Good News

15
Apr

The Church’s Power

April 15th, 2007 by Pastor Bob

Outline for the sermon preached on April 15, 2007 in the 10 AM worship service at the Marbury Church of God.

Today’s text: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

We are talking today about the church’s power. In this passage we see that the infant church, consisting on that first Easter evening of a group of frightened disciples, began to be empowered by the risen Christ. This empowerment involved a process begun that night and continuing over many days. It was not to be manifest until the outpouring of Pentecost, but God’s miraculous working is seldom instantaneous with no preparation. So here we will see some aspects of the power the church was to receive. (ref. Acts 1:8).

The power of Presence
The church’s power begins with Christ’s presence. They had locked the doors in fear, but the risen Christ can penetrate the barriers of fear that arise in our hearts. Just when things seem to be at their worst, when all hope has been dashed, when the worst that could happen has happened, and there seems nothing for it but to cower and hide, try to disappear, forget about the grand hopes of former days and just figure out how to survive — there comes Jesus, ready to provide a Presence that will never leave. “I will never leave you or forsake you“ is his promise, and indeed later he tells this same group, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.“ It’s the same promise he had given long ago to Moses: “My Presence will go with you.” The first evidence to the world of the resurrection of Christ is disciples who have encountered him.

The power of Peace
The church’s power begins with peace. “Peace be with you“ is the first word of Jesus to his disciples. He says it not once but twice that night, and a third time a week later when he greets Thomas. Peace is the beginning-point of all Christian experience. It is the prerequisite for all ministry; and it is the fountainhead of the power of Christ. The church’s power begins with peace.

What a contrast this shows with the way power is thought of in the world, much of the time. For the world, peace is an end-point, an elusive goal, dependent on the exercise of power that has to be brought to bear in order to make peace possible. But for Jesus, who is called the Prince of Peace, and who pronounces a blessing on the peacemakers, peace is his first gift, the essential beginning point.

A church, a disciple who does not proceed from a standpoint of peace has no power in the things of God, but merely imitates the world. But those who rest and remain at peace in Christ, and who “seek peace and pursue it’ in obedience to God’s express desires, are equipped to be reconcilers and conflict-resolvers in a world that needs to hear from those whose “feet are shod with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

The power of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the vital force of God’s presence. At the center of every human being is the spirit of that human being, the thing which animates our deepest sense of self, our deepest desires. Scripture teaches us that the condition of sin in our lives has rendered that spirit dead, and the gift of God in Christ is now to breathe life into our spirit with God’s own life, just as at the beginning God gave life to a lump of clay: “the first Adam became a living soul, and the last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45)

The power of Forgiveness
The church’s power proceeds with forgiveness. The power to forgive is the only evidence Jesus provides at this point of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In an early encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus was severely questioned because he made forgiveness of sin such a centerpiece of his ministry, including the healing ministry. The Pharisees said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?“ Often we read that passage as just another evidence of the divinity of Christ, since he responds by demonstrating through an act of healing that “the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.” We agree with the Pharisees that only God should have power to forgive sins, and we say, “well, that’s all right then, because it’s Jesus, and that just proves His divinity. Forgiveness of sin is obviously a job for God, not for the likes of us.” And into such a mind-set comes the risen Christ, giving to mere humans this awesome responsibility: “the sins of whoever you forgive are forgiven; the sins of whoever you do not for give are not forgiven.” We say i’s God’s job to forgive, and are glad to be rid of the responsibility; but Jesus gives this awesome responsibility to us, to humans, to the church. The church’s power is manifest in forgiveness.

The power of Faith
Faith is the “evidence of things not seen” according to Hebrews 11:1. When Thomas was absent from that first meeting, Jesus made sure to include him later, and did all he needed to do to evoke from Thomas the confession of faith; but his profound follow-up statement was both a warning for the future and a promise to those who reach out in faith, even a little faith, to him: “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Faith sees beforehand what God has yet to show. This promise is for us, who read: “these are written that you might believe….. and that believing you might have life through His name.

18
Mar

Isaiah 55: God Provides

March 18th, 2007 by Bob Buehler

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. — Isaiah 55:1-9

In this wonderful passage, God through his prophet offers an open invitation to wealth, ease, prosperity, a free celebration, an open bar, a party to outdo all parties. I love the exuberance of the first verses: Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. It’s a grand announcement that God has something of life-sustaining value, and not only that, something pleasant and palatable, to give away for free.
But the second verse suggests that some of us are looking for these good things in a way that is useless to us: “Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? Or your labor, for that which satisfieth not?” And the invitation is renewed: “Hearken diligently unto me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” Now I loved that passage long before I began to partake of the fatness which comes from “that which is not bread.” But let’s pause for a minute and see what he’s talking about.

So much of our time and effort, and yes, even our prayers, are spent on that which is not bread in the sense that God is now speaking through Isaiah — on physical comforts, sufficiency of food, warmth, shelter, health. Surely we need these things, and God is not stingy with them. But of them Jesus says, Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). We’re reminded of the words of Jesus: Labor not for the food which perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:27). And, I am the bread of life.God will satisfy the needs of our body, but it is our soul which he says should delight itself in fatness.

How do we obtain this gift, this free gift of a fat, satisfied, enriched soul? The first clue comes in Isaiah 55:3 Listen diligently to me says God. Are we not only listening, but listening diligently to God? Are we going out of our way to make sure we hear what he has to say? Here he also says, and eat what is good . Now also remember how a New testament writer cites the Psalmist: O taste and see that the Lord is good. He even gives us three simple steps: Give ear; come to me; hear me.
Give ear
means to begin to pay attention, be ready for what God might say. Come to me means to step out of our own routine, our own path, to do something that we wouldn’t be doing if it weren’t our priority to pay attention to God and his free gift to us. Hear me then means to take in God’s words, take them to heart, understand them, and let our life’s course be altered by them: that your soul may live.  How many people are walking around with dead souls?

He then promises a covenant, his sure mercies promised to David. Why David? David was a man of great faith, and of great sins. God made promises to David based on his faith, and taught David to return to him for forgiveness from his sins. David had a man killed in order to cover up his own adultery; yet when he repented, God forgave him. This forgiveness didn’t come without cost or consequence, but it was forgiveness all the same. It was a sure mercy, actually many mercies that God showed to David.

This act of mercy towards sinners is intended as the means by which God’s people are to be examples to the nations, a beacon of hope that says forgiveness is free, available, and for all. What was the message that was to go out to all nations in the name of Jesus, according to his own words? Repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47).

This message is then given explicitly in verses Isaiah 55:6-8: Seek the Lord while he may be found etc. It is a message of mercy and pardon for all who seek the Lord, all who call upon him. How different are his thoughts than ours! How different are his ways from ours! He wants to do away with sin by forgiving and redeeming sinners. He wants to resolve conflicts among nations by giving away the free gift of His presence to all nations. There is a sense of urgency, however, to this call. In some ways it is still that call to enjoy the excellent feast he has prepared: Get it while it’s hot! Don’t delay, now is the day, today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. We don’t know if there will be any day but today.

Still, he assures us who have this message now to give to the nations (and also we who still need to hear): he expects a result, because his message is powerful. It will accomplish its work. People will be set free, forgiven, redeemed, released, their hungry souls fed, their useless cravings set aside. God has gone to every length to send forth his word of mercy. Can we receive it? Have you received it? Can our souls be filled, so we are moved to invite others to this rich feast? There’s plenty for all.

25
Nov

Rev. Shannon Buehler Ordained

November 25th, 2006 by Bob Buehler
On November 19, 2006, the Rev. Shannon Buehler was ordained to the Christian ministry at her home congregation, the Marbury Church of God. Her husband, Pastor Bob Buehler, and neighboring pastor, the Rev. Tim Bean of the Marbury Baptist Church, each brought a brief message.
Ministers from the Chesapeake-Delaware-Potomac District of the Church of God were in attendance, including Ministries Director Wayne Harting, Credentials Committee Chairman David Harness, and former Credentials Chairman Jeff Tomlinson, who also served as the mentoring supervisor for Shannon during her period of evaluation by the Credentials Committee. Music was provided by the Marbury Church of God choir and by soloist Larry Oakley, with Joyce Boudreaux leading congregational singing and Ruth Ann Ferrell playing the organ. A reception and delicious repast were provided by members of the Marbury Church of God.
In attendance also were the candidate’s sister, Sequoia Edwards, from Albuquerque, New Mexico; three friends from the Buehlers’ previous congregation who traveled from Albany, New York; Pastor Bob’s uncle and aunt, retired missionaries, pastor and teacher Bob and Fran Clark, as well as numerous friends from the Accokeek First Church of God, and co-workers from Southern Maryland Hospital.

The Rev. Shannon Buehler began to actively respond to her sense of a divine call to the ordained ministry in 2001, taking distance courses from Anderson School of Theology, working also with the Credentials Committee on a course of independent study, and receiving her ministerial license in 2004. In 2005 she was recognized by her home congregation as Minister of Music and Worship. She has supplied the pulpit at the Accokeek First Church of God as well as at her home church, on numerous occasions over the last several years. Her husband of nearly 29 years, the Rev. Robert C. Buehler, expressed his delight with and support for this step in her ministry, and the two of them look forward to working together as a team in their current assigment in Charles County, Maryland. She will continue to support her husband in his pastoral ministry, pursue her own calling as a preacher, music minister and Christian educator, and be attentive to further leadings as the Spirit of God directs.

Laying on of hands
Laying on of hands
14
Apr

A Hope and a Future

April 14th, 1996 by Pastor Bob

Sermon notes for April 14, 1996.  Preached at the Marbury Church of God.

The focus is on the future. Most peoples of the earth are identified by their past: human descent, bloodlines, political and cultural and social history. Each of us has physical parentage, a political and cultural heritage, and a social setting that has to some extent shaped us. But the people of God are identified not by history but by promise, not by the past but by the future, and this is what gives us our common life.

This was true for Abraham. He was unique in his generation not for what he had accomplished, but for what God promised him… for the future that was given to him. His defining human characteristic was faith, which the author of Hebrews defines as “the substance of things hoped for.” Now just as all children of faith are children of Abraham, we become people of promise and a new covenant just exactly when we align ourselves with what God has set before us as a future, and let that define who we are, what our relationships are, and how we behave in the world. Like T.H. White’s Merlin, we are unlike all the people around us in that we live “backwards in time.” We “remember” the future, because the future is God’s promise and is more sure than our present circumstances and even more sure than our past, from which we are set free by grace. Look what happens to the defining moments of our past: “So far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper [heb., shalom] you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future…” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)

“This one thing I do, forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” ( Philippians 3:13-14)

Our future is established by Jesus Christ, who is the Pioneer and Finisher of faith (Hebrews 12:2), and our “forerunner” (Heb. 6:20) into the holiest place. The message of Easter is one of hope for our future… Christ has been raised from the dead, not as a curiosity of history, but as “the firstfruits of them that sleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Let’s look at some things about our future that impact the present very directly.

Our personal future is full salvation. “Therefore he is able to save completely them who come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.Heb. 7:25.

The future of the church is that of a holy community, without spot or blemish, comprised of “every people, nation, and language”. It is one in which distinctions of race, sex, nationality, social status, and religious background have no impact whatsoever, “but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

But in the plan of God, what is future is already present. John the Baptist, and Jesus, both testified that the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, and Jesus instructed his disciples when he sent them out two by two to inform those who would reject there preaching that “the Kingdom of God has come near to you.” Accordingly, we read in, for example, James chapter 2 of the practical application of this fact in the way the local assembly is to conduct itself.

The kingdom of God, which consists in “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” according to Paul, is put on display (manifested) in the church. The rules that govern the world, where the strong rule and the eldest get the most respect, are turned on their head in the community of Jesus, to whom he says, “Not so with you; for he that is greatest among you shall be as the youngest; and the one who rules like the one who serves”. The church is a daily laboratory for working out and living out Kingdom principles.

What are these kingdom principles? They are principles which arise out of the character of God himself, in contrast to the principles often characteristic of those who are without God. In God’s holy community, Love takes precedence over hatred, revenge, or even indifference; healing wins out over sickness and infirmity; mutual support overrides distinctions of social status; giving takes higher precedence than accumulation of wealth; and forgiveness does away with sin. These are the principles that are to be operative in the church, as the social laboratory for God’s kingdom. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” This is our future and our calling.

Because our future is secure, our journey forward is a joyful one. This is true even when that journey brings us face to face with all kinds of trouble and adversity, the testing ground of our faith. I like the way this was illustrated in the old (maroon) Hymnal of the Church of God. As you know, in the back of the hymnal, as there is in most hymnals, was a topical index, where you could look up songs by subject matter under a topical heading. To save space, some topical headings are cross-referenced to others; for example, in this particular hymnal, if you looked for the topic “Christ”, it would say, “see Jesus Christ”, and if you looked up Comfort, it said, see Consolation. Well, the folks who put this hymnal together knew their gospel well. Under the topic, “Conflict,” you will find a cross reference: “see Victory.”

That sums it up rather well. We have a high calling, and a certain future, if only we “hold fast to the beginning of our confidence firmly to the end” as the writer of Hebrews puts it. I like that, too. Sometimes we get so tangled in the complexities of our lives that we lose sight of “the beginning of our confidence”, which is Jesus Christ, crucified for us, risen from the dead, offering repentance and forgiveness of sin to all who will believe on him. It may be years since we came to Christ, and had our sins forgiven; but this simple fact, the confession of our need of Him and his gracious reaching out to us, is still where our confidence begins. Out of that grows our own self-respect, our love for our families, and for the church, and our ability to expand that love beyond our immediate circle to include those to whom the same offer is made, but have not yet received it. From this simple beginning flows all sorts of ministry: prayer and Bible study so that we can draw closer to the One who has so marvelously saved us, and come to a fuller understanding of the scope of his love (length and breadth and depth and height (Eph. 3:14-19); from this flows our desire to “walk worthy” of him, because He has made us worthy by His own blood; from this flows all sorts of labors of love — hospitals and schools; day care centers and orphanages; universities, mission work, programs to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, and most importantly to bring the good news of grace and forgiveness to whoever will by any means receive it.

When God called Abraham, he promised both to bless him and to make him a blessing to all the families of the earth. That promise shaped his future and his character, because he believed that God was able to do what he had promised. In the same way we are called for the purpose of receiving and transmitting a blessing. We receive the blessing by faith, which comes to us in hearing the word of God. We receive this blessing in the person of the Holy Spirit, the seal and sign of our salvation; we transmit it through the word of the gospel and through the fruit the Holy Spirit bears in our lives, fruit that benefits all around us: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faithfulness, and self-control

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