet me.  The mischievous expressions on their faces indicated to me that they were up to something, but I had no idea what.  Then, on cue, they snapped into formation and said, in unison, “Chris, Beat It.”  Immediately, I knew that my foolishness had traveled quicker and farther than I would have ever imagined possible.  
This choreographed move in the narthex was a comical response to something that my pastor friends and I did for one of our brothers.  My good friend, The Reverend Chris Barrett (pastor of St. James UMC in Spartanburg), is preparing for a bone marrow transplant at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.  This aggressive procedure is the last in a line of treatments he has been undergoing since May when he was diagnosed with a relapse of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  
If you’ve never met Chris, he is a gregarious presence who lights up a room when he enters.  His larger-than-life laugh can be heard within a country mile and cannot help be generate a smile in those fortunate enough to call Chris “friend.”  He is a rare combination of brilliance and down-home authenticity.  I have been blessed to call Chris a close friend for over 15 years.  
That is why some of my other pastor friends and I wanted to do something for Chris to both make him laugh and brighten his day and encourage people to hold him and his wife, Elise, and three children daily in prayer.  
Thus, the genesis of “Chris, Beat It” music video.  It was remarkable to see how the very idea sparked people’s imaginations and created a desire to help.  So, my list of people to thank is long: Chad and Kami Turner sang the vocals.  Laurie Brown Pressly offered a couple of excellent ideas and taught me the choreography, which I in turn taught my friends.  Steven Douglas gave half of his day to be our camera man for the “shoot,” and Helen Mitchell, Rene and Baylie Weeks, Steve Bloomquist, and Elizabeth Blair all shared with us costume materials.  Of course, I can’t neglect to mention a great group of pastor friends with whom I am incredibly blessed to share this vocation and journey.  Many thanks to my brothers Will Malambri (Central UMC, Florence), Brad Gray (St. Andrew’s Parish UMC, Charleston), Joe Cate (Buncombe Street UMC, Greenville), and Thomas Smith (New Beginnings UMC, Boiling Springs).
So, without further adieu, if you haven’t seen “Chris, Beat It” and you are reading this via e-mail, then click this link or visit my blog.  Share it with your friends, but most of all pray for Chris and Elise Barrett.

Pastor Michael

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Little Ones

15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."

--Luke 18:9-17

Sunday at Advent was a wonderful celebration of Children’s Sabbath.  Children’s Sabbath is a Sunday designed to help us focus on ministry with children and, in particular, to advocate for children around the world who live in terrible conditions and perennial danger.  
It was simply wonderful to see so many of our children lead us in worship on Sunday.  I know that I was not alone as I beamed with pride at being part of a church that values children’s ministry so highly.  
In the afterglow of a wonderful morning, I received an email that I wanted to share with the entire congregation: 
...We were returning yesterday [Saturday] from a long planned vacation to be with both of our families in Florida.  We had a great trip, but ran hard all week.  Can't remember a night we had our kids in bed before 11 and many times it was much later than that.  Finally loaded up and left yesterday [Saturday]morning around 10:30 am for the road trip home.  By about the halfway point, all of us were pretty tired, and frankly a bit cranky.  My wife and I were ready to throw in the towel and stop for the night.  Not just one or two of our kids, but all three of our kids insisted we keep going.   All three wanted to be in church the next day for Children's Sabbath services, because they each had a part in the services.  We agreed to keep going, IF everyone behaved in the van.  Sure enough, the kids settled down, I started chugging the caffeine, and we made it home around 10 pm last night.  I can't ever remember as a kid having my parents use church attendance as a reward for good behavior.... 

The kids were all pretty wiped out when we got them down late last night.  My wife and I, again, agreed that we wouldn't push them to go in the morning if they couldn't get out of bed.  Again, all 3 were up and ready to go.

So thank you for all you are doing for our kids.  You've got them engaged and wanting to be there.  We're really blessed to be at a church with such phenomenal children's programs.
Isn’t it wonderful to be a part of church where children are so engaged?

Pastor Michael

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hindering Jesus

1 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.

--Mark 2:1-4

Every preacher I know of loves to know that they have been heard.  In fact, as a preacher myself, I can think of no greater joy than learning that God has used my half-baked thoughts and inadequate words to speak to someone in a way that inspires them on their faith journey.  That’s why I was thrilled to receive an email yesterday reflecting on our sermon from Sunday.  Upon reading the reflection, I had two thoughts: 1) Wow!  I wish I had let him preach, and 2) I have to share this with the Advent UMC family.
So, I have decided to turn over my blog for the moment to Will Randall, a sophomore at Mauldin High School, who has articulated some wonderful insights.  You won’t be able to tell that will is a high school student, as he is obviously wise FAR beyond his years.  I am confident that you will be challenged by his thoughts.
Will, thank you for being attentive to the Holy Spirit AND thank you for sharing your thoughts with us all.  

Pastor Michael
Crowd Syndrome
by Will Randall

This past Sunday, Pastor Michael pointed out the fact that sometimes we act as “the crowd”, and inadvertently prevent people who really need Jesus from being able to access Him. This sermon topic really caused me to reflect upon my own life and what I see happen in the world around me in terms of unintentional exclusion and lack of mindfulness.  Simply put, humans are creatures of habit and comfort. We become accustomed to a certain close group of friends-at school, work, etc.- and tend to stay within that group without really thinking about it. We go about our business, comfortable around the people in our friend groups, and fail to see those who stand by themselves. By acting out of habit and associating with our close friends day after day, there are inevitably people who are pushed to the side and excluded. It saddens me to say that I see this phenomenon occur not only at school, where it is somewhat expected, but also at church. 
In Sunday school, at youth group, even at worship services-individuals pass under the radar and are unintentionally left out. I find that most of the time this exclusion happens not out of cold-heartedness, but out of the failure to intentionally look out for and reach out to those who may not have found that same community that some, including myself, oftentimes feel. As we robotically associate with our same friends time and time again, we essentially act as the crowd. We stand together in community with some; however, we simultaneously fail to be mindful and we exclude others who may need that sense of community (and who ultimately may need Jesus) the most. 
I feel that many times in this life our greatest sins aren’t results of our actions, but are results of our failures to act. The example of the crowd functions as a representative of this idea. While no direct trespasses occur through our actions of repetitive association, we remain at fault in the end because of our failure to be intentionally inclusive of others. 
I feel that this “crowd syndrome”, as I like to call it, is in desperate need of a cure. To me, the way to eradicate this sickness is simply stated, but difficult to do. As people living for Christ, it is imperative that we be meticulously mindful and intentionally inclusive. In the spirit of Pastor Turner, why don’t you try turning to two or three of your neighbors today and not just tell them that, but show them that kind of mindful inclusiveness? Crowd syndrome affects vast proportions of today’s world. I challenge you, as well as myself, to make a conscious effort to break the mold of this habit, being meticulously mindful about those around us and being intentionally inclusive of those who don’t quite feel a sense of community yet instead. It’s easier said than done-but every great wave of change has started with a single ripple.  Be that first ripple.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Connect to Others

23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

--Ephesians  4:25-32

There is strength in numbers.  You have to look no further than nature to have that truth confirmed.  Birds and sheep travel in flocks.  Geese are part of a gaggle.  Many different types of prey animals live in herds.  Hyenas form cackles.  Even the king of the jungle, the lion, is not solitary.  It exists as a part of a pride.  All these natural social networks provide strength and protection. 
In order to hunt more efficiently, predators generally go to great lengths to separate their prey from its group.  The reason is self-evident: There is great strength in numbers.  
The same thing is true for Christians.  As we said on Sunday, “There is direction and protection in connection.”  We need each other on this journey of faith for encouragement, prayer, accountability, and “positive provocation.”  When it comes to being Church, Andy Stanley says, “Circles are greater than rows.”  In other words, worshiping on Sunday in rows, all facing the front, is important, but life transformation, direction, and protection happen when we are engaged in small groups which meet in circles, facing each others--groups whose members share life together.
So, are you connected?  If not I hope you will consider finding a Sunday school class or small group to which to connect.  Click here to see opportunities at Advent UMC.  Give it a try.  Maybe give several a try to find where you best fit, but find connection with other Christians.  We all need that connection.  In fact, we were created for it.

Pastor Michael

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Further Thoughts on Fourth Grade Forgiveness

...We are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

--Ephesians  4:25-32

Relationships are difficult.  Despite my hopes, other people don’t always think like I do.  They don’t always act the way I think they should.  They often shatter my expectations.  Sometimes that hurts.  Occasionally, it hurts badly, and the relationship is damaged or severed. The only future for damaged relationships is forgiveness.  
Forgiveness, however, is easier talked about than truly practiced.  Most of us find that it takes time.  As I said on Sunday: Forgiveness is a process, but it begins with a decision to lay the sword of our anger down.  It is a decision to be enslaved to rage no more.  Refusing to continue to concede power to those who have harmed us is the precursor to the freedom of forgiveness.  
None of that is possible without recognizing our own need for forgiveness and the great lengths to which our gracious God has gone to offer that gift to us.  When we grasp the depth of our brokenness and our need for grace, then we are more willing to extend grace to others.
Of course, we sometimes choose to not to forgive, to hold onto our grudges for dear life.  Bitterness takes root and chokes out joy.  Quickly, our relationships with God and others suffer as well.  As someone has said, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  Instead, the life slowly drains from us.  
Thankfully, God, in Christ, has given us the gift of forgiveness, which we then can share with each other.  Forgiveness is “letting go,” and it allows us to grow.
On Sunday, however, I mentioned that forgiveness is not the same as forgetting.  That is a common mistake, but forgiveness requires memory.  Amnesia is easier than forgiveness.  If I no longer remember that pain that has been inflicted on me, I no longer need to forgive.  Forgiveness is remembering the pain and choosing to let go and love.
But, there are other things that forgiveness is NOT.  Forgiveness is not saying that it’s okay.  Heather and I teach our children to forgive each other, but not to excuse wrongful behavior.  Spend any length of time around our house and you’ll likely hear a conversation between our children that goes something like this: “It’s not okay, Ellie/Drew.  But I forgive you.”  (In fact, that conversation seems to happen daily!)
Another thing forgiveness is NOT is reconciliation.  One of the most frequently asked questions Sunday afternoon was, “What about the person who repeatedly hurts you?”  My answer to that is that forgiveness is not optional for Christians.  Remember, Jesus commanded us to forgive “seventy times seven times.”  Ideally, that forgiveness would include reconciliation--a complete repairing of the relationship.  Sometimes, however, reconciliation cannot happen.  Though we must forgive, we don’t always have to put ourselves back in the position to be hurt again.  Some people/situations are so toxic that we must erect healthy boundaries.
One final note: I have heard some folks say, “Well, I’m not forgiving until ________ asks for forgiveness.”  Confession, apology, and contrition certainly make forgiveness easier.  But, they are not prerequisites.  Remember, nobody--not the disciples, Roman soldiers, Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate, nobody--asked Jesus for forgiveness, and yet upon the Cross he was heard praying, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  
And, the Apostle Paul says, “Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ has forgiven you.” 

Trying to Leave the Fourth Grade Behind,
Pastor Michael Turner

Monday, June 25, 2012

Operation Overboard

It was high-energy.  It was exhausting.  At points, it was chaotic.  But, it was also an awesome week last week at Operation Overboard VBS at Wightman.  

A total of 212 children and youth participated in Operation Overboard, representing our largest crowd ever at VBS.  As I talked to children in the hallways, it was a blessing to see their excitement and hear how they described their experience at VBS.  “I’m having a blast!”  “This is awesome!”  “I love Vacation Bible School!”  It was obvious that they were having fun.
But, VBS was about more than just having fun.  They were also learning.  I heard about Noah, Naaman, John The Baptist and Jesus.  It was remarkable that many children could tell me about Bible stories and also recite back to me the “ocean insights” for the night: Depend on God, Dare  to Care, Claim Jesus, Choose to Follow, and Change the World.  
Reflecting back on the week, I thought about how important an outreach VBS is.  There were several children who came to VBS for whom, I am confident, this was their only exposure to the Christian faith.  
My reflections, however, did not stop there.  The more I think about it, the more I marvel at the tremendous gifts and talents we have within our church family.  From graphic artists who designed our postcards and banners to Tech Team members who put together videos and ran audio visuals to all our VBS teachers and leaders to the servants who provided food every night, we have some gifted and committed workers who are deeply dedicated to making disciples of Jesus Christ.  It makes me well up with pride just to be called your pastor!
Pastor Michael

Operation Overboard Final Recap from Wightman UMC on Vimeo.

Monday, March 26, 2012

24 Hours (A Look Back and a Peek Forward)

24 Hours

I am writing this on the 28th of the forty days of Lent. Hopefully this is true for you as well, but for me this has been the most powerful Lent in my memory. Thanks to Adam Hamilton’s powerful study and devotional guide I have reflected deeper and longer than ever before on Jesus’ last day and passion. Preparing to preach through his last 24 hours on earth has also strengthened the impact of Lent for me this season.

We have journeyed with Jesus through the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the trials before both the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate (Luke also tells us that Jesus faced a quick trial before Herod Antipas as well, before Antipas sent Jesus back to Pilate). We experienced again the cries of the crowd as they (we) chose a savior who would save by violence (Barabbas) over a savior who would save by sacrificial love and non-violence (Jesus). We listened as Pilate, “wishing to please the crowds,” issued the death sentence, and we tried not to turn away from our savior as he was stripped naked and flogged. Yesterday, I suggested that this was the full-frontal disclosure of the love of God.

All of this has been powerful and moving for me. Contemplating the amazing depth of love required for that kind of self-giving, has been overwhelming. And for Jesus to endure all of this and still pray, upon the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” is almost unfathomable. To think: He prayed that for the very men who beat, mocked, spat upon, and nailed him to an ancient instrument of torture. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he wasn’t playing around.

Remembering Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness for his executioners, highlights the fact that Jesus really did die for sinners. He died to cure that darkness and sin deep within everyone of us. We merely have to face facts about our depravity and lean on his transforming grace.

But, we’re not finished yet. There are twelve more days until Easter. This Sunday, we will finish our retracing of Jesus’ final 24 hours at the cross. Before it’s all over, Mark tells us that the sky turns black. Darkness seems to prevail. But there is glimmer of hope. The Gospels tell us that the “veil of the Temple” is torn in two. That veil was the separation of the Holy of Holies (where God was) and where people could freely move about in the Temple. Only the High Priest could go in the Holy of Holies, and even he could only go in once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

On Good Friday, the veil was torn. The barrier between us and God is cracked. THE Day of Atonement has come once and for all, and Jesus becomes the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

On this Sunday, we will remember that. We will walk with Jesus to the Cross, and we will be aided in our journey by our youth who will dramatize the crucifixion to close out our service.

Then we will wait. Why? Because we know that death didn’t have the last word. The veil has been torn. On Easter Sunday, we’ll learn that nothing now will hold Jesus back. Until then, blessing on the rest of this journey.


Pastor Michael

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Trials and Denials

53 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. 54 Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. 55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. 57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.' " 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus,"Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." 63 The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. 64 "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him.

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said. 68 But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway. 69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." 70 Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." 71 He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." 72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.

--Mark 14:53-72

Sunday we continued our journey with Jesus through the last 24 hours of his life. So far we have walked with Jesus about halfway through his last day. We picked up on Thursday afternoon (all times are roughly estimated):

Thursday, 3pm

Jesus sends disciples into Jerusalem to find and prepare place to eat Passover meal

Thursday, 6pm

Jesus washes disciples feet, then they eat the Passover meal, remembering Exodus (especially Exodus 12). Jesus presents himself as the Passover Lamb whose blood will break the bonds of slavery to sin and death. Jesus also predicts his betrayal by one of the Twelve.

Thursday, 11pm

Jesus leaves upper room to walk through Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives (Garden of Gethsemane). There he prays in anguish for the “cup of suffering” to pass from him.

Friday, Midnight

Judas arrives in the Garden with a band of Temple guards to arrest Jesus and betrays him with a kiss.

Friday, through the early morning

The Sanhedrin gathers at Caiaphas’ house. They try to build their case against Jesus. He is questioned and their determination to have him executed is strengthened. Peter follows “at a distance,” and denies Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.

Friday, 7am

The Sanhedrin take Jesus to Pilate (for they have no authority to carry out the death penalty). (This is where we will pick up this Sunday).

This past Sunday, we focused mainly on Peter.

We remember Peter mostly for his failures. He’s notorious for his impetuousness, taking his eyes off Jesus when he was walking on water and starting to sink. He also once tried to correct Jesus prompting Jesus’ scathing response, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” And, most infamously, Peter’s biggest failure was denying Jesus three times on the last night of his life.

I’d just like to point out one thing in defense of Peter on this night: At least he’s there! The rest of them aren’t. Well, maybe John was, but nobody else. The others are running scared. Only Peter pulled out his sword and started to defend Jesus in the garden. Only Peter followed Jesus as the soldiers carried him away to Caiaphas’ house.

Still, when the rubber meets the road, Peter buckles. Standing around in the chief priest’s courtyard warming himself by the fire, Peter lost his nerve...three times...and denied that he even knew who Jesus was.

When the rooster crowed for the second time that morning, Peter was distraught. The weight of what he had just done came crashing down on him. He had failed his Lord.

I would imagine that we all know the feeling. We’ve all failed and denied Jesus, if not in word, certainly in deed.

If that describes you, there is hope in this episode from Peter’s life.

First of all, all four gospels tell us that Peter’s denial took place in close proximity to a fire. But, the Gospel of John, alone, tells us what kind of fire. It was a “charcoal fire” or a “fire of burning coals.”

That may sound sort of insignificant to you, until you know that the Greek word that John used here for fire was very uncommon in the New Testament. The most common word for fire in the New Testament was the Greek word, pur (pronounced “poor” and from which we get our words pyro-technics and pyro-maniac). But, that’s not the word John uses. Instead he uses another word, anqrakia. It means a heap of burning coals or charcoal fire. It’s only used one other time in the entire New Testament.

The other instance is also in the Gospel of John (21:9). The setting is post-Resurrection, when Jesus gathers around an anqrakia (charcoal fire) with his disciples and three times he asks Peter, “Peter, do you love me?”

Three times, Peter responds, “Yes, you know I love you.” Jesus asks him once for every time he denied him around a fire just like that one.

What does this mean? Jesus still loves him. Jesus restores him, gives him this chance to be redeemed. And John’s use of anqrakia is a clue that this is what Jesus is doing.

There is at least one other hopeful truth to be found in this passage, but let me introduce it by first asking a couple of questions: How do we know this story? How could all four Gospels tell it, even though nobody was around?

In his book, 24 Hours That Changed The World, Adam Hamilton suggests that it was such a well-known story because Peter frequently told it. Maybe it was a part of his preaching and testimony. Maybe he’d say something like this: “You might think you’ve messed up and really blown things in life, but I have to tell you, I have too. Let me tell you how bad I blew it. I denied that I even knew Jesus in a time when he needed me the most. But, you know what he did? He took me back. He forgave me. He let me declare my love to him three times around a fire on the beach, and he told me I was going to do great things for him, that I was going to preach his message around the world…”

Whether Peter said those things, we can’t be sure, but one thing we can be certain of: God can use our biggest failures in life and, if we let him, he will redeem them.

Warming myself by a fire,

Pastor Michael

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Agony in Gethsemane

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."

47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" 49 When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour--when darkness reigns."

--Luke 22:39-53

Sunday we continued our journey with Jesus through the last 24 hours of his life. On the last night of his life, Jesus, of course celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples, gave that meal a new meaning by naming himself as their Passover Lamb, and then departed the Upper Room to travel to the Mount of Olives.

Only three-quarters of a mile, Jesus would have walked down the steep slope from the Lower City of David into the Kidron Valley, and over to a place that all four Gospels agree was called Gethsemane, meaning “olive press.”

Jesus is weighed down by worry and grief. Knowing, as he does, all of his friends are going to let him down before the night is over has to bring with it great disappointment. After all, one of his closest companions is at that very moment betraying him to the Sanhedrin. Another of his best friends will deny affiliation with Jesus three times before the sun comes up. And, the rest of his closest friends will scatter, running to hide from the Temple guards and religious leaders.

Jesus has to get away to the Mount of Olives. The gospels tell us he does this often. He’s doing it again to get away and pray.

In anguish he prays to his Father. Why the agony? Well, apart from the aforementioned desertion, denial, and betrayal by his friends, he knows he’s about to be arrested. That would be quite enough to cause some agony, but it’s more than that. Jesus knows what’s coming after that as well. He knows that he’s about to take on the sin of the world. He knows he’s about to be beaten half to death, then hanged on a cross to suffocate and die, and very simply put, Jesus doesn’t want to do it.

I asked you on Sunday: Have you ever felt like God was calling you to do something you really didn’t want to do? Of course, God’s not going to ask us to take on the sins of the world and die a brutal death, but there are lots of smaller things that God calls us to. And, sometimes we simply don’t want to do them.

Well, Jesus didn’t want to go through with it. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed as hard as he could possibly pray, “Father, if there is any other way, please…” “If there is a Plan B, let’s do that. Lord, I don’t want to do this. Let this cup of suffering pass from me.”

In the Gospel of Mark (14:33), we read, “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” That word “distressed” is an interesting word. In the Greek, it is ekqambeo. It is a verb that means, “to throw into terror or amazement; to alarm thoroughly, to terrify.” So, Jesus, is terrified. He’s afraid of what the next few hours of his life are going to bring.

Some people are embarrassed and unnerved by Jesus’ humanity here in the Garden. They try to explain away Jesus’ anguish in the garden, because they don’t think it become of the Son of God to be afraid.

Well, not me. I’m grateful, because it’s a reminder that, while Jesus is God in the flesh, he is “in the flesh.” In other words, Jesus is divine, yes, but he is also human. Here, in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see that clearly as Jesus, in his fear and desperation, prays for God the Father to find another way..

I, for one, am thankful for that. Because if Jesus had not walked in our shoes, if he had not been truly human, then he couldn’t save us. It gives me comfort to think that Jesus has walked in our shoes and suffered the same fears, doubts, and pains we have.

So, when you don’t want to do what God has called you to do, when you are terrified, scared to death, grief-stricken and weak, know that Jesus has been there and done that...in the garden.

Pastor Michael