Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

Mission Wins Over Helplessness

Posted by on Monday, May 14, 2018 @ 8:22 PM

Can you believe it? Some estimates claim that the Christian church grew from a handful of people in 33CE (maybe 500 or so) to approximately 25,000 by 100 CE…   to more than 10 million by 300CE!

How did they do it?

It’s a simple equation really:

         FAITH + MISSION + HOLY SPIRIT

Acts 1:6-8

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The road Jesus traveled during his life and ministry was a hard one. He was misunderstood, rejected, imprisoned, and killed. The followers that endured with him until the end traveled that hard road with him. After Jesus was raised and appeared to them…   these same followers faced the biggest challenge to their faith: believing that Jesus indeed was raised from the dead!

So, those who gathered in Jesus name in those first days, weeks, and months after his resurrection were those of tried and tested, solid and unshakeable, FAITH. Ingredient #1. “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)

Jesus was clear to send his followers into all the world to tell, teach, show, and serve in such a way that the Good News of Jesus would be directly experienced by people. This defined who they were and what they were about. This was their MISSION. Ingredient #2  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

But, there is no human hard work or will power alone that could multiply believers like that. On their own, the first disciples of Jesus were a rather small and helpless rag-tag band. Something this extraordinary could only have been accomplished with divine power: The Holy Spirit. Ingredient #3.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4)

It is this same Holy Spirit that has allowed the church of faith, hope, and love to endure these past 2000 years. EVERY single believer in Jesus has been given the gift of God’s Spirit for courage, creativity, power, love, service, and witness. EVERY community of faith (i.e. church) is called to be led by God’s Spirit to accomplish God’s will and plan.

We are not helpless…   we are filled with power and truth. God’s Spirit ensures today, as it did in every generation, that we will carry the Good News of Jesus to the world so that people will directly experience it and come to believe. We help make the Kingdom come!

Do you have the faith? Do you sense the mission? Do you feel the Spirit?

 

Pastor Erik

Healing Wins Over Brokenness

Posted by on Monday, May 7, 2018 @ 11:35 AM

Not all healing is physical healing.

Some of our deepest wounds and most profound regrets are relational.

Many people have felt the searing pains of betrayal and abuse at the hands of someone who ‘loves’ us. Many people have felt the isolation of neglect, being overlooked by those whom we’ve loved and cared for.

Many of us, in turn, have made mistakes and treated others poorly. Maybe we acted selfishly. Maybe we lied. Maybe we broke a promise.

Unfortunately, when relationships break…   they sometimes remain broken and unfixable. I’m sure we all have a story about a relationship broken, a person lost to us, and there’s no opportunity left to make amends or healing.

The big picture story of the Good News of Jesus is that, through our sin (self-centered action) our relationship with God is broken and lost to us…   and we are powerless to fix it. Enter Jesus, God’s very own self (who took on flesh and dwelt among us as John 1 says), with a grace-filled, unending love…   and a plan to reconcile us to God. His sacrifice on the cross shows the length, breadth, and depth of God’s willingness to heal the broken relationship. He asks in return…   for our faith, our hope, and our love.

In John 21, we see how this plays out in the personal relationship between Peter and Jesus. By rights, this should be an irretrievably broken relationship. Peter promised to be faithful and stay with Jesus through thick or thin. But, when it got thick, he not only deserted Jesus, but also actually denied him…   3 times!

Now, Jesus has been raised and returns to confront Peter on the matter. And, he does so with grace, love, and healing…   giving an opportunity to fix what was broken:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)

Three times Jesus asks, “do you love me”. Three times Peter answers “yes Lord, you know I love you”. This to give Peter a chance to ‘redo’ his three denials. Then, the commissioning for work in Jesus’ name. Certainly only someone whose relationship with Jesus is healthy and whole would be entrusted with such tasks:

Feed my lambs

Tend my sheep

Feed my sheep

Moreover, Jesus knows, Peter will not only always remain faithful to Jesus but will also actually face hardship and suffering on account of that fidelity. Of course, Jesus always remained faithful to Peter and to all of us. Even when he faced the hardship and suffering of the cross.

And so, we too should profess again our love for Jesus and commit again to faithfulness in our relationship with him. Our relationship with him is never too far gone or too much broken to be healed!

Pastor Erik

Abundance Wins Over Scarcity

Posted by on Monday, April 30, 2018 @ 12:23 PM

Sometimes something happens that changes our lives forever…   and there’s no going back to the way things used to be.

When we ponder this, our minds often gravitate to terrible or tragic events that change our lives like an accident or illness, the death of a loved one, a broken relationship or a big big mistake. But, there are also wonderful and uplifting events that change our lives forever as well like meeting the love of our lives, following a dream, changing bad habits or lifestyle, or making a career change.

I suspect that, after Jesus death, and during the startling, amazing, and bewildering 40 days he appeared in his risen form, Jesus’ disciples were trying to figure out…   is this a terrible and tragic change or a wonderful and uplifting change?

Either way…   their lives were changed forever.

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,  Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14)

Notice that these disciples TRIED, in some sense, to go back to the way things were before they met Jesus. They went fishing. I imagine it was somewhat comfortable to return to the life and lifestyle that they knew so well, that they excelled at, that they controlled and mastered.

Of course, their knowledge, excellence, and mastery of fishing was not going to bear fruit. After fishing all night long, they caught nothing. Of course, this is just a single recorded event. Maybe if they kept trying to fish day after day they would have filled their nets from time to time…   but would their hearts have been similarly filled and satisfied returning to fish the sea rather than fish for people?

My reading of these Scriptures is that they were going to try like heck to go back to what they knew and mastered rather than mess around with all this trauma and amazement. This is an opportune time for Jesus to appear and reclaim their hearts and loyalty. And what better way to do so than with a miraculous lesson on scarcity and abundance.

The disciples fish all night and catch nothing. But, at Jesus’ suggestion to cast the net on the other side of the boat, they hit an amazing catch of fish. Through the disciples reliance on their own lives, knowledge, and mastery…   they come up empty. Through submission to the will of Jesus…   they come up full.

Often, we think we can get where we are supposed to go through our own knowledge and mastery. We may even try and keep Jesus in our ‘back pocket’ in case we think we need to get out of a jam. But, Jesus is Lord, and only by aligning our lives with him fully and completely are we able to become the people we were meant to be and fulfill the purposes we were meant to fulfill.

On our own, like the disciples, our efforts are bound to struggle and produce only scarcity. Aligned with, and obedient to, Jesus, our efforts tap into an abundance that was always there waiting.

The thing that changed the disciples lives forever was that they met and followed Jesus. They ceased to be the masters of their own lives. From that moment on, only Jesus would be able to lead them to abundance…   there own efforts apart from Jesus would only ever lead to scarcity.

And so it is with us today. As we look for where Jesus is present in our lives…   it is there we will find abundance, fulfillment, and purpose. Apart from him, working it out on our own, we face endless long nights of fishing but no fish, working but no results, effort but no satisfaction, life but no purpose.

Pastor Erik

Knowing Wins Over Guessing

Posted by on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 9:46 AM

Have you ever said to yourself, “boy, I hope this person knows what the heck they are doing”?

I ask that question a lot…   like when I’m at the doctor, or the dentist, or the lawyer, or the accountant.

I trust these people for very important matters. I trust them because they have very specialized knowledge and experience. THEY KNOW STUFF THAT I DON’T. Lot’s of stuff.

And, I know that they know what they are doing because they have been educated, trained, evaluated, tested, and certified. It wasn’t just enough to KNOW book knowledge. It wasn’t just enough to KNOW what to say and do. They needed to learn and demonstrate that they also knew the why, and the how, and the when of their discipline.

We expect this rigorous knowledge and certification from professionals of all sorts…   shouldn’t we expect the same from our spiritual leaders. YES!

This is some of what is going on in Luke 24:

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus is running them through their comprehensive exams

Shock and awe…   he appears in his risen form

Reassurance and encouragement…   he invites them to come and see him with the remnants of the wounds that killed him still evident on his body

Demonstration…   he actually eats a meal with them, proving he is not a ghost or figment of their imagination

Examination and review…   he systematically recalls his teaching, correlates it with the Scriptures, and opens their minds to understand.

Certification…   he confirms them as witnesses to the truth and reality of who Jesus is and what he came to do.

Commission…   he gets them ready to be sent into the world to tell the truth about his rising from the dead, his appearances in bodily form, his mission to forgive sins of those who respond to him in faith.

Jesus is seriously preparing these disciple/apostles so that, when they go in his name, the world will trust that they know what the heck they are doing.

And what follows is nothing short of amazing…   the Scriptures and history record (especially in the Book of Acts) that many thousands believed and many churches grew and spread across the known world in that first generation of the apostles.

Pastor Erik

Hope Wins Over Despair

Posted by on Monday, April 16, 2018 @ 8:51 PM

Have you ever felt hopeless and despairing?

At its worst, having no hope for the future is frighteningly debilitating. It robs people of their sense of self-worth. It robs people of their drive to succeed. It robs people of their will to live. It instigates drug and alcohol abuse. It instigates self-neglect, or worse, self-destructive behavior. It instigates an unraveling of supportive relationships.

After Jesus was crucified…   his followers were crushed mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They were afraid of what might happen to them. They were grieving the loss of their friend and rabbi. And, on top of it all…   the future that they thought looked so bright (the coming Kingdom of God, freedom from Roman oppression, Jesus as the Messiah and King) seemed broken and utterly lost.

Then…   they get some news…

The first Good News that they get is that the women couldn’t find the body in the tomb.

Think about that for a moment…   not from the vantage point of we who know how the Easter story ends…   but from the perspective of these despairing disciples. Before Jesus appeared to anyone…   The only GOOD news is that the tomb was empty. It seems like a desperate stretch. Any number of things could result in an empty tomb: a theft of the body, or mistakenly going to the wrong tomb are two things. That he was alive!? Very difficult to believe.

This is exactly the condition in which we find two of Jesus’ disciples as they travel to Emmaus on Easter night:

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven milesfrom Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This is a long passage of Scripture with lots of things to reflect upon. I would like to simply focus on how the hopelessness and despair of these disciples robs them of their ability to perceive and recognize Jesus present with them. It robs them of the wherewithal to interpret and trust the Scriptures. It instigates them to leave the rest of the disciples (as Passover ends) and, presumably, go back to whatever they were doing before… in isolation, without hope for a future, without success, without a will to continue.

It’s only when their journey comes to an end, and they extend themselves beyond their hopelessness and despair in order to offer hospitality to this ‘stranger’, that Jesus is reveled in the meal they share together.

He was there the whole time…   present with them, journeying with them. 

The promise of the Scriptures was there the whole time…   bearing witness to the truth.

They couldn’t see it because their hopelessness and despair had robbed them. But, in the act of extending hospitality and sharing a meal…   Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. Then, the blindness is broken and they recognized Jesus. And, they could see in hindsight that he was there the whole time.

And this is so for all of us who put our faith in the Risen Jesus. Even though we may endure seasons of hopelessness and despair. Even though we may feel spiritually blind and without the presence of Jesus. He is there.

So, let’s continue to open the Scriptures and invite Jesus to open our hearts. Let’s continue to gather together and share the wondrous story of his resurrection. Let’s continue to extend hospitality, act generously, and break bread together.

And, let's trust that Jesus will continue break down our blindness and reveal himself to us, set our hearts on fire, and inspire us for the journey and mission ahead.

Pastor Erik

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