What is the “rapture”? What does scripture actually say about the return of Jesus? Listen to Pastor David’s sermon on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Also included at the beginning of this message are a few thoughts from Pastor David about last week’s mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as well as some reflections from this weekend’s General Assembly of the Church of God in Michigan.

When Jesus Returns

“That meeting took forever!” “I’ve been waiting for you all day!” “We’re never going to get to Grandma’s house!”

When we use the language of impatience, we often exaggerate in order to make our point.

But when Jesus says “forever,” he is being very serious and deeply profound.

Let’s walk through five snapshots of Jesus’s life and ministry as recorded, in order, in the Gospel of John. In each of these situations, Jesus uses the Greek phrase εἰς τòν αἰῶνα, which is often translated “forever” (or “never” if its clause is negated). Literally, this phrase means “into the age”; it points indefinitely into the future. In the quotes below, I have italicized the phrase’s English translation so you can identify it easily.

Snapshot #1:

  • Jesus is enjoying great popularity; he has more followers than John the Baptist.
  • “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

Snapshot #2:

  • Jesus is still popular, but he begins losing many of his followers because of his strange and difficult teachings.
  • “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; this bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
  • “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58)

Snapshot #3:

  • Jesus is now arguing with the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his time.
  • “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)

Snapshot #4:

  • Jesus has now divided the people; some believe in him, but others think he is guilty of blasphemy and want to stone him to death.
  • “I give them [my people] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)

Snapshot #5:

  • Jesus is now away from the crowds, grieving the death of his friend Lazarus with Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus.
  • “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:26)

Do you notice a pattern in these five scenes?

On the one hand, Jesus is decreasing in popularity as we walk through these passages. He begins with large crowds of followers, but those crowds slowly fall away and even turn against him. Finally, the crowds disappear altogether while Jesus deals with the painful loss of his friend.

On the other hand, Jesus uses increasingly intense language to describe the destiny of people who follow him. The phrase “will never thirst” becomes “will live forever.” Then that phrase is strengthened as well: “will never see death.” But no, that isn’t yet strong enough: “shall never perish.” Finally, Jesus makes it as clear and as strong as possible: “will never die.”

During the time that Jesus is becoming less popular, he is ratcheting up his language about the value of remaining faithful to him. The long-term rewards of discipleship are enormous and fly in the face of what people anticipate will happen in their lives. We all expect to become thirsty or hungry again, probably within 24 hours; if we are honest with ourselves, we all expect to die someday as well. But Jesus has the audacity to claim that his people will never thirst, never perish, never even die – and this he speaks while on his way to the tomb of Lazarus, who has already been dead for four days.

Jesus raises Lazarus back to life, which caused many people to put their faith in him. In the very next chapter of John, Jesus enters Jerusalem and begins talking about his own upcoming death. Like Lazarus, Jesus would die and be raised to life again. But unlike Lazarus, who eventually died again, Jesus never died again. He lives and reigns forevermore, seated at the hand of God the Father on high.

Jesus uses the phrase εἰς τòν αἰῶνα one last time in John’s gospel: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:15-17)

Whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die.

It’s not a statement of impatience or exaggeration. It’s a statement of faith, a statement of trust, a statement of the orientation of life for people who follow Jesus. We live with eternal hope and eternal purpose by participating in the never-ending love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: one God, now and forevermore.

The TIME is NOW! This has been an unusual summer for my wife and me, as we have been to the mountaintop and we have wandered through the valley with our experiences and our life’s journey. We were blessed and motivated as we listened to David Beam as he shared about one of our passions, the people of Guatemala and their beautiful love for the Lord. Then, Connie’s mom, a 90-year old sweet lady, began to decline in her health as she struggled with pain each and every day. Leaving her in prayer, we traveled to Oklahoma City to the North American Convention of the Church of God where we were inspired with the boldness of the message “Jesus is the Subject,” and heard that in our culture, we must be bold in our walk with Christ and be consumed by his fire and message, despite what is happening in our world. Christ is alive, doing well, and no matter what comes, His Kingdom is in great shape and He reigns in our world.

Then, as we returned, Mom was still declining, not coming out of it and requiring more daily care. Leaving her safely in the care of Connie’s brothers, we ventured to the “Leadership Summit” at Warner University in Florida where we spent the week with almost 200 of the most God-loving, fired-up and ready to serve teenagers in our country, ready to love God, love people and live it out not only today, but with their future. We heard great speakers, had wonderful family times with our groups, spent a day in missionary training at Warner’s Heart Ministry, served in the community, laughed, worshiped, prayed, cried, exploded in joy with the blessings of God and even taught a couple of sessions to students exploring the fruits of the Spirit. Wow, we had an experience of a lifetime!

Connie’s mom was not getting better. As we returned, her pain and suffering was increasing, but we saw how God’s love is always redeeming. Provisions were being made to have three people on 8 hour shifts coming into her home (where she wanted to be) to care for her, with hospice making periodic visits to try and help alleviate her pain. It looked like perhaps she would be able to cope, but then hospice advised that she be moved to another place. She knew, she agreed, but on that Saturday there were no beds and she would need to wait until Monday for a place to be. On a beautiful Sunday morning, as we were driving to church, Connie received the call that her mom had passed. She was FREE, she was with her husband, she was without pain, she was refreshed, and she was with Jesus. There was no hurry, we went on to church, I taught our Sunday School class, I chaired the service, Connie played the piano, we served the Lord as we always did, but we knew that a celebration of life was happening in the next week and we would rejoice in knowing that our place in heaven is secured and we would once again join with family members. As Connie continued to tie all the loose ends together, I visited my 81-year old Mother and just her enjoyed our time together in God’s Kingdom.

The TIME is NOW! We live in His Kingdom, which is alive and now. My task in life has been to help Christ in leading youth to a life-long relationship with Jesus and witnessing to people of His love and care. We are family and we should together be serving and bringing glory to God. My challenge to you: come to church, be part of the family, grow in your love and relationship with Jesus, bring others, serve others, be consumed in your daily walk with Christ. As September comes, come to church and be an active participant in the life of Mt. Haley, the youth ministry, the community outreach, the family of God. Love God, Love People, Live It!

As you can see, it has been a pensive, emotional, exhilarating, inspirational, exhausting and a summer of a lifetime in my walk with Christ. Thanks for listening. But remember and dwell on this: God is good, He is real, He is our strength, He is faithful, He is our shield, He is love, and most importantly, He is ALIVE!

What more could we want?

Meanwhile, we are going to Michigan Adventure on August 5th, see Pastor Jerry ASAP if you would like to go, there will be St. Louis Camp Meeting (with ice cream one night) a concert in Ithaca, and perhaps another quick activity. Labor Day is the latest it can be this year, so school doesn’t begin until September 8th and our first youth ministry isn’t until later. New permission slips for the 2015-16 year will be mailed sometime this month. Summer is still in full swing, however, the church is still opened and will always be waiting for you where we want to help you grow in your discipleship of Christ. COME!

My friend James died this past Sunday at 10:45am. He died of a rare and aggressive form of leukemia that whittled away at his strength for the past couple of years. James did not want a funeral or memorial service. He will be cremated, and the world will move on.

Most people would not care to know James. Let me introduce him to you. James was an ex-con, incarcerated on three separate occasions: once for statutory rape, once for breaking and entering, and once for check fraud. His last conviction was his “third strike,” and he spent twelve years in prison as a result. Continue reading

On Sunday, February 2, Pastor Jerry preached on Philippians 2 and spoke about our church’s upcoming mission trip to Guatemala, the recent death of his father, and our call to Christian living in our everyday lives.  Listen in to this powerful message!  And remember to pray for our Guatemala Team, which leaves this Thursday (February 6) and returns next Thursday (February 13)!

Listen now!

The Hard Times

photo by Kalexanderson

Automobile accidents can be very tragic events.  We have been reminded of that truth with the recent death of Julie Kurrle and her son Timmy, part of a missionary family in Paraguay, in just such a collision.  Many congregations around the country and, indeed, around the world are mourning the loss of this young woman and her very young son.  Please continue to remember Norberto Kurrle (Julie’s husband) and their daughter Anahi as they rebuild the pieces of their lives, a process which will take a very long time.

This comes at a significant time of the year for me, personally:  six years ago yesterday, a van full of Taylor University students and staff members was struck by an oncoming truck on an Indiana highway.  Four students and one staff member died in that collision, which occurred while I was on Taylor’s faculty as a math teacher.  Recently, the brother of one of these students wrote a good reflection on the aftermath of this difficult event; you can read his thoughts here.

Many inspirational stories can come out of these kinds of tragedies.  For instance, one of the Taylor students who survived the collision was in a coma for some time.  When she finally awoke, everyone began to realize that she was not who they thought she was; there had been a case of mistaken identity at the scene of the crash.  The two families – one who thought they had lost a daughter but found her alive, and one who thought their daughter had survived but realized she was gone – have been drawn together by their common Christian faith.  It’s a beautiful story of healing, sorrow, and the strength of Christian relationships.

More recently, Norberto Kurrle gave a moving speech at the memorial service for his wife and son.  He spoke about searching for God’s plan for his family, trying to make sense of all that has happened, and being grateful for the many blessings of these two lives that God has shared with him.  (You can read all about the memorial service here.)  According to eyewitness accounts, Norberto’s faith in Christ shined through even in this darkest of times.

When Christians struggle with real-life situations, I hear people quote two verses very frequently, almost without fail:  Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28.  Look up those two verses and read them to yourself, even if you have them memorized.  These verses seem to promise good things to those who trust in the Lord.  So why do tragedies happen?  Are we supposed to look at the hard times of our lives and search for meaning, value, purpose, and good in them?

I don’t know why tragedies happen.  I do know, however, that they happen.  And I do know that God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death (see Psalm 23).  I know that having faith in Christ is no guarantee that we will avoid trouble, hardship, loss, or tragedy.  In fact, if we truly are following Christ, then we should expect to suffer for the cause of Christ (see Matthew 16:21-28).  And that is not just idle suffering or having bad things happen to us or our families:  it means actively giving witness to our faith in Christ even when the world is falling apart around us.  It means denying our desire for good things (as we might believe Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 promise for us) and giving glory to God for his faithfulness to us in all circumstances.

Are we able to exercise our faith in God during the good times and the hard times?  Or are we only fair-weather Christians?

–Pastor David

All Hallows’ Eve

Today, of course, is Halloween – the time when many people put candles inside pumpkins, wear elaborate costumes, and go from house to house collecting candy from neighbors.  (We do some pretty strange things sometimes, don’t we?)  This is a festive time of year; it’s the last outdoor celebration we will have before the weather turns cold for the season.  It’s a time for neighbors to talk, laugh, share, and enjoy each other’s company.  It’s a time for children to put more sugar into their bodies than their parents usually allow.  All in all, everyone has a good time!

The name “Halloween” reminds me that this is also a time for spiritual reflection.  Halloween certainly isn’t a religious holiday, but it does have ties to a religious theme.  “Halloween” is thought to be a contraction of the name “All Hallows’ Eve,” which is the night before “All Hallows’ Day” or “All Saints’ Day.”  On November 1 (or, for some Christians, another day in the year), the vast majority of Christians around the world pause to remember those believers who have died in the past year and are now entrusted fully to the Lord’s care.  The night before All Saints’ Day is, in a sense, a time of preparation for the remembrance to occur on the following day.

Several years ago, I was worshiping with a United Methodist congregation while I was in graduate school.  On All Saints’ Day (or the nearest Sunday to it), we gathered for a regular worship service.  During the course of this service, there came a time when the pastor read the names of church members who had died in the previous year.  After each name was read, someone rang the large bell in the church tower.  Although I didn’t know any of these individuals because I had just moved to their town, I felt grateful to be part of a worship experience in which believers gathered to give thanks for the lives of their loved ones.

On this year’s All Saints’ Day – and today, on All Hallows’ Eve – I hope you can take a few moments to pause and give thanks for the gift of life, the ability to buy candy, the opportunity to wear costumes, the enjoyment of neighborly company.  And I hope you take a moment or two to reflect on the mystery of life and death:  that those who die in the Lord are entrusted to his care and will be raised to new life when Christ returns.  We as a congregation are well aware of those to whom we have said goodbye in the past few months.  Remember them as well, and give thanks that they are among the millions throughout history who have finished this earthly race in the faith.

Then be sure to enjoy this secular holiday and all its festivities, too!  For what it’s worth, my favorite part of Halloween is how the price of Halloween candy plummets on the next day.  Enjoy this introspective yet joyous season, church!

–Pastor David

Breathless Worship

This Monday, I had the privilege of attending the funeral service of Rev. Sam Dunbar, pastor of two nearby churches and friend to many at Mt. Haley. I never knew Sam personally, but my parents did, and I know his daughter Jenny from my seminary days. Something that happened at the end of the service was very striking, very powerful, and I’d like to share it with you.

Continue reading