Tuesday, March 25, 2008

We Are Changing...

It is amazing how the Lord puts things together...

A couple years ago, God put a thought/desire in my heart that we as a church (and I as a Christian) should begin to take seriously the command to take the Gospel to Jerusalem (home area), Judea (region), Samaria (cross-culturally), and the ends of the earth (every where else).

Our church has done a fair job of taking the gospel to Jerusalem (our home area). We see people saved and baptized the majority of Sundays in our church (We had at least one make a profession of faith last Sunday. He was a guest a man in our church had invited to come and hear the gospel.) We can see examples all around us of people whose lives have really been changed by the gospel. We share the gospel with hundreds if not thousands of people each year through Upward Basketball and AWANA. We have a youth ministry that reaches 'un-churched' kids weekly. We are seeing young adults and young families come into our church, many of whom have never had any sort of church background. Just this past Thursday, Pastor Wally led a 85+ year old lady to Christ during the day. (She had been coming to our support class for depression and also to our Monday night meal for the underprivileged.)

God has blessed, but of course there are many, many more people to reach.

So God struck me with this truth a couple years ago: The Great Commission does not say first go to Jerusalem, then when you are finished, go to Judea, then when that is done go to Samaria, then when there is no one else to share with, go to the ends of the earth. No! It says we should go to all of those places... now!

But God did not just put that thought in my mind. He began to do the same thing in the hearts and minds of many in our church.

Two years have passed now... and it is obvious that our church and our people are changing.

... in the church office last week as we were preparing for a service in an upcoming missions celebration, we were thinking through all of the people from our church who have gone on mission trips in the last year and it was overwhelming:

--- We've had multiple mission trips to rebuild churches in Mississippi and Louisiana...
--- We sent a missions team to Maine...
--- We sent a missions team to Kentucky a couple weeks ago...
--- We have had several families go down to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators this past Winter (and one family move there to serve full time)...
--- We sent a missions team to Kenya, Africa...
--- We sent our youth on a mission trip to some impoverished areas of Kentucky...
--- We've had people go on missions to the Dominican Republic...
--- And I'm sure I'm leaving some people and trips out...

... not only have we had people go on mission trips out of the area, but I think about all of the people who have helped with our soup kitchen/dental clinic in inner-city Columbus, our Monday night community meals, our daily food pantry and benevolence ministries, Christmas with the kids.

... and then I think of all of the missions efforts we have not gone on but have supported financially. Some are officially supported through the church and others through some generous above and beyond gifts from our members...

--- Stowe Center, our sister church in inner-city Columbus...
--- New Life, our church plant in Thornville...
--- Jeff Moore's new church plant in Zanesville...
--- Our church sponsorship in the Ukraine...
--- Heartbeats Outreach to troubled women...
--- Churches in Kenya...
--- Chafisi Orphan Outreach...
--- David and Amy Mozombite starting their new work in Peru...
--- And probably a dozen more...

... and things are just getting started. The Kenya team met this past Saturday to put together the organizational parts of the Chafisi Orphan Outreach. This will make our church the only group of Christians in the world with an open door to share the gospel with the unreached people group that we have adopted. (As you know, we can't mention the name of the group on the internet for security reasons.)

... I had a late night meal at Olive Garden last night with someone with a heart to go to Kenya with our team in July. We spent two hours talking about what has happened and what could happen there.

... There is talk of an upcoming trip back to the Ukraine.

... I think we have at least one family in our church that will leave job, home, and the comfort of life in America and go full time on the mission field this year.

... When I chat with people in the hallways at church, many people are talking about missions. How can I get involved? What can I do? How can I give?

So I say all that to tell you this: I was taking a break from studying this morning and I ran across a music video from one of my favorite singers, Sara Groves. The video shows pictures from her recent mission trip to Rwanda.

The video brought back lots of memories... and a few tears...

I think God is changing me.

I think God is changing our church.

I don't want to go back to the way I was...

I don't want our church to go back either...


Want to see the video?

Pastor Noel

Sunday, March 23, 2008

My Easter Preparation - Sunday

Happy Resurrection Day!

If you are looking for this morning’s quiet time guide, I have two suggestions...

First, if you didn’t use yesterday’s (Saturday’s) guide, then use it for today. It will really help you get focused for Easter.

Secondly, read and meditate on Luke 24:1-53. This is the story of the resurrection and a couple of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus.

If you are one of my Ohio readers... I’ll see you at church!

Pastor Noel

Saturday, March 22, 2008

My Easter Preparation - Saturday

What happened after the crucifixion? Friday night, Saturday, even Sunday morning... What were the disciples and the other followers of Jesus doing? Not much, so far as we can tell. About the only thing Scripture records is that some of the ladies prepared some spices for the dead body of Jesus.

Read Mark 16:1-3 and Luke 24:1-4.

It seems like the followers of Jesus were in shock. It seems like they thought it was all over. "Our hero, our leader, our Messiah is dead."

Were they expecting the resurrection? Were they waiting anxiously for His return? Were they eager to go out into the world to proclaim the victory of Christ on the cross? No. It was over.

Sure, Jesus was a great teacher, but there have been other great teachers. Not as great, but great none-the-less. And yes, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, but He was not the first (or the last) to make such a claim. And Jesus died a violent and terrible death, that He seemed to have predicted, but what real meaning does that have now? He is dead.

But you know the rest of the story... Something happens and the disciples perk up and live the rest of their lives proclaiming the greatness of Christ and imploring people to give up everything to follow Him. What was the difference? What changed the disciples from disappointed mourners to bold crusaders?

The resurrection!

I think most Christians lose sight of the importance of the resurrection. That is what I want you to focus on today.

We do not follow Jesus because of His teachings... (even though His teachings are always correct and helpful)

We do not follow Jesus because of His love... (even though He has loved more than any other)

We do not follow Jesus because of His perfect life... (even though He is the only person live a sinless life)

We do not follow Jesus because of His death on the cross... (even though it is through that death that our sins may be forgiven)


You might ask, 'Noel, why do you follow Jesus? Why not Buddha, why not Mohammed or Allah, why not New Age, why not Scientology, why not Sun-Myung-Moon?

At the risk of oversimplifying things let me give you a straight, honest answer...

I follow Christ not primarily because of His teachings, wisdom, lifestyle, or death, but I follow Christ because He said He would die and three days later come back to life, and then He did it!

I follow Christ (and His teachings, wisdom, lifestyle, and death) because of His resurrection. And I believe that is the very same answer you would have gotten from any of the disciples.

After seeing Christ live, after hearing Him teach, after watching Him die, they were about ready to quit. But when He rose from the grave, that changed everything!

You can read how the apostle Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 15:1-26.

After reading through those verses once, go back and focus on these one at a time.

1 Corinthians 15:14 NKJ And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

1 Corinthians 15:17 NKJ And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!

So what does Paul say our faith hinges upon? The resurrection.

And when Paul is trying to prove the validity of Christianity, what does he appeal to? Re-read these next verses...

1 Corinthians 15:3-8 NKJ For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

Paul didn't try to prove Jesus was the Messiah based on His teachings, wisdom, lifestyle, or death. No, Paul offered one thing as proof that Jesus was the Messiah: All of these people saw Him resurrected!

We don't believe He is resurrected because of His teachings. Rather we believe His teachings because He is resurrected.

It is difficult to really teach this principle in the short space of this blog, but pray and ask God to help you see the importance of the resurrection and then join us tomorrow as we worship Him for the 'power of the resurrection.

Pastor Noel

Friday, March 21, 2008

My Easter Preparation - Friday

Today... the crucifixion.

We saw yesterday that Jesus was so sorrowful that He almost died. As He looked forward to today, the day of torture, the day of crucifixion, the day of separation from God, the day of agonizing death, how terrible and dreadful this day must have been.

But as I sit here this morning and consider what that day must have been like and Scriptures I've read and studied through the years comes into my mind, the emotion I think of is not misery or dread, or even sorrow. The emotion I think of is joy. I've never really thought about this before, but I believe Jesus was focused on joy. I don't mean to say that the day was joyful. No, it was a horrible day, but I believe Jesus was focused on joy. Let me show you the verses that God reminded me of this morning.

First, we must read of the details of the crucifixion. Read these verses very slowly and carefully. Ask the Lord to help you imagine what this must have been like.

Read Luke 23:33-47.

One thing that stands out to me in these verses is the first thing Jesus said as they began to crucify Him. Read Luke 23:34 again. Something that can be seen in the original language of this verse that cannot be seen in English is that the tense of the verb, 'said,' is such that we know that Jesus didn't just say this once, but He said it repeatedly. I imagine that every time the hammer came down on the nail, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them." Each time they pierced through His skin and flesh He said, "Father, forgive them." When they raised the cross in the air and His muscles began to tear against the nails He said, "Father, forgive them." Never once did He lash out at those who were crucifying Him. (And He could have.) No wonder we read in Luke 23:47 that even the leader of the soldiers was praising Jesus by the time the crucifixion was complete.

Let's read a partial description of the crucifixion in the book of Psalms.

Read Psalms 22:14-18.

It was a terrible day. So where is the joy? As I walked downstairs to my study this morning wondering what crucifixion verses I would focus on for my quiet time today, what came to mind was Hebrews 12:2.

Hebrews 12:2 NKJ looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Let's really focus on this verse for a while.

First, notice it is a verse about the crucifixion. It speaks of the cross as something that had to be endured. It mentions the shame that Jesus experienced in the crucifixion. This shame could have been several things (and it was probably a little of all of them). It could refer to the shame of hanging unclothed and vulnerable on a wooden cross. It could refer to the shame of being condemned to die with common thieves. It could refer to the shame of being exposed to the world during such a terrible and painful time. It most likely refers to the shame before God of bearing the reproach of all of the sin of the world, past, present, and future.

But notice what Jesus was focusing on. What was His motivation? What was set before Him? JOY!

What was this joy? Was it the joy of sitting at the right hand of the Father? No. That was Jesus' rightful place. He did not have to die on a cross to do that. If that were His goal, He could have skipped the crucifixion. No, the crucifixion was not about Jesus gaining the right or privilege of sitting at the right hand of the Father. Jesus has always had that right and privilege and had He refused to be crucified, He would still have that right and privilege.

So, what was it? What joy?

It was the joy of providing forgiveness to you and me. It was the joy of providing a way for us to be saved. It was the joy of being able to restore fellowship with us! Jesus loves me so much, that He endured the cross, despising the shame, and thought, "This terrible crucifixion is worth it for the joy of being able to bless and have fellowship with Noel Dear."

The more I think about that, the more it overwhelms me. Jesus didn't go to the cross because He had to. He didn't go because it was 'the right thing to do.' He didn't die that terrible death because it was required of Him. No, He did it because of the joy of being able to save me. He did it because He wanted to. He did it because He thought I was worth it. He did it!

Think about that a while. Meditate on Hebrews 12:2. Go beyond just focusing on the pain and agony of the crucifixion. Ask God to help you see the joy that Jesus focused on.

I don't want to turn this into another Sunday sermon, but after you have thoroughly thought and prayed through Hebrews 12:2 a few times, think through these questions and comments...

- Does Jesus value His fellowship with me more than I value my fellowship with Him?

- Jesus did so much so He could have fellowship with me, yet I let the smallest inconveniences keep me from spending time with Him.

- Jesus focused on the joy of fellowshiping with me during the awful crucifixion. What is my attitude when I serve Him? What is my attitude when I am called on to make sacrifices for Him?

- Why would saving me be such a joy for Jesus? Why was that worth it?

Pastor Noel

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Easter Preparation - Thursday

Thursday is the day of the Easter week that we traditionally focus on the Lord's Supper and the events of the Garden of Gethsemane. This was a very important day in Jesus' life.

First read the account of part of the day in Luke 22:1-53.

That is a lot to happen in one day, and we didn't even read about six trials that started that night and carried through to the next morning.

Let us put our focus on what happened at the Garden of Gethsemane. Re-read Luke 22:39-46. Now turn to Matthew and slowly read 26:36-46.

Going back through the account we read in Matthew, let's spend some time thinking and praying through the parts of the event. Let us carefully answer some questions. Let this become a conversation and pray between you and the Lord...
  • (26:36) These are the last hours before Jesus is arrested and crucified. He decides to spend them in prayer. Why do you think He did that? How would you choose to spend your last hours? How do you prepare for a difficult or dreaded event? Do you prepare with prayer? What did you do the last time you new you were about to face a very difficult time?
  • (26:37) Who would you choose to come pray with you if you faced such a difficult time? Do you have regular prayer partners? Are there people you feel comfortable asking to really pray for you? When was the last time you asked someone to pray for a personal situation? Have you thanked those people? Have you thanked God for those prayer partners?
  • (26:38) What do you think made Him so sorrowful that He almost died? Was it a thought about the physical punishment he would take in the next 24 hours? Or do you think it was a thought about the sin for which he would bear the reproach? Many scholars believe that it was at that time that the Father showed Him a glimpse, a reminder, of the sin He would be dying for. Do we have that same kind of hatred for sin? Are there some sins we like? Think about your present sins in the light of the price Jesus had to pay for their forgiveness...
  • (26:39) What was Jesus saying to the Father? Did Jesus want to die? Was this going to be easy? Jesus was committed to doing whatever was necessary for our salvation. That is why He said, "Not as my will, but your will." Have you thanked and honored Jesus for His willingness and His sacrifice? Jesus ultimately decided that you and I were worth dying for. Now we must decide if He is worth living for. Have you made that decision? How does it show in your life?
  • (26:40) How faithful are you in praying?
  • (26:41) According to the words of Christ in this verse, what is the key to not falling into temptation?
  • (26:46) Jesus woke the disciples up and said, it is time. Pray that the next four days that God will keep your focus on the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ...

Pastor Noel

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My Easter Preparation - Wednesday

Yesterday I said that between the triumphal entry and the crucifixion that Jesus did at least one miracle and gave several teachings. We looked at the miracle yesterday. Today, let us focus on the teachings.

This is a lot to read, but let's read all of His teachings that occurred on Tuesday and Wednesday as they are recorded in the book of Mark.

Read Mark 11:20 - 13:37.

Now re-read the parable that Jesus gives in Mark 12:1-12.

This is an unusual parable, one that people don't preach and teach on very much. The purpose of this parable is to show us something about the nature and character of God. When we see that in this teaching it gives us a deeper understanding and appreciation of the crucifixion and the resurrection.

This exercise will require some extra focus, but go through the parable one verse at a time and jot down what we can learn about our Heavenly Father and His character and nature. (I will include my list as a comment to this blog. You will get more out of this if you do yours before you read mine.)

After you have made your list, use that as a guide to praise, thank, and honor God in your prayer today. Use my list along with yours if that will help.

Pastor Noel

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Easter Preparation - Tuesday

Jesus came into Jerusalem in His triumphal entry on Sunday (even though we focused on it yesterday), and He was arrested on Thursday evening. So what did He do in between Sunday and Thursday?

A few things we know...

He stayed at night in the small town of Bethany. Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem proper. Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, and Mary and Martha lived in Bethany, so it is likely that He stayed with them. What must it have been like to be Jesus' host during this last week of His life? This was a week when Jesus' humanity and diety were uniquely displayed and contrasted. I wonder what wonders Mary and Martha saw and heard that week?

There is another thought provoking thing about Jesus staying with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Can you think of what it is? What was the most wonderful, amazing event in the lives of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus? Think about it. And what will be the climatic event of this Easter week for Jesus? Resurrection!

When Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the grave, He was giving us a glimpse of the real 'power of the resurrection' that would be ultimately displayed on what we now call Easter. There is no bibilcal account of this happening, but I wonder if there were not some side conversations between Jesus and Lazarus about what was about to happen. What might Jesus have said to Lazarus? What might Lazarus have said to Jesus? What kind of unusual camaraderie might they have had? One day we will stand next to Jesus in resurrected bodies. What will that camaraderie be like?

We also know that Jesus did some other things between Sunday and Thursday...
  • He taught.
  • He did at least one miracle.
  • He celebrated the passover meal with His disciples.

Let's focus this morning on the miracle Jesus performed. Read these parallel passages of Scripture:

  • Matthew 21:18-20
  • Mark 11:13-21

Let me answer one question that everyone has when they read these passages. If it was not the season for figs, then why was Jesus upset that the fig tree had no figs? The answer lies in the leaves. A fig tree grows figs first and leaves second. If a fig tree has leaves, then it is advertising that it has figs.

So here was a fig tree, that has one purpose... to produce figs, that is saying by its leaves that it has figs, but is barren. Jesus curses the tree.

Jesus is in the business of doing some fruit inspection. And as Christians we are advertising that there are certain things that are true of our lives and lifestyles. What if Jesus did some fruit inspection of our lives? What if He were to look closely for the evidences that we are fullfulling our purpose? What kinds of fruits would He discover that we are bearing for Him in our lives?

Take a few minutes, and do a little fruit inspection yourself. Not of others, but of your own life. What ways can you see that you are bearing fruit for God's Kingdom and fulfilling your God-given purpose? What fruits would others be able to see? What fruits would the Lord commend in our lives, or what fruits would He say were lacking?

Imagine that you are the tree Jesus sees on the road to Jerusalem... how would you fare?

Pastor Noel

Monday, March 17, 2008

My Easter Preparation - Monday

I shared with my church yesterday (Sunday) that I would post a brief blog each morning this week detailing the Scripture reading and the thoughts of my morning quiet time as I committed myself to growing closer to God through this Easter week. I'll try to have these posted by 6:00 a.m. each morning so you can use these as guides for your own Easter week quiet times if you choose to. I hope this helps. I hope this honors the Lord.


It was approximately 1,978 years ago that Jesus had his 'triumphal entry' into Jerusalem. This marked the beginning of the end. This marked the beginning of the last days before Christ would be crucified.

This day was prophesied in the O.T....

Zechariah 9:9 NKJ "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.

Read about the entry and the day in John 12:12-50, and then also in Luke 19:28-46.

After you read through these descriptions of what happened on this day, Monday, of Christ's last week before His crucifixion, then pray and ask the Lord to give you today a better understanding of the heart and mind of Jesus.

After you have read the Scripture once and prayed for a deeper understanding of the heart and mind of Jesus, then take a piece of paper, and read through the verses again slowly. This time, write down everything you learn about the heart, mind, and disposition of Jesus.

I will do this and put my list as a comment to this blog post so you can read it. But, you will get more out of this if you do yours before you read mine.

So once you complete your list and spend some time in prayer, then take a look at my list in the comment section of this blog.

Tomorrow we will begin to take a closer look into the meaning of the crucifixion.

Pastor Noel