Dr. Jim Highland Sermons

Dr. Jim Highland is the author of Serving As A Bivocational Pastor
and Adjunct professor at Newburgh Theological Seminary 

 

Value our Roots

 

By Jim Highland 

 

 

We are all familiar with “church.”  After all, you can recall experiences about our church participation and we count our experiences “blessings”.  Church to us is group activities that provide caring experiences with others, learning opportunities and spirited experiences that are still important in our time.

I’m sure you know church was started much earlier than your experiences.  Many years before Christ’s birth, the Old Testament in our Bible describes very rigid practices guided by a powerful leadership structure of Priests and Temples and sacrifices as the usual practices.

Introducing the Church:  Matthew 16:13

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  NRSV

But Church was introduced to Christ’s followers, persons with no religious experiences, as part experiences with his disciples.  He saw value in followers gathering to worship and learning activities for his committed followers.  Jesus was a young adult – enlisting committed followers (disciples).   Matthew describes a learning time with his disciples in Matthew 16:13 when Jesus introduced them to his plan of building a group of followers to continue his ministry in the days after he is removed from the earth.  He described this organization as so powerful that the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it or overcome it.  He placed in their mind and hearts a dramatic new mission.  Their group was given a bold vision of including many others in His church that could not be defeated.  They would see that this plan would not be defeated and was so strong that the gates of Hell, or Satan’s assault could not prevail against them, and change them then to serve in it.

His key question was “who do you believe I am?” and “who do you say that I am?”  He taught them that He was the promised Messiah that had been promised.  He placed in their minds and hearts a dramatic mission.

You may remember their path through the persecution and death of Jesus and their entrance into their new chapter of their ministry of not having Jesus “in the flesh.”  They began in prayer and consolidation of leadership, of organization, and the story continues in the book of Acts which is a description of their success and hardships.

Church Goes Public:  Acts 2:1

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  NRSV

The disciples gathered and prayed for God’s leadership by the Holy Spirit.  A Jewish celebration called Pentecost was being celebrated.  The Christ-followers entered the crowded streets with persons from many nations.  Simon Peter found a central place from which to preach.  The people in the streets heard the sermon in their own language.  Many of those hearing the sermon became followers of Jesus.  It is stated that on that day as many as 5,000 joined the Christian fellowship and began to meet with them, were baptized and shared fellowship together and became followers of Jesus.

In the following days, their numbers continued to grow and small groups of believers met for prayer and other activities.  The Holy Spirit led many believers to contribute to the needs of others and the talk about Jesus became the talk of the city.  Peter and other Disciples met with others in the Temple and “the church” received and welcomed new believers.

 

As time passed, the leaders of the church began to work with new believers in the Temple, in catacombs and in homes.  The leaders continued to see miracles as Jesus did healings and other experiences.  The members of the church began to help people in need.  The widows of the city, formerly helped by Jewish leaders, were fed meals by Christian groups and the church grew in numbers and influence.

Of course, trouble comes on the best days.  Some among the believers created problems within the church and the widows complained about the way they were treated.  To address these internal problems, seven worthy men were enlisted to oversee the feeding of the widows.  They were called “Deacons” or servants.  Soon one of them named Stephen became noticed for his faith and understanding of the scriptures.  He began to preach about his faith.

A new face and powerful personality appeared on the scene.  He was passionately interested in persecuting Christ-believers and putting their leaders to death.  He heard a sermon from Stephen, encouraged Stephen’s stoning and held the coats of those throwing rocks that killed Stephen.  When Saul continued his crusade to Damascus, he encountered God on the road.  God blamed him for the death of Stephen, struck him blind, and put him on his knees so that his traveling companions had to help him up and to arrive in Damascus.

He was told to go to a specific address and wait for God’s messenger, a faithful believer named Ananias to come to him as God’s spokesman.  Ananias put his hands on Saul’s eyes to receive his sight and told him what God had told him to say.  Saul believed God’s message, received Jesus as his savior, was baptized and immediately felt called to be a missionary for Jesus.  His name was changed to Paul!

Paul immediately began to preach about Jesus as the Messiah, traveled to Gentile cities to establish church and write helpful letters to the churches that became 13 books of the New Testament and the Book of Romans for our Education.  He defined the church as “the body of Christ” and we as “members of that body” with Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Today, in our churches are “God’s chosen people” and claim that “Christ is the head of our church.”  The church you are a part of is this “body of Christ” in our community and has a mission to “Go!  Teach!  Baptize! And believe Jesus is with you, even until the end of the world!”  (Matthew 28:19-20)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  NRSV

 

 

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Living Water for a Lonely Life

By Dr. Jim Highland 

John 4: 5-43

 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus and his disciples chose to go through Samaria as he leaves Jerusalem.  The usual route would be to avoid going through Samaritan territory by going east to Jericho, across the Jordon River and go north until they could cross back over the Jordan River and into Galilee.  Samaria was considered a spiritually polluted country because its citizens had intermarried with pagan people.  It was the long route to avoid questionable people

Jesus chose to travel through Samaria for a divine appointment.  While his disciples went to a nearby town to buy food, Jesus rested at a well located outside the town of Sychar.  The gospel writer John, who carefully chose the words and acts of Jesus to demonstrate who Jesus was, presents this story to show Jesus’ love for all the people of the world.

While Jesus rested and waited at the well, this woman shows up.  Unlike the other woman of the area, this woman chose to come at noontime, the hottest time of the day, to avoid meeting the other women of the community.  We know some things about her.

  • She was a Samaritan, a mixed racial people considered unacceptable for contact with Jewish persons.
  • She was a woman, at a time when women were valued only for their housework and ability to bear children.  They could be abused or divorced with only a written statement by their husband.
  • She had multiple marriages, indicating her failure in relationships.  Perhaps this was because she was unable to bear a child, or made poor choices of husbands.  In those days, the only acceptable role for a woman was to find their security in marriage.
  • She was an outcast, or considered herself to be one.  She avoided the town’s women who regularly came to draw water in early morning and early evening to avoid the heat of the day.

Rather than look down on this lonely woman, please realize that we have persons in very similar circumstances in our community.  Jesus could have chosen to avoid her, or condemn her.  After all, apparently Jesus knew everything about her personal life.  Instead, Jesus chose to connect with her and deal with her personal needs.

Jesus initiated the contact by asking her to help him.  After all, he was thirsty and had no way to draw water.  She came to draw water, bringing the necessary utensils to do that.  Jesus began by asking her to draw water for him to drink.  Asking someone for a favor is really a complement, taking a position not of superiority but as needy.  Such a request will often receive a thoughtful response.  Jesus still approaches us with a request.  His spirit, the Holy Spirit, comes to ask us to open our hearts and lives to accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. 

Jesus engaged her in a significant conversation, even though she was a reluctant participant.  Although she was critical of his request, Jesus pursued his talk with her.  The conversation was like a verbal conflict, the woman trying to deflect his interest in her and Jesus drawing her deeper into meaningful conversation.  When this woman tried to change the subject and talk about what we all “religious idea,” Jesus wanted to talk about a personal connection with God.

In today’s conversations, many persons declare they are “spiritual” but not “religious.”  In the book Hungers of the Heart Richard Watts describes talk about “religion” as a bad word and “spiritual” as a god word.  “Spiritual” talk is personal authentic, thoughtful and experience oriented while “religious” talk is often about dogmatic beliefs, authorative declarations and establish a sense of having exclusive truths.  The Samaritan lady wanted the dividing conversation of Jewish dogma but Jesus spoke of fresh, hopeful experience available to her.

Jesus then proceeded to confront her with her personal issues.  He asked, “Call your husband.”  When she stated she had no husband, a statement of shame on her part, Jesus confronted her with her past.  She had five past marriages and a present unlawful relationship.  To bring change to our lives, or to another person, we must eventually address our personal issues.  Hers was not just about multiple marriages, but her failure in six relationships.  Jesus was inviting her to have the seventh relationship with him – a life-changing “spiritual” relationship.  You may have seen a person entering an Alcohol Anonymous meeting and declaring, “My name is Joe, and I am an alcoholic.”  Healing starts by being honest to God.  In spite of her attempts to divert and deflect Jesus, she was able to take off her false face and accept her failures because Jesus accepted her.

The result was dramatic.  The woman of shame was energized to go into the town without shame and declare, “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did.”  She enthusiastically pointed others to hear this man who healed her sin problem in spite of her reluctance.  Although we don’t know anything else about this woman, we do know that the whole town came out to the well to hear Jesus.  We also know that he stayed there for two days, teaching and preaching “Good News.”  Perhaps her testimony changed the whole town, quite a miracle!  Jesus, interrupted and questioned by his disciples, called that moment “Harvest Time.”  We can experience “Harvest Time” in our lives, in our relationships and in our churches, when we open our lives to confront the spirit and truth of Jesus.

What should we do to cultivate “Harvest Time?”  First, we must get back to drinking the living water, not the polluted water of our present resources.  That means living with His spirit and His truth.  Second, we can enthusiastically begin to tell others about the “Living Water” from Jesus.  When we have a present-tense experience with the “Living Water” of Jesus, we will easily and affectively tell about what Jesus has done for us.

 

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Value our Roots

 

 

We are all familiar with “church.”  After all, you can recall experiences about our church participation and we count our experiences “blessings”.  Church to us is group activities that provide caring experiences with others, learning opportunities and spirited experiences that are still important in our time.

I’m sure you know church was started much earlier than your experiences.  Many years before Christ’s birth, the Old Testament in our Bible describes very rigid practices guided by a powerful leadership structure of Priests and Temples and sacrifices as the usual practices.

Introducing the Church:  Matthew 16:13

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  NRSV

But Church was introduced to Christ’s followers, persons with no religious experiences, as part experiences with his disciples.  He saw value in followers gathering to worship and learning activities for his committed followers.  Jesus was a young adult – enlisting committed followers (disciples).   Matthew describes a learning time with his disciples in Matthew 16:13 when Jesus introduced them to his plan of building a group of followers to continue his ministry in the days after he is removed from the earth.  He described this organization as so powerful that the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it or overcome it.  He placed in their mind and hearts a dramatic new mission.  Their group was given a bold vision of including many others in His church that could not be defeated.  They would see that this plan would not be defeated and was so strong that the gates of Hell, or Satan’s assault could not prevail against them, and change them then to serve in it.

His key question was “who do you believe I am?” and “who do you say that I am?”  He taught them that He was the promised Messiah that had been promised.  He placed in their minds and hearts a dramatic mission.

You may remember their path through the persecution and death of Jesus and their entrance into their new chapter of their ministry of not having Jesus “in the flesh.”  They began in prayer and consolidation of leadership, of organization, and the story continues in the book of Acts which is a description of their success and hardships.

Church Goes Public:  Acts 2:1

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  NRSV

The disciples gathered and prayed for God’s leadership by the Holy Spirit.  A Jewish celebration called Pentecost was being celebrated.  The Christ-followers entered the crowded streets with persons from many nations.  Simon Peter found a central place from which to preach.  The people in the streets heard the sermon in their own language.  Many of those hearing the sermon became followers of Jesus.  It is stated that on that day as many as 5,000 joined the Christian fellowship and began to meet with them, were baptized and shared fellowship together and became followers of Jesus.

In the following days, their numbers continued to grow and small groups of believers met for prayer and other activities.  The Holy Spirit led many believers to contribute to the needs of others and the talk about Jesus became the talk of the city.  Peter and other Disciples met with others in the Temple and “the church” received and welcomed new believers.

 

As time passed, the leaders of the church began to work with new believers in the Temple, in catacombs and in homes.  The leaders continued to see miracles as Jesus did healings and other experiences.  The members of the church began to help people in need.  The widows of the city, formerly helped by Jewish leaders, were fed meals by Christian groups and the church grew in numbers and influence.

Of course, trouble comes on the best days.  Some among the believers created problems within the church and the widows complained about the way they were treated.  To address these internal problems, seven worthy men were enlisted to oversee the feeding of the widows.  They were called “Deacons” or servants.  Soon one of them named Stephen became noticed for his faith and understanding of the scriptures.  He began to preach about his faith.

A new face and powerful personality appeared on the scene.  He was passionately interested in persecuting Christ-believers and putting their leaders to death.  He heard a sermon from Stephen, encouraged Stephen’s stoning and held the coats of those throwing rocks that killed Stephen.  When Saul continued his crusade to Damascus, he encountered God on the road.  God blamed him for the death of Stephen, struck him blind, and put him on his knees so that his traveling companions had to help him up and to arrive in Damascus.

He was told to go to a specific address and wait for God’s messenger, a faithful believer named Ananias to come to him as God’s spokesman.  Ananias put his hands on Saul’s eyes to receive his sight and told him what God had told him to say.  Saul believed God’s message, received Jesus as his savior, was baptized and immediately felt called to be a missionary for Jesus.  His name was changed to Paul!

Paul immediately began to preach about Jesus as the Messiah, traveled to Gentile cities to establish church and write helpful letters to the churches that became 13 books of the New Testament and the Book of Romans for our Education.  He defined the church as “the body of Christ” and we as “members of that body” with Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Today, in our churches are “God’s chosen people” and claim that “Christ is the head of our church.”  The church you are a part of is this “body of Christ” in our community and has a mission to “Go!  Teach!  Baptize! And believe Jesus is with you, even until the end of the world!”  (Matthew 28:19-20)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  NRSV

 
 




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