Category Archives: Christian Life

Such Great Things God has done for Us Psalm 126

[Click on icon for the audio of this sermon]

We begin in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all God’s children said AMEN!

Psalm 126 is another Psalm that is not by King David, probably another psalm that was written by the post-exilic, that is those who returned to Israel from Babylon after the Israelites were removed from Israel and brought to Babylon by King Nebuachadnezzar in 597 BC. They returned when King Cyrus of Persia authorized the return of the Jews to Israel in 538 BC, about 60 years that Israel was in exile. When they returned to Israel that is when the stories of Nehemiah who rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem and some of the infrastructure, Ezra re-established, the temple. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. Many think the Babylonians took the ark of the covenant from the temple at that time and brought it to Babylon. The rebuilt temple was a poor successor to Solomon’s. It was rebuilt to a more impressive building under Herod the Great about 30 years before Jesus’ birth.

The people who were returning to Jerusalem had little or no idea what Jerusalem had looked like or looked like at their time. There was no Google maps, or Fox News reporting live from Jerusalem on the return of the Jewish people. When they returned to Jerusalem they dealt with trials, under foreign/alien captors. The Persians were tolerant and seemed to have no problem including the Jewish people. Many of whom were placed in high positions in the government. We know about Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Esther, her uncle/guardian Mordecai, Nehemiah. These are the ones mentioned in the Bible, surely there were others. Under Queen Esther the Jewish people were given some protections and self-government, but not permitted to go back to Israel. After 60 years most had no idea, about Israel, had established lives in Babylon, and no reason to return. They would have to leave livelihoods in Babylon, make a very long journey back to Israel, either take their possessions with them, sell them in Babylon and get new stuff in Israel, or what probably most did, do without. In addition to finding a way to make a living, get what they needed in order to ply their trade: bakers need ovens, pans; blacksmiths need furnaces, hammers, anvils; farmers need ploughs, livestock, other implements. It would not be easy to return and set up a whole new life. But it was an opportunity to return to the land God promised them. To reestablish the temple, their form of government and self-determination, the customs unique to Judaism. It was an opportunity to return to the life that God had assured them they would have if they were faithful. They would not be subject to alien/pagan customs they had been surrounded by. They knew these customs were not what God wanted for them. Israel’s God was much more familiar, favorable, supportive than the pagan “gods” of the time. Many like to criticize the vengeful/  wrathful God the Bible. Compared to pagan “gods” Yahweh, was warm, supportive, strengthening comforting, none of which these pagan gods were. I was talking to a woman who is Hindu, talking about the “goddess” Kahli. She told me all about her, then she said, “you just better not make her angry”. The pagan “gods” are vengeful and punishing. God, the actual/only God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he can be angered, but He’s not vindictive, fickle, easy to anger. If God is angry it is out of pure love and righteousness. God is looking out for His own, He wants what is best for His children. That’s how you tell the real God apart from pagan Gods who are easily disturbed, solely out for themselves, not interested at all in you. Yet people believe in these fictional/hateful/selfish/ uncaring beings. They do exist, they are forms demons take on to subjugate those who are easily impressed, they are selfish, and always trying to intimidate. The true God, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, the Father of God the Son Jesus, might intimidate, but only does so to get you to follow what is genuinely good for you. Not trying to grab anything He can, intimidate or frighten you. God the Father is not at all about frightening or intimidating. How many times is someone told “fear not” in the Bible? About 130 times. God the Father is not interested in trying to frighten or intimidate us, whereas there seems to be a lot of beings out there who are trying to frighten and intimidate and a lot of people believe that they are “gods”. They’re not! Not Allah, not Vishnu, Zoroaster, Karma, etc. None of those are interested in the growth, security, strength, and overall love we receive from Abba, Jesus tells us to be familiar with Him and call Him Daddy! Don’t try that with Allah! Other “gods” are mean, vengeful, easily defeated and not “gods”.

This was what the Jewish people were subjected to in Babylon, yet they knew the truth. Can you imagine being separated from Jesus? People like to make Jesus all warm and squishy, our enabling “god”. He’s not. He’s more than ready to set someone in their place. But He loves and protects us through the Holy Spirit.

From what the psalmist wrote we see Yahweh is like that: “Those who sow in tears…” Yet the psalmist quickly adds shall reap with shouts of joy. “Tertullian defends Christianity, demanding legal toleration and that Christians be treated as all other sects of the Roman Empire. It is in this treatise that one finds the phrase: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apologeticus, Chapter 50). [1] It is tough to be a martyr, but God has promised those who are martyr’s a crown, reward in heaven greatly exceeding the ordinary believers. A reward that is eternal and imperishable. We might think martyrdom is harsh, somehow punitive, but as we see in history up to today, the church all over the world has grown because of the blood of the martyrs dating back to St Stephen sometime around 60 AD. The church has grown exponentially and saved billions of people. In contrast to those beliefs, such as Israel was under in Babylon they always destroy themselves with their erroneous beliefs in what they believe to be a deity.

Our God sacrificed Himself for us, no other belief system promises eternal life to their believers because of the sacrifice of God. It’s only in Jesus, only what Yahweh did for the Jewish people to banish them to Babylon then restore them to Israel. Chastened, yet joyful. They knew God was teaching them to trust Him for their own good. The psalmist writes: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad…” There is not a sense of being forced to say that. You can tell the heartfelt thankfulness, sincerity of Israel to be home in the land promised to Abraham for his people. Israel has been delivered: “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” They have been freed, like their freedom from Egypt. They now return to the true God, the hope and promises of God. Not evil oppression, but the expectation of the Messiah who will come to give them, us, true life, life more abundant. Dr Luther writes: “At the end the psalmist concludes that it happens – and always happens – to the saints they first suffer before they can rejoice… the saints sow with tears to reap afterward with joy… But God loves His saints so much that He regards even their death (which is truly the most abominable, accursed seed of the world) as more precious than all of the world’s treasures and goods”[2] Israel is delivered from Babylon and celebrates and is joyful. When we are delivered from the evil and oppression of the world, the sin, decadence and persecution of the world. When we are in the presence of the Lord at our death and then resurrected to the New World, the world of perfection and endless possibilities, what will our joy be like? How hard will we laugh and praise we “shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Who in your life needs to hear those promises and given the hope that they too will one day leave the Babylon of this world and go into the true hope, joy, and celebration in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ who promises us “life and life more abundant…”

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apologeticus

 

[2] translated by Bruce Cameron “Reading the Psalms with Luther” CPH p 309

USA Triathlon Olympic Distance Age Group National Championships

If you watch a large national sports tournament, oh let’s take the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball championships, often referred to as “March Madness”. You will see, teams there that haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of doing anything more but playing in the first round, then watching the rest of the tournament.

In 2018 the Long Island University Blackbirds were unceremoniously eliminated from the first round, what’s actually a kind of you’re the last two seeds and only one can proceed round. LIU comes from a small conference won a championship, got to the NCAAs. No problem, just to say I’m sure they were thrilled to be there, played as hard as they could, and just didn’t have the firepower of bigger schools with a higher level of programs.

I just recently had my own comparable experience in triathlon. USA Triathlon has Olympic distance (.9mile swim, 25 miles bike, 6.1 mile run) national championships and this year it was held in Cleveland, Oh. I managed to place in a group category in a race in Rock Hall, Md, Waterman Triathlon and thereby received an invitation to the National Championships. I placed last year in a race in Wheeling, WV “Faith in Action Triathlon” and that earned me a place in the championships in Omaha, Ne. that year, which I couldn’t go to.

I’m sure much like the LIU team to be on college basketballs biggest stage, I know I was thrilled to be on, one of at least, USA Triathlon’s, ok, we’ll say bigger stages. But it was the biggest one that I will probably ever be on, at least in terms of sports. National Championships run Cleveland I

This was my principle race, my target race for the year, without any pretense that it would be anymore than get there, do the best you can, be happy with the results. But it was still stressful, especially the closer I got to the date. The “what are you doing?, what makes you think you can do this?, Don’t you know this is going to be a lot of trouble which nothing good will come of?” You know, those kinds of thoughts. Trying to be conscious of what I ate, how I worked out. Still over weight from last year by about 5 pounds, stressing out over how that is going to affect my race. We’ve moved from the hills of York, Pennsylvania. Is the terrain here in Maryland going to help or not be enough of a challenge to be in good condition? And of course the ever present, why? you’re not going to make it, you won’t finish, … On and on.

If the trip there was any indication, I should have listened to “thoughts” and stayed at my son’s house. We left the eastern shore of Maryland at 8am, with no doubt that there was plenty of time to get to Cleveland by 5pm, 9 hours, no problem. Yeah, well, there were a few problems. About 3 hours sitting in traffic, which I, frankly am shaking my head even as I write this. And it rained, so hard, that again, just had to slow down. So what should have taken less than 6 hours, well it resulted in taking 10 hours. So could not get all my stuff for the race the next day. Wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get it and be in the race the next day.

Saturday, my son and I get up at zero dark thirty and I was able. My son dropped me off at about 5:30 and I, somehow, found my way in the dark to the right place, got my bag, Timothy showed right back up to help me get organized the rest of the way and I found myself on the beach on Lake Erie with time to spare and much relieved. USA Triath championships Swim start on Lake ErieMy wetsuit got left in the car, and no one was going back for it at this point, but as it turned out, that might have been a good thing. The water temp was at about 78, it was a mildly hot day. The more I think about it, it seems that being in the wetsuit would have left me over heated for the rest of the race and while my swim time was, to put it mildly, horrible, I’m not sure, based on some other issues, that it really would have made any difference.

The bike part was mostly through downtown Cleveland. This was my 60th race, which I completed just before I turned 60 years old, and I had never really done a race in a straight up urban environment. It was great and I’m glad I had the experience. I’m not sure a lot of the people in the downtown area we went through saw it that way, those who were trying to otherwise live their life, but I appreciated it.

I was ok, stronger than I thought I’d be on the run. Don’t misunderstand, doesn’t mean I was strong, just better than I thought.

Finally finished and I only put this on here as a matter of record, ‘cuz it sure weren’t anything to brag about

usa-triathlon-age-group-national-championships-ryuxn9ze (1).png  hey, I still maintained my “I haven’t finished last record”, and I did finish. Got the medal, got the t-shirt.

It is to say that despite all the tension, anxiety, it still happened. Believe me, it is all glory to God! Certainly not for the actual performance, because that was mine to louse up. But that I did get there, I did start on time, I did do the swim,  National Championships swim exit Cleveland the bikeNational Championships bike Clevelandthe runNational Championships run Cleveland and  to the glory of God, did acceptably and had a great experience in a different environment, did my first race in a city setting, my first race on a Great Lake (Lake Erie) and certainly the first time I’ve done a “National championship” of anything. I’m going with I may have finished very near the bottom, but it was near the bottom of the best in the country. So I’m going with that and again, giving all glory to God and thanking Him for giving me such a tremendous experience. I do want to thank USA Triathlon too, they did a great job organizing this. They provided the atmosphere for a “championship event” that I was eligible to be a part of, albeit circumstantially. But I’ll take it.

Want to feel better? Eat right and exercise! How hard is that to understand?

Since the vast majority of people don’t read “Triathlete Magazine” I am going to pass on an article called Get Phit by Erin Beresini. Erin writes: “Ameica is terribly inactive. Acording to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of us don’t get the recommended minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity and two muscle-strengthening sessions a week.” (Triathlete Magazine May 2017 p 26

Now for all those who spend most of their lives sitting around and griping about how lousy they feel, how everything is so messed up wah, wah, wah. You are the people who are going to be old, obese and infirm by age 50, if not younger, of course according to you it will be someone else’s fault and you will of course expect someone else to pay your massive medical bill for your diabetes, heart problems etc. You’re the ones who are quick to grouse on FaceBook, but you won’t do a thing for anyone including yourselves. Get off the sofa, turn off Oprah and or your computer, put some comfortable shoes on and go walk a mile or so. Get some elastic straps (any sporting goods store and very inexpensive) hook them on to something sturdy and do 20 minutes of resistance training. Really, really simple! In a few weeks you will be feeling a heckuva lot better and maybe you will avoid having to have me pay for your diabetes medication.

Erin writes: “Eight of the top 10 diseases in the United States are related to physical inactivity,’ including mental health, diabetes and heart disease, says Tom Cove, CEO and president of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.” Wow and all it takes is a little effort on your part. I was on my bike waiting for my GPS to boot up when this obese woman pulls in front of me in her car and starts laughing. Sure she takes a handful of pills everyday because she gets winded walking up a flight of stairs, but she thinks I’m funny looking in bike clothes. Maybe I am, but I think you’re kind of sad condemning yourself to a life of such misery and then laughing at others. Wow!

The point of Erin’s article is to set up a way for people to pay for their physical activity. OK, it does cost a little money, especially if you start to get a little serious about it. Fine, if the government were a little smarter about it, let you deduct the cost of running shoes, bike, health club, etc, you actually did something, the health crisis would disappear in rapid succession. We would not be paying billions for those who can’t control their food intake, who just can’t be bothered to get up and do something physical for even 20 minutes. “The PHIT Act would let individuals set aside up to $1,000 in pre-tax dollars and families up to $2,000, to spend on physical fitness related expenses…” Wow, could you imagine the immediate upgrade at your YM/YWCAs, Jewish Community Centers, etc? Tiny investment would make hundreds of millions notably more healthy. In the meantime you can do it on your own. I squirreled away money for about 6 months to buy a really nice race bike. It can be done.

Hey how about this,  Start thinking about what you eat. Start to go easy on the alcohol. Ditch the marijuana and other drugs (yea I know the ones out there who are trying to tell us that it’s actually good for you. Seriously? Why don’t you shut up and admit you have a problem). Get up twenty minutes earlier in the morning, go downstairs and use some straps, put on your comfy shoes and go outside. Get over your precious little dignity. I certainly don’t look that great working out, but anyone who has a clue knows what I’m doing and respects me for it. Even if I’m no one’s poster boy. You certainly aren’t in the least dignified being a hundred pounds over weight and unable to walk a flight of stairs. Chose the indignity of getting out there and exercising, I will have a lot more respect for you. Imagine, in a few weeks a few pounds lighter. You enable your body to activate the feel good hormones in your brain (dopamine, endorphins etc), you start having a positive outlook on life instead of all your whining on FaceBook, you avoid a lot of serious health risks and both you and I don’t have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for healthcare. Seriously think about it

This Tortise finally won one!

I did it! I’ve been competing (putting it charitably), in triathlons since 1985, and I finally medaled! I accomplished another goal in this particular race too. I drove all the way to Hammond, In. to do Leon’s Triathlon. I have now done races from Maine to Kansas and south to North Carolina. Leon’s Triathlon has also been the site of the U.S. Military triathlon championship and also as part of the race spotlighted the anniversary of the USO. Being retired military I did appreciate the emphasis on military in this race.

Now triathlons have different categories, not always the same, but age group categories always. Some races, like Leon’s, has a military and/or public safety category and many have a Clydesdale category, I finished second in the Clydesdale category. Hey it’s something and I finally hit it. Clydesdales are triathletes that are over 200 lbs and yea I more than qualify. Leons Tri 2nd place medal clydesdale divisionThe medal in the middle is the finishers medal, the medal off screen is the silver medal (I’ve been messing with it and I can’t line it up).

It was a lake swim and nice flat run and bike. Doing all my training in the hills all around me in south/central Pennsylvania, it is definitely pushing me. Leon’s was a really well run race. I’d like to do it again, but driving all the way to Indiana isn’t real practical and there are other states (West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina) that are closer that I haven’t done. Hey maybe I can follow up this medal win with a sponsor, a summer of triathlons starting in the south, through the midwest, ending in Bermuda, oh yeah!!

I would like to thank the folks at Leon’s for a really good race and a nice excuse for a short getaway with my wife. And very thankful for helping me finally get something for the mantle after 30 years of trying.

Leons ILeons II

 

Leons III(Please note the flags that were all around the course) I am not trying to say that I all of a sudden received a huge influx of energy or talent, but I just finished reading Meredith Atwood’s inspirational article in Triathlete Magazine (September 2016, p 23). “The Hare sometimes allows the ego and objective speed to get the best of him. the Tortoise can get discouraged for a million other reasons. The best bet is to have faith in yourself, [as a Christian I would also say God’s will for me too] and be proud of all of your efforts and races – but to always ask yourself if you are doing the best you can with what you have. I challenge my fellow Tortoises of the world to really push themselves in the next running race or workout. Ask yourself if you can channel your inner Hare, just for a little while, and see what you are made of. You might be surprised and learn to believe that ‘fast for you’ is sometimes exactly all the fast you need.”  Leons IV

I stuck with it and because of a few factors, yea I finally did it. I would hope that people would pick a passion and really stick with it. Even if “channeling” doesn’t get you a medal, I have really enjoyed triathlon and the other goals that I’ve set for it. I guess I could add to my trophy mantle of 1 (including a few finishers medals), a map of the U.S. showing the states that I have competed in. I’m going to keep doing it, maybe things will line up again, but just as important, I’m doing it.

Leons Tri VI

 

Fear and pain are what move you to grow, mature and serve others to your glory and Jesus’

One thing I find odd about people today is that too many of them genuinely think that things are supposed to happen nice and easy, that they’re never supposed to experience any kind of pain, that there shouldn’t be any risk to what they do. Basically we have become unrealistically averse to any kind of pain or risk. An article in “Triathlete Magazine” (October 2015 p 28) written by Jene Shaw discusses the fact that if you’re going to do anything to grow, there’s going to be pain.

It really is called maturing, too many really think that they can really sit back, contribute as little as possible or nothing and expect everyone else to scurry around them. Obviously as a person and in a society, that model is not going to last too long. Only so many people can take, because there are only so many  available to give. In order to grow and become stronger and be better positioned to support those in genuine need. When we all do what is necessary then it’s not just for someone else, be we do become much stronger and a lot better able to cope with life. As a part of that whole we become better.

Too many really believe that pain is bad and something is wrong when they have pain. As the picture posted by someone in the triathlon community puts so well, at the end , when the challenge is overcome, the pain is a sign that you have grown through it. Whether it’s triathlon, basketball, weights, abs, swimming, if I don’t feel some pain, muscular, a little bruising I really don’t feel I’ve gotten the whole experience. That pain in the muscles tells me, that my body will rebuild from that pain and make me stronger.

As Jene suggests in the article, you need to accept the pain, if you fight it or fear it you can’t grow into it. Believe me there have been plenty of times when I’ve stood at the start of a swim at 7am wondering what I’m doing up at this time, knowing that hitting that water is going to be a, yea, painful experience. Knowing that I’m probably going to be kicked and elbowed by other swimmers, knowing that I have to get out to bike and run, yea there is anxiety. But knowing the feeling of accomplishment, success in finishing and knowing what it will do for my physical, mental and yes spiritual growth that will follow (some call it “bragging rights”), helps me to stand up to the challenge. So realize what you love about it, what it will move you to and the heck with the pain. I’ve done 54 triathlons and dozens of other races, so yea, I think I know what I’m talking about.

Jene suggests setting some goals. How can I do the swim, bike, run faster. Isn’t that finishers medal going to look good with my other medals, how great it will be to share with the other finishers, with my family, friends,  others at church? Think about the things you need to do during the race in order to finish as strong as possible.

She suggests relaxing, find some positive way; deep breaths, stretching and shaking, encouraging mental images, encouraging the other triathletes. It will work out and it will be rewarding, even if it’s only for your personal satisfaction.

Yes there is pain that is a warning sign. When you get to the point where you have overcome a lot of fear, anxiety you might think you should push through that pain. You do have to learn the difference, when you need to push through and accomplish, or when you do need to stop in order to prevent further damage. So there is pain that we need to overcome on our own in order to grow stronger, but pain when we do need someone else’s help. Can you say “medical tent, take me to the hospital”?

But in a Christian context it is the same. As disciples we need to grow and strengthen. When we do, those around us can take courage in us, we become stronger to help those who are genuinely in need, we become givers and leaders, not just takers. Yes there is a time in the Christian walk when we do need to take. Jesus has provided those times to be baptized, to be strengthened in His Body and Blood in our body and spirit, to be built up and strengthened in His preached word and in Scripture. To be a part of Christian fellowship that builds up yourself and those around you. There are times when you will feel you can’t go on. Truth is that being a Christian marks you out for attacks by the devil. The upside is that it also marks us out to be protected by the Holy Spirit, and to be strengthened and gifted to be better able to provide for yourself and for others. Certainly Jesus’ disciples started out as kind of weak and petty. Within a few short years they grew to be tigers of the Christian faith who served many others and also stood up to the fear and challenges of being disciples up to and including dying for Christ.

Too many people today make up their minds that they can’t, when it’s really they won’t. They think that they’re too weak, when they’ve never even tried to see how strong they could be. I’ve experienced this a lot: “well you are bigger and stronger, mentally and physically, you’re special so you can”. I assure you the only way I became that way is by pushing myself. There are plenty of times when I could have just rolled over and let it defeat me. There are too many people who’ve already decided they can’t do anything for themselves and let it defeat them. Ironically those will be the someones who decide that you shouldn’t be doing those things for yourself either. You have to continue to strive. Yea, don’t get me started on those people who stand there, find some way to pooh-pooh what you’re doing and give you this “hey! You think you’re better than me?” Me? I really don’t care, but apparently you seem to know deep down.

Ministry has been a very real lesson in knowing who I can rely on and who I just need to keep at arms length. Sure I serve anyone as much as I can. But, especially in an inner-city church, there are a lot out there who simply don’t want to step up and in fact want to take all that you will give them, if not more. They really see others as simply a source to provide for themselves. Again, yes, do what you can and don’t try to make excuses to avoid situations. However, know your limits and what pain is a warning sign. Do you want to beat yourself on some of those people who are hard as rocks? There are a lot of Christian brothers and sisters who do understand their own growth and growth together with others. Those are the ones that you need to pull together with.

Yes, there is pain, that’s a good thing and the sooner you accept that it will build and strengthen, the better for you and those around you. Sometimes you do need to be at that starting line wondering; “what the heck am I doing here”. But you seem to get to the finish and realize how great that was. There is team too. It is exhilarating to win a basketball game as a team, even though you’ve gotten bruised and banged and it’s kind of hard to really stand. Those painful muscles in the morning are a wonderful memory of the things you did to be stronger from the previous day. Find those who encourage and build you up and let them do the same for you. Quit sitting behind that computer looking for that kind of fellowship. It’s sad on your part and it’s just not going to happen.

Celebrate the success you’ve achieved, share it with those who know what it means to be fearful and have pain, it’s a great way to grow in brothers and sisters. Realize that even when there is suffering for Jesus, He knows what’s going on, who is and isn’t His. I’m glad I’m His, I’m glad He’s given me the challenges He has and that He’s been the one to move me through the fear, pain, anxiety and given me the thrill of victory, no matter how small the world sees that victory. Let Jesus move you to where you need to be regardless of the things you have to overcome. When I’ve reached the end of those challenges, I’ve realized that Jesus has done the things necessary in order to get me there. So feel some real pain and fear, join those who know the joy and accomplishment that makes you feel. You will be a far better person and so much of your fear and stress will disappear. Find me at the starting line of the next race, it would be great to obsess and encourage with you. !

Sometimes you just want to chuck it Luke 4 First St Johns Feb 14, 2016

[for the audio of this sermon please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, and all those who look for peace, rest, renewal and restoration in Jesus said … AMEN!

Yea, there are plenty of times when you just want to chuck it. We are blessed that the people who stuck with First St Johns didn’t feel that way. We are blessed with those who have persevered, carried on and passed on Lutheran worship here. And very blessed that the Holy Spirit has kept us strong and committed. But all of us, no matter how bull-headed have had times when we just want to pull back and rest. A lot of times we feel that being a Christian is a grind, always things to do, always a new season. Usually we are excited, anticipating the new season. Other times we feel we haven’t recovered from the last chain of events, and we’re looking down a whole new line of hoops to jump through. There are certainly times when we just need to pull back and rest. We can, and often are led to by the Holy Spirit to rest and re-energize for a new pursuit, new growth in Christ.

While we can make it that way, being a Christian isn’t about being ground down with constant tasks, constant occasions to have to step up and run into another burning house. Being a Christian is very much about rest, peace, promise, hope. It is about knowing that our heavenly Father isn’t pushing down on us, but we are there for Him to pull us up to him. The Father expects us to rest and wait for Him to move us, He doesn’t expect the effort to be on our part. We’ve all had the experience when you have felt the Holy Spirit grabbing you by the collar and sitting you down. “No more, stop, I’m not about constant frenzy. I am about peace, rest.” Jesus told us; “ESV Matthew 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This is meant for the resurrection, but it’s also meant for this life too.

Rest, recovery is important. It is stressed over and over again with athletes. An athlete has to get eight hours of sleep. God designed our bodies to be mended while we sleep. Not just mended, strengthened too. We cannot repair and build muscle without sleep. We can exercise, eat right, do all the active stuff, but if we do not give our body the chance to do what it was designed to do, rest, sleep, so our bodily processes can take over and repair and build, we will not be as strong as we should be. Since God designed our bodies to be like that, it stands to reason that He has made our spirits to be that way too. We can be in perfect physical health, but if our spirit has been pushed to the limit, beaten down, it will affect our health.

I submit that the season of Lent was timed by God in order to help us to do that. Winter puts a lot of stress on the body, certainly this winter has so far. We need to be set up in order to charge out into the season of growth and renewal and it seems God intended Lent for us to do that. We have grown away from an agrarian society, we are out of touch with the seasons that God created. Most of us have to work and produce year round, so we miss the importance of restoration, renewal and growth. Shouldn’t we see the period of Lent as that time?

In our reading today, we see that Jesus has been led out into to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. It seems as though Jesus was given forty days of peace and then submitted to Satan’s temptations. Forty days where He was left to contemplate, to take in, to be built up, strengthened, fortified, and then to, as it were, take Satan’s best shots. Clearly Satan confronted Jesus when Jesus’ hunger was greatest and His resistance was lowest. The Jewish people actually considered the desert to be a place of evil, filled with trials and where evil lurked. God sent Israel into the desert to wander for forty years because they had continually defied God after escaping from Egypt, clearly that was a God ordained time out for people who just would not get with God’s plan. St Ambrose writes: “It is fitting that it be recorded that the first Adam was cast out of Paradise into the desert, that you may observe how the second Adam returned from the desert to Paradise… Adam brought death through the tree. Christ brought life through the cross. Adam, naked of spiritual things, covered himself with the foliage of a tree. Christ, naked of worldly things, did not desire the trappings of the body. Adam lived in the desert. Christ lived in the desert, for he knew where he could find the lost. With their error canceled, he could recall them to Paradise… So Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit is led into the desert for a purpose, in order to challenge the devil. If he had not fought, he would not have conquered him for me.”[1] Jesus took the fight to Satan in an evil environment. All of Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter is not about what we do or have to do. It’s not about us and what we have to do, because we don’t have to do anything. Sure there are things that we should do, we should be in worship. Not about us being there, but about being ministered to and receiving the gifts God gives us in worship. Worship is a time of rest and renewal. Jesus takes the fight to the desert, the desert which is the world, to confront Satan, in order that we can be left behind in our normal environment to live, to rest with a minimum of confrontation and conflict in our lives, we have time to rest and renew because it is about Jesus and what He does. When we are led by the Holy Spirit to take action, which can be to retreat, He steps up so that we are guided to step back. Jesus has been baptized, the Matthean version is more straightforward, Luke starts the chapter saying that Jesus was led from the Jordan, Matthew makes it clear what happened at the Jordon. In Jesus’ baptism, the Father makes it very clear who Jesus is, that was the signal that it was on. Satan knew it was on. The Holy Spirit picks Jesus up and puts Him in the desert, where Adam had been banished to out of Eden and Satan waits 40 days and then confronts Jesus, the battle is now on, who will impact the world. Satan tempts Jesus with worldly power, the easy way, Jesus knows that He will bring His Kingdom into the world, but it is not through a deal with Satan, but by overcoming sin, death and Satan; by being the perfect sacrifice to free us from sin and Satan. Jesus gives us the opportunity to rest in Him. Worldly people fall under Satan’s dominion in sin, to struggle against Satan, we have peace and rest in Jesus. The battle is on and being waged by Jesus, now.

Rev Dr Charles Stanley says this: “Although we can’t see all the specifics of God’s plan, we know that His goal is to use adversity to supply something we lack so we can be mature and complete. Even though the experience is painful, rest in the Father’s comforting arms, and let Him do His perfect work in you.”[2] We cannot fight the battle, only in Jesus is the battle fought and is won. Yes, there will be times when we need to be active and work according to the Holy Spirit’s leading. But the victory is His and instead of us being smashed on the rock, we are at rest in Him who saves us. Use this time of Lent to rest in Him, be restored remember it is His strength not ours.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Ambrose in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke” p 73

[2] Dr Charles Stanley August 10, 2015  http://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/daily-devotions/don’t-waste-your-adversities

Keep moving, trust God to work things out

The Blackabys write: “…We tend to divide problems into two categories: problems that we know require God’s help and problems we can handle on our own.” Sort of I will handle everything God, no need for You. Ah well, in this case, I’m going to need a miracle, so You handle it.

The right answer? Ya, turn it over to God, whatever the problem is. I have to tell you, it is very freeing, and despite what we big, tough, know-it-all guys think, it’s going to work out the way God wants it to anyway. With or without me and I’m probably only going to get in the way and mess things up with my efforts.

No, it does not mean you passively sit there in our little pity puddle just hoping, “how come I always have these problems”, we all do, get over it. Or letting problems just distract us so much, dwelling on them, losing sleep over them and often letting the rest of life pass us by. Yea, we want to be in control, we want everything to work out according to our plan.

OK, guess I’m getting to the age where it’s finally hitting home for me. I can dwell on stuff, or I can keep going in the direction the Holy Spirit is leading me. For those of you who have not had the benefit of years of experience, do yourself a big favor and come to this realization faster than me; you are always going to have issues in your life. You do what you need to do and move on. Dwelling on them is not what God wants you to do. He will work them out. Sure, you are going to, usually, have to do something, but don’t get bogged down in it. There are the things that will need attention. I really have found that what needs attention I deal with, then the Holy Spirit is refocusing me, moving me where He wants me and He’s dealing with the issue.

I would even submit that it seems that it is often some kind of demonic influence that is putting problems, issues, whining and crying in our path in order to knock us off the path we’re supposed to be on. Does God give us trials? Ya, but it always seems you can distinguish between God’s trials to move us, teach us, mature us and demonic problems. The demonic always seems to be about petty nonsense, you can almost feel yourself being dragged down into some insipid silliness intended just to distract. In both cases I submit that you can almost feel the Holy Spirit moving me past the pettiness, but focusing me on what God wants me to do and to learn and not trusting in me, but in Him. I really think God wants us to push through ‘problems’, to not get distracted with the trivial.

Does that mean that some problems are going to “look” bigger more compelling? Sure. Is that more reason to get caught up in them? No. If it really is an evil influence that wants to confuse us, seems that is all the more reason to not get caught up in it. Then we refocus on God and trust that He will work it out and we get back on the track He wants us on and keep pressing ahead on His plan and goal.

Believe me, I know what it is to be distracted by what seems to be more compelling, even though I know it is more about the negative and ungodly. Resist the urge to let yourself be diverted from God’s guidance and focus on His positive influence. Keep in prayer that He will deal with the evil influence, He will.

The Blackabys (Experiencing God Day by Day p 283) end: “If you feel strong in an area of your life, beware! Often your strength, rather than your weakness, hinders you from trusting God. God will bring you to a point of weakness if that is what it takes to bring you to trust in Him. Do not despise your weakness, for it leads you to trust in God’s strength.” For a lot of us, we think we can confront the evil and demonic in our own strength and still follow where the Holy Spirit is leading us. That’s simply not realistic, why we would try to fight something far older, more experienced that can easily outsmart us, when God is there, who is infinitely wiser and smarter than any being, trying to get us to focus on Him. I’m going to stick with Him and in faith trust that He’s going to deal with all the negative and lead me to do the positive uplifting things He’s planned for me.