Sunday, March 26, 2017


 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, 03/26/2017
Introduction: Robert Lewis in his book “The church of Irresistible Influence shares a story of how a suspension bridge came about on the Niagara River Gorge, “In 1851, many of the most accomplished engineers in the country thought James Roebling was out of his mind. That year, he began to work on the unthinkable: building a bridge over the Niagara River Gorge. Disaster was nearly universally predicted. There was the sheer mathematics of the thing: 825 feet across and more terrifyingly 200 feet straight down. But the distance across the river paled in comparison to the sheer power and rage of the waters below.
            Across such a chasm, Roebling believed a train could cross. History was not his ally. Although greater spans had already been bridged, including Roebling’s own bridge across the Ohio River, the Niagara was far more difficult. No girders or bridge supports would ever survive the raging currents. The only possible solution was a suspension bridge. In England and France suspension bridges had collapsed under the mere weight of crossing humans, killing hundreds.
            As Roebling’s bridge was less than a year from completion, a smaller suspension bridge collapsed a few miles away just five years after it was opened. Yet construction continued and Roebling’s bridge opened in 1855. The bottom level was for carriage and pedestrian traffic and the top was reserved for the Great Western Canada Railroad. On Friday March 16, the first train rolled over twice the weight of regular trains to test the bridge. Just a few days later, a passenger train packed to capacity made the journey from Canada to the United States. Because of his efforts, two countries which had been separated from each other were now connected.[1]
            These days there is a lot of talk about walls, but can you imagine what our lives will be without bridges? Can you imagine what life would have been like between America and Canada, if it had not been for those brave efforts of John Augustus Roebling?  Similarly, we have another kind of bridge builder between man and God. His name is Jesus, He used the cross as a bridge to connect us with God. After his death and resurrection, he left behind his church a ministry of building bridges to connect people with God and with others. The title of this message “A CHURCH THAT CONNECTS.”2 Corinthians 5:11-21

BACKGROUND: What do we know about the city of Corinth and the Church in Corinth? Corinth was an important cosmopolitan Greek city located about fifty miles west of Athens. It was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. Corinth was on a major trade route and had a thriving economy. Greeks, Romans, Jews, and a mixed multitude of sailors and merchants flocked to this crossroads. Corinth was known for its stylish architecture.  By the end of the second century Corinth had become one of the richest cities in the world.
            Corinth was a sin city. Degradation, immorality, and heathen customs abounded.  There were many religions represented, even a temple with a thousand sacred prostitutes.  Pleasure was worshipped more than principles. Yet God had a plan and purpose for Corinth so He send the Apostle Paul to Corinth to plant a Church among a large Jewish population.
            In Acts 18:4, we read, “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. Paul stayed in Corinth for eighteen months and a congregation was established.  After a while Paul received disturbing news about the Corinthian church from the household of Chloe (I Cor 1:11). They reported that there were divisions, gross immorality, law suits between Christians in front of unbelievers, practical problems in living the Christian life, and marriage problems. All these and many more prompted Paul to write a letter to the Church in Corinth.
            We will pick our story up from 2 Corinthians chapter 5. The Apostle Paul was writing to encourage believers to be grateful for their free gift of salvation, and to make a goal in their lives to please God as they await their heavenly abode, the presence of God. He made it abundantly clear to them that, the Love of Christ was the compelling factor behind everything he did or said. He also challenged them, that they should no longer live for themselves but to live for Christ who died for them and was raised again. He explained that two things were necessary for them to live for Christ. I. Regeneration 2. Reconciliation. Let’s look at these two words:
Regeneration: When we accepted Christ as our savior we have been regenerated which means a thorough change of heart has taken place. We have been given a new heart in the place of an old one. The Apostle Paul calls it in Vs 17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone and the new is here.” 
            In Titus, the Apostle Paul explains how ugly our old life looked like. Titus 3:3-6, “It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously.”
            I am eternally grateful that Jesus saved me from my old life and given me hope and a new way of living for Him. I am sure many of you can testify to how miserable you were before giving your life to Christ. Some of us sitting here may have never surrendered their lives to God, if so you too can receive forgiveness today for your sins and begin this new way of living. We were not only regenerated, but we were also reconciled.
            What does reconciliation mean? It is relational word. It means the restoration of friendly relations. It is an action word which involves reuniting, reunion, bringing together (again), conciliation, reconcilement, rapprochement, fence-mending; pacification, appeasement, and peace. It is the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement. All of us at one point in our sinful state were enemies of God. Romans 5:10 “for if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son.”
             In Greek, a root word Katallaso means “to reconcile.” It was used to indicate the divine work of redemption where God taking upon himself our sin and becoming an attornment, establishing that relationship of peace with mankind. Christ brought peace between us and God, through his death. Christ died for us so that we might live a life of abundance. Living for Christ involves an individual regeneration and reconciliation. But that is not the end in itself, we were also given a message of reconciliation and a ministry of reconciliation.

            What is the message of reconciliation? It is the good news of the gospel. In simple words: God loves us and created us for a relationship. Our sins separated us from God. Sins cannot be forgiven by good works. Paying the ransom for our sins, Christ died and rose again. Eternal life to all those who believe in Christ. Life with Christ brings abundant Joy and eternal hope. This is the message of reconciliation that God wants us to share with our friends, family and everyone else that we come in contact with. So, that they too would have an opportunity to be regenerated and reconciled with God. How do we do it?  It is through the ministry of reconciliation.

            Vs 18, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Let’s unpack this scripture. This tells us that there was nothing we did to be saved and reconciled to God it was all from God. Secondly, God gave to all those who were saved without any exception a ministry of reconciliation. Many faithful church goers often carry a misnomer thinking that only a few people are called for ministry and not everyone. While it is true that some were called for some specific ministry, for example people like Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, and Ravi Zacharias but all of us are given a ministry of reconciliation.
            We Christians often talk about, Ministry, what does it mean? The Greek word used here was Diakonia. Which means labor or service which involves compassionate love towards the needy with in the Christian community. And also, every business, every calling, every job so far as its labor benefits others is also a service.  In I Corinthians 12:4-5 we read, “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them in everyone it is the same God at work.” For example, some are gifted in preaching, teaching, others are gifted in music worship, or administration, or creative writing, performing arts, or serving acts of mercy, and in certain skilled professions. Whatever gift you may have been given by God, it is not only for yourself but you may use them and get involved in the ministry of reconciliation. To bring people back to God. How do we do that practically? By connecting!

            We have been privileged, that God entrusted us with a message and a ministry of reconciliation. I believe that God wants us to be a Church that Connects. A Church that builds bridges. A Church that engages and embraces people of all ages, ethnicities, religions and all walks of life. A church that takes the ministry of reconciliation seriously. It takes all of us intentionally doing our part in spreading the good news. We seek for opportunities to both preach the gospel through our words and deeds.
            Ministry of Reconciliation involves connecting, and building bridges with people that are both inside and outside of our Church. Yesterday in our vision retreat we talked about the importance of building relationships with people in our community. We recognized that God has placed us in a unique place as Hope Church with a clear mandate to preach the good news of the gospel to all people in Sharon and beyond.
            Here are a few practical suggestions as we seek to engage our community. Firstly, seek to get to know your neighbors, know what is happening in our community, get involved in community events. Connecting with people in our community may foster trust and relationships. I know it is not easy, but we want to give it a try. Secondly, sign up for voluntary service, attend social public events, serve in community projects, be an advocate for social justice and racial reconciliation, do all these without any agenda except to serve and build friendships. Our good works will generate goodwill, which might open a door to preach the good news.
            Thirdly, invite your friends, and neighbors for a BBQ, a movie night, or Ice cream socials as we do that we are sending a message of welcome and belonging. Fourthly, help our elderly neighbors by mowing their lawn, cleaning their basement, delivering meals, offering rides for shopping or hospital visits etc. There are over 5,500 elderly population ages ranging 55 or over live in Sharon. It is another huge opportunity for our Church.
            Fifthly, invite your unchurched friends to our church related events:( Third Sunday Luncheon, Easter Sunday Breakfast etc). Finally, earnestly pray to God for the salvation of your unsaved friends, neighbors, and colleagues at work that He would soften their hearts so that they might respond to the gospel. My prayer is that Hope Church will become intentional in sharing the message of Hope and reconciliation to all the people in Sharon and beyond. May the Lord empower us to become soul winners by building bridges and through our connections. Amen.


Sunday, March 19, 2017


Acts: 16:6-15
Introduction: Walt Disney was a remarkable man of vision. The early days were tough. Early in his career a newspaper fired him because they thought he had "no good ideas". That just made Disney try harder. That remarkable, creative visionary refused to give up. Walt would occasionally present some unbelievable, extensive dream to his board about an idea he was entertaining. Almost without exception, the members would resist even the thought of such a thing. Unless everyone RESISTED the idea he would not take it. Is it any wonder that Disneyland and Disney World are now realities?
            When Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. opened in 1974, Mrs. Disney was sitting beside Walter Cronkite. Walt Disney has passed away a few years earlier. Walter Cronkite wanted to say just the right thing to Mrs. Disney, so he leaned over to her and said, "Wouldn't it be great if Walt were here to see this today." Mrs. Disney wisely replied, "If Walt had not first seen this you would not be seeing it today."
                That is the power of vision. This type of faith is required for visionaries in business -- but also for us as Christians. Like Disney we need to dream big and trust in God for the impossible. Soon after I got saved I had a vivid vision in 1982, in that vision I saw myself in an auditorium filled with people from many parts of the world and I was speaking to them.” After that vision, I thought maybe one day God would give me an international ministry. I am ever so grateful to God for giving me that vision, which changed everything in my life. In 1985 I joined YWAM, one of the largest Mission organization over 20,000 full time staff serving the Lord from all over the world. After 20 years of serving with YWAM, and pastoring a Church for eight years, now here I am in Sharon Hope Church preaching the gospel in a town rich in its diversity.
            From time to time the Lord brings that vision back to me to remind me of my purpose which is to share the good news of the gospel to people from all over the world.  Today I want to talk about, “THE POWER OF VISION.” ACTS 16:6-15. Before we delve in, let’s consider these questions: What is vision? and Why is vision important?

            There is a natural vision that most people are blessed with, it is the faculty or state of being able to see.” That is our eyesight. But there is also a supernatural vision. It is an experience of seeing someone or something in a dream or trance or as a supernatural appearance of something remarkable, like seeing an angel or a vivid picture. It is like seeing myself in that auditorium. The Hebrew word used for vision in the OT comes from a root word Chazah which means, “a mental sight, a dream, a vision, a revelation, an oracle.” It was especially appropriate for the visions presented to the minds of the OT prophets, “oracular revelations.” In common words, a vision is “seeing a mental picture or a string of words, or hearing an audible voice that no one has seen or heard, which is uniquely personal to the one who is having that vision.

            Big corporations, agencies, even Churches spend a lot of time and resources developing their vision and mission statements as if their entire depends on them, that tells us why we need vision.  Without vision, we don’t know where we are going and why we are doing what we are doing. Let me share a few famous quotes on the importance of vision: Helen Adams Keller was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree noted, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”  George Washington Carver born into slavery in Missouri became a famous Botanist and inventor highlighted the importance of vision, “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.”
            King Solomon said, Proverb 29:18a, “Where there is no vision people perish.” In NASB it reads, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, the Hebrew word used here is “Para” the sense is to let something slip through the fingers by ignoring an opportunity. It probably means undisciplined. In other words, if you have no vision you are probably aimless and directionless. Is your life like a kite without string?
            When the Apostle Paul wrote the Ephesians perhaps he had in mind a group of people who were just wondering without a vision and a sense of direction, letting every opportunity slip through their fingers through their undisciplined life style. He wrote this wakeup call to them saying, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:14-16.
            The Bible is full of stories of those who had a vision that changed their lives drastically. Here are a few examples: Abraham saw the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrew 11:10), through his wonderings became an example of all those who are seeking for better things in the afterlife. We all know the dreamer boy Joseph; his dreams have changed his life not only that God used him to preserve the blood line of Jesus.
            Moses parents saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s orders. When Moses grew up he persevered hardships because he saw him who is invisible (Hebrews 11: 23, 27). When the three Hebrew boys were thrown up in the fiery furnace they had Jesus appearing with them in the flames. The interesting part was when King Nebuchadnezzar, saw “Jesus” in the flames his life changed and he made a decree to all the people of that time “not to say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.” Daniel 3. In the New Testament: Jesus, for the Joy that was set before Him endured the cross. (Hebrew 12:2).
            Peter had to swallow his Jewish pride when he saw a vision from heaven. He saw a blanket coming down from heaven, that contained all kinds of unclean animals.” That changed his perspective and made him realize that God was deeply concerned about the gentiles when many Jews, including Peter conveniently avoided them.
            When a radicalized Jew, Saul met Jesus on the road of Damascus, he became blind for three days. The Lord appeared to Ananias and told him to go and find out a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”   Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 9
            I believe that during those three days when Paul’s natural eyes were closed, God has opened up his spiritual eyes and let Paul see what was in-store for him in the future. That vision has changed Paul forever. He became indeed a powerful instrument in the hands of a powerful God. If it was not for Paul we would be missing about 13 books in the New Testament. Why am I sharing these ancient stories you may wonder? These and many other encounters clearly illustrate the power of vision, just not any vision but a vision from God has the power to change.

            Coming back to our story in Acts 16th chapter. After that dramatic conversion, Paul went on to preach the gospel far and wide. Paul and his companions had power revival meetings throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia. They reaped a great harvest of souls.
            They wanted to continue to Asia, but the Holy Spirit prevented them.  They came to the border o Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to do so. Let’s pause here:
            What does this tell us? In our pursuit of following Christ not necessarily every open door of opportunity is from God. At times, we think we should do a certain thing, but God may have totally another thing in mind. Secondly, the Holy Spirit orchestrates detours in order to accomplish His bigger purpose. Why did the Holy Spirit hinder Paul and his companions twice? Because he had a much different plan for them to accomplish.
            It is interesting to see how the Holy Spirit has directed Paul and his companions on this important mission of saving souls. They passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night, Paul had a vision of a Man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Here Paul saw in his vision the desperation of the lost souls. In recent years, this particular call of the man from Macedonia, known as the “Macedonian Call” has been a powerful instrument to usher people in to missions all over the world.
            Without hesitation Paul and his companions concluded that God was calling them to preach the gospel to the people in the region of Macedonia, so they got ready at once and left. See the route they took, from Troas, sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day went to Neapolis, from there travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of Macedonia.  They stayed there for several days. On one Sabbath day, they went outside the city gate to the river where they expected to find a place of prayer. Obliviously looking for some men, probably a group of ten so that they can recite their prayers, but instead they found women. As a staunch Jewish man, Paul could have turned away from that place, if it was not for the Holy Spirit.
            As they sat down and began to speak to the women, the Lord opened up the heart of Lydia a dealer in purple cloth.  Lydia must have been a very successful business woman with purple cloth business. When she heard the message, she responded to the Gospel and along with her household was baptized. Lydia persuaded Paul and his companions to stay at her house.
            This is a fascinating story of the power of vision. The vision of a Macedonian man begging Paul has become an instrument to change the demographics of entire Europe. The recorded evidence shows that Lydia was the first Christian in Europe. We can assume that the young Christian congregation in Philippi gathered in Lydia’s house. Vs 40, “After Paul and Silas came of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters.
            What can we learn from this story? Firstly, God’s vision is much bigger than anyone of our visions and dreams. He wants everyone to get saved. Secondly, when we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit he will give us his vision for the lost that might change our lives completely. Thirdly, when you hear or see a vision from God, be obedient and act upon it, for souls are at stake.
            Fourthly, in your God given vision you might not get all the details right, nevertheless as you take those steps of faith, it will become more clear as you go. What does this all mean for us at Hope Church? We are here because of God’s over all vision for the lost souls. As a local expression of God’s universal Church, we do have our unique vision. Our vision is “Glorifying God by becoming devoted followers of Christ.”

            What does this really mean, and what would it look like practically? That is what we are going to wrestle through in prayer, and discussion in our upcoming vision retreat. If you are a member, or regularly visiting Hope Church we don’t want you to miss this opportunity. We welcome you to come dream with us, pray and plan with us. Your opinion matters and we want to hear your voice, so together we will discover God’s plan and purpose for individuals, families and our Church. In closing a quote from the pioneer of Modern Missions in India William Carey, “Expect Great things from God and Attempt Great things for God.” It is exciting to dream big dreams, but it is even more exiting to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. May the Lord Help all of us to dream His Dreams and see His Visions. Amen

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Mark 12: 28-34 03/12/2017
Introduction: Last Sunday after Church our family attended an open house of the Islamic Center for New England. It was a well-attended meeting of Shaornites from a cross section of faiths and religious backgrounds. The core message of this meeting was to, “Get to know our Neighbors” The center was very hospitable and welcoming for our community. I am pleased to hear about another initiative by Temple Israel, “Neighbor to Neighbor” again this is an effort to get to know our neighbors. When I hear about these efforts, I cannot help but think these two communities are talking and doing what we should be doing as the followers of Christ as well.
            We as Hope Church, are strategically placed in Sharon, surrounded by many people of diverse faiths and religions. What would Jesus expect of us to do in our community? What should be our response to our neighbors? How well do we know them? When we first came here during Christmas time, in an effort to get to know our neighbors, my wife and I took Christmas cookies to our immediate neighbors but it was disappointing. No one opened the doors, either no one was at home or no one wanted to open the doors or they were just afraid of their neighbors.
            Whether we like it or not these days, partly due to certain political ideologies and trends there seems to be an unexplainable fear, suspicion and prejudice of those who stay next door to us. How can we overcome such fear and prejudice and take God’s message of love to our neighbors?  In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Do not waste your time bothering whether you ’love’ your neighbor act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less."
            I believe God is encouraging our church to take giant, new, risky steps in loving one another and especially our neighbors. This is the fuel that will sustain Hope Church. We have been studying about Knowing God for the past several walks. It is well and good for our internal spiritual lives, but that should not be an end in itself. The reason why we want to know God is so that we will know ourselves, and we will understand what the mission of God is better. I want to title today’s message, “NO GREATER COMMANDMENT” Mark 12:28-34

BACKGROUND:  During the earthly ministry of Jesus there were three groups of people named, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Scribes who always were looking for an opportunity to discredit Jesus’ message and his claims. On one occasion, the leaders from these sinister groups came to Jesus to trap him with difficult questions. Jesus answered the Pharisees and Sadducees aptly, seeing that Jesus rightly put them in place one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus another trick question “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
            We will pick our story up from here. This teacher’s question suggests that there were so many commandments.  Just to give you an idea of how many commandments there were in the OT, “The rabbis determined that there were 613 commandments contained in the Pentateuch, one for each letter of the ten commandments.  Of the 613 commandments, 248 were seen as affirmative and 365 as negative.  Those laws were also divided into heavy and light categories, with the heavy ones more binding than the light ones. The scribes and the rabbis, however, had been unable to agree on which were heavy and which were light, so the teacher asked Jesus this particular question saying, “Of all the commandments which is the most important?” so that Jesus would incriminate himself by giving a wrong answer.

            The most important one answered Jesus, but actually he clubbed two commandments as one. Mark 12: 29-31 “Hear O, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your GOD with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself” There is no commandment greater than these.” The first part of this commandment is known to the Jews as the “Shema” In Matthew 22: 40, we read the power of these two commandments, “All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
            By answering shrewdly Jesus laid a foundation for a bridge over the void that existed in the lives of many Jews at that time. By mentioning these two commandments in one breath Jesus made a connection between their proclamation and their practice. Over the centuries, this commandment has become the Jewish confession of faith. Devout Jews recited the Shema twice daily. What were the implications of this declaration? For the Jews, it was not just a rhetorical, intellectual proclamation but a call to action. In other words, they were to show their love for God by maintaining a right heart attitude, devoting themselves to studying and reciting scriptures daily and above all by their hard work to provide for their families, for the welfare of the poor and the needy and for the upkeep of the temple.
            The devout Jews prided themselves in meticulously keeping the first commandment, yet they often neglected another great commandment which is in, Leviticu19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” These two commandments cannot stand separate from each other, they both are interdependent, one is built upon the other. Israel’s history tells us that God often dealt with them seriously for their, injustice, intolerance and lack of love for their neighbors.

            Loving our neighbor as ourselves is not a good suggestion, or we do it when we feel like, but it is a command. When we love our neighbors, we visibly demonstrate our love for God, by seeing our love for one another the world will come to know that we are disciples of Christ. In fact, Jesus went one step further and said love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. That is really a tough assignment for us.  Let me share an incredible story that brought me to tears. “Jennifer Thompson was a 22-year-old college student in North Carolina, described as "the perfect student, perfect daughter, perfect homecoming queen." Her life was forever changed one summer night when a stranger held a knife to her throat and raped her.
            She was determined to remember every detail about her assailant so she helped the police develop a drawing. She picked Ronald Cotton a black man out of a lineup. Although he insisted on his innocence, the power of Jennifer's eyewitness testimony helped to convict him and sentence him to life in prison. She never had a doubt. A year after his conviction Ronald Cotton met another inmate in the prison kitchen. His name was Bobby Poole and they looked a lot alike. Poole was serving consecutive life sentences for a series of rapes. He bragged to other inmates that Ronald Cotton was serving some of his time because he had assaulted Jennifer Thompson.
            Cotton got a knife to murder Poole but his father told him not to murder but put his faith in God. He followed his father's advice. A new trial was ordered for Ronald Cotton. This time they saw both men. This time the jury heard the other side of the story. This time they again convicted him on the basis of Jennifer Thompson' s eyewitness testimony. Again, Ronald Cotton was sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison.
            After eleven years Jennifer Thompson, had gone on with her life with marriage and children. Then one day the police detective she hadn't seen in years knocked on the door of her Winston-Salem home. He said, "Jennifer, you were wrong." The new technology of DNA analysis conclusively proved that Ronald Cotton was innocent. Her assailant was Bobby Poole after all. Jennifer Thompson was shocked. How could she have made such a terrible mistake?
            She had stolen eleven years of a man's life that could never be given back. She agonized over this for two years and then asked to meet with Ronald Cotton and ask for his forgiveness. She prayed for strength to meet the man. They met in a church building in the town where she was raped. Her husband and the pastor waited outside.
            Face-to-face for the first time outside a courtroom, Jennifer said, "I'm sorry. If I spent every day for the rest of my life telling you how sorry I am, it wouldn't come close to what I feel." Calm and quiet, Ronald Cotton finally spoke: "I'm not mad at you. I've never been mad at you. I just want you to have a good life." They talked for two hours while the pastor and Jennifer's husband anxiously waited outside. When they all stood outside, Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton embraced. They held each other for a long time.
            A few days later Jennifer wrote to Bobby Poole in prison. She asked to meet him. She wrote, "I faced you with courage and bravery that July night. You never asked my permission. Now I ask you to face me." She wanted to meet him to tell him that she forgave him for what he did. She reasoned that if Ronald Cotton could forgive her, she could forgive Bobby Poole. (He never responded. Poole died of cancer while in prison, early in 2000).[1]
            Now Jennifer and Ronald are best friends, they wrote a book titled, “Picking Cotton” A story of injustice and Redemption.” They speak at meetings together fighting injustice. This story clearly demonstrates what Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
            But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Matthew 5:43-47
            If Jesus were to ask us those questions how do we respond? Let me bring all this into our context. Just like the Jews of Jesus’ time we too can take pride in our love for God. We fairly regularly attend Sunday bible times, and worship service, take part in communion, read scriptures diligently, and fellowship with one another in our Church. But if this is all we do throughout our lives, how are we different from any other religious community in Sharon? Because every other religious person does that and some are even better at that.    
            What Jesus is expecting of us is to take the next step and love our neighbors, and even one step further and love our enemies.  It can be very threatening for many of us.  But that is exactly the Mission of Jesus he came to build a bridge between God and his enemies, that is you and I. Now he is calling us to do the same. Loving God and Loving our neighbor is one and the same and there is no greater commandment than these. Our whole faith hangs on these two.
            The time has come for our church and other churches in America that we must take this command of Christ seriously for God’s sake and for the world’s sake. We can no longer afford to stand on the sidelines. We can’t just be good Christians and citizens and bystanders of this world and of our town, we must connect and we must engage, otherwise all our talk of Knowing and Loving God amounts to nothing. Jesus died for our sins to change us that we might then be able to change others through his message of love, forgiveness and grace. May the Lord help us to cease every opportunity to Love our God and to Love our neighbor. Amen


Sunday, March 5, 2017


“Knowing God-Part VII” I Kings 10:1-13,
Introduction: After a preacher died and went to heaven, he noticed that a Boston cabdriver had been given a higher place than he had. "I don't understand," he complained to St. Peter. "I devoted my entire life to my congregation." "Our policy is to reward results," explained St. Peter. "Now what happened, Reverend, whenever you gave a sermon?" The minister admitted that some in the congregation fell asleep. "Exactly, " said St. Peter. "And when people rode in this man's taxi, they not only stayed awake, they prayed."
            We all like rewards, don’t we? These days we give away rewards so easily, just for common things that are expected for anyone for example: teachers reward students for just attending the school, parents reward their children for brushing their teeth, and keeping their room clean. Churches’ give away Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts gift cards for new comers just for showing up at church and so on. Do they really need to be rewarded for what is expected of them?  We can argue about the pros and cons of reward based parenting, teaching and the whole system? But you will be pleased to know that it is God’s perfect plan and will to give a reward to those who faithfully trust and obey Him. And it is not unspiritual to expect and anticipate those rewards, if we do so in a spirit of humility and gratitude.
            We have been on a journey to Know God, so far, we have looked into various aspects of God’s nature and the way He relates to his people. Though this journey will not end in our life time, but as we keep up with this Journey in the end it will be richly rewarding. The best part is that we can already begin to enjoy some of those rewards here and now. Today we will look at “The Rewards of SEEKING God” based on the story of an African Queen who traveled great distances, risking her life all because she wanted to know the truth. I Kings 10:1-13

Background to the story:  It was a crucial time in the history of Israel. The kingdom now has been handed over to Solomon after the death of his father David, Israel’s most beloved king.  Solomon, builds and dedicates the temple for God, to fulfil the desire of his father. The fame and splendor of Solomon spreads far and wide as far as the land of Sheba, which was 1500 miles away from Jerusalem. Our story begins with Verse 1, “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the LORD, she came to test Solomon with hard (difficult) questions.”
            What do we know about this unnamed queen of Sheba and the land where she came from? Nothing much from the text we can learn about the queen. So, we take some help from outside sources and tradition.  The story of Queen of Sheba has undergone extensive Jewish, Christian, Arabian and Ethiopian elaborations. According to Josephus a Jewish historian, (Ant. 8:165–73), the queen of Sheba was queen of Egypt and Ethiopia, and brought to Israel the first specimens of balsam, which grew in the Holy Land in the historian's time.
            Archaeological evidence suggests that Sheba is to be identified with a mercantile kingdom that flourished in southwest Arabia. It is roughly equivalent to the eastern part of the modern state of Yemen. One Ethiopian story, called the Kibra Negast, states that the queen was actually Queen Makeda (said to have reigned from 1005-955 BC in the coastal regions of Ethiopia). This story claims that when Queen Makeda went to visit King Solomon, she converted to Judaism, and they became romantically involved. She bore him a son, Menelik I, and at the age of thirteen he went back to Jerusalem to get his father’s blessing. Solomon, as the story states, appointed Menelik the first king of Ethiopia (Sorenson 23). When I went to Ethiopia in 2003, and spoke with several Ethiopians, I realized how strongly they hold to this tradition.
            We are familiar with the Christian account of the Queen of Sheba found in (Matt 12:42, Lk 11:31) Jesus invoking the “Queen of the South” condemned the people of his own day who had not recognized that “one greater than Solomon was in their Midst.” After Jesus using the Queen of Sheba as an example over two thousand years ago, here we are today talking about her. Every time I come to this passage I see something new that I have not seen before. From my observation, I have gleaned a few principles that would help me in my quest to seek and know the truth. Let me share three of those principles with you this morning

            The scriptures deliberately do not mention her name, we only know her as the Queen of Sheba. When the Queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his great relationship with the Lord, she was intrigued by that fascinating story, but did not believe it right away. She did not stop at simply saying, what an incredible story, but wanted to find out for herself how credible that report was. In other words, she wanted to meet the person of the story for herself.
            Hence, she undertook a nearly 1500 miles’ journey from Ethiopia to Jerusalem. Just to give you an idea of what a journey of that nature entailed in ancient times: “She had to cross the desert sands of Arabia, and travel along the coast of the Red Sea, up into Moab, and over the Jordan River to Jerusalem. Such a journey required at least six months’ time, since camels could rarely travel more than 20 miles per day.”[1] She took all the trouble, why? because she wanted to know the truth. When she finally arrived in Jerusalem and met King Solomon face to face, she poured out everything in her heart and asked Solomon difficult questions. What this tells me is that she had an insatiable desire to know the truth, and nothing was going to hinder her from reaching her goal. Was she disappointed when she met King Solomon? Let’s find out.

            The Queen of Sheba had some tough questions for King Solomon. One commentator says, “Riddles are designed to stump the hearer” It is like our news anchors asking politicians, “gotcha questions” For King Solomon it was not an issue, in Vs 3, we read “Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her”
            What was her reaction when she perceived all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his servants, the attendance of his waiters and their attire and the lavish burnt offering that Solomon offered to God? In NIV it reads, “She was overwhelmed” in NASB, “there was no more spirit in her” in ESV, “no more breath in her, literally, the experience left her breathless.” Lack of a better analogy it is like a tourist walking into the “TRUMP TOWER and being invited by the president to dine with him.
            Did Queen Sheba get what she has bargained for? More than that, she had a life changing experience in the presence of the wise King Solomon. In Vs 5, “She said to the King, it’s all true! Your reputation for accomplishment and wisdom that reached all the way to my country is confirmed. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself; they didn’t exaggerate! Such wisdom and elegance—far more than I could ever have imagined.” (The Message)
            What this tells me is that what we hear about God from preachers, bible teachers, TV Evangelists is all true. But no matter how eloquently and scholarly then may explain God, his nature and purpose to us it is only a 50 % truth, not the full truth. When we make time to come into God’s presence and tarry in his presence, what He reveals of himself to us is simply priceless and breath taking. That would be a marvelous experience, but it doesn’t come without paying the price. When we are willing to pay the price, God will reward us by answering our questions, clarifying our doubts, affirming our convictions and empowering us with his presence.

            The Queen of Sheba, not only came to test Solomon but also bless him with exotic gifts. She gave him nearly five tons of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. It was said of the spices that, “Never again were so many spices brought in as those the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.” What did she receive in return? King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she “desired and asked for” besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty.” The Queen of Sheba returned with her entourage a happy and fully satisfied woman.
            There are so many parallels we can see in this story. Let’s draw a few parallels: In the story Solomon is like God in his wisdom, riches, splendor, and generosity. Queen of Sheba is like a thirsty and seeking soul who is not satisfied with a second-hand revelation of God but wants to experience the fullness of God. Fast forward, to Jesus’ time. During his earthly ministry, Jesus exhibited all the qualities of God by performing all kinds of miracles and silencing his critics by his heavenly wisdom, yet people had a hard time believing in him.
            At one point, to a demanding crowd who wanted to see a sign from heaven before they might believe he said this, “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.” (Matt 12:42)
            Think of this for a moment. How the story of this African Queen could impact our lives today? Jesus who is greater than Solomon is standing here in our midst by his Holy Spirit. What would he say about us? We all can be ashamed when we look at the tenacity and strong desire of the Queen of Sheba. What are we willing to give up in our quest to Know God? Can we consider reducing our times on Facebook, so that we might make room for God? Let’s not be satisfied with a second-hand revelation, when God is desiring to reveal himself face to face to us.
            It has been an exciting re-embarkation experience for me for the past seven weeks as we have reopened the subject of Knowing God. I am sure you too share my views that Knowing God is a lifelong journey, however for now I want conclude this current series by highlighting a few rewards that God is eagerly waiting to give to all those who earnestly seek Him. Firstly, the harder the journey is to God the greater the rewards will be. Secondly, when we come to God in humility seeking answers for our questions, God will not turn us away instead he will answer all our questions. Thirdly, let’s give to God our best, our resources, money, talents and time. Remember God is no debtor of any, he will give you back, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over into your lap.” 
            Fourthly, when you come into his presence by passing all the distractions he will overwhelm you with his glory and his abundant grace. Fifthly, like the servants of Solomon who were happy because they stood in his presence daily and heard his marvelous wisdom, God will grant us access daily into his presence if we care to go, and at the end of our earthly journey, invite us into His eternal presence to reign with Him forever in his everlasting Kingdom.
            So, dear friends, are you excited to press on, on this wonderful, exciting and life transforming journey of Knowing God? I am! It is appropriate for us to close our study with the words of Paul, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:7-8 May the Lord grant all of us his healing and sustaining grace to Know Him more. Amen