Tuesday, April 30, 2019

You Won’t Find Him in the Ashes

“Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery?” – Luke 24:5

Two weeks ago, millions of people around the world watched in horror as the Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames. This monument has stood for over 800 years, and it’s the most visited landmark in France. That’s right—the Cathedral draws more tourists than the Eiffel Tower, with over 13 million visitors every year. That comes out to an average of 35,000 visitors every day … more than the population of 99 percent of the cities in France.

Like most of you, my heart sank as I watched the video clips of the flames and the destruction they left behind. But in the days that followed, I found myself wondering if I was making too big a fuss over it. Our hearts tend to drop whenever we see a beloved historical landmark or building being destroyed. But the Notre Dame Cathedral fire affected millions of people at a much deeper level, because, as a Catholic cathedral, it seemed as if a big part of their religion and their faith went up in flames. And that shouldn’t be.

In the days that followed, people sifted through the ashes at Notre Dame, feverishly searching for relics and artifacts that they value as an important part of their faith. But God’s word tells us to stop sifting through the ashes. Why? Because we won’t find Jesus there. Similarly, on the first Easter morning, three women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body with spices. Instead of a body, they found an empty tomb and an angel who asked them an important question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) Or, as The Message paraphrases the question: “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery?”

Great question! Jesus wasn’t hanging out in the tomb. Tombs are for dead people. Yet many people today still make the mistake of looking for Jesus among the dead. Those people believe things about Jesus that are true … but fall short of the full truth because they ignore Jesus’ resurrection. Here are a few of those misleading “cemetery thoughts.”

Cemetery Thought #1: Jesus was a great man. Many people believe Jesus was a great man just as Abraham Lincoln was a great man, just as Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man, just as Billy Graham was a great man. But all those “great” men are dead. Jesus was a great man, but that’s just part of the truth. When he walked this earth, Jesus was 100% man, but he was also 100% God. Jesus Christ was the great God-man 2,000 years ago, he is still the great God-man today, and he will continue to be the great God-man throughout all eternity. Because Jesus is alive, he isn’t a “was.” Jesus has always been and always will be an “is.” He is the Great I Am—the same yesterday, today and forever.

Cemetery Thought #2: Jesus’ teachings should be studied. Without a doubt, every follower of Christ must read and study Jesus’ teachings. But here’s the problem: Many people address the Bible and Jesus from merely an academic point of view. They study the Bible and they study Jesus’ teachings, but they do so in much the same way that they would study “Hamlet” or the Magna Carta or the U.S. Constitution. But because of that first Resurrection Sunday, Jesus’ teachings can never be reduced to academics. Jesus is alive, which means his words are alive. Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it, his word is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” William Barclay, a 20th century pastor and professor, said it well: “Beyond doubt, study is necessary, but Jesus is not only someone to be studied; he is someone to be met and lived with every day.” That’s so true. Don’t just study Jesus. Meet Jesus, and live in relationship with Jesus every day.

Cemetery Thought #3: Jesus’ life should be modeled. Once again, there is some important truth in this statement. Jesus is our ultimate role model. If we’re going to pattern our life after someone, that someone should be Jesus. But Jesus is not a dead role model. Dead role models can only speak to us from the past from their finite lives. But because Jesus conquered death on that first resurrection Sunday, he is a living role model who continues to set a good example, who can answer all your questions, who can show you how to do the right thing. He can speak to us, not only from the past, but also right now in the present. Jesus is alive and active today. He helps us. He guides us. He is a living, active Lord and Savior.

And just as Jesus Christ doesn’t hang out in cemeteries, he also doesn’t hang out in temples or cathedrals or even in churches. When God shows up in a church building, it’s for one reason and one reason only: Because living people are there. You see, our living Savior spends his time among the LIVING.

With over one billion dollars already pledged in support to rebuild the Cathedral at Notre Dame, I’m pretty confident that, one way or another, it will be rebuilt. But I hope and pray that people aren’t short-sighted enough to think that during the rebuilding process Jesus is going to be hanging out in the ashes—with one exception. Jesus will gladly wade into the ashes to rescue someone who’s living in the ashes and needs to be set free.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com, and join us for our Worship Celebration Sundays at 10 a.m.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Peace of Jesus This Easter

“As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.’” – Luke 19:41-42

Last Sunday hundreds of millions of Christians around the world celebrated Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus Christ mounted a young donkey, crested the Mount of Olives and descended into Jerusalem. A crowd numbering in the hundreds—possibly even in the thousands—surrounded Jesus and shouted, “Hosanna!” which translates, “Save us now.” And they added, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). The crowds waved palm branches and placed their cloaks on the dirt road in front of Jesus.

But why did they do it? Why did the crowd make such a big fuss about Jesus? For starters, they did it because they had heard first-hand accounts of Jesus’ breathtaking miracles (Luke 19:37; John 12:17-18). They had heard the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, while others had been told of how Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, drove out demons, and cleansed lepers. There’s no doubt about it: The crowd was celebrating the “miracle man” and hoped that he was the promised Messiah sent to deliver the greatest miracle of all—freeing Israel from their Roman oppressors.

But obviously Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was much more important than working miracles. And delivering the Jews from the Roman Empire was nowhere on his God-ordained to-do list. Jesus’ purpose was primarily spiritual, not physical; his intention was to usher in peace with God, not war with Rome. Yet as Jesus made his way down the Mount of Olives on his little donkey, he seems to have been the only one on the hillside who understood this fact.

Surprisingly, as the crowd of enthusiastic worshipers cheered wildly, Jesus wept subtly (Luke 19:41). He was weeping over Jerusalem. And as he wept he spoke prophetically about what would happen just forty years later. In his mind’s eye he could see decades in advance what we are only able to see through historical hindsight. In the year 70 A.D., the Roman army surrounded the walls of Jerusalem and proceeded to do exactly what Jesus prophesied they would do. The Romans built siegeworks to scale the city walls. And upon entering the city, they leveled the temple and slaughtered tens of thousands of Jewish men, women and children. 

So, as Jesus looked across the Jerusalem valley below, he saw what was, and he saw what would be. And it broke his heart. He loved the people of Israel, and their impending destruction brought tears to his eyes, especially because he realized it was 100% preventable. Rome’s coming destruction would be an act of divine judgment, not ushered in because of Israel’s rejection of Rome’s authority but because of their rejection of Christ’s authority. What Israel needed most of all wasn’t war with Rome but peace with God. And Jesus alone could usher in that peace. But sadly, those in the crowd who yelled “Hosanna!” on Sunday were likely some of the same ones who yelled “Crucify him!” on Friday.

As Good Friday has passed and we celebrate Resurrection Sunday (aka, Easter), I’d like you to consider the powerful words about peace that Jesus spoke as he wept over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). Tragically, the people of Israel were so consumed by their hatred of Rome that they were blinded to their desperate need of reconciliation and peace with God, which Jesus Christ alone offers.

And the same is true of many people today. It’s easy to become so consumed by our battles with people that we are blinded to our need for peace with God. Sometimes we are consumed by bitterness. We are filled with thoughts of vengeance. It’s far too common for Christians to say, “I love you, Lord!” on Sunday and, “I hate my boss!” or ”I hate my ex-husband!” on Monday. My friends, this should not be. If you were able to see your life through God’s eyes, you would see that your resentment toward your spouse, kids or neighbor is driving a wedge between you and God. If you were able to see your life as God sees it, you would see that what you most need is not retaliation against your friend or family member who “stabbed you in the back,” but peace with God.

So as Easter comes and you join hundreds of millions of Christians around the world in celebration of your risen Savior, don’t be a shallow, short-sighted worshiper like those who surrounded Jesus on Palm Sunday. Push aside your resentment toward others. Forgive those who don’t deserve to be forgiven. Make peace with those with whom you need to make peace. And open your eyes to the Prince of Peace whom you celebrate. He can certainly bring peace to your broken relationships. And his specialty is bringing peace to your broken relationship with God.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com  and join us Sundays at 10 a.m.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Who Jesus Is … and What That Means

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” – Luke 9:20

One Sunday morning an elderly pastor was getting ready for church, and he noticed that on his wife’s side of the closet, there was an old shoebox that he didn’t recognize. He opened it and was surprised to see three eggs and 100 one-dollar bills. He called his wife into the closet to ask her about it. Well, she was pretty embarrassed, but she ’fessed up. She said she’d been hiding the box for the past 30 years. The pastor was disappointed and hurt, and he told her, “I just don’t understand!”

She responded, “Well, I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but every week you preached a bad sermon, I put an egg into the box.” At that point the pastor thought to himself, “There are only three eggs in the box. Three bad sermons in 30 years…that’s not bad at all!” But then he asked his wife, “What about the 100 one-dollar bills?” “Well,” she said, “every time I got up to a dozen eggs, I sold them to our neighbor for a dollar.”

Now, Jesus Christ is the greatest teacher who has ever lived, and I feel comfortable saying you wouldn’t find any eggs stashed in his disciples’ closets. But there are some who would say that Jesus was a good teacher, but not the Son of God. Have you ever heard that crazy rumor? Well, it’s nothing new. Going clear back to Jesus’ day, there were plenty of rumors and misconceptions about who he was. And in Luke 9:18, Jesus took this up with his disciples when he asked them: “Who do the crowds say I am?”

Why did Jesus ask this question? I believe he wanted to make sure his apostles could separate fact from fiction. And when Jesus asked, “Who do the crowds say I am?” they responded in verse 19: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” Once they confessed the fiction that other people believed, Jesus asked in verse 20: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

This is one of the most important questions Jesus ever asked his disciples, and it’s one of the most important questions he will ever ask you. Your answer to this one simple question affects everything else in your life. And Peter’s full response, which we now call the Good Confession of faith, is given in Matthew 16:16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Surrounded by a sea of false rumors and lies about Jesus’ identity, Peter knew the truth. And he boldly spoke it.

This eternal truth would be the foundation upon which Jesus would build his entire Church. But, as Jesus continued to teach his disciples, it’s not enough to accept the truth that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God. Jesus’ followers must also accept the truth about what that means. In Luke 9:22, he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

And since suffering and dying would be a very real part of Jesus’ life, it shouldn’t surprise us that it will be a very real part of our lives as we follow him. In verse 23, Jesus revealed three commands for anyone who has chosen to be his follower: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” What do those three commands mean?

#1: We must deny ourselves. As Chuck Swindoll explains, “The emphasis on ‘denying oneself’ is submission to HIS agenda, saying no to what WE want and saying yes to what HE wants.” This doesn’t mean to constantly deny yourself all food and rest and pleasure. But when Jesus says you must “deny” yourself, he means that if YOUR plans ever conflict with HIS plans, you must surrender to HIS plans.

#2: We must take up our cross daily. If denying ourselves means to submit to Christ’s agenda, taking up our cross means to die to our own agenda. William Barclay says it this way: “To take up our cross means … to be ready to endure the worst that man can do to us for the sake of being true to him.” And Jesus asks you and me today, “Knowing this, will you follow me anyway? Even if it means that suffering and death are on the horizon, will you pick up your cross every day and follow me anyway?” I want to make that commitment to my Lord and Savior, and I hope that you do too.

#3: Finally, a Jesus follower must FOLLOW Jesus. That sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But millions of so-called “Christians” don’t follow Jesus. If we are serious about following him as the Christ, we must be ready and willing to follow in his footsteps. As he speaks, we must speak. As he acts, we must act. As he prioritizes, we must prioritize. As he suffers and dies, we must suffer and die. That’s not the feel-good message we hear preached in many pulpits across America. But it’s the truth.

Follow Christ boldly. Follow Christ publicly. Follow Christ without any shame or regret. Followers of Christ, be very, very proud to proclaim to your family and friends and neighbors that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. Without hesitation, he picked up his cross and carried it for you. So you and I must, without hesitation, pick up our cross and carry it for him.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 a.m.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

When You’re Running on Fumes

“He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” – Luke 9:17

A football fan went to the Super Bowl one year. To his great surprise, the seat next to him was empty. At halftime, curiosity got the better of him, and he asked the man on the other side of the empty seat if it belonged to him. The stranger replied, “It was my wife’s seat, but she died.” The first man responded, “Oh! I’m so sorry to hear that. But I’m surprised one of your family members or friends didn’t jump at the chance to come to the game and sit in your wife’s seat.” “Yeah,” the other man said, “I thought it was strange too. But they all insisted on going to her funeral today.”

If we see an empty seat in the stadium on Super Bowl Sunday, we’re pretty surprised. But if we see an empty seat at a Sunday morning worship service … well, that doesn’t surprise us at all. It’s just a reality in our nation today that people get more excited about watching a bunch of men chase after a pigskin than they do about spending time with Jesus.

But in Luke 9, we see a crowd of over 5,000 people go chasing after Jesus to have him minister to them on a hillside. These people went out of their way to be with Jesus. On that day, on that hillside, it was standing room only. Thousands of people came hungry for Jesus, even if it wasn’t necessarily for all the right reasons. But by the end of that day, everyone in that crowd would come to one conclusion: Jesus Christ really satisfies.

It all started soon after Jesus’ disciples returned from carrying out his marching orders. He’d sent them to heal the sick, cast out demons and spread the gospel, and they’d probably been gone for weeks if not months. Now the disciples needed some 12-on-1 time alone with Jesus to recharge their batteries. They were on a green hillside, the perfect spot for some R & R. But soon their retreat was interrupted by a tiny little crowd … of several thousand people. The disciples were probably dismayed. But verse 11 tells us, “[Jesus] welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.”

Mark says that when Jesus saw the large crowd, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Jesus and his disciples were physically tired, emotionally drained and badly in need of some spiritual refreshment—but when Jesus saw thousands of needy people coming his way, his heart broke for them. So he put aside his own tiredness and tapped his spiritual reserves as he spent hours loving on these people.

As evening approached, the disciples asked Jesus to send the people away so the crowd could get back to town and find food and lodging. Jesus replied with a command: “You give them something to eat” (v. 13). That was a tall order. In verse 14, Luke tells us that there were about 5,000 men in the crowd. But Matthew tells us that there were also women and children, so probably between 10,000 and 15,000 people had gathered there. Then Andrew stepped forward and said, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9).

The apostles’ feelings of helplessness are understandable, but remember, they’d just spent the last month or so healing diseases, curing sicknesses and driving out demons left and right. These disciples had been doing the impossible on a daily basis. But on this day, during their interrupted retreat, they froze up.

But Jesus took the little boy’s lunch, lifted it up to heaven and prayed. Then he began breaking the bread and handing it out to the disciples. And as the bread and fish were passed out, the disciples looked down in their baskets and saw more. So, they handed out that new bread and fish. No matter how many times they reached into the basket and removed bread and fish, bread and fish were still there! Everyone in the crowd of 10,000 ate. And when the leftovers were picked up, there were still 12 basketfuls of bread and fish.

It’s one of Jesus’ best-known miracles. What can it teach us today?

Well, sooner or later, needy people will interrupt your R & R. When that happens, Jesus calls you to tap your physical and spiritual reserves and serve them with compassion. Most parents of newborn babies have to learn this lesson immediately. A newborn baby has to be the most needy creature on the planet. If a baby has a dirty diaper, he screams. If a baby is hungry, she screams. If a baby has nothing better to do, he screams! Parents, by giving us babies, Jesus has taught us a lot about having compassion, hasn’t he? And he has called you and me to share that same kind of compassion with other needy people who come our way at the most inconvenient times.

Also, notice that the disciples’ power to do the impossible could never be separated from their ongoing dependence upon their Master. Both for them and for us, Jesus is the supply, and we are his conduits. And through him, we have the spiritual reserves we need in order to do his work. Remember, you and I are powerless to heal or save anyone. But Jesus desires to heal and to save through you and me—even when we need a break. Even when we’re running on fumes.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 a.m.