Tag Archives: endurance

A Spirit Not of Fear but of Power Matthew June 25, 2017 First St Johns

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 trust Jesus and are overcomers said … AMEN!

I’m sure many of you have had this discussion with your parent, to the effect, “But dad I don’t want to because I’m afraid of this person”. The response was to the effect “you have more to be afraid of me, then of aforementioned person.” I’m sure you’ve had the same thoughts in terms of “I don’t want to do this because I’m afraid of the reaction I’m going to get from someone else” and then come to the realization, I’d better be a lot more afraid of what God is going to think or do then the big monster I’m afraid of will do. I was afraid, [Rodney voice] I grew up in a tough neighborhood, the local restaurant only had broken leg of lamb on the menu.[1] On my street, the kids take hubcaps – from moving cars.”

Jesus makes it pretty plain, sure bad things can happen if you get someone in the world angry, but that’s not going to be anything compared to making God angry from failing to be faithful to His will. In fact whenever I’m in that quandary, after all is said and done, when I look back, I realize that the person/ thing/situation that I was afraid of, was nowhere near as big, bad or ugly as I thought. Furthermore, trusting in God usually results in an outcome I never expected, would never planned. I’m not giving you a Harry Potter incantation or Joel Osteen everything’s going to work out because God has a great plan for your life. He does, but not some Osteen formula. It’s according to the only words that matter, Holy Scripture.

Jesus talks about the one who has “endured to the end who will be saved.” While too many “Christians” have a rainbow and unicorn perception of Jesus, as we see in this passage, through the Gospels and particularly the Book of Revelation, to quote another writer: “The Bible teaches Christians to recognize that the world is a battleground, not a playground.”[2] To take Mr Dangerfield’s quotes, we all grow up in a tough neighborhood. We certainly have the assurance that Jesus will be faithful, that when we trust in Him we will be delivered. It might not seem like it, people do die, people do suffer tragedy, or, at least what we perceive as death or tragedy. We know many cases where we might think that someone has been treated unfairly, but what God has lead that person to do in that trial, that tragedy has, in fact, resulted in genuine blessing for that person, for others that they have served, have inspired, have reached. As Christians we know the ultimate tragedy is to be lost for eternity. While we may suffer in this life, and the reality is that we all suffer in one form or another. That we all have a cross to bear, ESV Luke 14:27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Arthur Just explains: “These are catechumens who have heard the Word, have left family and understand the costs of discipleship. But as they travel with Jesus to Jerusalem, they begin to encounter rejection and persecution…[this] corresponds to the seed that fell on the rock and withered because of lack of moisture, like those who receive the Word with joy but have no roots and fall away in times of temptation, which can include persecution.”[3]

It’s never my intention to, create fear in people. The words we see in the Bible emphasize being aware and faithful. Jesus told His disciples in this passage; “ESV Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” We are saved, we are protected, we are baptized, we eat the Body of Christ and drink the Blood of Christ, we are very much a part of Him, in the sacraments, in the Keys of the Church, His Body that we are very much a part of. We don’t, ultimately, have anything to fear. The same writer: “The Greek word most often translated “overcomer” stems from the word nike which, according to Strong’s Concordance, means “to carry off the victory. The verb implies a battle.” You probably remember the Nike missile, Nike sports gear. Needless to say in war and in sports, the point is victory. To take the simile a little further, the Nike slogan is “just do it”. I wish we, as Christians, understood that motto in terms of our witness to Christ instead of being fearful of rejection and embarrassment. Embarrassed for Jesus? hmmm, sort of where He says: “ESV Matthew 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” When we are unfaithful, and put our trust in the world, and the things around us, just chose to punt, to give in to the world, Jesus is under no obligation to be faithful to us. If by our lives and our witness we demonstrate that Jesus is not important in our lives, why would we have the idea that we should be important to Jesus? Why should He stand up for us for eternity, when we won’t stand up for Him for just a moment in a world that is so temporary, so fleeting, so transitory? I have seen it so often, I chose not to stand up, I chose not to bravely confront and deal with a fraudulent world, but then expect someone to stand up for me and they are outraged that they’ve been left completely exposed. The world loves to set people up, as false witnesses, as Paul writes “to be slaves to sin … for the end of those things is death” (Rom 6: 20..21)

The real emphasis in the real language Jesus uses over and over again, is very much in terms of one who stays faithful, the one who endures, the one who while they are afraid, still endures. Many have the idea that the “brave man” has no fear going into danger. That would infer a really high level of stupid. I’ve seen plenty of brave men and women, people who’ve had to face actual, physical danger. They are acutely aware of the danger, and they are by no means stupid people. By the same token, they realize that they have to overcome and trust their fear because others are relying on them, trusting them to do what is necessary. As Christians we should always trust Christ in the face of danger. We have the guarantees, we have the lock, we know how the story ends, we are going to feel fear, BUT, we are certainly called to overcome. How do we overcome, do we overcome in our own strength? NO! We know the Holy Spirit is with us to strengthen us in those times when we face any challenge and certainly that includes up to and including death. Our trust is this, that what we do for Christ will never be wasted. Too often people talk about someone they perceive dying prematurely or being seriously injured as waste. They only see the here and now and don’t wait in faith for how Christ will use this. If that person has rejected Christ, has actually wasted their life, then we can see the reason why they might have died. I’m sure you can imagine many who simply wasted what they were given. By the same token those who have endured, stayed strong, overcome the trials that were given and still pointed to Christ as the reason, we certainly know and will witness to others and we know the Holy Spirit will use that to glorify Jesus and bring others to Jesus. The Christian church in China will be the largest church in the entire world in about 15 years. This in spite of horrendous persecution and suffering. Those who suffer are very real witnesses to others of the truth of Jesus’ church, of the Christian church and that it does save and they become Christians because they know that they have the promises of Christ of their resurrection to eternal, real life, life and life more abundant! The world cannot come close to such a promise, but takes those who fail to persevere, who will not stand in the strength of Jesus and the world toys with those people, gives them empty promises, kicks them to the curb and walks away laughing. “Overcomers are promised that they will eat from the Tree of Life (2:7), be unharmed by the second death (2:11), eat from hidden manna and be given a new name (2:17), have authority over the nations (2:26), be clothed in white garments (3:5), be made a permanent pillar in the house of God (3:12), and sit with Jesus on His throne (3:21). Jesus warned that holding fast to Him would not be easy, but it would be well worth it.”[4]

Jeremiah’s words have to lift you and inspire you, the promise of who God is and what He will most certainly do: “ESV Jeremiah 20:11 But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.”

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

He has risen! He has risen indeed! Hallelujah!

[1] source: http://www.jokes4us.com/peoplejokes/comedianjokes/rodneydangerfieldjokes.html


[3] Arthur Just Concordia Commentary Luke 9-24 p 581

[4] https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-overcomer.html0

Do all to the glory of God

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I have not always been a Christian. So when I discuss this, it’s not from the perspective, “well that’s what Christians do their whole lives”. I’ve been involved in athletics pretty much all my life. I was on and off swim teams since I was about 8 years old. I played football from when I was eleven years old until I was seventeen. I worked at the local YMCA where I played basketball, racquetball, weights, and other stuff here and there. I’ve stayed active for the last 40 odd years mostly training and participating in triathlons, also kickboxing and a little basketball mixed in. If anyone can get me into to a racquetball regular game, I’d love it if someone could hook me up with a regular racquetball game again.

Having said all that, yes, it’s been a regular part of my life. And frankly, while I do try, I’ve never been good at anything. It was necessary, serving in the Coast Guard Reserve, my job was operational. I had to stay in condition, because I could be called on at any time to be involved in very physically strenuous situations. So yes, I’ve had a reason to stay active for a long time and it’s been an important part of my life. It really drags me down when I don’t keep up a regular routine. So who knows, maybe I need those endorphins, dopamine etc in order to feel good. But as I grew as a Christian and have become a pastor, I’ve realized that we do have a responsibility to maintain the body God gave us and to especially not abuse it. Now believe me, I’m not any “George Gorgeous”, if you saw me I look pretty much of a dumpy old guy. But… a year ago, I did get a stress test done because of a minor issue. The technician asked me if I worked out because she could see it on the results I was producing and when the doctor looked at my results, he pretty much told me to “get outta here, you’re wasting my time”.

Having said all this, in no way shape or manner am I saying that to be a “good Christian” you need to be in great shape. It’s not a works thing, but in my continual discussion about our “relationship” with Jesus, He gave us our body, mind, everything we have. Don’t most of us want to be in good shape and look good for our spouse, SO? Don’t we want to feel good, have energy, all the benefits of good health? The better we maintain ourselves, the better we serve our Savior, our family, our brothers and sisters in Jesus, the church etc. So don’t we serve and relate better to everyone involved when we do the best we can to maintain ourselves?

Now, IN NO WAY SHAPE FORM OR MANNER, am I saying that you can only be a good Christian if you’re in good physical condition, you’re all pretty and photogenic and all that stuff. Too many “churches” have some need to be all pretty and everyone associated all pretty, that is straight out phoney, hollow and misguided. It’s sort of in the sense of the “cool kids” table in high school. No that’s unacceptable in a Christian church. We need churches that are authentic, phoniness in the church is killing the church and is leaving too many others to die without Jesus. I’ve known plenty of great saints who could barely lift themselves, no less a dumbbell. And believe me I have my own issues that need to be dealt with, I’m not trying to sell that I’m perfect. What I am trying to say is that we still strive to be the best we can with what God gives us. There is way too much mediocrity, and excuses out there. We are called to be perfect as our Father is perfect. Let’s do what we can to strive for that goal, but accepting that no matter what, all of us will fall short and most (like me), miserably so.

An article in Christianity Today (June 2013 pp 39-43) discussing this very subject and I think is a really good perspective. One beef I do have with many Christians is their ability to phoney themselves, their church, their lives in general up. Which certainly does not enhance our witness in the world and refers back to my “cool kids table”. If you’re a Christian and concerned about being part of the “cool kids”, you are already way off track. The world is phoney beyond all question. Why do we keep trying to emulate the world? The church has to be authentic, warts, chubby pastors (like me), lack of talent, but authentic, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Leslie Leyland Fields makes some great points and does sternly caution against a wrongheaded approach to encouraging all that God’s given us. We should be strong in mind, body and spirit. Doesn’t always work out that way, sometimes due to circumstances beyond our control But we should work on what is in our control, not because it makes us better, but frankly makes us a better witness to Christ. Ms Fields quotes Charlie Shedd: “…if our bodies are to be [or already are] temples of the Holy Spirit, we had best get them down to the size God intended.” Fair enough.

“PraiseMoves cites 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 as its foundational verses: ‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.’ … Many in the faith and wellness movement cite the apostle Paul: ‘Whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.”

I really like Ms Fields point: “…outside the church, it challenges the prevailing notion that our bodies belong to us alone – either as machines to be hacked and fueled, or as ‘plastic’ to be reshaped, starved, pierced and used for pleasure or vanity. and inside the church, it challenges the dualistic worldview that God cares only about ‘spiritual’ matters.”

To be sure, as Ms Fields points out, we do not become stupid, obsessive and phoney over the subject of physical fitness and conditioning. We do it with intelligence, planning, something that we will benefit from on many levels. With the mind-set of serving God, that we want to build our relationship with Him, that we want to serve our family, fellow Christians, our church to the best of our ability and this is one way to do it. Realizing that regardless of our physical condition we are to always serve the Lord and the Body of Christ. But to quote Nike “just do it”. How about a church filled with people who do strive, who do want to bless each other, who are spiritually, mentally and physically doing their best in order to disciple others to strive to be their best for Christ who gave us His best.

Running the race in faith in God’s standards, not ours. First St Johns Lutheran Church, York, Pa. February 8, 2015

[The picture is of Pheidippides accouncing the victory of the Greek forces over the Persians to the Athenians Luc-Olivier Merson, 1869 ]

(For a audio version of this sermon, click on the above link or copy and paste it into your browser)

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 run the race of faith in Christ said …   AMEN!

I have done a marathon, I have done a century. A marathon is a 26.1 mile race, I did it in Falmouth, Ma. A century is a bike ride/race of 100 miles, I did that at the seminary. I’ve done 56 triathlons. Paul could have been talking about running a Marathon. The Battle of Marathon occurred in 490 BC and the Greeks may have included the marathon as a competition in their Olympics which would have made the marathon known to the entire Roman world, Israel and Paul included.

Paul is telling us that we have to do life, like these physical tests, with endurance. The problem is we have pasted over these with our own expectations. As Lutherans, too often, we think we don’t have to do anything. We’re saved by grace, we don’t have to do that. But let’s say you should do that. I still think you have to because I honestly believe God still pushes us to stretch in life. We are saved by grace, but that does not mean that we get to sit and just vegetate, especially when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. He gave His best, why on earth should we think that we don’t have to give our best.

Another issue that always seems to be, at least to me, an excuse with Lutherans and too many other people. “If we can’t run the race, if we can’t ride the bike, if we can’t entertain, or maintain or serve or witness … well then we just shouldn’t do it.” Heck, if that’s the issue what am I doing here? I’m sure not, no Billy Graham, or Dale Meyer, or Matt Harrison, or Jon Diefenthaler. If I’m really not that great as a pastor, as a preacher, the one charged with worship, what am I really doing here?

What I am doing, what you are doing is being led by what God wants us to do in our lives. No where in the Bible does it say, “well you have to do everything and anything with excellence, otherwise, just don’t bother doing it!” It doesn’t say that anywhere, no one demands it or expects it. None of us is perfect, none of us is going to do anything perfectly. We should strive to do our best, to serve as perfectly as possible, but it’s not going to happen all the time, we’re just not going to make it. Sometimes it does look perfect and that’s a great thing, and we should salute excellence, but we should never expect perfection, from ourselves or anyone else.

Recently, studies have shown that perfectionism is really just a form of procrastination. We seem to have always celebrated the “perfectionist”. This is the person who, “well I just won’t put this out into the world until it’s absolutely perfect”. We all think how marvelous that is, this kind of integrity. I’m certainly not saying be sloppy, but I’m also not saying that you use every little thing for an excuse to avoid doing the things that you need to do.

We are called to be disciples. That is a race, that is an endurance effort that makes the Hawaii Ironman look like a walk in the park. Are we called to be excellent disciples? No. Does it mean that we can throw God any old little effort that we want to whenever we want to? No! He doesn’t do that to use. God gives us His best everyday. He’s given us His best in Jesus. God’s not sitting up there grading us, not even on the curve, “well poor Jim, I know about him, I’ll cut him some slack”. It’s not about how great or how bad. It is about do we serve Father, Son, Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters in Jesus and the world to the best of our ability? Not in a one shot, here it is take it or leave it. We serve in the sense of the long-haul, making constant effort. We are always looking for the opportunities, always looking for where God leads us. We do it with the understanding that, Yes, we grow through this process. We also serve others through this process. Service isn’t often a one-shot deal, it’s a matter of endurance. Of continuous service.

I have no doubt in my mind that Paul was probably one crispy-critter by the time he got to Rome. Think of all that he had done, all that he endured, all that he sought to maintain and build. It’s staggering! I doubt that in what was maybe a ten-year period, no other person in Christian history did as much to spread Christianity as Paul. We have to remember that he really had no basis. Sure he had the local synagogues, but often they became as hostile as the pagan world, if not more so. So there’s a great excuse right there; “sorry, we can’t have worship because we can’t use the synagogue on Sunday, they kicked us out”. You know as well as I do that would be a ready made excuse for many people today. Paul could say I don’t have the right clothes, I can’t preach like this! No, he did what he could do with what he had. He could have said; “well, we just haven’t worked out the proper teaching, the proper doctrine here, so as soon as I get all that down perfectly I will get back to you.” Heck if I did that I’d never preach, I sincerely hope you don’t think that I am the fount of all Christian knowledge. But did that keep Paul from preaching and teaching? Would that keep me from preaching and teaching?

I’m not saying don’t prepare to the best of your ability. But I think one thing that military training, even athletics has taught me. At some point there is going to be a case, a mission. Probably the biggest case I had, a really bad situation that was my Damascus Road experience. Someone asked the boat coxswain afterwards and he replied, “I’ve never done that before, I was scared to death, I can’t believe I got through that”. He was as prepared as he could be for that storm, he  showed up and people needed help and he got to where people needed him. He didn’t wait until he was perfect, he didn’t have that luxury. He had trained to the best of his ability and likewise the rest of us in the crew, and when the call came we responded to the best of our ability. Despite very difficult circumstances, we got the best possible outcome and all of us that were involved in that case, got an education that we could never have paid for, never arranged, have never gotten under any circumstances other then we were there, we were called, we went out and put on our best effort and, the outcome was as good as it could have been expected.

As I said, yes I ran a marathon, yes I have done a century, yes I have done 53 triathlons. Having said that, I wouldn’t be too impressed if I were you. I did the marathon in 4 hours and 57 minutes. Most people finish under 4 hours and the winning times are almost under three hours. I finished the century in about 8 hours. I did finish before two other people, but otherwise the rest of my group had finished anywhere between 3 and 4 hours earlier than me. So does that mean I should just hang my head in shame, “oh how embarrassing, I’d never tell anyone that I did a marathon or century”… uhmmm no! I can tell anyone that I have finished either one, it’s called bragging rights. I did it and I’m entitled to put a little plate on my Road ID to say I did it. I may not camp on the fact that I took almost 2 to 4 hours longer than most, but I can say that I did it.

Yes I might be able to brag, a little, about what I’ve done and I have no doubt that everyone of you out there has done something that the average mortal never really does and you are entitled to bragging rights. Go ahead, yea Christian humility and we should be humble, but hey, in these cases be a little obnoxious. But when it comes to running and ultimately finishing the Christian race, we do that with humility. Why? Did we really run it in our strength? No! I have no doubt in my mind that my thirty years as a Christian and where the Holy Spirit has put me, that it was entirely through the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit, not mine. How can I take credit for something that someone does through me? But does that make me any less saved? No! I am perfectly saved and if I faithfully follow that leading and do the things that I’m lead to do, in the time I’m lead to do them, then I am a faithful servant. I have been put into plenty of situations by the Holy Spirit, where I knew that a lot more preparation would have been good. I assure you and anyone at Concordia Seminary would agree, that new pastors have a lot to work out when they get to a parish. Frankly some more than others. But is that a valid excuse to avoid what you’re supposed to do and not run the race? No! Sometimes the trial is the teaching moment, the growth moment. That the Father knows that you will only grow through doing versus sitting around talking about it or reading about it. We should continually strive to be the best possible disciples we can be, our Savior is the best and most perfect and He gave us all that we have or ever will need. But we should be ready to run that race at any moment. Not when we decide that we are ready, but when the Holy Spirit hits that alarm and tells us we need to jump up and run out that door. Sometimes we may never even know to what we are running, but we run anyway instead of waiting until we’re perfect because the Father has given us the faith to trust in Him, not in our abilities.

I didn’t run/ride the races perfectly, but I did do them. We aren’t called to run/ride/fight the faith perfectly, we are called to serve the Lord in obedience. God says I am more interested in your obedience then your sacrifice. When we faithfully obey, even we don’t do it the best we can, we are doing God’s will and will be rewarded on that basis. Not on the basis of what we think is acceptable, what is up to our standards, but what we did when we responded to God’s call in faith.

May God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit bless and preserve you to all eternity. Shalom and Amin.