Tag Archives: Hope and promise in Jesus

Suicide, please, please don’t

For the suicide prevention hot line Call 800-273-8255 or you can Text 273TALK to 839863

This has been pushing on me for a while now. As a police chaplain I have had to minister to the families of a total of 4 suicides, 3 in the last 4 months. In addition it seems as though it comes up over and over. I get it, I really do. There are times when it just seems really hopeless.

As a police chaplain I have a very unique perspective in regard to a suicide. I spent 29 years in the Coast Guard, I’ve had to deal with death in so many forms. The difference between an accidental death, a person who dies after a long and loving life and the person who chooses to end their end life is enormous.

The scene of a suicide and yes that includes things like heroin overdoses, which I’ve also had my share of, is absolutely horrific. A Christian man or woman who’s had a good life, surrounded by family, friends, with the promise of Christ, the promise of new life in the resurrection, I’m not going to say it’s pleasant, it’s not, but there is an entirely different atmosphere. It’s been a good life (and that doesn’t mean it has to be great or without difficulties, every life has difficulties). The person was faithful, they lived their life guided by the Holy Spirit, I can tell the people there, there’s no doubt that person is in the presence of the Lord.

The horrific contrast to that is the death of someone who committed suicide. I’m not going to name names, or do anything that would violate the seal of the confessional (ever, God willing), but I can speak in generalities and there is nothing whatsoever pleasant or this goofy romanticism that has crept into the subject of suicide. It’s horrible. You either have a very few, sometimes 1 or 2 people survivors, and all of a sudden they have to deal with this horrific scene, that someone they cared for, in their household, took their own life. Have you ever dealt with someone who died violently? I doubt you have. Why on earth would you want to inflict that on someone, anyone, especially a member of your family? I’m not going to be graphic about it, frankly I just can’t bring myself to do it. But if you have some goofy idea that it’s somehow like in the funeral home the person who has died is in this pristine setting, you are just so horribly wrong. Finding someone who just committed suicide is a devastatingly traumatic impact on that person. They will never forget the scene they had to deal with. You want to talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? There you have it. Use your own imagination who is it that might find you? Do you really want to inflict that on that person?  I will answer that for you. No matter how much you may want to hurt, push back, punish someone, if you knew the actual result, you wouldn’t do this to your worst enemy. Trust me you just wouldn’t.

There are so many better ways to move on in your life, there really are, please let me or someone you trust help you. I know I’m going to get this pooh-pooh thing from people, “what do you know Jim?” But there is one thing I can offer to you. We do have one God, the only God, God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Despite the other opinions and other uninformed or others unthought out talk (and that’s just what it is), God the Father of Jesus, true God, really does love you and really wants the best for you and does not want you to hurt yourself. He made you, He really wants what is best for you. Unlike other beliefs, suicide as a Christian is never acceptable. The only exception is, as Jesus did, you genuinely directly sacrifice yourself to save another. If you’re a firefighter and rush into a house to save someone, if you throw yourself on a grenade to keep others from being killed, if you sacrifice your life to give birth (either in terms of how your life will change, or literally) then that is commendable, it is not suicide. Jesus said  ESV John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” Jesus laid down His life for all of us to give us the assurance of forgiveness and eternal life. Unless you can justify hurting yourself in terms of actually, physically protecting another don’t. Please I really am begging you, don’t.

The surviving person(s) has now been handed a whole, incredible, devastating  traumatic situation that they are always, just not capable of handling. When I say that, I mean handling on so many levels. The guilt is usually devastating. You have people who are just crushed that they could have done something to prevent this. You know they couldn’t have, but they are going to feel that way and they are going to feel that way for an awfully long time, often their entire life. That person’s world has just fallen in because of this. All of a sudden they have to deal with police, coroner, funeral home and quite often they do it all by themselves or with close family. Other deaths, people will jump to serve those who have had a loved one die. Suicide? People are going to avoid helping and even in the future, discussing it with the survivors. It is still just a horrible thing to have to deal with, especially if you don’t have to, it’s not their chaos to deal with. That may be cold-hearted, but imagine if someone you knew committed suicide? You’re just not going to want to get involved. Let’s face it in today’s world, people aren’t going to get involved if they don’t have to especially under these circumstances.

As a police chaplain I’ve been called in to temporarily minister to a survivor(s). I try to with all my heart. As best I can I try to empathize with the pain of that parent, spouse, brother, sister, child. In addition to everything else they are thinking: “What is my future going to be without my husband or my parent or child? If I depend on this person, how is my world going to change?” As best as I can, I know in my heart I can’t begin to reach the depth of grief, guilt and other emotions crashing in on that person. But I also have to help this person deal with this catastrophic, unanticipated situation in another way. The reality is that the remains of a human being are in their home. They have to make a decision then and there what will be done with that person. In a lot of cases, especially when it’s someone who is young, that person hasn’t made any arrangements for their death. I have to help them figure out in a very short time how this will be handled, how this will be paid for, what has to happen in the next few days. Again why would anyone cause this to be inflicted on another person? But all of a sudden they have to make decisions like this and usually they are completely unprepared and very afraid.

I’m not some kind of expert, I’m not trying to play God, I never want to have to deal with this situation again as long as I live. All I can tell you is the immediate result of someone taking their life has incredibly traumatic effect on people who I’m sure you never intended to hurt, but they will suffer incredibly if you hurt yourself.

I have had this discussion with other concerned people, we all agree if someone came to us and said suicide was on their mind, they would drop whatever they were doing and jump through hoops to help you. I’m the pastor of First Saint Johns Church in downtown York. You can stop and visit, 140 W King St. the phone number is 717.843.8597  I will jump through hoops to do what I can. Yea, ok, it may be awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable, but it just is nothing compared to the way it would be if you did kill yourself. You may doubt it at times, but God really does love you. He created you, He has kept you going, and He has a great promise of true life for you that Jesus died for you, so that you won’t have to suffer. I get it, life can be tough, it can be really unpleasant, you can go through a lot of needless grief. Believe it or not, I truly understand. But God is there for you. He’s given you people like me as a trained, experienced pastor to help you. He gives you great brothers and sisters in Jesus who can also help you, THEY WANT TO HELP YOU! Don’t believe it? Try me! 

As I’ve said I have had to deal with the devastation suicide can cause for people you really do care about. You really don’t want to do that. Please, there are so many people who really do want to help you work through things, please let them do it. Years from now you will look back and praise and thank God that He gave you people who were there for you. But don’t pull away, don’t isolate yourself. People do pull away from those who can help, it’s not smart, it’s not healthy, it just won’t help. I hear the bitter, fist waving all the time. Are other people at fault at times that hurt you? Yes, there are. It happens to people all the time. Do you really want to inflict that hurt and pain on others who would have done anything they could to help you? Who have been there for you? Despite everything, you know that there are people who do want to help you, to make sure you’re safe? Please let them do that, I really am begging you from my heart. I want to meet and talk with you, I don’t want to meet your grieving relatives. Please take time, pray, really reach out to God, let Him comfort you and then get hold of me, or any of the many people you know who would want to be there for you. May God strengthen, bless and comfort you in Jesus.

SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

link for “Lines for Life”   https://www.linesforlife.org/get-help-now/?gclid=Cj0KEQjw-ezKBRCGwqyK0rHzmvkBEiQAu-_-LGq6i3BjmZDuaYcm6nkxHal_BRphCkhu7Dri_QwEqKUaAuop8P8HAQ

For the suicide prevention hot line Call 800-273-8255 or you can Text 273TALK to 839863

The Harassed and helpless of the world Matthew 9 First Saint Johns June 18, 2017

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 want to reach out to the suffering of the evil of the world said … AMEN!

Last week the Gospel lesson was the Great Commission … Matthew 28: … “ESV Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,…” It was Trinity Sunday, Jesus is making us aware that what we do, and certainly baptizing and making disciples are two of the most important things we do, that it and all the other things that are done best when we keep in mind that we are doing it in the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ command in the Great Commission can certainly be understood in an additional way. What we see in today’s Gospel reading follows what Jesus is telling His disciples, including us, what He told them in Matthew 28. Our Gospel reading is Matthew 9, this is much earlier in Jesus’ ministry and before all of the momentous, triumphant events that have preceded the Great Commission and then His immediate ascension into heaven. Things are still pretty much the regular routine when Jesus sent His disciples out for their first tour as Jesus’ disciples, and certainly evangelists. He sees the people that have been following Him and these are people who really are without a shepherd. You may not feel an immediate need for a shepherd, someone to guide you, to give you protection and certainly when we talk about Jesus in this sense we are talking about someone, like a father, who is there to protect. Sure dads today protect. I think every father feels a duty to stand up for his family when his wife, children are being attacked, taken advantage of, suffering, floundering in the world. Paul writes: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”(Eph 2: 1-3) Jesus, the Son of God, certainly He sees this, He knows what these people are going through, He is that Shepherd. Yet He knows His sheep are living such aimless lives and are under constant attack from the evil all around us. Certainly Jesus feels a need to protect these people, and us, from the “attacks” Satan launches against us on a regular basis. Often those “attacks” don’t feel violent or hostile. Often those attacks consist of luring us away to the things of the world that we think give us pleasure, but always result in taking our focus off of Jesus, and making an idol out of the things we think are pleasing. Certainly fathers feel the need to do what they can to try and keep a straying child from falling into bad habits, destructive lifestyles. It’s not easy being a father in today’s world. The evil of today tells us that we’re entitled to these destructive lives. Sure the world doesn’t say it that way, yet we know how it ends up. So many people today, yes someone’s son or daughter, but not always young and immature, feel perfectly entitled to indulge in what they think they should have. The world doesn’t care about what your child does or messes their life up with. The world’s idol is almost always and ultimately, how can I make money off of this person. They won’t let their own children go down their evil path, but they’re perfectly happy to take the money from someone else’s child. The tragedy is ultimately there is a crash and burn and although the father tried to keep the child from crashing, now the child or other people expect the parents, often even the church to be there and help them pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives after their collapse. It’s often the father that has to step up, making life so much more difficult for fathers.

Can’t you imagine Jesus seeing this right before His eyes? All of these people followed Him around, day to day. His heart is breaking, like any father’s would, to see His children being harassed by the evil all around them. Unable to rebuild shattered lives, needing someone else to pick up what they caused in their rush to destruction, believing all the nonsense around them. Jesus is God the Son, but all creation came into existence through Him. No doubt He had a hand in the creation of all us, He is God. It bugs me when someone makes a reference to “Jesus our brother”. Since we’re God’s children and Jesus is God’s Son, well He must be our brother. Yeah, kinda, but really no. He is still all powerful God. He is man, but He is entirely God as we saw in the Athanasian Creed from last week. And no not even really our big brother, but certainly our God.

He knows every one of those people who are hungry, are oppressed, suffering, often as the result of their sins, their envy, greed, their search for pleasure instead of trying to grow in the relationship that Jesus offers them every moment of every day. Dr Jeff Gibbs writes: “the passive forms of sku,llw [harassed] “to flay,, skin and r`i,ptw “to throw” emphasize that the people are victims of evil spiritual forces around them that are beyond their control.” Dr Gibbs goes on to stipulate that the failure is not limited to those people who, because they are without a shepherd, or the shepherd is not faithful to them: “…their deplorable spiritual condition is caused in part by the failure of their spiritual leaders.”[1] That is also a two-way street in Christianity. In a world, today, where we see pastors who are trying to be faithful, pretty much ignored because they are seen as narrow-minded or naïve, and that the world is oh so much more accepting and “tolerant”. Sure, the world can afford to be tolerant, it doesn’t care how someone ends up and even has the chutzpah to criticize the church and the parents because they don’t do enough to help the people the world destroyed to function as adults again. It’s a bizarre world being a pastor in this day and age, and certainly the church has to bear responsibility in a lot of ways that it has not been faithful to the parishioner and the church has done itself harm by its passivity and failure to truly represent Christ and what He truly stands for and how He defends us against the evil of the world, the spiritual, demonic attacks that go on around us every day. But those in the church expect the church to fix those problems by providing material comfort, which in this day and age, serious churches no longer have the resources. But much more important than the material comfort, is the spiritual strength that the church should provide every Sunday morning, as a father provides strength and encouragement to his children. Not to be a faint echo of the world. What’s the point of having a church if it only weakly prattles about the world around us?

I would seriously hope people take Jesus’ words very much to heart in this passage. He knows full well the world that He is sending His men into, like a military commander, He knows He can’t protect His people from all the harm they could incur. But, He can and must prepare them in a way that they at least have every chance, not just to survive, but in order to achieve the objective. Jesus’ objective is clear, He wants His men to grow and have on the job training, bringing His hope and promise into the world. He wants the world to know that there is strength and protection and love and caring from Him in His church. No one is going to find it in a greedy, grasping, lying world that is only about telling anyone what they want to hear. That is not living, that only results in harassment, often physical sickness, disability, which we see all around us, all of the time. It’s time that we went out into the world to serve the Lord of the Harvest, in His harvest of the world. To see all of the harassed, helpless, sick, twisted, results of the world, to get serious about the church that Jesus has given us in order to stand strong against the lying, death dealing ways of the world. We see this smarmy, snarky, weasely attitude towards the church, inside and outside of the church. Our only hope is in Christ, He died in order to fully pay for our sins, He rose again to give us the promise of eternal life, fulfilling and life the way God had always wanted for us, not life the way the world uses to tear us down and destroy us. The church of Jesus Christ is important because it is what we have, as the Body of Christ, to stand up to all the evil around us. The church will always be, but if it continues to limp along, more and more of our families and those around us will be lost to eternal damnation because while we are the church, we chose not to act like the church.

Dads, you are expected to be those laborers, those who go out and protect and build and strengthen. It might even be casting out demons, we see the demonic all around us and quite often, only in the strength of the Holy Spirit, you need to stand up to those demonic forces, those snarky, smarmy forces that threaten our families. We should expect to suffer the slings and arrows of a nasty, evil, threatening world and do what you can to stand up for Christ and true life and ignore the taunts and nonsense of the world in doing it. No matter what our children say and do, they are looking for us to protect them. It’s often messy and unpleasant, but you, me, all men in Christ have to emulate the things that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have shown us to do to be true men of God and to reject the evil of the world.

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] Rev Dr Jeffrey Gibbs  “Concordia Commentary  Matthew” p 495

Unworthy, yet still saved in Jesus Luke 3 First Saint Johns Dec 6, 2015

[for the audio 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 hear John the Baptist’s words to warn those to flee from the wrath to come said … Amen!

It’s Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year when we remember the coming of Jesus, not just the first coming His incarnation, but we also think about His second coming, when the old will be destroyed and Jesus brings the new perfect world.

John the Baptist, some like to call him John the Baptizer, can well be talking to our generation as well as talking to the generation of the first century. John was an Old Testament prophet, he wasn’t playin’, he was there to make sure that things were set up for the coming of God the Son. He was quoting Isaiah, we often call Isaiah’s book the fifth Gospel. The Greek word Gospel means “Good News” and Isaiah was certainly telling the people of his time, five hundred years before Jesus’ coming, the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus’ coming. That the hope and promise of Yahweh, God the Father, would come and that they would have the hope and promise of reestablishing the relationship that Yahweh had with His people. The people of Isaiah’s time had been brought to the bottom. They needed this hope and promise, they were beaten, they were exiled, they had no expectation of seeing their homeland, Israel, ever again. They felt abandoned and lost, and they knew they were exiled for a reason. They knew that they had sinned against God over and over. They knew they deserved to be punished. By the same token, God knew that He couldn’t just leave His people in Babylon with no hope and He gave Isaiah the words to give them the hope and promise that He had not forgotten them and that they would be restored into the relationship they had with Him. But it wasn’t going to be right away. God wanted to make sure the lesson had sunk in. It seems that it had. Israel stopped looking for foreign “gods” we don’t see further evidence of people worshipping Baal or Molech or other pagan “gods”. By the time John made his appearance, they did seem to be patiently waiting for Messiah, the anointed one of God, to restore them.

This doesn’t mean that they were all nicely squared away in waiting. They let a lot of pious kinds of beliefs build up around God’s Word. Jesus certainly criticized them for letting their man-made traditions get in the way of God’s Law. Also the Jews expected that Messiah would come to drive out the Romans which was wrong. Jesus was not some Davidic king who would drive out the Romans and re-establish a Davidic kingdom, the height of the Jewish nation. Jesus came so that all people would know the true God, and to give them God’s Word and Will. Jesus came to live that perfect life, to be the perfect, wholly innocent sacrifice, He would be the payment of our sins. God is truly holy, merciful and just. God’s justice cannot allow sin, there has to be a penalty for sin. The only penalty that would be truly sufficient to pay for the sin of the world, was the sacrifice of His truly holy, perfect Son, who lived the perfect life, in order to be the perfect sacrifice. So the Old Testament preacher, John the Baptist, is sent to fulfill the first prophecy that in the spirit of Isaiah, the one Isaiah said would come to make his, the Messiah’s, path straight. Like Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament prophets, John knew he hadn’t been sent to make nice, pat people on the head, tell them it’s all about “Your best life now” [Joel Osteen book]. John is telling them, no more playin’, it’s time to pay attention and know that God the Son is coming and will lead you back to a relationship with the Father in Him and John is not pulling any punches.

John quotes Isaiah saying: “…Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight … all flesh shall see the salvation of God…” [Isaiah 40:3-5]. His words, 500 years earlier. Now, it’s happening and it’s time to stop floundering around, making things up, living in denial. It’s time to either know who Jesus is and that a new generation, a new era has begun, or resign yourself to hopelessness and loss. There’s no other choice. John says: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Let’s take the second part first. John is saying, you’re not worthy to be here, who led you here in order to hear the words of salvation? If we are following God’s script, that’s really kind of a rhetorical question. If you know why you’re here, how do you know that? As Lutherans we know the answer to that. Who leads us to know Christ as our Lord and Savior and leads us to salvation? … The Holy Spirit leads us. We can’t know how to be saved, we don’t make that decision. We are too lost in our sin to know the holiness and salvation of God. John is the first to refer to the Holy Spirit, that Jesus will baptize us in the Holy Spirit.

Too often we read the Bible as being all nice and polite. But John’s first statement is flat out judgmental, oooh, that’s not nice, being judgmental. Yet here it is. Why is this so judgmental? A brood is defined as a family of young animals. So first Johns is saying that you’re just a bunch of not just immature, but animals. Not just any animal, he says they are a brood of snakes. Why snakes, why would that be especially compelling, even insulting to a group of Jews? What was special to them about the snake? … The snake was the form that Satan took to corrupt God’s perfect creation. The snake corrupted Eve and because Eve had fallen, Adam followed Eve and gave in to the temptation offered by Satan. Adam snubbed God and chose to give in to Satan’s temptation. The same with the people John is preaching to.

So John goes on to say. “OK, you may be here as a result of the Holy Spirit leading you here. If that’s the case, then you better start living up to that and repent of all your sins, and start to bear fruit in accordance with that repentance.” In other words, you need to start living your life in a way that glorifies God and justifies the fact that He has sent His Son to save you. Why? Because “…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” John is saying that at this point, every one of you here is doomed to Hell. God has already condemned you and judged, oh, that bad word again, judging. God has already condemned your sin and your snubbing of Him will send you to Hell.

The people listening, have completely understood what John is saying and decided that they need to take him seriously. How do we know that? … The crowds started to ask him “What then shall we do?” It’s too early for John to say “you need to know Jesus as Savior.” Neither he nor anyone else there knows how that’s going to play out. But he does say, “start getting your life together”. Stop trying to live just for yourself and live for those around you, so that they will see that things are changing. John answers the crowd saying: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food to do likewise.” Stop living selfishly, if you are in a position to help someone else give them something that they are in need of. The tax collectors and soldiers then ask John what they can do. Remember, these are probably the two most hated groups in Israel at the time. But clearly the Holy Spirit has moved these groups of men, who appear to be far over the boundary of redemption. No one wants them saved, yet John gives hope and promise to even the two groups of hated sinners. He tells them, stop ripping people off, stop trying to intimidate, injure and kill other people.

His listeners are now just breathless with anticipation, “…surely this has to be Him, this has to be the Messiah that God has promised us for centuries.” John sets them straight, that someone who will be much more then him is coming. He promises them that the Messiah to come will be that hope and promise. But in good Lutheran style, John warns them one more time: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” For those who are trying to convince us that Jesus isn’t serious about Hell, John is making it very clear. Jesus will come and gather the wheat, the good crop, gather those who are saved in Him into His “barn”, into heaven, to eternal life in the Resurrection. But, for those who are chaff, those who are not a good crop, not saved in Him, they will burn with unquenchable fire. The only place I know that is “unquenchable fire” is Hell. John makes it very clear, this is the default, which we are all in danger of, which is Hell. Salvation and true life is in the Messiah to come. That is the message I am telling you now. John then goes on to “preach good news to the people”. The Gospel of salvation in Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation, our preparation as those who are saved in Jesus is always to the time when He will return, our resurrection in the New perfect World. Part of that preparation has to be in terms of being someone who will warn those around us who do not know Jesus “to flee from the wrath to come.”

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