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Sermon Series

 

February 7, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

The Acts of the Apostles 4:1-12 [NLTse]

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. 2 These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. 3 They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning. 4 But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.

5 The next day the council of all the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, along with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest. 7 They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, 9 are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the Man you crucified but Whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the One referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,

‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’

12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved.”

Sermon

Have you ever wondered how something like this [a seed] ever turns into something like this [a plant]? And yet it happens every day, all around us, doesn’t it? Seeds turn into plants. Acorns turn into oak trees. Walnuts turn into walnut trees… And so it is with people.

In our reading from Acts today Peter and John are arrested by the Sanhedrin, the same ruling council that plotted to have Jesus crucified. And Luke (who is also the author of Acts), makes clear “these leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead.” (v. 2) So, it wasn’t because they were followers of Jesus that they were arrested. And it wasn’t because they’d healed somebody, or because the ruling council was jealous. (That comes later.) No. The Sanhedrin arrested Peter and John because Peter and John were teaching that there would be a resurrection of the dead: That everyone who died would be raised to life again; that Jesus being raised was proof of it.

What does it mean that there will be a resurrection of the dead? It means that when Jesus Christ redeemed us that He did not just redeem our or souls so that we might live for eternity as a disembodied spirit in some immaterial heaven. No. That there will be a resurrection of the dead means that Jesus redeemed us as whole persons, and this includes the redemption of our bodies. It means that Christ’s work of redemption will not be complete until our bodies are entirely free from the effects of the Fall and brought to the state of perfection for which God created them which will only occur when Christ returns and raises our bodies from the dead. But as for now, the apostle Paul writes in Romans 8 that we wait for “the redemption of our bodies,” and then adds, “for in this hope we were saved” (vv. 23-24).

The resurrection of the dead is also called the “glorification of the saints”, because on that day our bodies – reunited with our souls – will fully share God’s glory, and the bodies of all believers will be changed into perfect, eternal, resurrection-bodies like Jesus’ Own perfect, eternal, resurrection-body. For those who have died by that time, the remains of their bodies will be taken by God and transformed into resurrection-bodies. For those who remain alive at that time, God will transform their living bodies into imperishable, resurrection-bodies. It will be a great day because on that day the last enemy, death, will be destroyed! When our bodies are raised from the dead we will experience complete victory over the death that came as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve. Then our redemption will be complete.

These perfect, eternal, imperishable, resurrection-bodies that are God’s gift to His children never grow old or weak and will never die again. These new bodies will not be subject to any kind of sickness or disease, but will be completely strong and healthy forever, having the characteristics of youthful but mature manhood or womanhood. Our resurrection bodies will show the fulfillment of God’s perfect wisdom in creating us as human beings who are the highlight of His creation and the appropriate bearers of His likeness and image. In these resurrection bodies we will clearly see humanity as God intended humanity to be!

For those who would argue that the resurrection of the dead is merely a Christian, New Testament teaching, Job says: “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see Him with my own eyes.” (Job 19:25-27). The prophet Isaiah writes, But those who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy!” (Isaiah 26:19) Likewise, Daniel has a very explicit prophecy saying that “many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace.” (Daniel 12:2).

Some enemies of the resurrection will quote 1 Corinthians 15:44 where the apostle Paul writes that the bodies of believers “are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies.” Except that when Paul uses the word “spiritual” (in Greek, pneumatikos) he never means it to mean “nonphysical”. When Paul speaks about “spiritual” things he speaking of things being “consistent with the character and activity of the Holy Spirit”. So when Paul writes about our bodies being pneumatikos he is not speaking of non-corporeal bodies, but is saying that our physical body will be raised to the degree of perfection for which God originally intended them.

Of course, the Lord Jesus is our model in all things. Just so, our resurrection-bodies will be just like His resurrection-body that is witnessed to in the Scriptures: He was able to be touched; He was able to eat and cook breakfast; His voice was audibly heard; and yet He could appear and disappear at will; He could make His body defy gravity in order to, well, basically fly (as we might call it when He was lifted up and up and up and through the clouds into Heaven); and He was not always readily recognizable in every situation.

That the Lord was not always recognizable to His followers after He was raised from the dead has always been a bit confusing to me, and yet the reality of such a resurrected body addresses such confusion. That is, although the Lord Jesus was only in His early thirties at the time of His earthly ministry, during those few years the Lord had no doubt aged considerably being “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”, as Isaiah says He was (53:3). But after His resurrection, the Lord would have been restored to full and perfect strength and youthfulness of appearance. So, just as we sometimes do not immediately recognize a friend who has aged considerably since the last time we saw him or her, so the disciples may have had initial difficulty in recognizing the Lord Jesus because the opposite of aging had occurred! The Lord Jesus likely would have looked younger than He had only days before!

Maybe today you are thinking about a parent or a grandparent, or maybe you are thinking about a child or a grandchild, or maybe even a special neighbor or friend who has died and gone to be with Christ. Take a minute and think about what they might look like on the day of resurrection? … What will it be like meeting that person and becoming acquainted again? … How might your relationship be different from what it was in this life? …



January 31, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction
It is Easter Sunday morning as our reading begins. Mary Magdalene has come to the Lord Jesus’ tomb accompanied by some other women. Because the Lord’s body had to be hurriedly put into the tomb, they’ve brought spices with them to use to prepare Jesus’ body properly for burial. But the tomb door is open when they arrive and Jesus’ body is gone. The women have run and told Peter and John who have also come to the tomb and found it open and empty, like they said. But no one has understood the Scriptures that Jesus was to rise from the dead.
Now, Mary Magdalene has returned to the grave site, and John writes,

John 20:11-23 [NLTse]
11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.”
14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize Him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought He was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will go and get Him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to Him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
17 “Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them His message.
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” He said. 20 As He spoke, He showed them the wounds in His hands and His side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again He said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Sermon
How many of you are trying to read the New Testament with me this year, reading the daily sections set before us in the weekly Bulletin and on the website, and me preaching each week from something we’ve read? … Keep up the good work! If reading the Bible each day is a new practice for you it can take some getting used to. So don’t be discouraged if you miss some days and get behind. Leave behind what you’ve missed and start again today. Don’t let the devil convince you that you’ve blown it or that it’s too late. That’s not true. Today’s a new day. Start today! (Or tomorrow, really, since there’s typically no reading on Sundays.) This-coming week we’re moving into the Book of Acts, and you don’t want to miss it!

Which brings us to our reading this morning because in our reading the Lord Jesus has “breathed on His disciples” and commanded them to receive what He has just breathed: The Holy Spirit. And yet we’ve all been taught that the Holy Spirit didn’t come the day Jesus was raised from the dead (as we are reading here in John). Most of us have been taught that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples fifty days later at Pentecost. So, what’s going on here?

I’m glad you asked!

First off, if you didn’t already know it, realize that the Holy Spirit is indeed God’s breath. Ruach – roo-akh – is the Hebrew word for spirit. But it’s a word that also means breath and wind. Likewise in the New Testament, pneuma – nyoo-muh – is the Greek word for spirit. But it, too, can also mean breath or wind.

In the beginning, in Genesis 2, the Lord God breathed into Adam the “breath of life”: The Holy Spirit. Here the Lord Jesus is breathing into the disciples the “breath of new life”, abundant life: The Holy Spirit. And now the Lord Jesus says that the disciples can forgive people’s sins. This coming Tuesday we’re going to read in Acts 2 about the disciples being gathered together on Pentecost and hearing the sound of a violent wind, and how afterwards the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they become bolder in their preaching and begin praising God in other languages and suddenly have better understanding of the Scriptures and more…

So, again, what’s happening here? Have the disciples received the one and the same Holy Spirit two different times? Or have their two fillings been distinct? Are there two separate and different ways that the Holy Spirit comes to a person?

Well, let me make this as clear to you as mud: Yes, the disciples have received the one and the same Holy Spirit two different times, and the Bible tells us that lovers-of and believers-in Jesus should expect to be filled with the Holy Spirit again and again and again and again.

But we’re also witnessing two different acts of the Holy Spirit happening in John and in Acts, as well. It’s what the Bible speaks about as the Holy Spirit coming within a person – that’s what we first see happening in John this morning – and what the Bible speaks about as the Holy Spirit coming upon a person – which is what we first see happening in Acts 2, that we’ll be reading in just a couple days.

First, let’s look at this idea of the Holy Spirit filling Christians over and over again.

We’ve already read about the Lord Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit into His disciples here in John 20. And we’ve talked about the famous passage of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples at Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. But the Holy Spirit also fills Simon Peter again when he and John are brought before the Jewish Council on account of healing a lame man and teaching that there’s going to be a resurrection from the dead. (That gets spoken of in Acts 4:8) All the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit again after Peter and John get released, in Acts 4:31, and the Bible tells us, “The meeting place shook”!

The apostle Paul was first filled with the Holy Spirit after a disciple named Ananias prayed for him as Paul was first coming to faith in Jesus. (Acts 9:17) And the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit filled Paul again when he and his missionary partner, Barnabas, were preaching on the island of Cyprus and were being opposed by someone practicing witchcraft there. (Acts 13:6-12)

“Keep being filled with the Holy Spirit,” Paul writes to the Christians in the city of Ephesus in Ephesians 5:18. Most English translations read: “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,” but the Greek verb there conveys ongoing action: We’re not just to be filled once and for all, but we are to always to be filled, to keep being filled, to continually be filled with the Holy Spirit. And, as we’ve already been reading, we keep seeing examples of that across the pages of the Bible.

So, we, Christians, should expect to be filled with the Holy Spirit again and again and again. The truth is that we leak, and our Father needs to keep topping us off! And yet, the Bible also gives us pictures of two distinct types of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s talk about that.
When the Lord Jesus breathes on His disciples He is filling them with the Holy Spirit within themselves. When the Bible uses phrases or imagery about the Holy Spirit coming inside of us or doing a work within us it is most often referring to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit: That is, the Holy Spirit making us more and more holy from the inside out. We can see the results of such an “inside job” in Galatians 5:22-23s listings of “fruit” that the Holy Spirit produces in a person. The Holy Spirit within us makes us more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, and more patient. As we are filled more and more with the Holy Spirit within we grow more and more kind, good, trustworthy, gentle, and self-controlled. That is the “inside” work that the Holy Spirit does in a Christian’s heart and mind. And that is the work that we see the Lord Jesus beginning with His disciples that first night when He was newly raised from the dead and they began believing in Him. Of course, they believed in Him for different reasons and in different ways long before that, but this is the first time that they fully understood His Person and His mission: They finally “got it” that He was God the Son, and that suffering and even defeat for God’s sake and the sake of the good news was not failure but to be expected, and led the way to being resurrected with Him in the life to come!

So, here they are. And their very first meeting with Jesus since they’ve come to truly and fully believe, He breathes upon them, giving them the Holy Spirit within themselves. And He tells them, ‘Now you have God the Holy Spirit living within you. He will give you the peace with God that I have won for you on the cross. Now you, too, can declare people’s sins forgiven, because I’ve first forgiven your sins. The Father has sent Me. Now I send you!

Wonderful, isn’t it?

Everyone who has come to believe in God the Father through Jesus Christ has God the Holy Spirit living within them doing His sanctifying work, making us holier and holier day by day.

But let’s move on to the next kind of “filling”: What’s happening in Acts 2, that we’ll be reading in more detail this week, is the Holy Spirit coming upon believers in Jesus.

When you read Bible passages about the Holy Spirit working in the life of a Christian that uses external imagery like coming upon or the believer wearing the Holy Spirit like clothing or having the Holy Spirit settle on them, that is an external “filling” of the Holy Spirit and that “filling” leads to empowerment for the work of ministry.

The Lord Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus is talking about empowerment for ministry, for being His witnesses, for telling people about Him: The Holy Spirit will come upon us for these things.

And this is where the Bible talks about the gifts the Holy Spirit gives for ministry: Helping, service, mercy; knowledge, wisdom, faith; encouragement, evangelism, pastoring; giving, discernment, leadership; administration, teaching, prophecy; healing, miracles, missions; apostleship, craftsmanship, intercession; hospitality, tongues, interpretation, and making-music… All empowering gifts the Holy Spirit gives to enable us to do the works He calls us to for advancing His Kingdom here in the earth.

But not every Christian receives this empowerment, because this “filling” needs to be sought and waited for. The resurrected Jesus said to the disciples, recorded at the end of Luke, “Stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from Heaven.” (Luke 24:49) So it is a “filling” we need to expect, ask for, and wait for. And many Christians don’t know – have never been taught – to expect such empowerment, let alone to think they need to ask for it, and much less to think they need to wait for it. But it is this “filling” with the Holy Spirit – even as He fills us again and again and again – that is necessary to accomplish the great works – whether visible or invisible – that is necessary to accomplish the great works that greatly advance Christ’s Kingdom among us!

So, to recap: The Holy Spirit fills us within in order to sanctify us that we might bear the holy fruit of godly character; and, the Holy Spirit fills us upon with power and ability so that we might do all that Christ has called and commanded us to do.
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And we keep being filled in these ways. We have times when we see ourselves growing in holiness by leaps and bounds! (Often the evidence of a fresh filling!) And we see other times when we experience our work for the Lord having great – supernatural – effectiveness! It is the Holy Spirit continuing to fill us within and upon to make us more and more into the likeness of Christ and so that His Kingdom might come and His will might be done here on earth as it’s always done in Heaven.



January 24, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction
Those who are reading through the Bible with Pastor Ben this year read chapters 11-15 in the Gospel of John this past week. This morning Pastor Ben is going to be preaching from some of that, and we’ll be reading from John 11:32-44.
The Lord Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus had become ill, but instead of immediately going to heal him the Lord Jesus delayed, waiting until Lazarus had died before going. Lazarus’ sister Martha has gone out to meet Jesus, wondering why He didn’t come earlier. And now Lazarus’ other sister, Mary, has gone out…

John 11:32-44 [NLTse]
32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if only You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” He asked them.
They told Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much He loved him!” 37 But some said, “This Man healed a blind man. Couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was still angry as He arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to Heaven and said, “Father, thank You for hearing Me. 42 You always hear Me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe You sent Me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

Sermon
When a person puts their trust in God through Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us that such a person is a new creation: Their old life has gone; a new life has begun. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17) But old ways of thinking, of living and responding, old priorities and enjoyments and the attraction of what everyone else is doing can distract and hinder believers from our new life, like graveclothes binding a man newly brought back from the dead…

The Lord Jesus loved Lazarus. And He loved Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, as well. We don’t know if such love was based on family ties or on friendship or even on business dealings the Lord Jesus may have been involved in before beginning His ministry. We don’t know anything about how Jesus came to know and love Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. We just know that He loved them. And when the sisters sent Him the news that His dear friend was sick and dying, in His love for them, the Lord Jesus didn’t drop what He was doing and go to them all to heal Lazarus right away. No. In His love for them the Lord Jesus waited until Lazarus had died, and then He came.

(There’s something for us in this as to how God can love us and yet not answer our prayers right away. If our lives are all about our own comfort and ease then God’s delays in coming to us can seem cruel and it can cause us to doubt His love. But if our lives are all about God getting glory and getting to show His love not just to us but to many, then although His delaying requires faith from us, even so, we can trust that He has plans and purposes to work all our troubles and trials together for good: For our good and for His glory. And He shows us here in Lazarus’ death and Martha and Mary’s mourning and grief that we might have to wait – to wait even beyond when it seems to be too late – for Him to arrive and work it all out, for our good and His glory!)

As our reading begins, Martha and Mary have talked with Jesus, wondering why He delayed. And they are crying, and the family and friends and professional mourners around them are crying. (Because in those days you could hire people to come to your home and weep and wail with you so you wouldn’t feel so self-conscious and alone.) And John records that when the Lord Jesus saw all their weeping that He got angry, but that then He began weeping, as well!

And He goes with them to the graveyard and asks for the stone to be rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, and He cries out, “Lazarus! Come out!”
Calling someone back to their body from the land of the dead is not a difficult thing for God the Son, Jesus Christ. But Paul explains for us in his letter to the Philippians that God the Son had taken off His divinity when He was born Jesus of Nazareth to Mary of Nazareth. (See Philippians 2:6-11) So, it was not God the Son Who had called out, “Lazarus! Come out!” It was Jesus of Nazareth filled, as He was, with the Holy Spirit. And Lazarus came out!

(I think it is worth noting that the Holy Spirit has continued to work through Jesus’ people to bring the dead back to life. I attended a conference several years ago where a pastor and missionary to Mozambique in Africa shared her eyewitness account of seeing a parishioner who had died from a massive head wound be raised from the dead, with no longer any mark on him. So, as Jesus has said, filled with the Holy Spirit, anyone who believes in Him will do the same works He did, and even greater works, because He has gone to be with the Father. [See John 14:12]) But, back to Lazarus…

He’d been dead for four days. He was bound up with graveclothes – kind of like a mummy – and the headcloth was still over his face, but Lazarus came out. He was alive! And the Lord Jesus says, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

And I know the Lord spoke those words to those who were there that day as a part of welcoming Lazarus back to this life (because graveclothes are the trappings of the dead not the living), but I also believe that the Lord Jesus is speaking those words to each of us here today, as well.

In his book, “unChristian,” David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, writes that most of the lifestyle activities of born-again Christians are statistically equivalent to those of non-born-again people. When asked to identify their activities over the last 30 days, born-again believers were just as likely to have visited a pornographic website, to have taken something that did not belong to them, to have consulted a medium or psychic, to have physically fought or abused someone, to have consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk, to have used an illegal nonprescription drug, to have said something to someone that was not true, to have gotten back at someone for something he or she did, and to have said mean things behind another person’s back.
But how can that be if Christian people have been made new – their old lives gone; new lives having come? How can that be unless we’re still to some degree wrapped up in the dead-trappings of our old lives? How can that be unless we are still to some degree bound by our “graveclothes” and kept from the fullness of new life Jesus’ has for us all?

A fairly well-known pastor and author once wrote, “Joy in Christ requires a commitment to working at the Christian lifestyle. Salvation comes as a gift, but the joy of salvation demands disciplined action.” He goes on, “Most Christians I know have just enough of the gospel to make them miserable, but not enough to make them joyful. They know enough about the biblical message to keep them from doing the things which the world tempts them to do; but they do not have enough of a commitment to God to do those things through which they might experience the fullness of His joy.” (Tony Campolo. “Seven Deadly Sins.” p. 21)

Taking off our graveclothes is the commitment each and every Christian exhibits towards working at the Christian lifestyle; living out our faith, obedience, and commitment to God in order to do the things He calls us to, those things through which we might experience the fullness of His joy.

I think that graveclothes – the things that hold us back – can take may different forms. Maybe your graveclothes take the form of your heart having hardened to the life and power of God, so that, like Abraham and Sarah, who were promised a son in their old age, arranged for Abraham to sleep with another woman, a younger woman who was still able to bear children, because Abraham and Sarah didn’t believe in the life and power of God and thought they would have to bring about God’s promise to them themselves. (See Genesis 16) Likewise, perhaps your graveclothes are keeping you from expect the miraculous in your life but keep you bound up, only looking for His promises to be fulfilled if you make them happen for yourself?

Or maybe your graveclothes take the form of fearing the unknown and your not being in control or not knowing what to expect? Like the high priest and all the Pharisees and Sadducees’ of the Sanhedrin – the Jewish High Council – who were afraid Jesus was messing up the status quo, who’d come to believe that making a truce with Rome and living under their rule was the best option they had for getting to keep their Temple and at least a modicum of their way of life? (See John 11:45-53)

Maybe we just don’t know what it means to live as His disciple: What to do next or how to trust Him that are our graveclothes? Do you remember, after Jesus’ resurrection, when Peter, Andrew, James, and John went back to fishing for fish? The Lord had to meet them, and cook them breakfast, and set them back out fishing for people again. (John 21:1-25)

Maybe our graveclothes are made up of unforgiveness? Dr. David Seamands in his book “Healing For Damaged Emotions” says, “The two primary causes of emotional stress are the failure to receive forgiveness and the failure to forgive.” [Wheaton, ILL: Victor Books, 1989, pp.29-30] Or, as the great philosopher Lucy explained to Charlie Brown at the end of the game explaining why she had lost sight of the baseball and had failed to make the catch, “Sorry I missed that easy fly ball, manager, I thought I had it, but suddenly I remembered all the others I’ve missed, and the past got in my eyes.”

What graveclothes are you still wearing? What aspects of your old, dead life are you still living out and hanging onto? Do you realize they are keeping you bound up and away from the new life Jesus’ has for you?
Since the Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, as with all things I think our trouble with these graveclothes comes down to a love-issue: That is, what do we love more than Jesus?

When Peter, Andrew, James, and John went back to fishing for fish after the Lord Jesus’ resurrection, the Lord asked Simon Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” the Lord wasn’t asking Peter if Peter thought he loved Jesus more than the other disciples. He was asking Peter if Peter loved Him more than he loved fishing and fish?

In proclaiming, “Unwrap him and let him go!” in our midst today I believe the Lord Jesus is asking us, “What do you love more than Me? What’s keeping you bound up? What’s keeping you away from My life? What do you love more than Me?”

In John 12:25-26 Jesus says that if we love our souls – our lives – in this world that we will have destroyed them. But, He says, if we hate our souls – that is, hate our lives – that that is how we will safeguard them to eternal life. We must keep dying to our selves. Do we think we know the Scriptures well enough that we can stop studying them? We need to die to that and start feasting on the Word or start feasting more than we are. Do we think our prayer life is good? We need to die to that complacency and push the ways we’re praying to new expressions and depths. Do we think we know what true Worship is like? We need to die to that contentment and open ourselves to different manners and expressions of showing the Lord how much He is worth. Do we think we are serving enough, or that it’s someone else’s turn to do this or that service, or that we’re too mature to serve in these or those “lesser” ways? We need to die to such thoughts and humble ourselves to obediently be about whatever the Lord is placing before us.
Whatever you love more than Jesus, those are your graveclothes…

And as you sincerely ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your soul’s competing loves to you, let me tell you one more story:
“An old American Indian tale recounts the story of a chief who was telling a gathering of young braves about the struggle within. “It is like two dogs fighting inside of us,” the chief told them. “There is one good dog who wants to do the right and the other dog always wants to do the wrong. Sometimes the good dog seems stronger and is winning the fight. But sometimes the bad dog is stronger and wrong is winning the fight.”
“Who is going to win in the end?” a young brave asks.
The chief answered, “The one you feed.”
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Love Jesus first. Feed your relationship with Him the very best of your time, money, and energy. And find a Christian partner, or a small group of Christian partners, who you can be absolutely honest with and who will pray with you and for you. Unwrap each other and help let each other go!