Tag Archives: faithlessness

Faith and Preparation or Worry? Luke 12 First Saint Johns Church Aug 7, 2016

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 know the faith that God has given them said … AMEN!

Our epistle reading today in Hebrews is often referred to as “the catalog of the heroes of faith”. It’s also referred to as the Faith Hall of Fame. People dealing with issues that have been pressing down on their heart. Abram and Sarai have gone decades beyond child bearing years, and they both have heavy hearts, they know that God is aware of their desire, a good desire. It can be a selfish desire. Abram keeps referring to the fact that he wants an heir of his own body to pass all of his wealth to. He has no idea who this child will be, no less that he will ever have a child, but the idea of leaving his wealth to a servant, not someone who will carry on his name weighs on him. God knows the motivation for Abram’s desire and plans that Abram will have that child, but in God’s own time. Abram is about 80 years old, Sarai about 60 years old. God has already done so much for Abram, but as well all do, Abram has put that aside and is looking for the next part of God’s promise. How many times do we do that in our life? I try to keep track of the times that God has answered my prayers, moved me along to where He wants me next. I do that because I’ve come to realize that I forget way too easily about God’s answers to prayer and I remember way to well the prayers that God didn’t answer that I feel He should have. When I look back I realize why God did one thing and didn’t do another, but it’s still very much in my head the other things I think He should have done. I too often take for granted what I have, as if God owed me the answers, but get way too caught up in waiting for other answers, or getting “no” as an answer. God moved Abram from Ur to Canaan. Abram already had wealth and God added to it and gave him land where he could provide very well for himself and the growing number of his family and servants. Abram had power, he had wealth, he had land that God designated just for him. He had no other worries, but he wanted that son and despite the things that had been done for him, Abram decides that God hasn’t been sufficiently faithful. God makes a covenant with Abram, He tries to give Abram every reason to trust in God’s will and not his own. “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield: your reward will be very great.” That promise is to all of us who are in Jesus. He went on to promise Abram that his offspring will be greater than all the stars in the sky. God certainly fulfilled that promise since all Christians, Jews and Muslims claim to be descendants of Abram, billions of people. But very shortly after God makes these promises with Abram, after He gives Abram this covenant, this contract, what does Abram and Sarai do? They take matters into their own hands. At that time it was common practice for masters to have children with their slaves, especially if their wife hasn’t had any children. Children were valuable at that time, something we shouldn’t forget, they were the parent’s source of provision in their old age, and it was important that their family continue. So they decide that Hagar should have Abram’s child, which was not part of God’s plan. Instead of being the answer to prayer, Ishmael’s presence caused problems. The Arab people of today claim to be descendants of Ishmael. The descendants of Ishmael, the Arab people, and the descendants of Isaac, the Jewish people have had continual conflict since then. Violating God’s plan didn’t solve Abram’s problem and created problems for hundreds of millions of people since then.

The writer of Hebrews lists out those in the Old Testament who have been notable for their faith. We know all these people who were written about were faithful Jews and are now being presented as great examples of the faith for Christians that God gave them. They all trusted God’s Word, His promises and directions, even under very difficult circumstances.

Dr J Vernon McGee points out that we all want a blueprint. I’ve had this happen to me repeatedly; “ok pastor, tell me what I’m supposed to do and I’ll do it”. Doesn’t work that way, what God trusted to Abram, what he trusted to Enoch, Noah, David, Daniel, Isaiah, Samuel, on and on, these were all very different people, very different times, places and circumstances. The “rules” Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, those are a baseline, what we are expected to follow, but it is always and only through faith that we live our life out according to the Lordship of Jesus. The attitude for is “I followed the rules, so now give me what I want”. The fact is we can’t see what is truly important, we don’t really understand what God wants for our life and how His will is what is genuinely important and will give us the life that is always the best for us. As McGee points out, he likes to have a neat, clear set of directions, makes our life easier. “But in this chapter we are going to find people who went an altogether different route [which is God’s route]. They walked by faith, and that is the way God wants us to walk today.”[1]

Always to eternity in the eternal life of the resurrection. It’s pretty difficult for us to imagine eternity when we just want what we want right here and now. Jesus said: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We would so quickly settle for crumbs, things that won’t last, things that will lose their shine in a very short time and will end up just being junk. So many people do that with their lives. Trade the Father’s good pleasure for the things that are eternally important, for power, wealth, big homes, drugs, alcohol, sex. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” All of us make idols out of the things that we think we should have and they lead us nowhere. Jesus tells us: “Instead, seek his kingdom,” God’s kingdom is promise to all of us who are in Jesus and “all these things will be added to you.” They will be part of all that God is pleased to give us. This doesn’t mean that as soon as we think that we should have these things, well there they are right there for our faithful following. Certainly God does provide as Jesus is telling us all through this pericope. But that He will provide for us on the journey, that He will do what is necessary for us to follow His will.

There was always a “ready boat crew”, the people who would be expected to go on a call at any time, night or day. If one of us was on that crew we would just sleep in our clothes. If the buzzer went off, or if someone came in the room in the middle of the night, there wasn’t time for fumbling around for our uniform, we would just slide off the bunk into our strategically located boots and then rush down to the boathouse to get underway to rescue those in danger. Jesus is telling us that for His people, those He died for, that we should “stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning.” Be ready to serve, be ready at any time to do what was necessary, Jesus said even in the second or third watch, between about 8pm and 6 am. Not that we should obsess over being ready, sit around constantly worried, but to be aware that He can come at any time; “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A note for those who think they can predict that time, well Jesus said you can’t. A note for us to be prepared and when we trust in Him, when we have the faith that He gives us, that we are focused on Him and His will. That means we’re not all about what we want next, what will make us happy, what idol we can serve, but being focused on His return and His will for us.

No matter what our circumstance God does provide for us. It will be at a time and in a way that we can never anticipate. Since we can’t anticipate it, our worrying about it doesn’t make one bit of difference and it is always in His hands and as Christians we know in our heart that it will always be to the best result. Even in those times where it doesn’t seem so, our true life is not in this world, Jesus is our Lord and Savior in this world, He is our Lord and saves us to the eternal life of the resurrection. Where He gives us life and life more abundant. The Father knows what we need in this life and we do receive it, but true life is in the resurrection and we who are His need to stay prepared, dressed for that, no matter what our circumstances are in this short and difficult life.

We can get caught up in our “needs” here and spend all our time worrying about it, or as Peter Chrysologus writes: “All this is what that treasure brings about. Either through alms-giving it raises the heart of a man into heaven, or through greed it buries it in the earth. That is why he said, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ O man, send your treasure on, send it ahead into heaven, or else your God-given soul will be buried in the earth. Gold comes from the depth of the earth – the soul, from the highest heaven. Clearly it is better to carry the gold to where the soul resides than to bury the soul in the mine of the gold. That is why God orders those who will serve in his army here below to fight as men stripped of concern for riches and unencumbered by anything. To these he has granted the privilege of reigning in heaven.”[2]

Worry, anxiety, covetousness are not the ways that the world will see Jesus in us. The world all around us has no hope, no promise, anything they put their faith in will never last and gives no promise of their future. Our Lord Jesus died for us, high and lifted up on a Cross, He surrendered His life for us to give us the way to eternal life, the very visible promise of our life in Him, the world does not have that hope and promise. Ambrose writes: “Jesus indicates that grace will not be lacking for the faithful in the present or in the future, if only those who desire the heavenly do not seek the earthly. It is unseemly for the soldiers of the kingdom to worry about food. The King knows how to feed, cherish and clothe his household, and therefore he said, ‘Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.”[3]

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

[1] Dr J Vernon McGee  “Thru the Bible Commentary Series Hebrews Chapters 8 -13

[2] Peter Chrysologus quoted by Arthur Just editor  “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament III” pp 211-212

[3] Abrose Ibid p 211

Serving and Faith Luke 7: 1-10 First St Johns May 29, 2016

[for the audio of this sermon click on above icon]

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. Amen.

The observance of Memorial Day is about those who have served in the United States military and have died as a result of that service. I had ancestors who fought in the Civil War. One returned home after suffering serious injury, he lived a few more years, but his life was definitely shortened by wounds in military service, therefore someone who should be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.

The United States’ highest military honor is the Congressional Medal of Honor. It’s not a requirement, but the Medal of Honor is usually presented posthumously, that is the recipient died as a result of the action they took to be awarded the Medal of Honor. According to Wikipedia the Medal of Honor has been awarded to 3,471 members of our military. “The first Army Medal of Honor was awarded to Private Jacob Parrott during the American Civil War for his role in the Great Locomotive Chase. The first African American recipient was William Harvey Carney who, despite being shot in the face, shoulders, arms, and legs, refused to let the American flag touch the ground. The only woman Medal of Honor recipient is Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon.[1]” Of the number awarded there are only 76 living recipients.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to any member of the military who is so qualified. The next level are the service crosses; the Distinguished Service Cross for the Army, the Navy Cross for Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, the Air Force Cross. Interesting how our second highest military honors are crosses. The posthumous rate for the crosses is not as high as the Medal of Honor, but is still significantly high. How appropriate is it that for many who sacrificed themselves to often rescue or protect others, that they should be awarded a cross, the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us.

One particular mission in Afghanistan early in the War on Terror resulted in a few people being awarded the Navy Cross. Probably more than any time in the military history of the United States Special Forces, all branches of the military are required to have a Special Forces unit, have been utilized in the War of Terror to rescue civilian and military persons and to also perform covert U.S. operations and  to assist host countries in various military operations. There is a Special Forces prayer that is quoted in Lt Col Oliver North’s book “American Heroes in Special Operations”. The prayer is: “Almighty God, Who art the Author of Liberty and the champion of the oppressed, hear our prayer. We, the men of Special Forces, acknowledge our dependence upon Thee in the preservation of Human freedom. Go with us as we seek to defend the defenseless and to free the enslaved. May we ever remember that our nation, whose motto is “In God We Trust”, expects that we shall acquit ourselves with honor, that we may never bring shame upon our faith, our families, or our fellow men. Grant us wisdom from Thy mind, courage from Thine heart, strength from Thine arm and protection by Thine hand. It is for Thee that we do battle and to Thee belongs the victor’s crown. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. AMEN”[2]

In one of the first actions in Afghanistan, Navy SEAL Petty Officer Neal Roberts, was part of a unit to be inserted by helicopter into a mountain top area known as Takur Ghar to engage Taliban. During the approach the helicopter was hit by ground fire, engine fluids started pouring over the inside of the helicopter. Petty Officer Roberts lost his footing and went out the back of the helo: “…His buddies watched him fall about ten feet to the snowy outcropping below.” As the Chinook wheeled away from the mountain, the rest of the team watched helplessly as Roberts came under heavy enemy fire. The last they saw of him, was returning fire with his squad automatic weapon, attacking a superior force and going it all alone…”

“A drone was sent to observe and sent back video of Petty Officer Roberts fighting off the enemy for nearly an hour, first with his automatic weapon and then his sidearm until he expended all his ammunition and grenades. He was finally overrun and killed, becoming the first Navy SEAL to die in the war on terror …”[3]

I have interacted with a lot of military and also civilian public safety. They realize that they don’t work a 9-5, punch in/punch out job. They’ve seen and had to deal with situations of life and death and sometimes inhuman acts done against people. Death is a reality to most of them and unlike most people, they are very aware of their own mortality. Too often their attitude towards God, is often, like most people today, think that they’re doing good works and that will punch their ticket to heaven. Many though want to know about God, I’ve had many uplifting encounters with military and public safety people. Often they want to know how God can permit such violence and injury. This has given me the chance to talk to them about sin. God gave us free will, which means that we are free to sin and we do, quite often. For those who are not Christians they are dead in their sins, they don’t know anything other than sin. They might bargain with God and try to do works they think will earn their way. My answer is that we can’t make a bargain with God. He provided one way, Jesus! That’s a great thing. Too often I see people floundering around trying to make their own way to God and they know in their heart that it doesn’t work. We need to be in relation to God through baptism and in Jesus. Anything else is our own works and ends in failure in trying to reach up to God. But there is no mystery about it, Jesus, God the Son, told us very plainly: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Our way to God is obvious, it is not a struggle to be saved. Being saved might be a struggle, but in Jesus we are helped through our struggles and helped to maintain our faith through His grace, that we are living in His will.

In the same sense a Roman centurion is not your garden variety pushover. He had enormous power and authority. He certainly could have been U.S. special forces today. A Roman centurion could pretty much act as he felt necessary, for the most part was trusted to do what was necessary and his word would have much more influence than others. The centurion in this pericope would have been classified as a “God-fearer”, someone who was not Jewish, but who acknowledged the God of Israel as the supreme Creator, Sustainer of the universe. The Hebrew name was yirei Hashem[4]. They did not convert for various reasons, but they recognized the monotheism of the Jewish God. A Roman did not reach the level of centurion by getting involved with charlatans. Certainly an important point of this pericope was to show that Jesus’ power and authority was recognized outside of Jewish circles and was a precursor of the rest of the world recognizing Jesus as God as His disciples/apostles went out into the world. The centurion saw Jesus as having authority as the Roman did. If it was Jesus’ will to have something done Jesus had only to give the word. Chrysostom writes: “…the reason he had not brought him in [his house] was itself a sign of his great faith, even much greater than those who let the patient down through the roof. Because the centurion knew for certain that even a mere command was enough for raising the servant up, he thought it unnecessary to bring him.”[5] Chrysostom also notes: “While on previous occasions he [Jesus] had responded to the wish of supplicants, in this case he rather springs actively toward it.”[6] Obviously the Jewish leaders in Capernaum saw His authority also, they seemed to have no problem intervening with Jesus on behalf of the centurion. For those who deal with the very real world of life and death, they don’t necessarily know Christ as Savior, I’m sure the centurion would have reservations about making that level of commitment, but they usually know the real thing, their life often depends on it. Often as they go along in life they are led by God to know true salvation, again they finally see the authenticity. We honor those who have made a sacrifice for us, we continually hold our Savior Jesus in our heart and in our prayers as He who made the ultimate sacrifice for those who are His to have eternal life in the resurrection. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

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

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

[2] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” p 8

[3] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” pp 44-45

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God-fearer

[5] Chrysostom “The Gospel of Matthew Homily” quoted in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Matthew 1-13” Manlio Simonetti p 161

[6] Ibid

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. !

The Lord God is my strength and shield 2 Corinthians

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 know that God is their strength and their song, said  … AMEN!

How many times have you just thrown it in God’s face, just like the Prodigal Son? That was exactly what he was doing to the “Father”. Even now in the Middle East to do what he did, tell his father to hand over his share of the inheritance, is still a gross insult. Basically saying drop dead old man and hand me over all your stuff. Way over the top. We really miss that in western culture, this kid was totally out of line. We are certainly all sinners, but what this kid did was just so over the top, just a creep. Yet we are all like him. We’ve basically told God go away, we don’t need You, hand over what is “ours”, as if we have anything that is “ours”. Neither did the prodigal son, right? His father was still alive, the son wasn’t entitled to a thing, and yet …

And yet God is our strength, when we do something weak and nasty like the prodigal, we don’t get punished, we get grace. Bear in mind, there are consequences, it may not be God punishing us, but our sinful behavior always incurs consequences. If I go to someone right here, haul off and slug you right in the head, what’s going to happen? You’re going to call the police. God may not be punishing me for battery, but the police will because a complaint was filed after I belted the person. But in repentance I am still forgiven by the Father.

As Christians, though, we can be as obnoxious as this prodigal is, but it is in God’s strength that we are saved, we are forgiven, we are not only forgiven, but we are still, in Jesus, inheritors of eternal life, there will probably be consequences, but ultimately He still saves us. In God’s strength, He makes us His children in Jesus, He gives us forgiveness in Jesus, He gives us eternal life in Jesus. Some see that as weakness. “I saw what he did and he should be taken away and punished! There can’t be any reward for him! Don’t you know what he did? He deserves to be punished, the sooner the better!”

Is that what happened to the prodigal? After he put his father through all that he did? Insulted him, took his money, went off to a foreign land and spent every last dime? He must have caused his father unimaginable anxiety and pain, how many sleepless nights do you think that father had worrying about what happened to his son? How many fathers do you think might have said: ‘Eh, whatever, can’t believe what that kid did, maybe if he gets whacked around a little he might learn something and if something else happens, oh well.” But our Father in heaven doesn’t do that. In what is an enormous, unimaginable amount of strength, God endures so much because of our gross insults, our shameless flouting of His grace, His kindness, His many/countless gifts. What did the father do when the son came home? He could have taken him out back, beaten the tar out of him and no one would have said boo about it. Many would have expected it.

But no! The father shamelessly runs out to the son, kisses him, calls for a fine new robe, a new ring, and!!! The fatted calf, the most delectable meal they knew! Based on the description Jesus gives us, the Father was a very important and wealthy man in the community. Men in general do not run out to greet anyone. They would have to gather their robes up into their belt, which would leave their legs exposed, unless there was an emergency, men of such importance did not run. Reminds me of a Simpson’s line: “You were running? Unless there were lions chasing you down the road, you don’t run.” It would have been the same for the father in this story. Yet there he was, in a most undignified manner, running out to this contemptable, unfaithful young man, who himself admits he is not worthy to be called his son.

This had to be embarrassing for the father, I have no doubt the next day at the city gate some of his peers, at least, gave him a little ribbing, even downright derision, “what was that little demonstration yesterday? We are the leaders of this city, let’s conduct ourselves with a little dignity”.

That’s something we get way too caught up in ourselves, isn’t it? Our etiquette, proper demeanor. That’s something God doesn’t get too caught up in, our dignity. A lot of times, as in this story, He doesn’t get too caught up in His own, especially if it means the difference between saving us or letting us condemn ourselves. Isaiah was called to some undignified acts, David Peters paraphrases Isaiah 20: 1-3; “In the year that Assyria captured the Philistine stronghold of Ashdad, the Lord told Isaiah, ‘I want you to take off your clothes and walk around naked and barefoot.’ Isaiah did as the Lord commanded and walked around naked and barefoot for three years.”[1] Peters points out that God asks His people to suffer hardship and embarrassment because God in His dignity lowers Himself to us in order to pull us out of the hopelessness and despair we are lost in, in our sin. He doesn’t have to tuck up His robes under His belt and run out to take us in and clothe us and give us wealth and food as He did with the prodigal son, but He does it not just to save us, but to fulfill His promise that we would have new life. Paul tells us; “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Through Jesus and only through Jesus do we become that new creation and then makes us “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” Through Jesus, because of the indignity that He suffered on the Cross, we are put in relationship with God. We are no longer that old man, that lost, sin filled, pathetic hopeless being wandering around, obsessed with the things we think are important, our dignity, our opinion, our self-importance, our obsessive love of self. No! Instead we are a new creation. God the Father has put aside His dignity to run out to us to save us, to reach down from His infinitely high throne in order to save His lost, rebellious defiant creation. Not only does He save us, but He makes us His new creation and He adorns us with new clothes. Remember, a new robe was an extravagant thing in that time. Clothing was very expensive, the material was expensive and each robe was made by hand, a new gold ring was extravagantly expensive, the fatted calf was a costly, precious delicacy in a world where getting enough to eat everyday was a challenge. The Father takes His new creation, what He makes us in Jesus, gives us hope and promise, takes away the indignity of our sin and adorns us to the epitome of what we could expect. How then could we not know in our heart that God is our strength and our shield, even when he could be very righteously angry with us? And because of that, how can we not sing, give thanks and exalt His name because of what He has done for us by giving us His ultimate sacrifice, giving us His perfect, completely holy and sinless Son to die as the only sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. If that doesn’t make you want to sing and shout, then you have no appreciation for that Father who runs out to meet His lost child and is so elated, that His child was lost and now His precious child, you and I are with Him again in the eternal world of the resurrection that His Son Jesus gave us by overcoming death in His resurrection.

Jurgen Moltman writes: “In him the despair that oppresses us becomes free to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become as open and as vulnerable as he was.

What initially seemed so meaningless and so irreconcilable – our hope and Christ’s cross – belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.

Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner – a prisoner of hope!””[2]

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

[1] David Peters  “The Many Faces of Biblical Humor:“ page 200 Location 4873  Kindle version

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, “Prisoner of Hope,” from The Power of the Powerless, English transl. Copyright © 1983 by SCM Press Ltd., reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

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.

If you can! Really? Bring it! Mark 9 First Saint Johns September 13, 2015

[To hear the audio version of this sermon 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 know that Jesus can said … AMEN!

We often read Scripture in sort of bland/vanilla terms. In today’s Gospel reading we have a father whose son has been tormented, tortured, used, abused, just completely beaten down. No doubt the father is absolutely beside himself with fear and, complete hopelessness. My mother has had issues with epilepsy. The symptoms have been under control for many years, but I remember as a child that she had severe seizures. You can imagine as a child these episodes were very distressing for me and certainly very upsetting experience for my mother. There was only so much I could do as a child. But in this pericope I’m sure the father felt severe dejection. Dads are supposed to take control, fix things and you can imagine how helpless and hopeless the father felt. My mother’s symptoms were serious, but the description that we see of the son’s symptoms were even more serious. Some were classical symptoms of seizures, but there were far more serious issues with the son. He was being literally picked up and thrown down, I played football in my youth, tight end, basketball, basic military training and a little martial arts, I know full well how it feels for someone to put me to the ground. But we were usually fairly equal and I often had padding and was conditioned for it, it hurt, but it wasn’t continuous, or someone trying to seriously injure or kill me. I don’t think they were. The Greek word used to describe the son is paidi,on which means not just a child, but a young child. We’d probably guess no more than ten/eleven years old. So this probably physically small child is literally getting bounced off the walls and the demon even tries to throw him into the fire to burn him or into the water to drown him. In addition to being mute. This little boy was being treated hellaciously and dad was constantly a witness to this, no doubt trying to wrestle his son away from this supernatural power, do doubt failing most of the time and probably being hurt himself in the process. We can imagine the pain the child is going through, quite possibly to the extent of broken bones, stitches, maybe even more serious and the parents trying to protect and restore to health.

We should certainly empathize with the father, he was in a very difficult situation, which he says had been going on since the boy was a child, the Greek isn’t specific here, but perhaps since he was a toddler. Either way we would have to suppose that it had been going on for probably years. So we can certainly understand that the father is at his wits end. Jesus has just come down from the Transfiguration, this momentous event that we celebrate every year. It is coming down to the end of Jesus’ incarnational ministry, He is focused on the Cross, so perhaps in a way He is a little distracted, but also affirmed and glorified by God the Father. The boy’s father seems to know who Jesus is, He tells Jesus straight out that he has brought his son to Him for healing. So certainly the father is aware of what Jesus has done. According to Mark, Jesus has taught new teachings, that only God could introduce. Jesus and God the Father have made it clear who Jesus is. Mark has recounted how Jesus has freed others from Satan and his demons. Jesus has calmed the storm, He has raised the dead, healed many, fed over 5,000, walked on the water, healed the lepers, given faith to many, forgiven the sins of many, healed blind and deaf men, Peter has confessed who Jesus is and now this father brings his son and says: “But if you can do anything and have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus must have been a little put out and his response seems to indicate a little irritation: “If you can!” Jesus’ isn’t asking a question, He’s making what seems to be an incredulous declaration. In the Driskell translation I’m seeing Jesus saying: “Really? If I can! I know that you are weary and desperate and have gone through a terrible situation, but obviously you’ve heard all the other things. You couldn’t come to me and say; ‘I know you can heal my son who has gone through so much affliction, You have given me the faith I need to bring my son to You and I am trusting that according to Your will do what is necessary relating to my son.” And certainly the father does respond, that he does have faith, he did bring his son, “but please help me to have and keep faith in You and in Your will.” But let’s face it, too often we do put limits on what God can do in our lives. We need to remember that it is always according to His will.

Does faith mean that God is always going to act according to our will, that He is always going to heal, or that He is going to provide for us according to our agenda? Faith is trusting in His will, faith is looking for what His plan is according to what is happening. A Wisconsin fishing guide points out: “The only thing that casts doubt on the miracles of Jesus is that they were all witnessed by fishermen.”[1] That’s not true. We have God’s inspired Word in the Gospel, He inspired men to write about the miracles that Jesus did and we know through our faith that Jesus continues to heal, not always the body, but for those He leads He heals the soul and gives us the faith we need to trust and be led by Him, to have the hope and promise that only He gives us. Sure our human weakness gets in the way. When that happens let’s look back at the beleaguered father’s example and pray: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” St Augustine observes: “If one can pray so that one may cast out another demon, how much more should one pray that one’s own demons be cast out.”[2] Jesus told His disciples they needed to pray to cast out the demon afflicting this boy, certainly He is telling us, His disciples, to pray, in faith, that He will cast out the demons that afflict ourselves and always to pray for healing for others. Jesus can! He died to save us to everlasting salvation, He died to save us who are sinners and sin in our own will and who are led to sin by evil beings. He can and does save us and heal us, through His grace, His people who He does give faith to believe and to trust in His will.

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

[1] Rowell and Steffen   “Humor for Preaching and Teaching” p 57

[2] Simonetti, Manlio  quoting St Augustine “Ancient Christian Commentary NT 1b” p 59

Do you go to Nineveh or blow off God? Really? Jonah First Saint Johns January 25, 2015

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 follow God’s lead, even to their own Nineveh said … AMEN!

The Ninevites were bad people, to quote Charles Dickens you must remember that or nothing good will come from what I tell you, they were very bad people. Jonah had every reason in the world to avoid going to Nineveh. Side note, up until the 1800’s scholars chocked the entire Jonah story up to fable, one reason being that they felt that Nineveh was a myth, that it had never existed. Well surprise, archeologists found it and it does exist. In fact it was a very important city, to deny it existed, as many skeptics today try to deny many aspects of the Bible, would be to deny a great deal of antiquity.

Nineveh was a great city for it’s time. The writer of Jonah says: “Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.” It’s estimated that it had a population of 120,000 people. By today’s standards, that’s really a small city, York has a population of about 50,000, Boston has about 600,000, New York City over 8 million. But for a time when most people farmed or raised livestock, most people didn’t live in a city, it was pretty huge. We have to remember that cities really didn’t become so massive until the industrial revolution and even then not until the early 1900s, when people went to cities to work in factories. Are there difficulties with the Jonah account? Yes. There are really no whales in the Mediterranean and it’s hard to reconcile what kind of “fish” would have swallowed Jonah. There are accounts of men, in the whaling ship days, who were swallowed by a whale and recovered, but can’t really make that case with Jonah. But when we are talking about God, who made all and sustains all of creation, I think it’s a small thing that He created a fish to turn Jonah around.

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and as I said, they were, straight out, bad people. A Wikipedia article quoting King Sennacherib about a recent military victory: “ “Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city.” The Wikipedia article also refers to stone carvings of “many battle scenes, impalings and scenes showing Sennacherib’s men parading the spoils of war before him.”1 These were not nice people. Jonah had every reason in the world not to go there, chief among those reasons was, that he may not come out alive. That was a very real concern. But, as the Chronological Study Bible points out; “Two features stand out in the book’s theology. One is the universal love and compassion of God for all nations. Another is the sovereignty of God.”2

A case could be made that Jonah was written about 700 BC. As I said the Assyrians were widely hated. The Chronological Study Bible states: “Few armies were as hated as the Assyrian army. Even in a time and culture that was not known for respecting human life, Assyrian tactics and policies toward their enemies were notoriously brutal.”3

So when we wonder what the point of this story is about, it certainly has to do with faithfulness and obedience. When God calls us to do something, many times He sets up the circumstances to make sure that His something gets done. If it takes an extraordinary story of a man being thrown into the ocean, swallowed by a big fish, delivered up to the destination that He wants Jonah delivered to, to drive home the point that God’s will is to be done and He can put us where He wants us, then so be it. Even if it’s to a people who are widely hated. You also have to remember that at this point in history, the people of Israel saw God as the universal God, as the creator of all, but still, somehow, thought of Yahweh as their God, exclusively in favor of Israel. Nineveh was the center of worship for the goddess Ishtar, who the Ninevites worshiped. Odd contrast, the Ninevites considered her the goddess of fertility, love, war and sex. I suppose you could reconcile some of those together, but for pagan “gods”, that seems to be a rather wide portfolio. Obviously war, among other things was a priority for the Ninevites/Assyrians. Going to a pagan people to tell them about the real God must have struck Jonah as plain crazy.

Rev Stephen Gaulke writes in Concordia Pulpit: A Sunday school teacher asked her class, ‘What can we learn from Jonah?’ One girl blurted out, ‘When whales swallow people, they get real sick?’”

I was with a group of pastors when I heard that silly Sunday School story. One pastor told the punch line, ‘People make whales really sick.’ Another pastor joked, ‘That’s funny, I always thought the point of Jonah’s story is you can’t keep a good man down!’

Jonah went to Nineveh not because he thought, ‘I’m a good guy.’ He painfully knew, ‘ I was the bad guy, running from God?’ And Jonah joyfully believed, ‘God loves me anyway. The Lord forgives me, gives me new life. He’s the God of second chances!’

What do you think? ‘I’m better than the person God wants me to help? No. The only difference between us and them is that we know who gives life, who forgives!’”4 And I might add that in gratitude, if the Father wants to use me or you, anyone, to see God’s forgiveness and salvation, can I really in good conscience refuse to do what God is guiding me to do? No!

Jonah by his actions said to God; “Forget it, I’m not going to Nineveh. Those people are evil! Go ahead and destroy them! They deserve it! They don’t deserve grace, they deserve to be nuked and I’m not going!” I really can’t say that Jonah was wrong. I can’t say that if God put me on a boat to North Korea or some place in the Middle East, I would certainly have mixed emotions, if not outright rejection of the idea. But God does push on us, if we are a disciple of Christ, if we have received grace and forgiveness from our baptism and from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, if God sustains us and His Son saves us, shouldn’t we follow where He leads us?

Our Gospel reading today is Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John saying: “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” Certainly Jonah’s story is a graphic illustration. As it says in your call to worship: “We hear of God’s call to Jonah in the Old Testament and how, after trying to run away, he was given a second chance. Before he became a ‘fisher of men’, he literally became fish bait! God calls us both to salvation for ourselves and to be fellow [fishermen and women] speaking God’s grace to others.” Those ‘others’ may be people who are different, they may be people we think could be violent or hurt us, they could be people that we just don’t personally like. But all people are God’s creation and in His sovereignty He chooses those who will be saved. He may use you or me, in order to save those people. Jesus was tortured and crucified in order to be the sacrifice for all the sins of the world. Jesus’ sacrifice restored our relationship with God, this gives us hope and the promise of eternal, resurrected life. So the question is, if Jesus did all that for us, if we are His, if we are His disciples, do we really have the right to blow Him off and refuse to go to our Nineveh? Jonah did go to Nineveh, he preached what God told him to preach, the Ninevites did repent of their sin and God did not destroy them. Jonah was faithful and used by God to save many people.

For this week’s assignment, read the whole book of Jonah. Get a real feel for how Jonah felt about his calling. Are there things that God calls you to do that you think are unreasonable? They may be unreasonable to you, but if this is in God’s will, the only unreasonable thing is your refusal to follow God’s leading. He will supply you with what you need to follow Him. He will give you the faith to trust that what He’s asking is according to His will. Are you really going to run off to Tarshish and refuse Him?

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

2Chronological Study Bible pp 576-577

3Ibid p 576

4Stephen E Gaulke Concordia Pulpit Volume 25 Part 1 pp 14-15