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Encounter God and Live: A Sermon on John 11 from Concordia

Encounter God and Live
John 11:14-45

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ show you how to live!

Two odd focal points

Like most of the gospel, I have preached on reading from Luke before.  I thought I had attacked it from every possible point and hadn’t missed anything in the story before.

I did pick up on a couple of things I missed, two different phrases that are repeated twice. I was also trying to work on how you preach on the miracle of someone rising from the dead in the middle of a pandemic. I mean, if there was a time to repeat the miracle in the Valley of the Dry Bones, wouldn’t it be a great thing to do it now?

Back to the two things I missed – these two phrases.  As we deal with them, I pray that they will help us learn to live, to really live.

The first is that twice it describes Jesus as being Angry.

The other is a phrase that Jesus uses, that is translated as, “for your sake!”

Angry

The gospel records this,

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

Did you catch this?

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

Other translations make this seem that he was simply bothered, that he was upset – and yet word describes someone who is enraged, indignant, and storming about angrily.

Does that make sense?  After all, what is he angry about?

My first reaction was the lack of faith, the absolute raw pain he is witnessing! Here he is, and Martha even acknowledges he is the Messiah.

Is Jesus truly mad at the lack of faith?

If so, perhaps he is mad at me for this week. After all, watching the fear and anxiety affect so many has been brutal. Hearing of friends whose families have contracted the virus has been brutal, especially as I can’t go to them, pray with them, give them a hug.

I don’t want to entrust these friends and their loved ones into God’s hands, and that, as brutal as it sounds, is a lack of faith.

Is that the reason God is upset?  Because they couldn’t trust that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead?

I don’t think so.

But I think we beat ourselves up too often for our lack of faith, and this time is definitely not a time to be doing so…

This epidemic is not about our lack of faith, and God hasn’t abandoned us in this time.

We might not see what He is doing, but that is true in other times of our lives as well.

We have to understand it is okay to struggle, it is okay to ask the hard questions, it is okay to weep, because then, having admitted where we are, we can see Jesus at work.

For your sake

Which is where the other duplicated phrase comes in to play.

Verse 14, “So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

and then verse 42, Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

When you see these verses bracket this story, it is not a major leap to see that Jesus’ anger isn’t toward those whose faith is struggling. For it is to strengthen our faith that this occurred.

So why would He be mad at the lack of faith?

God worked something out of this situation that led people to have more faith in Him, to depend on Him more than they ever did before.

In this case, it was a miracle, the resurrection of someone dead 4 days.

But that too – was something God had planned – remember – he said we are going to him. Even though Jesus said he was dead, they were going to him.

But that isn’t the end of the story, for God was going to demand more of their faith, which we get a hint of in Thomas’s comment, “Let’s go, too – and die with Jesus.

A Greater Demand on their Faith?

This story is about the fact the disciples would need even greater faith when Jesus dies just a little while after this. They would need to depend on God for the darkest three days of their lives.

Not knowing what any of it meant, not knowing what darkness would hit next…

As God would sustain them during those dark days between the cross and the resurrection –

For that is the place where God’s anger is purged – as the power of death and sin was crushed.

The sin which so separated us from God, and from each other – Jesus’s anger at that sin was made evident, there as He is with those dealing with the consequence of sin, death. He understood that death for the sinner would be final, which is why a short time later, the Father would deal with death through Christ’s suffering and death and resurrection.

He had to do something about the sin and death that so scares and scars us.

And so he did… Jesus would die,

For their sake…

And for ours.

And that is why we have a faith that is stronger, that is why we know we can depend on Him, not just for the forgiveness of sins, but that He will be with us always…

Caring for us, loving us, dying for us…

And know,

Alleluia – He is Risen!

and I can’t wait for you to say the next part

He is Risen Indeed Alleluia and therefore we are risen indeed! Alleluia!

AMEN!

The Strongest People in Times of Crisis

jesus-cross-summit-cross-37737Devotional Thought of the Day:
4  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5  or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT2)

What made saints, saints? What makes the cynical, skeptical world turn its head at a Mother Teresa? What made the hard-nosed Roman Empire convert to the religion of a crucified Jewish carpenter? The world did not say: “See how they explain one another!” but “See how they love one another!” The most effective argument for Christianity is Christians who are saints, lovers. The saints are the Spirit’s salesmen. You cannot argue with a saint. He would just kiss you, as Jesus did to Judas and as He did to the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevski’s parable in The Brothers Karamazov. How do you fight love? You don’t. You lose. That is, you win.

Unity does not come about by polemics nor by academic argument but by the radiance of Easter joy; this is what leads to the core of the Christian profession, namely: Jesus is risen. This leads, too, to the core of our humanity, which yearns for this joy with its every fiber. So it is this Easter joy which is fundamental to all ecumenical and missionary activity; this is where Christians should vie with each other; this is what they should show forth to the world.

I encountered the reading from Kreeft first this morning and knew it would be part of these thoughts. It hits the basic thought I have about ministry and evangelism – it is not about appealing to logic and reason – it is about loving people.

Kreeft mentions Jesus allowing Judas to embrace him, and one can think of the deacon Stephen, loving the people who were torturing and stoning him.  The stories of such saints are easy to find, even if they are hard to understand how people can love so completely!

Loving like this is hard, it requires sacrifice, It requires humility, it requires all the things that 1 Corinthians 13 discusses.

But then I came across Pope Benedict’s (aka Joseph Ratzinger) words, and the idea of how we can love others appears – we love them because we are united in Jesus. The death and resurrection of Christ, the purest love ever seen in history, unites us in a way that nothing else can. At the cross, we all have died to sin and been raised, without that sins eternal stain. All that was there to not love about another person has been done away with, all that remains of it is a shadow.

In the resurrection, we not only see the power of love, we are enveloped by it, transformed by it, we are united to it, united to the God who is love.

And therefore, unity is possible.

Therefore, there is hope.

You want to know how to remain strong in this time, know God loves you, then ask Him to help you love others.

It makes all the difference.

Lord, help us revel in Your love, help us soak it in, to the extent that loving others is a natural inclination.  † Amen!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 131.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 133.

A Different Perspective on Death

Tomb Empty With Shroud And Crucifixion At Sunrise - ResurrectionDevotional Thought of the Day:
20  For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22  But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23  I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24  But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. 25  Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. Philippians 1:20-25 (NLT2)

Thus Psalm 23 [:4] says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because you are with me.” If this gain through death has only a small affect on us, it is proof that our faith in Christ is still feeble and does not prize highly enough the reward and gain of a blessed death, nor does it yet believe that death is a blessing. Obviously, we are hindered because the old man and the wisdom of the flesh are still too much alive in us. We should, therefore, try to attain to the knowledge and the love of this blessing of death. It is a great thing that death, which to others is the greatest of evils, is made the greatest gain for us. If it was not this that Christ obtained for us, what then did he do that was worth such a cost, yes, actually the cost of his life? It is indeed a divine work that he wrought, and it is not surprising that he made the evil of death into the greatest blessing.
For the believer death is thus already dead and behind its cloak and mask it holds no terrors. Like a slain serpent, death still has its former terrifying appearance, but now this is only a mask, for it is now a dead and harmless evil

There is an old saying that I resonate with, I fear not death, I just dear dying.”

There is some truth to that for me, partially because of health issues over the years, and the knowledge that my heart was a ticking time bomb. (I say was – because in 1998 I had two heart valves replaced.)

Even so, today, in the midst of a pandemic, we live with fear and anxiety caused by the fact that death threatens us, and threatens those we love.  It threatens in a way that we’ve not seen often in the generations alive today.

This is why my devotional reading this morning seems so important to understand.

We have to understand that death will ultimately be a blessing – for it brings us closer to seeing God face to face, and for the believer to an incredible welcome home. .  TO see God face to face, to hear His welcome, to hear the celebration thrown for us, to know we are finally where we belong.

To realize with Luther what Paul means when he writes that death has lost its sting, that the grace is no victory for death, no loss, but an incredible gain for us. (see 1 Cor. 15)  To understand what Jesus means when he says those who believe will never die.

It is hard to process these days, to take what is a theological truth, an absolute promise of God, and let it affect our heart, our soul.

Even once we realize it there, it is hard to keep that understanding, to not go back, and to fear death again. Every time we have to mourn and grieve, every time our heart is scarred by loss, we revert back to the days before we understood the promises of God, the promises found when we are united to Jesus.

I know this, even as I know what Paul talks about when he talks about ensuring death, for itis better, for him. To realize that death is better n the long run is sobering. To realize that could even lead one to desire death because it means being complete with Jesus,. To realize we do not have to meditate and pray to realize we are in His presence. Instead to look up, and see His face…

To set death completely aside, along with the suffering and brokenness caused by sin, and the fear of death.  What a blessing.

Yet it is counting on that blessing that gives us the strength and desire to stay, and minister to those who are in bondage, trying to free them, so that they too can join us in Christ. To see God’s incredible work, as He brings someone to faith, and then strengthens that faith, as burdens slide away, as relationships are healed, as we gain a glance of eternity at the altar together.

To get to that point – to come to the conclusion that it is better to live, we have to realize how incredible eternity is, we have to face the battle of fears, the anxieties, assured of the promises of God are true, that we will be with Him forever. Then we can willingly address the issue, and see the blessing of staying here.. until He calls us home.

Knowing this, we begin to really live…

Walk with Him, through the valley, and learn not to fear it, or any evil.

And become a guide, someone who can help others, helping them to deal with the fears, the anxieties and indeed, the time of death.

Lord, help us walk closer and closer with You, strengthen our faith, be with us, now and at the time when we finally come home. But help us to be there for those who are anxious and fear death, and help us to show them how it will be a blessing. AMEN!


Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 149–150.

Lord, teach us to pray…but how do we handle the silent times?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

1  Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Luke 11:1 (NLT2)

For the person who loves Jesus, prayer—even prayer without consolation—is the sweetness that always puts an end to all sorrow: he goes to pray with the eagerness of a child going to the sugar bowl after taking a bitter dose of medicine.

The words from Luke’s gospel above lead to the Lord’s Prayer.

As I read them, I feel great gratitude to the unknown disciple, for he asked something we all needed him to ask.

Lord, how do we talk with the Father?  How do we pray?  What do we pray for?  How does this all work?

Teach us…

And so He does.

Luther’s small catechism does a great job explaining how each of the petitions helps our trust in God, what we pray for and what it means to know God is answering that request in our lives, in our world, in our time.

These times become such a blessing, as we realize the promises of God, that as we open up to him, the relief and peace is amazing…

And even, as St Josemaria notes, times where God seems silent when we aren’t immediately comforted, become times where peace pervades, for we know He is at work.  The more we pray, the more our eyes are opened up to God at work in our lives, the more we trust Him when we don’t hear or see the answer immediately.

But that takes time, time to see that confidence build, time getting used to seeing God in the unexpected, in the broken, in the moments where reconciliation is needed.  Getting used to seeing Him working in ways unexpected, and in ways that leave you in awe.

As we get used to that, then we run to Him more frequently, we do so with greater expectation, like the child St. Josemaria describes.

It is hard to explain, this desire to run to God our Father, to just pour out our pain and anxiety, ot talk of the future, to hand over our sins and failures, things that He promises to deal with so that we can live in peace with Him.

That doesn’t mean prayer is a perfect art, or that we still don’t struggle.  We do.. and yet that is a blessing as well… for then we learn again – He is there.

So pray, let it all out..and enter His peace.

AMEN

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Understanding the Wrath of a Loving God.

Tomb Empty With Shroud And Crucifixion At Sunrise - Resurrection

Devotional Thought of the Day:
10  But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11  When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.    Isaiah 53:10-11 (NLT2)

But the Old Testament speaks of God’s wrath as well as God’s love. So does the New. What is the wrath of God then? Is it real or not?
It is real, but it is not part of God Himself. God is not half love and half wrath, or 99 percent love and 1 percent wrath. God is love. Wrath is how His love appears to us when we sin or rebel or run away from Him. The very light that is meant to help us appears to us as our enemy when we seek the darkness. The mother’s embrace can appear as the worst imaginable torture to the angry child who wants only to fight. Thus some of the saints say the very fires of Hell are made of the love of God but experienced as wrath by the spiritually insane.

Over the years, I’ve encountered two primary attitudes toward the idea of God’s wrath.

Neither is accurate.

The first is to ignore or deny that God can and will pour out His wrath on those who choose to dwell in sin. This usually goes along with the fact that we disagree with what sin is, as we defend those we love engaged in it, or we rejoice in that form of sin ourselves. Because of this, we simply can fathom how God could be so mad at the sin as to condemn us for it.

The second used to be more prevalent in the church, and that is to see wrath as purely an action that is driven by God’s righteous anger. Those lousy people (and sometimes including us) deserve to get punished, and God gets painted as a sadist who enjoys watching them suffer.  In reality, the sadist (or masochist if we think we deserve the wrath) is us.  We see a lot of this in those people who have wanted to portray this virus (and the ones before it like AIDS) as a form of God’s almighty anger, and a foretaste of the wrath to come at the judgment.

Both are wrong, and in my opinion, so change the image of God that they are heretical.

Ezekiel tells us several times that God does not take joy in the death of the wicked. he also divinely shares that repentance by those who are evil will see them forgiven, not punished, restored, not condemned.  Let me say it again, God doesn’t take joy in the wicked. Never has, never will.

Similarly,  the Apostle Peter tells us that God is patient with us because He doesn’t want any of us to perish. The apocryphal picture of Peter at the gate of heaven allowing some and barring others is misleading – Peter and the church being given the keys is about freeing people from bondage – allowing them to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 16) even as the church rocks the gates of hell to free people from its embrace.

Are there good people that will reject God that Ezekiel mentions? Yes

Are there people who will choose the bondage of sin, despite the availability of grace and forgiveness, surely.

And this is where God’s wrath comes in, not from a sense of anger, but the sense of love. While we may see it as punitive, the goal for God is restorative.  It is not contrary to His nature of love, but love requires it.  Kreeft makes this point clear above in the words shared purple – a point that C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book (the Great Divorce) to demonstrate. Simply put, those who end up suffering in Hell would choose their idol and their sin, they would embrace its cost, rather than enjoy the presence of God.

Only once has it pleased God to pour out His wrath, and that was on Jesus.

It was God’s good plan this translation says, others say it gave God pleasure, it pleased Him, to pour out that wrath on Jesus.

On Jesus…

No one else.

And the satisfaction of restoring people to God is all worth it.  The satisfaction for restoring you to God was why Jesus endured the cross – that is the glory was Hebrews 12 describes.

All other times God disciplines and pours out His wrath is the hardest act of love, the ay to embracing an angry child, for, in that embrace, Jesus takes into Himself our sin, and pays the price.

With that understanding of God’s wrath, we no longer have to deny it, we no longer have to project it on others. We now longer have to judge and condemn, we can simply urge people to let God love them and to rejoice as He does, and they change, relaxing and knowing His peace.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 128.

Come Back to Me, and Never Be Abandoned – a Lenten Sermon on Isaiah 42

3/25 Lenten Midweek Service

Come Back to Me
And Never Be Forsaken
Isaiah 42:14-21

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the grace and peace of God assure you that you will never be forsaken, that He will always be with you!

Why not End at verse 16? –

As I looked at the reading and started to plan out the sermon, I was tempted to shorten the reading from Isaiah by last few verses.

After al, the primary focus of my message is verse 16, and the promised actions of God, as He rescues and guides us, and promises to never, ever forsake us.

So why not drop verse 17-21?  Why not just focus on the positive part, and leave these verses behind?

But those who trust in idols, who say, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned away in shame. 18  “Listen, you who are deaf! Look and see, you blind! 19  Who is as blind as my own people, my servant? Who is as deaf as my messenger? Who is as blind as my chosen people, the servant of the LORD? 20  You see and recognize what is right but refuse to act on it. You hear with your ears, but you don’t really listen.”

 That is some pretty serious stuff, these warnings against trusting and depending on something besides God. We have to hear those warnings, we have to realize our need for God to act, for God to get to us, for God to rescue us, to get to the goal, that we will find that we have come back to God.

Remember the Call

Remember, that is the call…as we’ve looked at for a couple of weeks now, this idea that it is time to “come back to God” to be reconciled to Him.

We know this is God’s desire, that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all come back, that all are transformed.

We see this attitude, this desire in verse 14-15, where God cries out, where God, in his desire to be with us, flattens mountains and gets rid of rivers and pools in His desire to get to us.

Quick side note – this isn’t God crushing the idols as some might suggest. I’ve read enough of the bullshit out there saying that the corona pandemic is God crushing idols we’ve set up.  Idols like athletes, movie stars, finances and other things we chose to trust in, instead of turning to God.

But in verse 17, those idols still exist, and some people still choose to trust in them. They aren’t the big idols as much as the things we turn to when stressed, the things we “can’t do without”. Idols that we even unconsciously cling too – the things that pull us from God. We have to release them – otherwise, we will simply replace them.

Back to the desire of God, this is His greatest desire – to see us return home like the prodigal did, as the Holy Spirit grants us repentance and transforms us!  We have to realize that this is His ultimate goal, so great is His love for us.

Which makes it even more… challenging, if we reject His presence, if we continue to choose to place our trust in other things. He’s not going to force us to walk with Him. But nothing will be able, nothing is able to separate us from His love,

Nothing has been since the cross.

For that is when God flattened everything, to make it possible for us to have come back to Him.  He made it possible by coming to us, and drawing us to Him, as He was raised up on the cross, and united us to Him there – so that in being united to His death,w e would also be united to His resurrection.

Look at this power of this promise…

In verse 18-21, Isaiah’s words challenged those who still were blind and trusted in idols, because they didn’t have too. People who were blind were those that Jesus led on the new path, those He guided on an unfamiliar way.

The way of grace, the way of complete forgiveness, the way where the darkness of sin is shattered by the light of His glory, the light He brings us into. Where we had stumbled and tripped by temptation fell into sin, that too is now smoothed over, as our sin is cleansed.

And never ever will He abandon us, or forsake us!

We need to realize that – that God who came to us, that we could have been found to come back to Him – even as we were blind, He promised to not forsake us!  How much more so now that He’s invested the Body and Blood of His son into our lives!

This is the message of lent – the love of God which draws us back to Him, through the cross of Christ. That we can leave the emptiness and isolation, the blindness behind, for God will be with us, and guide us.

Or more precisely, as He is revealing Himself, cleansing us, healing us, we realize that God is drawing us home,

and throwing us a feast…

How We Will Survive This Fear-filled Time!

Jesus Laughing

Devotional Thought of the Day:

When the disciples had rowed for three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He kept coming closer to the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said, “I am Jesus! Don’t be afraid!” 21 The disciples wanted to take him into the boat, but suddenly the boat reached the shore where they were headed. John 6:19-21 CEV

855    Spiritual childhood is not spiritual foolishness or softness; it is a sane and forceful way which, due to its difficult easiness, the soul must begin and then continue, led by the hand of God.

As I read this passage from John’s gospel this morning, I saw something I had never seen in the event. At first, I thought it might have been something that was a translation specific idea.  But I checked all the ones in my digital library, and they all chimed in, in fact, the word was even stronger in the others>

Instead of “suddenly”, the word was “immediately”

They got to where they were going so fast they didn’t even realize it was happening.

One moment they were terrified.

Scared out of their wits,

Panicked, unable to make sense of what was going on, overwhelmed by what their senses told them.

The next moment,  they pulled their boat up on the beach, got out, and life returned to normal.

In the presence of Jesus, everything became different.  God was with them, their fears were minimized. They were being led by the hand of God, and their faith was profoundly simple. He is there, that was enough.

This isn’t foolishness or weakness, as St Josemaria describes. It seems to easy to do, this idea of becoming childlike in our faith. So easy we often reject it, and the comfort it brings. Our logic tells us to find the solution, to search diligently out the truth from the thousands of self-proclaimed experts, to take action, even if we don’t know what to do.

In the back of our minds we hear the psalm, “Be still and know…” and we think to remind ourselves to make time for that, later.

We need to hear his voice, now.  We need to allow Him to comfort us, now.

Then, realizing He is guiding us, we can begin to walk with Him through the crisis – and soon arrive on the other side of it.  That is where our soul needs to begin, where our hearts have found rest, where our minds have put everything on pause

Soon we will be through this crisis, and it will seem like it happens as suddenly as it started. Led by Jesus, the author, and perfector of our lives  Look to Him, Let His love cast out the fear…

He is with You!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Did God Cause the Corona Plague To Get Us To Repent? My answer from scripture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A friend of mine wrote:
Dustin, I have seen the following posting recently. It bothers me and I’m not sure why. I would love your input.
“In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship me, I will make it where you can’t go to church.” If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”Maybe we don’t need a vaccine, maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival where we focus on the ONLY thing the world that really matters. JESUS”

My answer –

Personally, I think there are a number of critical errors – and overall it borders on blasphemy.

First, the people in Egypt weren’t in a relationship with God when they were afflicted by the plagues. The descendants of Abraham were not so afflicted. So that point is way out of whack.

Second – God has promised to not curse the entire world at once again in Genesis 8:21-22. “21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
Genesis 8:21-22 (ESV)” SO a global pandemic like its is not God cursing us, as the quote describes

Third, this paints God as one who isn’t himself long-suffering and patient with us, not willing that any should perish.but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9. The kind of thing the quote you reference assumes is that God isn’t patient. It looks to repentance as a demand, not a blessing offered.

Fourth, Luke 13:1-5 describes a concept – Jesus never says these tragedies are caused to punish sin (which Idolatry is) but that we can realize that life is short because of them, and welcome the repentance the Holy Spirit grants/ gifts us.

5. Next look at this, “25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. 2 Timothy 2:25-26 (NLT2)
Again we see gentleness at work as God changes the heart ( this is what repentance truly is – God’s work changing us. See Ezekiel 36:25ff – the promise of baptism

6. Again, more on repentance
31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Acts 5:31 (NKJV)
and
31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Acts 5:31 (NKJV)
notice how God gifts/grants repentance? It is not something God browbeats people to do?

Will trauma be instrumental in bringing people to repent? It can, but it is not the primary way God has ever worked.

7. One last thing – the end of the quote where it talks about a personal revival is completely in error God always works in and through His people as a community. The church, the people of God is the bride of Christ, not billions of brides of Christ. We are 1 Body (see Romans 12, 1 Cor. 12, and Ephesians 4) united with Christ together.
Remember – there are 2 commands – Love God and Love Neighbor (the one Sunday I preached at NOCC – it was on this – as you reminded me years and years later!) This would seem to indicate that we don’t have to do that anymore, – that it is us and God in isolation.

Not that I feel strongly about this quote… 🙂

Ultimately, while I understand the zeal of the person, I really disagree with the approach because it doesn’t portray God as either just or loving. It is this kind of theology drives people away from God, more than draws them to Him. Yes – we need to repent – but repentance is something the Holy Spirit generates in us, alongside of the faith needed to do so.

At any rate – these are my opinions, based on scripture, and more than a share of dealing with trauma and those traumatized.  Please dialogue below.

Measuring a Church’s (and Its Pastor’s) Effectiveness

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

41 Many more Samaritans put their faith in Jesus because of what they heard him say. 42 They told the woman, “We no longer have faith in Jesus just because of what you told us. We have heard him ourselves, and we are certain that he is the Savior of the world!” John 4:41–42 (CEV) — 

1. Liturgy is for all. It must be “catholic”, i.e., communicable to all the faithful without distinction of place, origin and education. Thus it must be “simple”. But that is not the same as being cheap. There is a banal simplism, and there is the simplicity which is the expression of maturity. It is this second, true simplicity which applies in the Church

I often hear church leaders talking about how effective a church is, and I hear some trying to measure churches to determine whether this church is viable, whether it is still worth the “investment” of talent and treasure made in it over the years.

A lot of these studies are based on numerical analysis – has the church grown, have their offerings been stable, what kind of turnover has occurred among staff and other leadership. Consultants will come in and do surveys for larger churches and denominations.  They, in turn, pass this information on to smaller churches, which but into the theories and lose morale, and eventually close. (That larger churches often benefit statistically from this is another story)

After all, numbers are important, and statistics tell a story that might be hard to refute without knowing the true story of the faithful. In fact, we often do not hear the stories, because the statistics seem so conclusive.

No one would have believed that a church community would have been viable in a remote Samaritan Village. Never mind that the person that got the ball rolling would have been a woman with a past. No one except Jesus.

But look at the statement they make to her!  They had moved from believing in God because she had told them, to believe in God because they had experienced Him. What an amazing statement this is!  One that every pastor should desire to hear! To know our people are experiencing the incredible, immeasurable love of Christ  – not just hearing about it second hand!

I am not saying they go past needing the guidance of spiritual shepherds and prophets, that is part of our role, but they resonate with the teachings of Christ – they realize that God is speaking to them, especially during sacramental times, or when God is silent. Or they recognize that it is the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, and comforting them as the Spirit cleanses and heals them.

This level of maturity makes a huge difference in a church. And it will see the church do things that go beyond logic, as they serve those around them. People will care, (and struggle when care is difficult) they will give beyond what is reasonable, they will be there when no one else would.

So how does a pastor do this?  I think Pope Benedict wrote about it well. To present the gospel in a simple yet mature way. To not cheapen the masses, worship services, and Bible Studies that we give. Rather  – we need to make them communicate the incredible love that God has for His people – so that they know it – so that they experience it, so that worship is full of the joy that comes, even in the midst of trauma and lament.

The more they know, the more they experience, the more mature they get, the more they can echo what the lady was told  – “we are certain that He is the Savior of the World.

Therefore… out savior.

If our people know this, then we’ve done our job… and the work of the Holy Spirit through us has been effective.

Let us rejoice when we see God working hits way through our churches.  And may e find a way to support it, whether it is 25 people working together in Southgate or 150 in Cerritos, or 5000 in some other place.

AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 122.

Come Back to Me.. and be Happy! A sermon on Romans 5

Come Back to Me
and Be Happy
Roman 5:1-8

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so real in your life that you now true joy and happiness!


What am I thinking?

As I looked over the reading for tonight, the one word I would choose to describe my emotions was “mad”.

The only problem is I couldn’t figure out was whether I was mad as in angry at God, or mad as in insane. I honestly don’t know.

This isn’t right, to have this place of peace so empty, so devoid of smiles and laughter, of even the tears that come as we find it easy to lay our burdens down.

It has been a hard day, our preschool “chapel” time was just Susan, three teachers and myself. Looking forward to tonight, with just a few of us here, was difficult.

I so want to share the Lord’s supper with every person possible!

And as I looked at the sermon schedule, planned months ago, based on readings set in place decades ago…. I realized I was supposed to preach on happiness.

Come on God, what are you thinking?

And the madness elevated to another level.

But look at the verse again,

 Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God.   Romans 5:2 (CEV)

So are happiness comes from more than this life, it comes from looking forward to sharing in the glory of God forever….

We know we will be happy then… but what about now?

The process of suffering?

Paul continued this passage… now please remember this was planned months ago… don’t blame me  – I am just the messenger…

3  But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. 4  And endurance builds character,

How in the world do we gladly suffer through a pandemic, through watching people whose anxiety levels are maxed out, who are challenged beyond our ability?  I know that a lot of you aren’t worried by the virus, as much as you hurt for those who you love whose lives are more impacted.

Some of you will understand what I mean when I say that watching people suffer, watching them struggle is harder often than struggling ourselves.

And yet, the saints I know who are my age and older, have seen God work through wars, and earthquakes, through sickness, and economically challenging times, and they know God will be with us in these times.  God will be there with our laughter, and with our tears.

And His presence will give us hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.

For that Hope is found in the presence of God, a presence we can faintly see now, but will see in all its glory one day.

This is why He calls us back to Him, to give us this hope as we realize how …. beyond words His promises are.

In times like these, we need to be able to focus, to realize how much God loves us. That is how we find the strength to get through.  That is why Paul goes from hope – the right to explaining why we have hope.

 All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. 6  Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. 7  No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. 8  But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.
Romans 5:5-8 (CEV)

We need to hear that right now, that even before we knew God’s love, back when we were even more rebellious and sinful, GOD LOVED US.

And if he loved us then, He certainly has not given up on that love, or the mercy that sustains us, and calls us back to Him, even in the deepest depth of sin….

He still calls us to come back to Him,

He still will forgive us when we ask

He will still throw a feast for us, as we come home.

He loves us, the children who finally realize our need for Him…

That is how we find happiness in the midst of trauma, tragedy, and yes pandemic.

That is how we gladly embrace our suffering, knowing He is here…

This is our God… who loves us…

And happy are all He calls to His feast.

AMEN!

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