Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Silence is Golden

In yet another way, according to this brief summary on recent research presented today by the Harvard Business Review's Daily Stat.

In Proverbs 17:28, God revealed this wisdom to Solomon:
Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.
I wish that I would remember this more.

God is Neither Terrorist Nor Teddy Bear

I like this quote from Brendan Manning posted by our son last night:
“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery. ”

― Brennan Manning

To weep for the death of anyone or anything...

...in the only world we yet know is only right.

We have loved and been loved here. To grieve the loss of that which is lost is to intrinsically understand, whatever faith we profess or do not profess, that deaths and ends were never meant to come to us in this once-perfect Eden.

The New International Version's translation of Ecclesiastes 3:11 contains this line: "...He has also set eternity in the human heart." We, the people we have loved and known, the people we have never met, and the creation in which we live were all made for eternity. But death and endings have invaded this place, invaded us, through human sin.

So, it's right for us to mourn and sorrow over what is lost, even those of us who are assured that by God's grace through faith in Christ, the One Who died and rose again, we will step beyond the portals of death, step into eternal sunshine, where loss never happens, where every greeting is hello and not goodbye. There, God will dry our tears and call us further in and further up into the eternity for which we were made.

I love C.S. Lewis' portrayal of grief and eternity in a scene from my favorite of his Narnia books.

The Thrill of Moving Forward

Thoughts from a personal letter written by C.S. Lewis. Remember Lot's wife!

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Blessed Life

[This was shared during both worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Luke 6:20-31
There are many things we Christians believe that seem outrageous to the rest of the world.

They may not seem outrageous to us because you and I are accustomed to our memorized confessions of faith.

We affirm beliefs like the resurrection of the dead, eternal life for those who believe in Jesus, Jesus’ virgin birth and bodily resurrection. All of these teachings seem outrageous to an unbelieving world.

And the truth is, left to our own devices, you and I couldn’t believe these things nor experience the joy of knowing that we have been saved by grace through our faith in the crucified and risen Jesus.

Martin Luther writes in his commentary on Galatians: “Christ’s benefits are so precious that He will dispense them only to those who need them [by which, he means, who know they need them] and really desire them.” Faith, even the shakiest of faith, comes only to those who want to believe. The Christian faith that teaches that we must die to sin and trust in Christ to raise us as the Father raised Him on the first Easter, is a scandal, an outrage to a world that likes to think it’s self-sufficient.

And then, we come to the Gospel lesson appointed for this All Saints’ Sunday.

In it, Jesus seems to move to a deeper level of outrageousness. He talks not about the outrageous things Christians are taught to believe or trust, but the outrageous ways we are to live because we believe.

In the opening verses of our lesson, Jesus talks about the blessed life, the lifestyle of a saint.

A saint, the Bible teaches, is a forgiven sinner fighting the good fight to ignore the temptations of a sinful world, the sinful self, and of the devil, to hold onto Jesus as the only way to God, our only hope in this world and the next, the only Savior Who can free us to be the people we were made to be. This, Jesus is saying in these opening words, the kind of life God blesses.

Knowing this could make us feel uncomfortable. It could even make us feel doomed.

“I can’t possibly live the way Jesus says we’re to live,” we could say, “So, why even try being a Christian?”

But Jesus’ words here are descriptive. They describe the life we can live if we keep turning from our sin and trusting in Him.

His words are not proscriptive. By that I mean, Jesus is not telling us that we have to live this way in order to earn life with God. Jesus isn’t giving a new law, impossible for us to keep. He’s describing the life we can live if we let Him live in us, in every part of our lives.

Let me show you something. Please pull out a Bible and turn to Deuteronomy 11:26-28. (Page 130 in the pew Bibles.) Deuteronomy is a long sermon given by Moses, who was soon to die, to the people of Israel, just before God allowed them to enter the promised land. Moses says: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse-- the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” These are proscriptive words. They’re commandments.

Now, turn to our Gospel lesson, Luke 6:20-31. (Page 720 in the pew Bibles.) Jesus says, speaking to His disciples (that is, all who had come to believe in Him): “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”

See the difference between Moses’ words and those of Jesus? Jesus is not saying, “Do this and you will be blessed.” He’s saying if you are poor, you’re blessed. If you are hungry, you’re blessed. If you are in sorrow, you’re blessed. If people hate you because you believe in Christ, you’re blessed. Jesus is being descriptive.

But, here’s the question Jesus’ words raise for us: Who wants to sign on to be poor, hungry, in mourning, or to be hated?

And how do we react to how Jesus describes the cursed lifestyle?

Look at that description, starting at verse 24. Jesus says: “...woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”

Now, let’s be clear about what Jesus is saying in these descriptive words.

He isn’t telling us to aspire to poverty, hunger, sorrow, or persecution.

Nor is He telling us that it’s a sin to be rich, well fed, happy, or respected by others.

Instead, Jesus is telling us that whether we have what the world calls success or happiness or not, whether we’re seen as powerful or powerless, important or insignificant, the saint--the forgiven sinner who trusts in Jesus Christ as their only Savior, only God, can live with joy,  hope, and peace.

Are you living with that joy, hope, and peace today? You can be!

Even in the midst of a world that counts faith in Christ as an outrage, an absurdity, a curiosity, a weakness.

Please turn to Philippians 4:11-12 (page 820 in the pew Bibles). The apostle Paul writes this to the first century church at Philippi: “...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Then, in verse 13, he says: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

A saint then, is a person who is blessed whatever the condition of their life.

They walk in confidence, no matter what’s happening to them.

A friend of mine who has been through more than any human being should have to endure, told me recently, “I am blessed.”

When saints like that make the outrageous assertion that, despite what life in this fallen world has done to them or what hurt unbelieving people--even unbelieving people within the fellowship of the Church--have done to them, and despite what temptations dog them or past sins may sometimes haunt them they are blessed, I have to confess I feel ashamed.

Too often, I bellyache and complain about my lot in life. Too often, I forget that the God Who came into this world, experienced this life, suffered and died for sinners like me, and then rose to give those who repent and believe in Christ life with Him despite the death and condemnation I deserve.

Jesus has conquered all the things I bellyache about, all the things that frighten me.

He has overcome sin and death, even my sin and death.

I forget that even when Christians are hungry, they can be filled with Christ’s goodness, grace, and power.

I forget that when Christians are poor, we nonetheless have a rich life with the Creator of the universe that will only be perfected after we have died and risen to be with Him.

When believers mourn, we know that one day, He will wipe away every tear and that even now, living with Him, He can turn our mourning into dancing.

When we are spurned or even persecuted for our outrageous faith in Christ, we can, as Jesus prompts us, “Rejoice...and leap for joy” because we know that through Him, we have a great reward in heaven.

Certain that nothing can separate us from Christ’s gracious love, we can even dare to “love [our] enemies, do good to those who hate [us], bless those who curse [us]...”

When we hold Christ in the grip of faith, we will even find ourselves sometimes capable of doing to others as we would have them do to us.

Despite our sin and disbelief, we, like saints before us, can be filled with the strength to live lives of outrageous faithfulness to Christ.

In Jesus, we follow a Savior and God Who has lived the very life He calls blessed in today’s lesson. Do you remember what Jesus prayed for the crowds who cried for His death and nailed Him to a cross on the first Good Friday? With His dying breath, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Fine, you may say, Jesus was and is God. He knew how His suffering would end. Beyond His cross lay an empty tomb. He could afford to put the most charitable construction on the actions of those who hated and hurt Him. It was easy for Him to live the blessed life, we might think.

But how to explain someone like Stephen, a disciple, the first Christian to be martyred for his faith? Stephen was an ordinary man who believed in Christ, a sinner and a saint. As he was being stoned to death for his refusal to renounce his faith in Christ, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Stephen, unlike Jesus, God in human skin, had no power over sin or death. But he knew he belonged to the God Who does and so could pray just as Jesus had on the cross.

Jesus Christ lives in those who trust in Him.

He empowers those who dare to trust in Him to not be caught up in the ways of this world, to become, as Luther puts it, “little Christs.”

This is why the apostle Paul could write: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.”

The saints in Christ know that this world is very important. It's a world God created, then died and rose to set free.

But saints also know that this world is not the end of the story.

No matter what the states of our bodies, our finances, or our relationships, saints know that through Jesus’ resurrection, His life is pulsating within us!

He has us in His mind and in His hands.

By His grace and our enduring faith in Him, our life with Him won’t end here.

And at those moments when we dare to give ourselves totally to Jesus and to God’s purposes for us, we gain the courage to live the outrageous life--the blessed life--that Jesus commends to us this morning.

The funny thing is that the saintly life that Jesus describes is, I believe, precisely how, in our heart of hearts, we all want to live, no matter how outraged we may sometimes feel about this lifestyle that Jesus calls blessed.

Even cynics and the persecutors of Christians want to live as saints, to be people who forgive, people who give, people who treat others as they themselves want to be treated.

By the grace of God in Christ and our openness to Christ, may the Holy Spirit teach us how to live as saints. God bless you all. Amen