Jesus Called… He Wants His Church Back

A Book Review by Wendy Drumm

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Pastor Ray Johnston tries to express the problem with the American church and how it is failing to reach those most in need of an experience with Jesus.  As the pastor of megachurch Bayside Church in Northern California, he brings a personal testimony from his past experiences to illustrate how the church can operate effectively without compromise.

The book starts with an outline of the gradual moral decline of American values of the last seventy years and the impact that it has on the human condition.  Further, he illustrates how that decline has impacted the church’s function and ability to reach those most in need of the message.  For example, during the seventies when America was in the throes of the “Free Love” movement, the culture lost the ability to love with sacrifice and commitment.  As long as it felt good, it was good.

This book was well written and easy to read.  The pages seemed to fly through my fingers as I was drawn by personal testimony from Pastor Ray’s extensive pastoral experience.  If I had any complaints at all it would be that the church, Bayside Church, is not a typical church as it boasts 13,000 members, but the origin story of the church does illustrate its humble beginnings.  Further, there seem to be a lot of lists within the books, similar to the bullet points found in sermon teachings.  While that makes this book a good resource for using within a teaching environment, it does become difficult to read over time.

I would definitely recommend this book, but as always, I encourage you to discern everything against the wisdom of scripture.  Enjoy!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Sunday Morning – Part III

Peter

Peter_the_apostleAfter that, the apostles finally left the upper room.  We find the next appearance of Jesus comes to some of the apostles who are fishing.  Peter, John and some of the others.  Jesus saw his brothers from the beach and called out to them.  Just as he had before, he instructed them to put their net over the side, and they collected more fish than they could manage.  John recognized Jesus and called out to him.  When Peter realized who was on the beach, he put on his coat and dove in the water.  Peter was always one for getting out of the boat to reach Christ.  Together on the beach they cooked the fish and had a meal with Jesus.

During that meal, Jesus started his church.  He called upon Peter, his rock, and he restored him to his position as apostle.  Jesus knew that Peter was still carrying the burden of his denials, that he was still bearing the weight of the sin he had committed against his Lord on the night of the arrest.  So, in his mercy, Jesus forgave.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”  (John 21:15-19).

Peter never denied Christ again.  Jesus told Peter that he would be martyred for his faith, and Peter still chose to serve.  Did he serve because of logic?  Reason?  Proof?  No.  Jesus didn’t ask Peter if he made sense to him.  Jesus didn’t ask Peter if there was scientific proof.  Jesus asked Peter if he loved him.  Love is the basis of our faith that helps us to connect to Jesus.  Faith and love are so intertwined that it is impossible to have a relationship with Jesus without both.  Peter loved Jesus, and he believed, and nothing else mattered.  He had denied Christ before, he had lived three days without him, and that had been so terrible, that he would never do it again.  He chose that day on the beach to protect the flock of Christ and follow Jesus.

All of the gospels say that Jesus appeared more times, taught more things, and performed more miracles, but none of them recorded it.  The gospel of Mark and Matthew state that Jesus did what he said he would do, and he appeared to more than five hundred brethren in Galilee.  It says that they gathered together to worship him, but even at this point, there were still some that doubted.  Jesus commanded them to go and share what they had seen with the world.  To share the good news for the forgiveness of sins, and to make disciples.  He promised his people that no matter what happened, he would always be with them.

At the end of the forty day ministry, when Jesus had appeared to many, he again appeared back in Jerusalem to the apostles. It says that he taught to them again on the Kingdom of God.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations,beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.  I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  Luke 24:44-49

He told them that he would be leaving so that one that is better than him could come.  He left, so that the ministry of the Holy Spirit could begin.  He returned to the right hand of the father, and he serves there for us as intercessor and high priest. He continues in relationship with us, so that we can be reunited with our Father in Heaven.  It says that he lifted up before their eyes and disappeared into the clouds.  The apostles stayed there for a while staring up into the sky waiting to see if Jesus would return one more time.  Angels sent them on their way, and they left for the temple rejoicing.

All of the apostles and those that witnessed Jesus were challenged to faith before they could recognize Jesus.  They were asked to believe before they could understand the truth.  It wasn’t until they believed that the scripture was opened to them and the plan of God was finally understood.  It wasn’t logic or reason that opened scripture, it was faith in Jesus Christ.  It was faith that he would do the things that he said he would do.  It was faith that Jesus had been resurrected for the redemption of sins.

Days later that faith would be rewarded on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would descend from Heaven and join to the faithful.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t join with the righteous, or the clever.  The Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of the faithful.  The only thing that God is asking of us as Christians is to believe.  Other things may come from that belief, like serving or giving.  But all Jesus asks of us is to believe.  He wants us to have faith in him.  He wants us to seek him like Mary, looking only with her heart.  He wants us to believe like Thomas who sees the truth and immediately proclaims Christ to be the Lord.  He wants us to follow like Peter, who see Jesus and dives from the boat to reach him.

So I ask you today, do you believe?  So now I ask you… what comes to mind when you think about God?

Do you feel the loss on Good Friday and rejoice with gladness in your heart when you discover the tomb is empty?  Do you hear the teachings of Jesus and learn of the Kingdom of God and believe?  Do you want to?  Do you want a relationship with Jesus?  Do you want to hear him call your name, like Mary?

The Bible says in Romans 10:9-10, That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

The Bible says that you believe in your heart.  It is with your heart that you believe and are justified.  Use the heart that God gave you.  Feel the love that was demonstrated on the cross.  Open your heart to the Holy Spirit and pray for forgiveness, and you will be saved.

Let Jesus call you by name, let him call you his brothers and sisters.  John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—“

Sunday Morning – Part II

Thomas

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasIt says that Jesus also appeared to others that day.  The other women who had originally come with Mary to the tomb were on their way back to the disciples when they also saw Jesus. He told them to rejoice, and they gathered at his feet and worshiped.  He told them to send his brothers to Galilee to see him.  The women went and told the disciples… who did not believe.

There were two men that had followed Jesus during his ministry, and when he had died on the cross they thought that it was over.  They were on the road leaving Jerusalem.  They were headed home. The real world was calling and they had to get back to work.  Jesus appeared to them on the road, and because they didn’t believe, they didn’t see him for who he was.  He asked them why they were sad, and they couldn’t believe that he hadn’t heard about the execution of Jesus.  They said that Jesus the mighty prophet had been crucified.  They had hoped that he would have been the one to redeem Israel, but instead he had died. They even told him that the women who came to the tomb that morning had found the body missing, and that even John and Peter had gone, but they hadn’t seen Jesus.

Jesus was probably used to this by now.  More people who didn’t believe.  So he explained it all to them, starting at the beginning with Moses and all the prophets. He explained everything in scripture that pertained to him.  Still they did not see the truth.  They did not believe in their hearts that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Jesus himself, the expert on the subject, explained all the scripture to them, and still they did not believe.

See, faith doesn’t come from the mind, it comes from the heart.  Mary saw Jesus with the faith from her heart.  These men couldn’t have faith explained to them.  They would have to feel it too.  They invited this stranger to join them for dinner, and it wasn’t until they recognized his blessing at the beginning of the meal that they remembered him.  They remembered the words he had used at the Last Supper.  They remembered sitting with him at the table when he broke the bread and gave it to them.  At that moment they saw Jesus.  They saw him with faith from their heart.  They felt him.  Within moments of their recognition Jesus vanished.  They wondered to themselves why they hadn’t recognized him on the road when he had been teaching them.  They returned to Jerusalem, to the apostles and told them everything… and they did not believe.

Finally, the moment had come.  The apostles were still hiding up in that room gossiping about the events of the day.  I imagine the women were up there with the two men from the road, trying to convince these guys that Jesus was real.  Instead of going to Galilee like they had been told, they were locked in an upper room… still hiding.  One minute they are arguing, and the next minute… POOF! Jesus is there among them.

What came to mind when they thought about Jesus at that time?  Did they believe?  Nope!  They thought he was a ghost.  Seriously?!  Even as he showed them the wounds on his hands and feet, they didn’t believe.  It wasn’t until they shared a meal with them, that they finally started to let go of their preconceived notions.  They were letting go of their logic and their rationale.  They were getting their big brains out of the way, and just enjoyed him.  It was when they allowed love for him to touch them again that they finally believed… but they stayed in that room for another week.  It took time for their faith to take action.

A week later, Jesus revealed himself to the last of the apostles, Thomas.  He hadn’t been there the first time Jesus came to the upper room, so he didn’t believe.  He wasn’t any worse than anyone else, so the credit he gets for doubting isn’t really fair.  The experience that Jesus endured on Good Friday had been horrific.  Words cannot explain the torture and pain he had to endure prior to death.  The fact that they couldn’t believe Jesus could come back from that is logical… but faith defies logic.

Thomas told the other apostles when they told him about Jesus, that he would believe when he could put his finger in the nail holes and his hand in the wound in his side.  Sounds like a dare, doesn’t it?  Well, Jesus showed up and offered to let Thomas do just that.  Thomas didn’t need that much convincing.  Unlike the other apostles, Thomas saw Jesus and he believed.  He fell to his knees and called Jesus, God.  He didn’t wait, he didn’t need more proof.  He saw Jesus and instantly submitted and proclaimed his faith.  “My Lord and My God.”  Doesn’t sound like doubt to me.   Thomas had always loved Jesus passionately.  Thomas was willing to go to Jerusalem, “so that we may die with him.” John 11:16.  That passionate love for Jesus was the same passion that fueled his faith, so that he could drop before Christ and proclaim him God.

Sunday Morning – Part I

Mary Magdalene

mary-magdalene-clings-to-jesusAfter the morning of the empty tomb, many of Jesus associates thought a lot of things.  They had been stunned on Friday, when the unbelievable happened.  Their teacher, their leader, their friend had died.  He wasn’t supposed to die, but he had.  The apostle John, his mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene were there at that moment, when Jesus said, “It is finished!” Now they didn’t know what to do.  They were like the sheep that had been scattered when the shepherd is struck  (Matthew 26:31).

If they had believed what Jesus had told them about the coming resurrection, they would have waited.  All of them would have waited and rejoiced, because it was finished!  The perfect sacrifice had been made.  They were free from the sacrificial system.  Sin had been defeated for all time.

But… That’s not what happened.

They didn’t believe.  Over and over again it says in the scripture that they did not believe.  What came to mind when they thought about Jesus that Sabbath, was…

“Oh, Crap!  What do we do now?”

“Now I have to go back to fishing..”

“Are they coming for us next?”

“Who will want us now?”

“How could he leave us all alone?”

They really had no idea what to do next, so they did what they thought they should, they hid.  There was no reason for them to believe that the executions would end with Christ, that they wouldn’t be next.  The women went about the process of preparing the dead body.  They bought the spices, because they expected to find his body on Sunday morning already beginning to decay.  What came to mind when they thought about Jesus that day, was that they had lost someone they loved, and they did what they had always done in the past.  They didn’t expect a new beginning.

Mary Magdalene didn’t believe any more than anyone else that day.  She didn’t have some supernatural understanding of what was happening.  She only felt love.  She loved Jesus so much, that she came when it was still dark outside to be near the one that had set her free, that had saved her.  She approached that tomb with her spices to find the stone rolled away and the body missing.  Love and devotion brought her to the tomb, a desire to find Christ, and her passion led her to be the first one to see the Risen Lord, Jesus.

Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  Mary followed her heart that morning, and she found Christ.  She found God.  She was the first to receive the Good News!

It says in Luke 24, that the women approached the tomb and two men in white clothes with faces like lightning were standing there.  These guys were so awesome that the women fell to their faces on the ground in awe. In Mark 16:6-7 one of the men respond with, “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene,who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ “

The women returned to tell the apostles, who did not believe.  They thought it was a bunch of woman nonsense (Luke 24:11). Peter and John returned with Mary to the tomb, and it says in John, that he believed when he saw the empty tomb, but Peter did not.  It says that Peter looked around the tomb and wondered what had happened.  He wondered.  What came to mind that day, when Peter stood in the empty tomb, was not belief… not yet.  So, they left the tomb, and returned to hiding.  They did not rejoice, for they did not yet understand.

Mary… she waited.  She waited in the last place she knew Jesus had been.  She didn’t know where to go without him.  He had been her one and only hope, a hope she was still clinging to, so she waited.  It says she was there weeping, when she saw again the two men in the tomb, one at the foot of the slab and the other at the head. They asked Mary why she was crying and she replied, “That her Lord had been taken away, and she didn’t know where.”  She was still seeking him.  She didn’t understand, she didn’t believe, but she knew in her confusion to seek Christ.

Then another man spoke to her, one she thought was a gardener. He approached her with mercy, and asked her why she was crying, and again she explained, that she wanted to know where Jesus was.  Here is the really cool part, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”  (John 20:15).  She still didn’t believe in the resurrection, but her first thoughts were still for Jesus.  She said, “I will get him.”  How cool is that?

Jesus must have been moved by her devotion for him, because he then said one word.  One word that he knew she would recognize.  He said her name, “Mary”.  He called her.  In John 10, he states that the sheep follow the shepherd because he calls them by name.  In verse 27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Mary heard her name, and suddenly she believed.  She heard her redeemer’s voice and she believed, and because she believed the truth of Jesus was revealed to her.  She saw her teacher, her savior, the one she loved as God.  It says that she called out to him, “Rabboni”.  Then the very next line, he tells her, “do not cling to me.”  In my imagination, I see Mary tackling Jesus in an embrace so tight that he is having trouble breathing.  What came to mind when she thought about God was this, I thought I had lost him, but he is here and he is safe.  All that she thought she had lost at the cross had been found in the empty tomb.

Jesus tells Mary, go and tell my brothers (this is the first time he calls them brothers) that he would be ‘returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ (John 20:17)  He refers to God as their father.  He referred to the apostles as his brother.  Within moments of the resurrection everything they had thought about God before had changed.  There was no longer a separation between God and men.  The veil had been torn and they were able to rejoin God the Father in fellowship because Sin had been handled!  It was finished!  Jesus had finished it!

Mary did as Jesus commanded and when she told them that she had seen Jesus, they still did not believe.  I am sure they plagued her with their doubts, but she was not swayed.  She had held her Lord.  She had heard his voice.  She could probably still smell him on her clothes.  For Mary, the moment of doubt had passed.  She believed… and she saw.