Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday: That Means Sports...and a Wedding

Did anybody catch any of last night's baseball games? It's amazing to me that in the National League, seven teams were still in contention for playoff spots going into Friday evening. When Major League Baseball initially adopted the NFL-like wildcard playoff system, with the top second-place team playing in the post-season, I didn't like it. But I've come to love it!

Several things about the playoff picture were clarified last night. But if you go to Major League Baseball's web site, you can read all about it. (For years, I've thought that the MLB site, along with that of BBC News, is the best on the web.)

I watched the baseball games available through my cable service with a remote in hand, switching to the South Florida-West Virginia football game. USF proved to me that they're the real deal.

It's a sunny Autumn morning here, 48-degrees. I think that I'll take a walk soon. I want to get some things done before presiding a wedding late this afternoon.

Go, Buckeyes!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Thanks to...

John Schroeder and Todd M. for linking to this post on why the innocent suffer.

You might also be interested in a series I wrote on this topic. Here are the links to each installment:
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 1
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 2
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 3
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 4
The Light of the World!

Aid Groups Being Increasingly Attacked in Darfur

See here.

World Vision, the main organization mentioned in the linked item above, does great work. For several years, our church has sponsored a Zimbabwean girl through World Vision. Our sponsorship dollars, pooled with those of other sponsoring individuals and churches, ensure that the people of Sinanzinkosi's village, get clean drinking water, a school, seeds and agricultural advice, material aid, and the opportunity to know Christ. World Vision does great work, work the government-sponsored terrorists and others in Sudan obviously want to thwart.

The crisis of Darfur and the suffering of its people go on and on. Please pray for an end to the genocide there, as well as for protection for all who are striving to relieve the people of Darfur.

So Funny Because It's So True

Go to this post on YouTube to see the William Tell Overture for Moms, composed of things that mothers (and fathers, too, I might add) say to their kids in a typical day. The comic is someone of whom I hadn't heard until this morning, Anita Renfroe. (I tried embedding the video clip, but was unsuccessful at that.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Is There a Hell? Who Goes There?

Author Candace House asked those questions on her ShoutLife web site this week. Here's part of what she wrote:
I had a conversation with a fellow [who] wanted to inteview me for a radio show. This question stems from the interview. I am wanting your thoughts on this subject.

Do you believe the Lord will allow people to go there if you do believe in hell[?]

Is it just for bad people?

Can those that call on the name of the Lord go there?
In fact, I believe that there is a hell. Mostly, because during His time on earth, Jesus spoke of hell as a real place. Jesus obviously believes that there's a hell.

In fact, the New Testament book of First Peter says that Jesus went there between His death and resurrection, saying that He had taken on a death sentence for sin on behalf of all who believe in Him.

I also believe that all of us deserve death for our sin. (But God frees those with faith in Christ from that fate.) (Romans 6:23). The Bible also affirms that we all fall short of the glory of God, meaning we fail to be what God intended human beings to be. (Romans 3:23)

So, to speak of good people or bad people doesn't quite describe the difference between those who occupy heaven and hell, respectively. As I read the Bible, I believe that it describes two categories of people who compose the human race:
  • sinners who are forgiven their sins and
  • sinners who aren't forgiven.
Heaven is inhabited by those who have been saved by God's grace. (Check out Romans 3:21-28; John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-10) They're not "good" people, but those who have repented and believed in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15). God has reckoned their faith in Him as righteousness, making their relationship with God right. (Check out Romans 4, where Paul discusses Abraham. He "believed and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.")

Hell is the place where people who have chosen to ignore the call to faith in Christ go. God doesn't want anyone separated from Him in this way. But God is willing to give those created in His image the right to choose that fate. (See Jesus' words in John 3:17-18)

Some of the New Testament writings of Paul indicate to me anyway, that those who've never encountered the Name of Jesus or the proclamation of the Gospel, yet who grope after God and His will, will also inhabit heaven. I call the attitudes of such people "incipient faith." A good example of such incipient belief in the kind of gracious God revealed in Jesus is the elderly Chinese man about whom Billy Graham's missionary father-in-law told him. The man eagerly listened as somebody told him the Good News that God had become one of us, went to a cross for us, rose from the dead for us, and offered everlasting life to all who will repent (turn away) of their sin and believe in Christ. The elderly man began to weep and said, "All my life, I knew he was there. I just didn't know His Name!"

Christians are often anxious for Christ's return and are impatient that He hasn't yet done so. Non-Christians often see the fact that the risen Jesus hasn't come back to the world as He promised as proof that He isn't returning. But one of the reasons that God hasn't closed the curtain on life on this planet is to afford the Church to share this Good News with as many people as possible.First Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." It is the repentant who follow Christ who will experience eternity with God.

Those in hell are those who forgo trust in the God we know in Jesus Christ for their lives and their salvation.

Knowing the nature of God, the lengths to which He has gone to save a sinner like me, I still hold out hope that those who have spurned Christ and gone to hell will have a shot at salvation, that God may enact a Plan B, in which all the saints in eternity, filled with the love and compassion of God, will want to play a part. But I don't know this for a fact, of course.

The realities of heaven and hell should give great urgency to our fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

Please Pray...

for the people of Burma (Myanmar). A former missionary to Nepal of my acquaintance, who has contact with people living in Burma, is both deeply concerned about the situation there and impressed how God is using it to draw people in that country to faith in Jesus Christ.

Please pray...
  • for peace and justice to come to Burma;
  • for people who live there to draw strength from the God we know in Jesus; and
  • for more to come to faith in Christ, the only hope we can have in this world or the next.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Third Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lesson: Luke 16:19-31

[Here and here are, respectively, the first and second passes at this Sunday's Bible lesson. The first link explains what these "passes" are about.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments, continued
23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
(1) Brian Stoffregen points out:
"Hades" is a word that comes from Greek mythology that originally referred to the god of the lower world (in Roman mythology: "Pluto"). Later, it came to refer to the place of the dead (like she'ol in Hebrew). However, Luke's use of the word is in contrast to "heaven" (10:15) and to "Abraham's bosom" (16:23), suggesting that it is a place where only some of the dead may go -- or a particular part of she'ol which is divided by the deep chasm.
(2) In popular piety, the term Hades may be used interchangeably with hell. It's the place where those who have turned away from God and God's will live with the consequences of that choice.

(3) It's clear that the rich man, in Hades, finds the isolation he once craved in this life, at least his isolation from the poor, the lame, and the hungry, painful in the next.

(4) Lazarus is seen by the rich man to, literally be in the bosom of Abraham, the place of highest bliss in Jewish piety.

(5) Lazarus, who in this life would have appreciated the scraps from the rich man's table, now appears to be enjoying the great heavenly banquet that Jesus addressed in last week's lesson. (See here and here.)

24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’
(1) In spite of his lifelong disobedience of God's commands to love his neighbor and to care for the poor, the rich man calls out to Abraham as the "Father" of his faith.

In Luke 3, John the Baptist, preparing the world for Jesus' ministry told the throngs who had come to hear him preach and to be baptized by him:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham..." (Luke 3:7-8)
According to the Bible, there's more to being a son or daughter of Abraham than genetics. In a bitter exchange with fellow Jews intent on killing Him, Jesus acknowledged that they were the genetic descendants of Abraham. But, He insisted that by their refusal to do as Abraham had done--trust in God and not his own "righteousness"--they proved that their real "father" was "the father of lies," the devil himself. (John 8:37-47; also see Romans 4:1-8)

(2) It's interesting that in Hades, the rich man is aware of Lazarus' existence. He even calls Lazarus by name. But he also regards Lazarus as someone who can be ordered to give him comfort, something he never would have afforded Lazarus during their earthly lives. It appears thus far anyway that the rich man's experience in Hades hasn't made him any more compassionate or any less self-absorbed.

25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
(1) Abraham acknowledges that the rich man is his descendant. He calls the rich man, "Child." Yet, the record has been written. While living this life, the rich man refused to obey the command to love neighbor. (See also Matthew 25:31-46) When I consider how often I fail to love my neighbor, I find this parable a little frightening. That's when I cry out again, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

(2) Of Abraham's use of the term, Child, in addressing the rich man, Culpepper writes:
Being a child of not guarantee that one will dwell with Abraham in paradise. That is reserved for the repentant who believe in Jesus Christ.
Abraham's attitude is the same as that of God. God wants all to be saved from sin and death and to live with Him forever. But God respects our right to decide to forswear repentance or belief in Him.

(3) Abraham speaks of a great reversal of fortunes here. The rich man had received good things here. Lazarus was receiving them in eternity. Jesus says that those who insist on putting themselves first, viewing wealth, power, status, and health as entitlements, will be last in His kingdom, while those who are last will be first.

26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
(1) Culpepper writes:
The chasm that now separates the rich man and Lazarus confirms the finality of the judgment on the rich man.
27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’
(1) This is the first hint of concern for others shown by the rich man. Granted, it's only for members of his family. But we've never seen him look beyond his own comforts before this.

(2) But as in v.24, the rich man sees Lazarus as a servant he can summon for his purposes.

(3) It's interesting to note that Lazarus never says a word in this entire parable of Jesus. Instead, Abraham, acting as something of a stand-in for God and as the representative of authentic Biblical faith, speaks on Lazarus' behalf. Christians who have committed their lives to Christ can place themselves in Christ's hands, knowing that He'll be our advocate.

29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’
(1) This is a telling response. Moses represents one major strand of Old Testament tradition, the Law. (After all, it was Moses who brought the Law down from Mount Sinai.) The other strand in that tradition was that of the prophets.

A major emphasis found in the New Testament is that Jesus Christ doesn't represent a strange departure from Biblical faith. He fulfills it. Check out what some New Testament passages say on this point here.

(2) Throughout chapters 14, 15, and 16 of Luke's Gospel, there's something of a polemic against Jews who repudiated Jesus. They're being told that in their rejection of Jesus, they're repudiating their own faith and God Himself.

30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
(1) One can't help but think of the resurrected Jesus here. If God's people refuse to trustingly follow God based on the Law and the Prophets, it's unlikely that they'll do so in response to the risen Savior either. See here.

Today is the First Time...

I've ever noted a vistor to this blog from Malawi.

Of course, I can't tell anything specific about the visitors who come here. But SiteMeter does tell me the cities and countries from which they log on. I check my blog traffic several times each day and, like most bloggers, usually have visitors from all over the world. But, so far as I know, this was a first.

So, what do I know about Malawi? Let's see...almost nothing, I must confess.

Maybe you're in the same boat. You might want to read here. Which is really the same as this.

So, how did the person from Malawi land on this site? She or he did a Google search, "and Hannah prayed" and ended up here.

Welcome, Malawi!

"Four score and seven...oh, hold on, I've gotta telegram from Mary"

That alternative image of the Gettysburg Address suggests itself after former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani took a phone call from his wife, Judith...while he was speaking before a group of National Rifle Association activists!

Yesterday, Chris Matthews ran a video clip of another time this same thing happened.

If this is a deliberate "cornball stunt," as Ann Althouse calls it, it's a really dumb one.

At this point, the less that Giuliani reminds the public of Judith, let alone of any aspect of his domestic life, the better off he'll be. Rudy needs keep telling himself, "I'm Grover Cleveland! I'm Grover Cleveland!" Appearing to be a bachelor, as Cleveland was when first elected president in 1884, would be a good strategic move for Giuliani.

That's because there's a widespread belief that, like Newt Gingrich, the former mayor has been a bit cavalier when it comes to his personal life, callous, manipulative, and that, to use a line from an old James Taylor song, his "goodbyes have been somewhat unrefined." While Americans want their leaders to be tough, they don't want them to be heartless.

Giuliani's only hope of being the GOP nominee or of winning the general election next year is to polish his image as both a hard-driving leader and a 9/11 hero. It's these two images of Rudy that cause even conservative Republicans to give him the benefit of their doubts.

Dissing audiences by accepting phone calls during speeches is unacceptable to voters of any persuasion. It makes the candidate look flaky.

And flagging his wife, who is such a controversial figure among some, by taking her call from the rostrum during a speech, doesn't advance Giuliani's cause in the least.

Giuliani deserves credit for deciding to speak to the NRA gathering. It was a courageous thing to do.

But the Mayor had better resolve to turn off his phone for future events before he turns off all sorts of folks.

UPDATE: Remember when Giuliani was inaugurated as mayor of New York? Here is a clip. And here's Chris Farley's Saturday Night Live send-up:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Second Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lesson: Luke 16:19-31

[To see what these "passes" are about, go to the first pass at this lesson here.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments
19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
(1) The rich man's attire conveys his status. Culpepper, in The New Interpreter's Bible, writes that his purple clothing "may mean that he was a high-ranking official or a member of the royal family. The Romans had set standards regarding who could wear purple and how much purple they could wear."

(2) The rich man eats "sumptuously every day." For something to be sumptuous means that it's luxurious, lavish, of the highest quality, overly-abundant.

20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
(1) Gated homes had the same connotation in those days as they often do today. The wealthy man in Jesus' parable has the gates to provide privacy, security, and separation from the riff-raff have-nots of society.

(2) This is the only parable Jesus tells in which He gives names to characters. First named is the fictional poor man, Lazarus. This Lazarus isn't to be confused with the real-life man of the same name, who Jesus brought back to life in John 11. The name means God helps.

It's interesting that Jesus chooses to reserve this honor for a poor man, since much Jewish piety (and even some passages of the Old Testament) saw poverty as a sign of God's disapproval. A poor man then, was a nobody. Yet in Jesus' story, the poor man, overlooked by the rich man, has a name. The rich man doesn't.

21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
(1) The poor man would have been pleased with the crumbs from the rich man's feasting. This reminds me of the words of the Canaanite woman who approached Jesus, seeking healing for her daughter. Jesus delayed fulfilling her request, no doubt to make a point to His disciples. Matthew writes:
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15:24-27)
First century Judeans often referred to Gentiles--non-Jews--as "dogs." (Jesus actually used the diminuitive word that might more aptly be translated as "puppy," giving some hint that He's about to teach His disciples about the expansiveness of His kingdom.) When the woman in the Matthew text tells Jesus that even puppies take whatever their masters give them, Jesus is taken with her faith and grants her request.

At feasts in those days, Culpepper points out, diners used bread to wipe their hands of grease. Then, they threw the bread scraps under the table (see Mark 7:28). Often, the family dogs ate these scraps. In this week's Bible lesson, Lazarus is hopeful that the rich man will allow him to have the same table scraps. But the "depths of Lazarus's deprivation is described with one final detail: The dogs...lick his sores as they pass by."

The man whose name means God helps is defenseless against dogs who lick his wounds.

(2) Several commentators point out that the particular verb used to describe Lazarus' desire to eat is commonly used of animals rather than human beings.

22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
(1) We enter a new phase of the narrative here. The rich man dies and is buried. But Lazarus is carried away by angels. In these sparse words, Jesus is underscoring the honor of Lazarus over against the wealthy man.

(2) A second character is designated with a name. It's Abraham, the great patriarch of Biblical faith.

More tomorrow, I hope.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Does Clinton Sound Like Kerry on the War?

Ann Althouse thinks so. I see things a little differently. I commented:
What Hillary Clinton is saying about Iraq reminds me a bit of what Eisenhower said about Korea in 1952 and Nixon said about Vietnam in 1968.

Eisenhower promised that he would go to Korea and that he would bring a rapid end to the war there. Ike's credibility was so enormous and his military credentials so impeccable that he could get away with what was, after all, a rather vague formulation. He did end the conflict there within six months, much to the relief of the American people, who had become disgusted with the conflict.

Although Nixon is often cited as saying he had secret plan to end the war, he never specifically said that. He spoke of achieving "peace with honor." He also frequently alluded to how Eisenhower, under whom he served as vice president, had quickly wrapped up the Korean War, implying that he would do something similar in Vietnam. Voters, disgusted with the management of the war, suspicious of the bases on which the US became engaged in it, yet still not in favor of immediate withdrawal, gave Nixon a mere 300,00-vote victory in the November, 1968 election.

Hillary Clinton's formulations are reminiscent of those of Eisenhower's and Nixon's. They needed to convince voters that they would manage their inherited conflicts better than the incumbents. But for both political and sound strategic reasons, they wanted to avoid divulging specific plans. (It's unlikely that either had such plans anyway.) Clinton who, as you say, is at least divulging more of her thinking than John Kerry, faces similar political and strategic imperatives.

But one thing that makes Clinton's discussions of Iraq today different from those earlier discussions is the existence of a large "withdraw now" contingent within the Democratic Party. Neither Eisenhower or Nixon had to placate such sentiments within the Republican Party of their days. Many Republicans, far from favoring withdrawal from either Korea or Vietnam, would have preferred deploying more troops, going nuclear, or doing anything to achieve "victory." There isn't a victory caucus in the Democratic Party.

Eisenhower could, politically, get away with a rapid end to the Korean conflict because he was a general and was massively popular. (Arguably the most popular public figure in the US since George Washington.)

Nixon though, had to play to his base, which is why his "peace with honor" formula was so shrewd. Everybody wanted peace. But "with honor" let his base--and the rest of the country which still overwhelmingly opposed precipitate withdrawal from Vietnam--know that the allegedly "new Nixon" was no peace-at-any-price pol.

It's interesting that Clinton, who served as a lawyer for one of the congressional Watergate committees and was a functionary of the 1972 McGovern campaign, appears to be attempting to swipe from Nixon's 1968 playbook.

Whether this will work for her or not, I don't know. Though she's trying to be Nixonian, the fact that she's Democrat, as much as the substance of what she's saying, may be a big reason that she's sounding like John Kerry to you these days.

What do you think?

First Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lesson: Luke 16:19-31

[Most weeks, as I study the Biblical text around which my message will be based the following Sunday, I publish a pass, or two, or three containing background information and some of my ideas on it. Hopefully, this practice helps the folks of the church I serve to prepare for worship and because I usually use texts based on the appointed lessons (the lectionary) appointed for the Church Year, others may find it useful too.]

The Bible Lesson: Luke 16:19-31
19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Some General Comments
1. Remember one of the key principles for interpreting a passage of Scripture to which I return often: Context effects content. In other words, to clearly understand the meaning or meanings of a specific passage of the Bible, it's important to pay attention to various contexts.

It's good to ask:
(1) What's going on in this chapter of the Bible?
(2) What incidents or words have preceded this passage? What follows?
(3) What are some of the themes of this book?
(4) In considering key words or phrases in the passage, how are they used elsewhere, especially in this book?
(5) What about the historical context not only of the passage, but of the writer or writers who later committed it to paper?
2. Among the contextual issues to note about this lesson:
(1) There's a lot of feasting going on in Luke 14, 15, and 16. As I pointed out last week (see here and here), the Bible often portrays heaven as a party with lots of feasting, a great banquet with good food and good wine.

In 14:15-24, a wealthy man throws a party, but his closest friends refuse his invitations, and he opens up to those who popular first century Jewish piety (and some confused contemporary Christian televangelists) would deem unworthy for the heavenly banquet.

In 15:2-6, a shepherd leaves 99 of his sheep behind to find a single missing one and then calls his friends and neighbors together to celebrate after he finds it.

In 15:7-10, a widow finds a lost coin following a thorough search and invites her friends to rejoice over its recovery with her.

In Luke 15:11-32, over the objections of an older son, a father has a huge feast to celebrate the safe return of a son who had received his inheritance and then blown it all.

From Jesus, as from the Old Testament passages that point to the messianic feast, we get the idea that the eternal banquet will be for all who have placed their hope in the God ultimately revealed to the world in Christ. Being Jewish or wealthy or able bodied will be no advantage. Admission will belong to all who heed the invitation of the Lord Who came to fulfill the Law and the prophets. (See here.)

(2) There's a lot of teaching in Luke on the proper use of money and how to view it. Jesus warns His followers to manage their money, not to allow it to manage them. He also says that failure to be generous with the poor is idolatry, making money an idol. In Luke 19:1-10, an extortionist tax collector, Zacchaeus, repents for this very sin and others and then, gives to the poor.

(3) It's in Luke's Gospel that we find the parable of the Good Samaritan, a tale told by Jesus in which, rather than the good religious leaders among God's people, a hated Samaritan fulfills the command to love one's neighbor as one's self. The parable that comprises this Bible lesson is ultimately, as George Buttrich states, not about money, but about neighborliness.

One can be neighborly whether one has money or not. One can fail to be neighborly whether one has money or not. If we have money, we're commanded by God to use it, along with the rest of our life, to express God's love. If we have no money, we're commanded by God to express God's love.

This precludes a lot of the nonsensical statements we Christians sometimes make, like, "If I had a lot of money, I would help people." God tells us to help people no matter what our financial condition.

(4) This passage is, as mentioned, a parable. Parable is a Greek compound word that literally means, to throw or roll alongside. A parable is a story with a point or an idea rolling alongside it. Jesus often told parables to make His points, often those we find least palatable. Luke contains more of Jesus' parables than the other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John) and also contains the most famous ones.

That's enough for now. More tomorrow, I hope.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Worry, The Static That Clings (Overcoming Worry, Part 1)

[I shared this message during worship with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, this weekend.]

Luke 14:15-24
True story. A business executive, his responsibilities increasing, found himself worrying more often about more things. He came to a decision: He would do all his worrying on one day each week. He chose Wednesdays. Worry Wednesdays. When a problem came along that made him anxious, he would jot down his worries about it, put all the notes into a worry box, forgo worrying, and just do his work.

The funny thing is that when Wednesdays rolled around and he opened the worry box, he almost always found that the problem that so concerned him had either already been solved, was on its way to being solved, or wasn’t really a problem after all.

That man’s experience reminds me of something writer Mark Twain once about worry: “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

Whether we know it or not, each of us has an inborn desire to be in tune with God. It’s only natural that we want to have contact with the One Who made us and Who, we learn from the Bible, has great dreams for our lives. Worry is a static that keeps us from tuning into God, from knowing and being assured that God is there for us.

Worry is the opposite of faith. Faith, you know, is trust in the God we meet in Jesus Christ, no matter what. Worry is obsession with the “no matter what,” leaving God completely out of the equation.

Worry can so consume us that we begin to think that we’re in this life alone, that nobody else cares.

Worry can paralyze us, rendering us incapable of living life more fully.

Worry can also send us into a frenzy of activity that leaves us exhausted and hopeless.

Faith calms us down, allowing us to live our lives and let God see us through.

In our Bible lesson for today, Jesus tells the story of a wealthy person, symbolizing God, who wants to throw a dinner party. In those days, wealthy people gave two-tiered invitations for their feasts. First, they invited their friends to come to the party on such and such a date, at such and such a time. Then, when everything was ready, they sent their servants back out to the invitees to say, in effect, "Dinner's on!"

But, in Jesus's story, one by one, consumed with daily concerns, the invitees, when they receive their second invitations, make excuses for why they won't be able to make it to the feast.

“Can’t do it,” says one, “I have to check my latest acquisition.”

“I can’t,” another says, “I have to try out my new possession.”

(It strikes me that one reason these first two people were so worried is that they apparently bought things before they'd seen them or tried them out! Imagine how worried we'd be if we impulsively bought a new car or a new house without a test drive or a look-see. No wonder these people were so worried!)

“No can do,” says a third, “Gotta spend time with my new bride.”

The wealthy man becomes furious! He decides that if his friends won’t show up, he’ll invite every Tom, Dorothy, and Harry in town.

Of course, Jesus tells this story in part to show us what the Kingdom of God is like. Its language echoes the prophecy found in Isaiah 25, a portion of which made up our Call to Worship earlier in the service.

The party to which Jesus is referring is, in part, the great messianic feast that will happen in eternity. God’s kingdom is a party. For those who repent of their sins and follow Jesus Christ, it starts here and will continue in a new heaven and a new earth. Through Jesus Christ, God invites the whole human race to attend. All who receive Christ, accepting His invitation to follow Him, will be at the party forever.

But there’s another important lesson in Jesus’ story, one that relates to the question of worry in our lives. It’s this: If we accept God’s invitation to the party, God will care for us forever. Jesus once said that if we follow Him, we will have troubles. (Thanks for that promise, Lord.)
Difficulties come both to those who trust in God and to those who choose the path of worry. It's so easy for us to allow our troubles to cause us to turn deaf ears to God.

One of the things I've been doing the past several weeks is look through old worship bulletins from the past seventeen years at Friendship. The other day, I ran across the funeral bulletin for one of the four Friendship members who have died since 1991, Karen Hendrickson.

For those of you who never knew her, Karen was one of the greatest saints of God I ever knew. Not yet thirty-seven when she died, intelligent, good humored, a one-time Peace Corps volunteer, whose profession was working with environmental clean-up, a guitarist, a wife and mom, rare is the day Karen doesn't cross my mind. It's hard to believe that she's been gone ten years already!

Hours after Karen's death, Tom gave me a note that Karen had written for me to read on her death. (Many of you received similar notes from her.) One of the most striking things she wrote was, "Please help everyone to know that just because I have died doesn't mean that their prayers did not 'work.' Healing is so much more than having a whole and perfect body."

Then, Karen wrote, "I'll be seeing you again--then we can forget all this sadness."

Karen suffered with her cancer. She wondered what God wanted to teach her through her illness. She wondered why she couldn't "catch a break" and watch her children grow up. But she remained focused on the future she knew the crucified and risen Jesus gives to all with faith in Him. Daily, she exchanged her worries for trust in Christ!

We simply cannot allow the cares of this world, the difficulties, real and imagined, to separate us from God. Each day, God is inviting us to rely on Him, rather than ourselves. To be truly happy, we must choose faith over worry.

There are two big things I know about worry.

First: It disorients us. It throws us into a panic until we can hardly see straight. When I was young, I used to keep myself awake at nights worrying over things and not seeing a way out, only to learn, like that guy with his worry box, that things weren’t as hopeless as I’d imagined.

The second thing I know for sure about worry is that it disperses our focus. The fact is that you and I have control only over ourselves and only over ourselves in a single instant of time. Everything else--past, future, other people--is out of our hands. We need to focus on how we’re living right now and give everything else to God. That’s the way to live more happily. And more productively.

The key to overcoming worry is to establish and maintain a strong relationship with the God we know in Jesus Christ. Rough times come to every person. But when we focus on God, rather than on our worries, we will be all right, no matter what. Read aloud with me those words that are in the bulletin that come from Romans 8: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8 also tells us, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us."

We can forgo worry when we remember that we belong to the God Who has secured a place for us at His forever banquet!

A few weeks ago, my son Phil and I drove to Columbus for the wedding of a friend of our family. On the way, I asked Phil to read from Michael Korda’s fantastic new biography of Dwight Eisenhower. I was struck by something that Eisenhower said to an aide on the morning of the D-Day landings. He had just visited with soldiers and paratroopers about to storm the beaches of Normandy. As he contemplated how many of those young men would likely died, risking their lives to free the world from Nazi tyranny, Ike said, “I sure hope I know what I’m doing."

There have been many times I’ve said that in my life. Last week, I told my mother-in-law the same thing: “I hope I know what I’m doing.” She replied sagely, “Mark, whoever really does know what they’re doing?”

The plain fact is that, whether it’s in our personal lives, our work, or our relationships, none of us has any idea about how things will turn out in the next moment
. Or the next. Or the next. We can either worry about that. Or we can heed Jesus’ invitation to follow Him even in the midst of life’s uncertainties.

Since I came to faith in Christ some thirty years ago, when I've confronted daunting circumstances, the ends of which filled me with worry, I've found one simple prayer to be an antidote for all my anxiety. If someone could create a transcript of this prayer that I either say under my breath or in my mind, they'd think I was just parroting some religious talk. But I mean all two words of this prayer. Do you know what it is? "God help!" That's it, "God help!" The amazing thing is that God always hears that prayer and my worry is dissipated.

Some of you have heard me speak of Laurie Beth Jones. She’s a businesswoman and writer who’s a real inspiration.

A relationship with a domineering man who tore her down and intimidated her threw Jones, as a young woman, into a near suicidal depression. She got away from that man and eventually started an advertising business which became successful.

It became too successful in fact. She and her partners were so busy managing their business that they were doing less of the work they’d started the business to do in the first place.

Jones came to know that things had to change. She needed to set her life in the direction she sensed God wanted her to follow. She bought out her partners, began accepting fewer clients, and finished work on a book for which she still didn’t have a publisher. (It became the bestseller, Jesus, CEO, by the way.)

In the midst of all this turmoil and change, Jones sat down with her accountant to discuss four properties she owned which were worth less than she’d paid for them. The accountant toted up her debt. It came to almost $200,000.00, serious money thirty years ago!

But Jones perplexed the accountant. “Laurie [he said], this is really serious. Why are you looking so happy?” Jones says that the only explanation she had was that, after putting her life back into God’s hands, she felt certain she was on the right path. “It didn’t matter what it had cost me to get there,” she said.

Laurie Beth Jones had plenty to worry about. But she didn’t worry. She forged on. She kept tuning God in and the static of worry out. That’s what we can and must do as well.

On October 7, 14, and 21, we’re scheduled to look more at Overcoming Worry. But fundamental to doing so is the simplest and yet most difficult step of faith: Giving each moment to the One Who gives us all our moments and Who gives us life beyond all our moments on earth.

We must give ourselves to Jesus Christ.

He’s inviting us to do that again today.

Don’t spurn His invitation.