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History confirms that Jesus of Nazareth was seen by many, but that most who saw Him did not believe.  Evidently, seeing Jesus was not to believe in Him.  For some it had the opposite effect - seeing Him caused many to disbelieve.  The New testament is surprisingly frank on this subject.  The Pharasees and Sadusees saw Jesus miracles but did not believe.  John 7:5 tells us that Jesus' own brothers saw but did not blieve.  Crowds of common folk also saw Him, and evidently they too did not believe - they would not follow.  This should not be surprising.  After all the Bible itself describes Jesus thusly,  "He had no form or majesty that we would look at him... we held Him of no account."  (Isaiah 53:2-3).  Jesus is describe by Scripture as a very unimpressive figure.  Pontius Pilot saw Him, and did not believe.  King Herod saw Him, and did not believe.  The High Priest saw Him and did not believe.  Seeing is not always believing when it comes to Jesus.  Many who read through the New Testament wonder what it would have been like to live back 2,000 years ago and to be witnesses of Jesus' life... to see the miracles... to hear His sermons... to particpate in His resurrection.  We imagine faith would be easier if we were witnesses.  But I"m not so sure.  We might not have seen much of anything had we not first believed.  Remember, when Jesus first rose from the dead no one recognized Him. They did not look with the eyes of faith. 

If "seeing is believing" it is also true that "believing is seeing."  For example, we must first believe in hope before we can see it.  When facing the worst: the death of a child, the loss of health, the destruction of one's family... the choice to believe in hope makes it possible to see... even in the worst of circumstances.  

It is politically popular to attack the entitlement programs in our federal budget.  Some are fond of saying that we can't afford them.  Some rail at the whole entitlement mentality.  For example, nearly 50% of America no longer pay any Federal taxes but you can bet they expect all the benefits.  Most assume medical care is their right.  Adult children return to their parents homes to live rent free.  The attitude of entitlement is alive and well.
 
And this is also true spiritually.  Folks seem to feel spiritually entitled.  For example, folks tend to assume that God somehow owes them for being good.  They assume that they can believe whatever they want (regardless of what God Himself may say about it) and that God will accept their beliefs.  They assume that it doesn't really matter what your faith may be so long as you're sincere.  Most of all folks feel entitled to heaven... Heaven is a reservation presumed by most... an entitlement for being "a nice person." 
 
Well... we're assuming an awful lot here, and we're gambling that we are right and that the Scripture is wrong when it says, "Straight is the way and narrow is the gate, and those who enter are FEW!"  
 
I know God to be totally kind, forgiving, and gracious.  But God is no one's fool.  He expects to be accepted on His terms, not ours.  He expects to be respected as the final authority, not one option among many.  He expects that anyone who honestly comes to experience Him personally will fall before Him in fear and trembling.  He expects His followers to obey Him, not merely contemplate Him. 
 
We presume much with our spiritual entitlements.  Like I said, some of us are betting the farm that we are right and that the Scriptures are wrong.

I am reminded of an ancient wisdom that is confirmed over and over again in Scripture, “No Testimony without a Test!”  There is

                   No victory without a fight.
                   No healing without a sickness
                   No promise without a price
                   No resurrection without a crucifixion
                   No Crown without a Cross
Webster defines testimony as a witness.  In other words a testimony is a witness to the truth.  When we go through a test we learn from personal experience what is and is not true. 
          You may be going through the test of not having a job, experiencing family grief, or a financial trial.  Life is testing you, and at the end of this test, you will have a testimony.  You will serve as a witness.  Was God there for you?  Was He faithful to walk with you all the way through your trial?  Did God answer your pleas for help?   At the end of your test you will have a testimony.
          Life is a test!  And this is a true today as it was true for all the great saints of God. 
          Abraham and Sarah were directed by God to leave their home and travel to a foreign land.  It was a test of faith.  The Bible is full of saints with testimonies.  Daniel had a testimony of God delivering him from the lion’s den.  King David had a testimony of God delivering him from Goliath’s hands.  Joseph had a testimony of how God transformed him in one day from a forgotten prisoner to the ruler of Egypt.   
          Indeed, the entire Bible is a testimony of God’s faithfulness – a testimony that comes in two testaments – the old testimony of the ancient Hebrews and the new testimony of the followers of Jesus.  Both the Old Testament and the New are full of stories of men and women going through great trials, and in those tests learning all about God.

What is the difference between living & dying churches?  Well, let me give you five:

1.     Dying churches focus on growing their membership;

a.      Living churches focus on sharing their faith.

2.     Dying churches work at running their church;

a.     Living churches work at making disciples.

3.     Dying churches are people led;

a.     Living churches are Spirit led.

4.     Dying churches drive to mission projects; 

a.     Living churches are mission driven.

5.     Dying churches fix things; 

a.     Living churches create things. 

The United Methodist Church is attempting to change from a dying church to a living church.  In 1965 the UMC  enjoyed nearly 11,000,000 members.  Today we have less than 8,000,000 members.  BUT THAT IS NOT THE REAL STORY!  The real story is this… most United Methodists are not excited enough about their spiritual life to share it with others.  

People outside the church are not much interested in church matters.   But let me remind you what they do care about.  They care about overcoming their depression.  They care about losing 30 pounds.  They care about personally experiencing God.  They care about improving their marriage.  When United Methodists address people’s real concerns we won’t have a problem attracting new people.  We will have more people than we know what to do with. 

The telephone call came shortly after Osama Bin Laden's assination.  A church member wanted to know what they could read to help them sort through their jumbled feelings.  She was relieved that he was dead, but horrified that he was assinated.  She felt the satisfaction of revenge, but guilty that her government pulled the trigger.  She felt his death was justified, but the murder of an unarmed man was not.  The more she thought it though, the more conflicted she felt.  "Pastor, what can I read to help me sort out my feelings?" 

Well... if we are looking for something to read to make us feel better, I'm not sure we'll find much satisfaction.  "An eye for an eye" is a obvious place to go.  "Vengence is mine" is another.  But this would be using the Bible to justify our own limited perspective.  The cold hard facts are these.  Our govenment assinated a very dangerous man; one responsible for killing thousands of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and secular folk world wide.  Even so, our taxes and votes were used to assinate an unarmed man in the sanctity of his own home.  We also shot his wife, and killed his son.  Just because Osama Bin Laden was guilty does not give us the liscence to murder ourselves.  Remember the old saying, 'If to overcome the beast we become like the beast then the beast has won.'

I don't think there is a good/satisfying answer here.  America is relieved that it no longer has to deal with Bin Laden's threat.  But we are also responsible for the killing of an unarmed man.  If I was the President of the United States would I order his murder to protect the lives of my people and to preserve the western world?  I fear I might..  And my hair would turn grey because of such an aweful choice. 

Skeptics like to point out that there are discrepancies in the Bible of Jesus’ rising.  But I would remind such skeptics that the Roman historians Livy and Polypus each wrote very different historical accounts of Hannibal's crossing the Alps, but no one disputes the fact that Hannibal did in fact cross them.  Historians do not always agree, but that does not negate the history.  What is astonishing is that each of the four Gospel writers agreed on the same outrageous claim... that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the grave!  Not one of the many New Testament contributors, many of whom were eye-witnesses themselves, wrote anything to discredit the resurrection. 

Three days ago I attended a worship service at a small country church (in Dillsburg, PA.) out in the middle of a corn field.  It was notable because of the number of teens and twenty-somethings who attended - eagerly.  It wasn't a "youth meeting."  It was a regular service for all ages.  Still, 30% of the 300 attendees were under 30.  Was it the music?  The music was good, but I've heard better/edgier worship teams.  Was it the building?  Actually, the sanctuary was simplier than most.  Was it the preaching?  No doubt the preacher was effective, but he was a guest, and these young people were clearly used to coming to this church.  So what was it?  Why was this church so successful where most churches fail?  Was there one obvious reason?  Well, it was clear to me that the young people were WANTED!!!  Let's face it, young people are louder, messier, and more disruptive - they don't know how to act in church.  What's more, they bring with them a whole host of "issues."  But this country church was clearly DELIGHTED to welcome the disruptions, chaos, and problems that accompanies the young.  The church elders was that they were quite purposeful in their embrace of the young.  Their attitude seemed to be summed up in the phrase "Whatever it takes!" 

The older I get the more impressed I am with the power of desire.  More often than not what you really want, is what you get.  If a church really wants young people.  If a church is willing to pray their hearts out for them, set out the welcome mat for them, and accept them on their terms, success is likely.  Honestly I don't know many churches who really WANT to pay the price to reach teens and twenty somethings.  There is no secrete.  An old farmer once said to me "Hogs go where they are fed."  This is especially true when it comes to teens and twenty-somethings.  Set out a warm plate of freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies, cold milk, warms hearts, listening ears, and above all - relentless prayers in their behalf, and they will come.  A little country church in Dillsburg, PA can tell you all about it.

Fascinating article was in last week's Economist Magazine ( Jan 22-28, 2011 ), page 93! Apparently, new research has concluded that those couples who wait until AFTER their wedding day to consummate their relationship sexually benefit from measurable higher degrees of marital satisfaction. Keep in mind that the Economist is not prudish rag. Clearly the finding flies in the face of all that we have heard from the beau monde of pop culture, who have been shilling for years that abstinence is unnatural and unhealthy.

There have been wins and losses from the great sexual revolution of the 60's and 70's. Clearly the bigest looser has been the strenght of the institution of marriage. It has been gutted of sanctity, sacrifice, and singularity. Name one marriage on television today portrayed with any degree of revenrence. On the blue screen of pop culture marriage is largely mocked. In July of 2009 Time Magazin (no conservative voice) made the following remarkable statement. "There is no other single force ausing as much measurable hardship ans human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mother's financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it the least: the nation's underclass." Perhaps a little more abstinence from popular culture would do us all good.

I am weary of hearing how our public schools are failing children and that we are not investing enough tax dollars for our kid's aducation. Have you been in a public school classroom of late? A typical situation for a teacher today is to have twenty some sudents in their classroom, four or fiveof whom are largely out of control.

In other words kids come to school unparented and unprepared to learn! Many now presume that our schools should to the parenting. Teachers are expected to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as basic manners, behavior boundaries, personal hygiene, and norms for civility and emotional maturation! In addition to teaching... teachers are expected to be counselors, social workers, detectives, therapists, referees, policemen... AND moms and dads! This is absurd. The function of pur public school is to teach them, not "raise" them. Naturally teachers are involved in the social engineering process, but they are not parents, After having volunteered in the classroom for several years I've come to the conclusion that the big culprit of our currenteducation crisis is not our teachers/administration/government, but our parents. Too many parents are AWOL in the rearing of the children, and have utterly failed at preparing their kids to follow direction, obey authority, and learn. I'm waiting for the politician to stand up and take our parents to task!

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