Sunday, May 17, 2015

Before We Act

[This was shared with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, during worship on May 17.]

Acts 1:12-26
Everyone knows what it’s like to have to say goodbye to people we care about--friends, family members--even when we’re certain that we will be seeing each other again. In the days and times that follow our goodbyes, we wonder things like: 
  • “Will our relationships remain strong?” 
  • “Will God help us to remain true to each other?” 
  • “Will I forget what makes my friend so special?” 
  • “Why can’t we just stay together?”
These questions and ones like them must have been rolling through the minds of the apostles, the twelve disciples Jesus had set aside to lead His Church, as they walked to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. 

They had just come from saying goodbye to the risen Jesus. He had ascended to heaven after telling them that they would be His witnesses and that they were to go back to Jerusalem, the city that had seen Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come to them to enable them to be His witnesses. 

As the eleven surviving disciples gathered in an upper room, along with Jesus’ mother and other followers, they must have all felt a bit like we do when we pass the empty guest room or the empty house of friends now gone.

But the disciples knew that they couldn’t afford to long indulge such feelings. 

They had a job to do, a mission from Jesus. Just like we do. 

The same mission we have

To be witnesses for Christ. 

To make disciples. 

But before they began pursuing that mission...before they went off like half-cocked guns...before they had the first church potluck, church picnic, guest musicians, or any other first, they had to do what Jesus told them to do. 

They had to wait

As we begin this final message in our Easter season series on How to Be the Church, that, it seems, is the first and most important instruction we should draw from our first lesson for this morning, Acts 1:12-26: 

Before we do anything as a Church, we need to wait

And we need to do what the 120 followers of Jesus did in that Upper Room. Verse 14 says: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

The disciples seemed to know that if they were going to be effective in their mission, they needed to stop. 

They needed to take the exit ramp off the rat race and intentionally be with God. 

The English Standard Version translation of Isaiah 40:31 renders God’s word on this subject: “...they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

There are a lot of busy people in this congregation. 

And this is a busy congregation. 

Maybe sometimes too busy. 

The authors of the book Simple Church, which we retreated around in February, suggest that most churches are too busy. And much of their busy-ness has nothing to do with Jesus’ commands that we be His witnesses, that we make disciples. 

Maybe before we take on the next project or the next new mission, we need to collectively stop and pray and ask God what He wants us to do. 

Is there anything we’re doing right now that God wants us to stop doing? 

Is there anything we need to do to become more faithful in being witnesses and making disciples?

And how about in our personal lives and in our family lives? 

Do our daily activities align with our Sunday morning confessions? 

Are we just too busy? 

Are there things that need to be taken out of our lives? 

Things we need to add? 

Do we need more time to rest, relax, and chill? 

Do we need to be more intentional about serving God and others?

To find the answers to those questions, we need to wait on the Lord

We need to dig into a book of the Bible like John or Romans or Acts and, at a chapter at a time, reformulate what God is saying to us and how what He's saying might apply to our lives, then pray about it

Mark 6:31 tells us about a frenzied time in Jesus’ and the disciples’ time together when, “...because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” 

And Proverbs 3:5 tells us to get over thinking we have to do everything or really, do anything on our own steam: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart [it says] and lean not on your own understanding.”

If we’re ever going to conform to God’s design for our lives and fulfill the mission Christ has given to us, we must learn this lesson

We must learn how to go away with Him and His Word, rest in His grace, and be empowered for what He wants us to do. 

We need sabbath days. God built it into us to need them. That's why He commanded them.

And we need mini-sabbaths every day. 

Otherwise, we will chase after every new thing that pops into our heads, wear ourselves out, and render ourselves less than useful to God and the people He has brought into our lives: our families, our friends, our unchurched acquaintances.

You should know that I am preaching to myself as much as I am to you this morning. This isn’t my standard operating procedure, but in the past two weeks, I haven’t taken an entire day off. 

My time with God has been largely catch-as-catch-can. 

And like many of you here this morning, I am exhausted. 

I have been a poor Christian and a poor example to this congregation, for which I repent. 

I ask God to help me do better today and in the week to come. 

And I think that all of us should hold each other accountable not only for what we do to honor God in our daily lives, but also for the time we spend with Him quietly, reading His Word, waiting on the sense of His direction and empowerment for our days. 

As we develop a disciple-making culture at Living Water with the help of Navigators and as we implement Simple Church, waiting and studying God’s Word and praying and doing only that which is necessary for our mission, will be central to our life as a congregation.

After the disciples spent their time in prayer, Peter felt moved by God to stand up and suggest the next thing they needed to do. They prayed and discerned who God wanted to take Judas’ place as an apostle. Later still, God sent His Holy Spirit and because the Church had prayed, they were ready for action. 

In the Church, every action should be preceded by sustained and submissive prayer

Jesus tells us in John 15:5, ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

When the Church prays before it acts, when individual Christians pray before they act, amazing things happen. 

Last month, you know, we welcomed Pastor Jean Marie from Haiti. After the Q-and-A we had with this amazing man, who, with his wife, pastors a congregation, oversees a number of other churches, and has a hand in the work of an orphanage, I spoke with Jeff Dahl, a board member of SMI Haiti (Sundouloi Mininstries, sundouloi being a Greek compound word that means, servants with). SMI is the stateside agency that works with Pastor Jean Marie and with Living Water and other congregations in Haiti. 

Jeff told me about Jean Marie’s prayer life. “With all due respect, Pastor,” he said, “I doubt that you spend nearly the time in prayer that he does. His daughter has told me about finding him praying for hours at a time, often with tears, seeking God’s direction. And sometimes, when there’s a big issue, he’ll call a prayer meeting and the church will pray all night long.” 

Can you imagine that? 

Often, folks, it takes having nothing in this world for us to realize that the only thing we can have that matters is a solid, uninterrupted relationship with the King of the universe, the God Who can only be approached through Jesus Christ

I can’t help but conclude that what God is accomplishing through Pastor Jean Marie and his becoming what Jeff Dahl calls “the go to guy” in his region of Haiti, directly correlates with the time He spends studying God’s Word and praying for God’s help.

May we who seek to be faithful to Christ be unencumbered by our things and our agendas, and instead, learn to bend to the will of God. 

May we take the time to learn the wisdom of the apostles and the other disciples. 

May we take time to delve into God’s amazing Word and time in prayer. 

May we be like Martin Luther, who once told a friend, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours [each day] in prayer.”

Living Water is a great church. 

I’m stunned by this congregation’s commitment to Jesus, to the Bible as God’s Word, to the mission of the Church, to loving one another. 

But we will never be the greater Church that God intends for us to be, no matter how much we may grow numerically, until we learn to consistently separate the urgent from the critical, and then only do the critical. 

We will never be what God intends us to be until we take the time to ask God, “Lord, what do You want us to do?” 

We will never begin to truly fulfill our mission until we take the time to stop and let God power up our living.

We can be so much more and we can do such more if we will just do less out of our own thinking and power and let the God we know in Christ take the lead.

God’s Word tells us that to be the Church, to be a Christian, we must, like the first Christians, strive to put away everything from our lives that might prevent us from completely depending on Christ. 

We need to stop, wait on the Lord, and pray. 

We need to realize that to be the people God has redeemed us to be in Christ, Jesus Christ is all we need

To live with complete dependence on Christ is how we are to live until that day when the risen Lord to Whom the first disciples said, “Goodbye,” greets us in eternity with the "Hello" that never ends. 

This is how we are to be the Church. Amen

Saturday, May 16, 2015

'A 30 Second Argument for God'

Robin Schumacher makes a thirty-second argument for the existence of God:
  1. I exist.
  2. If I exist, something must have always existed because you don’t get something from nothing.
  3. There are only two choices for an eternal ‘something’: (a) The universe; (b) God.
  4. The universe is not eternal.
  5. Therefore, God exists.
Read the whole thing. Thanks to colleague Pastor Dave Mann for sharing this over on Facebook.

Saturday This and That

These are some of the things that caught my eye this past week.

Ever wonder what that extra shoelace hole is for?
It isn't just for show.

Are fountain pens the next big thing?
In A Primer on Fountain Pens, Brett and Kate McKay share the writing instrument's history and tell us why, at times, they should be our instrument of choice for writing. Somehow, I don't see the fountain pen taking off as a fad.

Denzel Washington's recommended number 1 priority for college graduates...
...put God first.

Letter to JetBlue...
...from the grateful mother of an autistic child.

"How is it that really, really smart people can come to believe really, really stupid things?"...
...The revered journalist, Seymour Hersh, seems to have been looking for the "big story" for decades and, in the process, produced some embarrassments, including his just released story alleging that Osama bin Laden's death was less of an American achievement than a Pakistani government gift. Marc Ambinder suggests that, in his long journalistic career, Hersh has often been right on facts, but often way off when taking about motive, leading him to believe crazy things.

The US is "less Christian"... says a new study.

But the sky is not falling...
...So shows Ed Stetzer.

The US restaurant business is stagnant...
...because millennials don't go to restaurants as much as preceding generations did. One factor that might explain this, not mentioned in the article, is the plethora of cooking shows. Cooking has become fun and hip, whereas in previous generations regarded it as a necessity and a chore. So, millennials might actually prefer eating their own cooking at home.

$179.3-million is no abstraction...
...That's how much Picasso's Women of Algiers brought in at an auction this past week.

Has the decline of baseball...
...corresponded with the decline of American character?

Hillary would, if he weren't a competitor, likely advise Jeb to watch out for questions...
...Clinton has only answered eight from the media since her campaign began, preferring to take questions from folks at town meetings. On the other hand, Bush's most challenging questions have come from "ordinary" voters, not the media, and as he answers them, seems to get himself into increasingly deeper waters. I wrote here:
While it may be in a candidate's interest to speak to the press, Clinton isn't legally bound to do so. If she wants to reach the public with town hall meetings, advertising, conventional campaigning, and social media releases, that's her choice. But it's likely to backfire on her...
Now, Bush seems to be showing us that answering any question from anybody can produce its own backfires.

While I recognize that there's a good chance that anyone who runs for president is either (a) filled with megalomania or (b) racked by feelings of inferiority, I nonetheless feel badly about the meat grinding analysis and tedious verbal parsing to which all candidates for the country's highest office are subjected.

A legend has died...
...B.B. King passed on Thursday. Love this article about him from USA Today.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Thrill is Gone (Live) by B.B. King

An incredible voice teamed with a distinct guitar style in B.B. King. In this, his biggest hit, King gives full vent to the blues' unique capacity to express world-weariness. Yet in the interviews he granted, King never seemed wearied by the world or his stardom, only grateful.

The first time I remember hearing of King was when he made an appearance at a prison on the Phil Donahue Show back in the 60s or 70s. I was a punk kid, home from school for some reason. His performance was riveting and like Johnny Cash, he seemed to speak straight to the hearts and experiences of the inmates. I was spellbound.

God bless all who mourn King's passing.

You Can Close Your Eyes by James Taylor

Love this song. And Taylor was in fantastic voice here.

U2's Newest Tour Dates Should Be Amazing

The first show of U2's new tour has happened in Vancouver. This review from Rolling Stone is one of several I've read and it looks like whoever goes will have a wonderful time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Giancarlo Stanton Drives a Homer Out of Dodger Stadium

During yesterday's game between his Marlins and the Dodgers at LA. The ball was hit, we're told, 475 feet at a rate of 114 mph. Yowza!

What We Can Do for Nepal...

...First, we need to pray.

  • Pray for those whose loved ones have died, that God will comfort them.
  • Pray for those engaged in rescue, that they will be able to get to survivors amid the rubble of the latest earthquake.
  • Pray for the efforts of relief agencies, that God will give them access and success in reaching those impacted by these two earthquakes.
  • Pray for the people of Nepal as they attempt to rebuild their lives and their buildings.
  • Pray that, as Nepalese people receive the compassion and care of those who claim Jesus as Lord, they will be drawn to Jesus, the way and the truth and the life.

Second, we can give to relief efforts.

The North American Lutheran Church (NALC) had already joined hands with five different agencies that are working in Nepal. This past Saturday, as NALC representatives from Ohio met, our worship offering was designated for Nepalese relief.

Here is a link to the NALC page on Nepal. Here are the four agencies to which you might consider donating money:

Lutheran World Relief (USA)
Lutheran World Relief (Canada)
Samaritan's Purse
World Missions International
World Mission Prayer League

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why Does God Command Us to Love Him?

To put it simply, God doesn’t need our loveWhile speaking to the people in the marketplace in first century Athens, the apostle Paul noted: "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”  
God doesn’t need for us to love Him. God isn’t some self-absorbed egomaniac needing constant reassurance that He’s the apple of our eyes. God has all the love He could ever need or ever want within Himself, the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
The New Testament tells us that, “God is love,” which doesn’t mean that God is some abstraction called love. It means that love informs every aspect of God's character and personality. Love is the motive behind everything God does--including judgment and discipline, including giving us the freedom to walk away from Him, including the cross and the empty tomb. 
Out of an extravagance of love, though He didn’t need to do it, God gave us life and made us in His image. 
The Old Testament says that we are the apple of God’s eye, the object of His passion and commitment and concern. That’s why, after humanity fell into sin, God set to work to save us from our sin--to save us from ourselves--and to save us from the death we deserve by becoming one of us in Jesus Christ, then dying and rising, so that all who repent and believe in Christ have life with God that begins now in this imperfect world and is “brought to perfection in the world to come.”  
The fact is that God commands us to love Him not because He needs to be loved by us, but because we need to love Him. 
When we love God, we simply acknowledge the reality that He is God and we aren’t, that He made us and that our lives are completely in His hands. We acknowledge that all of life is a gift from Him. And with gratitude, we acknowledge the depths of His passion for us, a passion that led Him to submit to suffering and death on the cross for us. 

Keep praying...

...and let God decide how to answer. Don't edit your communications with God. He sees what you're feeling and thinking anyway. Lift your concerns to him with abandon, honesty, and submissiveness.

Don't worry whether what you pray for is "important enough" for God's attention. If they're important to us, God simply wants us to invite Him into those situations that concern us.

Don't worry whether the request is "appropriate" or not. God will sort that out for us. In time, on His schedule, God will, as needed, correct and respond to the requests of those who seek Him.

In his classic on Prayer, Ole Hallesby writes:
...prayer is ordained for the purpose of glorifying the name of God. Therefore, whether you pray for big things or for little things, say to God, "If it will glorify Thy name, then grant my prayer and help me. But it it will not glorify Thy name, then let me remain in my predicament. And give me power to glorify Thy name in the situation in which I find myself."


Thanks to Duane Rhodes, the Woo Guy, for sharing this on Facebook.

The Church: Called and Powered to Say "Yes" to Christ's Command (How to Be the Church, Part 5)

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio, this past Sunday.]

Acts 10:34-48
Christian martyrdom is in the news. Over the past several months, with increasing frequency, we have seen reports about the murder, or martyrdom, of believers in Jesus, executed for no other reason than that they believed in the crucified and risen Jesus as their God and Savior.

Some of the Greek words from which we get our English word martyr include the verb martureo, meaning I witness, and the Greek nouns martus, which describes a person who gives witness, and marturia, the word that means, roughly, the witness’ testimony.

None of these words carries any association with persecution or death. The Greek words, in themselves, are completely neutral. In the Greek, a martyr was simply someone who told you about something that had happened.

But a martyr, as we use the term in English, is someone who loses his or her life for their faith.

The reason for the transformation of this benign set of terms--words meaning witness, testimony, and so on--is simple: To be a witness for Jesus Christ--to be a faithful disciple who tells others about Christ, to be a faithful Christian church that proclaims Jesus Christ to be “the way and the truth and the life” and the only way to God--such faithful witnessing will often incur the opposition, even the death sentence, of a sinful, fallen, dying world.

Many witnesses for Christ lose their earthly lives because they confess Jesus as God in the flesh Who forgives the sins of the repentant and gives everlasting life with God to those who surrender their lives and wills to Jesus Christ.

Penn State historian Philip Jenkins has demonstrated, over the past several years, that Christianity is the fastest growing movement of any kind in the world.* That’s encouraging.

But at the same time that this trend of growth has been evidenced, the murder of Christians, the burning of churches, and the depth of hostility toward Christian faith has also been increasing.

This is nothing new. The Church has always experienced its greatest growth in faith and growth in numbers at precisely the moments it has had the greatest number of martyrs.

Last week, our lesson from the book of Acts told us about how disciples like Philip witnessed for Christ in countries foreign to Judea where He, Jesus, and Jesus’ first followers had grown up. Philip witnessed in foreign nations because persecution in Judea and its capital city of Jerusalem had forced Christians like him to flee to other places.

Persecution and martyrdom are always tragedies, but it should never surprise us as Christians when these things happen. In about 60 AD, the apostle Peter told Christians facing persecution in Asia Minor--what is today Turkey--in 1 Peter 4:12-13: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

The Church is composed of disciples, followers of Jesus Christ.

Followers of Jesus Christ are witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And being a witness for Christ is a rock-bottom, non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells His Church: “ will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “If you feel like it, you can be My witnesses.”

He doesn’t say, “If you think you have the gift of evangelism or if you’re confident in your knowledge of the Bible, you can say a good word for Me.”

He doesn’t say, “If it doesn’t entail the risk of being thought weird for standing up for My Lordship or by God’s commandments, you can be My witnesses.”

Jesus says, “You will be My witnesses.” That's a command.

The only question for Christians is whether we will be witnesses for Jesus even when the world hates us for it or will we remain silent and so be silently complicit in the eternal deaths of those who need to hear our witness for Christ?

Fortunately, we don’t have to operate in our own power as Christ’s witnesses. In that same verse, Acts 1:8, Jesus promises Christians: “ will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”

When the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ followers fifty days after His resurrection, ten days after He had ascended to heaven, on Pentecost, the Church was born and it was empowered by God to be Jesus’ witnesses.

Folks, the Holy Spirit hasn’t gone out of business.

And, if in His power, we dare to witness for Jesus, we will fulfill the one and only mission Jesus has given us as His people: We will make disciples.

Of course, in order to tap into the Holy Spirit’s power and to be witnesses for Christ, God allows us to cheat. In fact He commands it. He commands us to pray.

Philippians 4:6 tells us: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

One of the most lamentable aspects of contemporary Christian life in North America is that we spend so much precious time on having anxious thoughts and engaging in anxious conversation over the state of the world and how nobody in the world is interested in Christ.

Time spent bellyaching is time that could be better spent obeying the command of God’s word by praying to God for the power to fulfill our mission as Christ’s witnesses and then, by the power of the Spirit, actually being Christ’s witnesses. (I'm trying to remember this each day myself.)

We see the power of prayer to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit in our first lesson for this morning, Acts 10:34-48.

These verses tell a portion of the story of the coming together of the apostle Peter and his fellow Christians with the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household.

If you’ve been watching the NBC miniseries, AD, you know that they’ve decided to name Pilate’s second-in-command Cornelius and I suspect that they’re going to make that fictional Cornelius and the Cornelius of our lesson one and the same. That’s a little dramatic license and, I suppose, is harmless.

But what we know of the real Cornelius, as told to us by the Bible, is that he commanded a cohort of Roman soldiers--a cohort being about 480 men--who occupied the city of Caesarea, part of the Roman army which kept the Holy Land under Rome’s conquering thumb. Caesarea, founded by Herod the Great, was a kind of bailiwick of evil and idolatry. (Think Las Vegas without any of its virtues.)

Yet in this city with so much evil, a foreigner who had been taught to worship many gods, had come to believe in the God of the Jews. Cornelius, like the Ethiopian eunuch of last week’s lesson, was a God-fearer, a Gentile who believed that the God of the universe was the one and only God of all creation.

Listen: Faith in God can grow even in the most hostile and unlikely of environments.

God can work the miracle of faith in willing hearts, wherever those hearts may be, from Paris to Springboro, from Riyadh to Centerville.

But God had decided that Cornelius should come to know Him, as can only happen through Jesus Christ. God wanted Cornelius to hear a witness for the Lordship of Jesus and so have the chance to believe in Jesus and receive eternal salvation.

So, as Cornelius prayed, God told him to send for a man who turned out to be the apostle Peter so that Cornelius and his family could repent and believe in Jesus and so have eternal life. At the same time, Peter prayed and God told him to do something no Jew would ever have thought of doing. He was to enter the home of a Gentile. Then he was to give witness for Jesus Christ.

When Peter did give witness for Jesus Cornelius and his family came to saving faith in Christ, they were converted.

But another conversion took place at that moment, the conversion of Peter from a man who thought that Jesus belonged only to the Jews. Look at our first lesson, starting at Acts 10:34: “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’”

And when the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentiles and empowered them to share their newly minted faith in Christ in languages other than their own, we’re told starting in verse 46: “Then Peter said, ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

  • To be the Church is to be Christ’s witnesses. 
  • To be Christ’s witnesses entails risk. There is no choice for us as the Church or as individual disciples of Christ: If we claim the salvation from sin and death that God freely offers to all who repent and believe in Christ, we will be His witnesses. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we sign on also to be His witnesses. 
  • But God doesn’t expect us to be Christ’s witnesses in our own power. He gives us the Holy Spirit and He gives us the words we need to tell others about Jesus. 
  • And God lets His Church cheat: He lets us pray and tap into the Spirit’s power again and again. 

Some people in today’s North American churches are pessimistic and defeatist. They think that our world has sunk too far into the morass of sin and death to ever listen to our witness for Christ.

At a time when Israel’s great leader Moses had fallen into such thinking, God asked Moses: “Is the Lord’s arm too short?,” meaning, “Is there any circumstance so dark or horrible that it’s beyond My reach or beyond My capacity to transform.”

If the God we know in Jesus Christ can reach a one-time atheist like me and transform him from an enemy of God to a child of God, from one damned to hell to one saved for eternity, God can use our witness for Christ to bring His salvation to anyone.

The rabid atheist.

The indifferent humanist.

The wounded teenager.

The prodigal daughter or son.

The Roman centurion.

The Isis fighter.

The Muslim.

The Buddhist.

Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to liberate people like these from their darkness and to usher them into the light of His love and never ending life, through faith in Him alone.

He wants all to hear our witness for Him so that, like Cornelius and his family, they may turn from the sin and death of this world and come to eternal life in Him.

Jesus says to His people, to all of us who confess Him as Lord, “You will be My witnesses.”

And He seeks the Church’s simple reply, “Yes, Lord, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, no matter what dangers or opposition may face us, it is Your witnesses that we want to be and it is Your witnesses that we will be.” Amen

*The two works in which Jenkins demonstrates this are cited in Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan. Here is a link to Philip Jenkins' Author's Page at Amazon.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Saturday This and That

Things that caught my eye this past week...

People are ticked off at Manny Pacquiao...
...They think they were ripped off because he boxed with a severely injured rotator cuff. And the Nevada Boxing Commission isn't too happy with him either. But I think the promoters are gleefully counting their take.

If you like Chipotle's guacamole...
...the restaurant chain has made your dreams come true, revealing their "secret" recipe this past week.

The secret recipe for getting "millennials" in church?...
...Be the church.

In recent presidential election cycles, less experience...
...has led to victory in November.

If you're passing through Dayton in the next month...
...there's still time to see the Dayton Art Institute's interesting show, on loan from the Reading museum, of American Impressionism works. Saw it a few months ago and it's worth the price of admission.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Grief, Remembrance, and Reassurance

[This week, I was part of services for two veterans of World War 2. This is the message for one of them.]

Job 19:23-27
Romans 8:31-39
John 11:21-27
Matthew 7:9-14

This is a day for Doug's family to remember and be reassured.

The things to be remembered, from what little I know of him, are many. In fact, it struck me as his son Don was telling me about his dad the other day, that if a person wanted to produce a mini-series about the twentieth century and beyond, Doug’s life might be one prism through which you could tell it. From serving during World War 2 in the Medical Corps and earning three Silver Stars for service at Guam, Leyte, and the Philippines, to toiling away in a locked room for Sheffield Measurements on brackets for one of NASA’s lunar landers, not to mention living through the Great Depression, he, along with his wife, have had memorable years.

But, of course, the object of life isn’t simply to endure it or go through it, as though life were a mere succession of unrelated events.

We’re to live in loving, respectful relationship with God and with others.

Don tells me that on his eighteenth birthday, he asked his father, “Now that I’m an adult, what’s the best advice you can give me for my life?” His father thought for a while and said, “Do unto others as you have them do unto you.”

And for a son to say of his father, “He practiced that” and that “I never heard him say a bad word about anyone,” reflects lots of good memories for family and friends to remember and cherish.

But, whenever we bury loved ones, whatever their age, whether we realize it or not, we need more than good memories, however blessed we may feel by those memories. We also need reassurance.

Illness, physical deterioration, and death are all part of this life. They are all part of our common inheritance from our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Like King David in Psalm 51, we can say, “I was born in sin.”

This is no small thing because as Romans 6:23 reminds us, “The wages of sin is death.”

Even those who live lives of repentance and faith in Christ will die. That’s just part of human life in this world.

Where do we go for reassurance that this life need not simply be a succession of futile events ending in death?

This isn’t a new question. Psalm 121 begins with it: “Where does my help come from?”

And then it says: “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

The God Who created the universe and Who has revealed Himself definitively in the person of Jesus Christ stands ready to bring us His help, His love, His forgiveness, and also His reassurance that when we trust in Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, all is well and all will be well, though we and our world may endure constant turmoil.

The believer in Jesus Christ, Who daily turns in surrendering faith to the God we know in the crucified and risen Jesus, can’t understand everything about God or life or death.

But the believer lives in the assurance that the apostle Paul articulated in Romans 8: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” And then: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

For the unbeliever, frailty, illness, and ultimately, death, the wages of sin, have the final say over a life.

But for those who seek and follow Jesus day by day, who endure in faith, death is the point at which our fellowship with Christ enters its fullest, perfect, eternal phase. Death becomes a beginning with God and the fellowship of believers that never ends.

Though we grieve the loss of loved ones on this earth, and it would be unnatural not to, we live in the incomparable reassurance that the God Who refuses to be separated from those who turn to Him in faith, will welcome us to our true home when we pass from this life.

Now, I don’t know if people will use rasp files* in eternity. But I am certain that we will all have our work there. The work we do won’t be toilsome or painful, but meaningful and joyous. Our bodies will be restored and whole and we will live as God intended for human beings to live when He first breathed His Spirit into the lifeless dust that became Adam.

Today and in the days to come, as you grieve you loss, take joy from your memories.

And be reassured by the promise of our Lord Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

God bless you.

*The favorite tool of Doug, a precision machinist, was the rasp file.