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Encountering God in the Midst of Isolation

Encounter God amid Isolation
(and be happy!)
John 4:5-26

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ simply leave you praising Him…

What is God Looking for

What do you preach on, when the world seems, unlike anything you have ever experienced? What do you wen everything doesn’t make sense, and you seem to be holding on by the edge of your fingers?

How do you cope, when the new term for the day is “social distance.” And we are being told and telling people not to shake hands, or even exchange elbows.

How do we cope?

Of all the people in scripture, the Samaritan woman at the well knew the frustration of isolation, She went to well at lunchtime, in the middle of the heat of the day, because there was no one there.  Five times she had been abandoned by her husbands, and the latest jerk didn’t respect her enough to marry her, he just used her… and therefore the women in town treated her like trash if they even thought of her at all.

She was isolated, lonely, probably more than a little bitter.

And then it happened, she encountered God.

We need to hear her story today, and realize we encounter Jesus the same way,

The problem – do we really know Him

As the encounter goes on, as they move from an odd discussion about water to an odder discussion about her past, Jesus then says something that seems a bit… abrupt.

You Samaritans know very little about the one You worship

The original language is blunter – you don’t know the one you worship.

That is harsh, especially if you want to keep a conversation going!

This God you claim to worship – you don’t know who He is, or anything about him.

I am surprised she didn’t run off at that moment!

Or at least say, “What do you mean, I don’t know who God is? Who do you think you are?”

But it is true, that there are times in our lives when we wouldn’t recognize God if He was standing right in front of us, or if He dropped right into our hands.

That is one of our challenges in life, that when we all to often isolate ourselves from God. That all to often we self-quarantine and miss out on the love we so desperately need. It is not coronavirus that does this, but our own sin, as if we think w could infect God, or maybe he has some kind of scanner that will toss us out of His presence.

How the problem is being taken care of.

How we need to encounter Jesus the way this lady did!

Right in the middle of her self-isolation, right in the middle of her questioning what was going on in life, right in the middle of her brokenness.

God showed up.

It wasn’t even the normal route from Jerusalem to Galilee, not even a secondary route.  Peter must have been navigating for them to come to this place.

That day, that moment, she encountered God, and of all the people in the middle east, this Palestinian woman with a life that didn’t make sense encounters God, and hears Jesus confess something he was vague about until the resurrection.

Then Jesus told her, I AM the Messiah!

This lady would run to her village, and without realizing it, shatter all her isolation, her self-imposed quarantine would disappear, as she shared with all the others the Messiah. Jesus would stay with them a while, but the change he made in her life, in that encounter was amazing.

It is the encounter He would have with each one of us this morning.

In the middle of our brokenness, in the middle of our questioning, in the middle our frustration, our questions, our fears.

He is here.

I am the Messiah is an incredible statement, for it means God anointed Him to come here for her, and for you.  To be more than your savior, more than someone who lifts you up and gives you hope.

To be the Messiah, your Messiah means to reveal to you that you are loved by God.

It all begins there, with the love of God, that brings God to weird places, like beside a well, or to a church in Cerritos in the middle of a pandemic in Lent.

To people who need to know that their past will be forgiven, that their deepest thirst will be satisfied, that God will reveal Himself to them…

This is our miracle today, whether here in person, or “out there” watching the service. You are not alone, you are not quarantined from God, you are not isolated any longer from Him, so let us worship the Lord.

The Lord God is with you!    AMEN!

Is God Causing Pandemic To Make You Suffer for Your Sins? Here is the answer

man wearing jacket standing on wooden docks leading to body of water

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”3“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,”Jesus answered.“This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.4We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.The night is coming, and then no one can work.5But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”   John 9:1-5 (NLT2)

But some may say, “It is my complaint that my sufferings cannot be compared with the sufferings of the saints. I am a sinner and do not deserve to be compared with them. They suffered for their innocence, but I suffer for my sins. Little wonder that they bore everything so blithely!” That is a very stupid statement. If you suffer because of your sins, then you ought to rejoice that you are being purged of your sins. Then, too, were not the saints also sinners?

During my life, I have noticed that after disasters and major challenges, some groups come out and blame the trauma on the fact that someone has sinned. They blindly say this epidemic or that earthquake, or whatever tragedy is because of this groups’ sin.

Glad I haven’t seen that so far… I really don’t want to get that angry.

But it is a question that has been asked before.  While I wouldn’t call it stupid the way Luther did, it does show a lack of knowledge about God., about His love for you and the incredible depth of His mercy.  These things aren’t new, the love and mercy is gloriously rampant throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament.

God doesn’t punish this group of sinners less than that group.  For all have sinned – we see that in the world, and of course scripture acknowledges it.  Even the “heroes” and holy prophets did. They had their time of weakness, scripture has no problem showing us that!

But even in the midst of our suffering, we can see God at work, using the moment to bring us back, to cleanse us of our sin, to reveal to us again that we are saints, that we are the people He is healing who have been broken by sin, even shattered by it. Yet God can and does put us back together.

The power of God seen in us… healing our brokenness, while using us to help heal others.

What a glorious thing!

Lord, help us just look to you!  Help us to depend on Your love and mercy. Help us to rejoice in Your glorious work that is revealed in our lives, even during this time of pandemic.  We pray this in the Namr of the Father, and of the Son † and of the Holy Spirit!  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), 140.

Transformed Minds:  The Effect of the Resurrection – We see people differently! A message based on Acts 8

church at communion 2

Transformed Minds:  The Effect of the Resurrection
We see people differently
Acts 8:26-40

I.H.S.

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be so evident in your life, that you see people as God does, and then may you allow God to use you as He used Phillip

How Accurate is our Sight?

Whether we admit it or not, most of us make snap judgments about people the first few times we see them based on their looks, the way they dress, the way they speak, and they carry themselves.

We might think that old guy, who clothes are all wrinkled, who hasn’t shaven In a week and looks like he hasn’t slept might be homeless. We might not know the old guy just spent his last week caring for his dying wife, never leaving her side.  Or that the wealthy lady’s husband just divorced her, and the forced smile is hiding an ocean full of tears.

But our view of our own lives can be as confused, and as inaccurate.

Most people would have seen the Ethiopian Eunuch and seen a man they would be envious of.  He had it all, all the power, all the authority that came with being the most powerful man in his country.  He wasn’t just a bookkeeper, He controlled the money in the treasury of one of the most powerful countries In His time.

And as His carriage wound through the streets of Jerusalem, accompanied by his guards and servants, many people would have thought his life worth living.

And how differently he must have thought.

How accurate was His,

This man, ad some would say you can’t call him that, came to Jerusalem to worship God. Yet, as a foreigner, one who would be noticed, he would find he wasn’t welcome.  Even more wo,uld he be rejected if they knew he was a Eunuch.

The older translations described the problem with bigger words, so I will use one of them.

1  “He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD. Deuteronomy 23:1 (NKJV)

The newer ones translate that much more…graphically.

What this means is that this man would face rejection again.  Not only would he not be able to enter the Temple court because he wasn’t a Jewish male, he couldn’t have even entered the courtyard of the gentiles because of his physical deformity.

The very thing that had made him famous, wealthy, powerful beyond anyone’s imagination, also made him unable to be accepted among the people of God.   But it also divided him from his own people as well.  No wife for a eunuch.  No sons, no daughters. He would even be cut off from making friends, for his role required him to live a life isolated, alone, broken.

Like many of us today.  We may be separated by something in our life beyond our control and because of it we just don’t fit in, or we might be alone because of our sin.  Many of us here, even those seen to be strong, struggle inside with the sense of loneliness, isolation, brokenness.

And wonder if the world wouldn’t accept us, why would God?

That is what this Eunuch would have thought… and he would have known about the verse forbidding him from the temple courts, so why go?

His hope…

Here is why Since Solomon’s day, Ethiopia and Israel had a relationship, Centuries before, the ancestor of Candace, the Queen Sheba would have hear Solomon pray,

32  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands when they hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 33  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 (NLT)

And so the Eunuch goes there, to worship God, to find the God who promised him his prayers would be answered.

His Hope realized

I realized, as I prepared this time, why this passage from Isaiah drew the Eunuch’s attention.

He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 33 He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch resonates with the man the prophet speaks of, he’s known the silence, the humiliation, the pain.  He knows the emptiness of not having those who will follow him, no children, no descendants, and a major part of his life was ripped away. He identifies with this man, and want to know who it is..

And so from this point, the deacon Philip begins to explain all about Jesus, how he came, and left no physical children, but because of His death, his spiritual children, the people he would bring to the Father, would be a number to great to count.  That because of His sacrifice, we would all know healing.  We would be cleansed of all that sin that has mutilated our lives.

Just like eunuch.

God had prepared this man’s heart.  Phillip started from the pain, the loneliness the Eunuch, and brought the Eunuch the greatest news, the answer to prayer.

As He was baptized, he was united to Jesus, and he was never alone.  No wonder he ordered everything to stop, to be baptized, to gain all the promises that would shatter the darkness he lived in. to know the blessing of belonging to God.  His prayer was answered.

He could see himself differently, and Phillip had a new brother…Just as God works in our lives.

The lesson we learn..

Maybe you are feeling alone today.  It happens, we get bombarded with all the crap in the world.  Maybe you are feeling isolated from God, and from others.  This is the place to deal with it, to lay those burdens down, to allow God to pick you up.

And maybe you are to be a Phillip to someone today, or several people this week.  Be aware of God’s presence in your life, that because He is Risen indeed, therefore you are…..  And that is what the person, dressed like a beggar or a king needs to know.

God is with them, He will cleanse them of their sin, and heal them of their brokenness, and they will know His as their God, just as we do…for they will dwell in His peace.

Let’s pray…

Need Something to Sacrifice For Lent? Give up Your Isolation!

Devotional Thought of the Day:
Featured image19  And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, 20  so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NLT)

933      Jesus, may my poor heart be filled from the ocean of your Love, with such big waves that can cleanse me and expel from me all my wretchedness. Pour those most pure and ardent waters of your Heart into mine, until my desires for loving you are fully satisfied and I can no longer hold back my response to your divine ardour. My heart shall surely break then, dying for Love, and pour out that Love of yours which, in irresistible and most fertile, life-giving torrents, will reach other hearts that will beat through contact with these living waters, with the pulsating force of Faith and Charity. (1)

At all times and in every race God has given welcome to whosoever fears Him and does what is right. God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness. He therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto Himself. (2) 

For many of us, this is the last day before the beginning of Lent.

I’ve already seen people posting on FaceBook and Twitter the things they are going to give up.  The usual list appears, chocolate, sugar, alcohol, they’ll read the Bible where they used to watch their favorite television shows, they’ll give up going to the movies, using the money to help those in homeless shelters.  Even some have dared say they will give up FB, or Instagram, ( maybe this explains snapchat invitations rising?

People are willing to give up things that do them damage, to attempt to control the cravings that so easily entice them,  To enter into a time of discipline, to make sacrifices.  Those that have been at it for a while also know they need to replace these things with better habits.  If they do not the temptation will rise, and failure will happen like it did with our New Year’s resolutions.

I have a suggestion if you are still looking for something.  Even if you have already decided on something, consider this as well.  It will be tough; it will be challenging.  It will cost you something you are not that willing to give up.

Give up your isolation, your individuality.  Give up your defensive walls that have been so carefully erected and protect your pride and self-esteem.  Get involved in people’s lives!  Let them into your life. Even those with whom you struggle to get along.  Talk to them, invite them to sit next to you at church, or go and sit near them. Find ways to let them into your life, and love them.

This isn’t easy, yet for those who trust in Jesus, it is His nature. It will take faith, not in your strength, not in the hope they will change, but in trusting in Jesus promise.  Remembering God is with you, right there in those moments, you can depend on His promise, that all will work for good.  He knows your love, He chose you, He will take care of you.

It is God’s design, it is how we are to live, not just loving God but loving His people, and all the people whom He would call His own.  The words from Vatican II struck me this morning, as did St. Josemaria Escriva’s.  The nature of being transformed by God’s love gives us a new heart, a heart from which His love pours out, to those around us.

So go and get involved in that Bible Study, even encourage someone to join you.  Take a step of faith and take on a new ministry at church. Buy that homeless guy lunch; talk to that lady sitting by herself at the table next to you as you eat dinner with your family at a restaurant. (Even invite her to join you!)

Trust in God’s love! Know He is with you! See Him in each of those you meet!  Then this sacrifice of you, will not seem like a sacrifice at all.  It will be a great joy!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3294-3298). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(1)   Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The Lord’s response to “Lord please defeat my enemies!”

Devotional Thought of the Day:photo

15  Then I said, “LORD, you understand. Remember me and help me. Let me have revenge on those who persecute me. Do not be so patient with them that they succeed in killing me. Remember that it is for your sake that I am insulted. 16  You spoke to me, and I listened to every word. I belong to you, LORD God Almighty, and so your words filled my heart with joy and happiness. 17  I did not spend my time with other people, laughing and having a good time. In obedience to your orders I stayed by myself and was filled with anger. 18  Why do I keep on suffering? Why are my wounds incurable? Why won’t they heal? Do you intend to disappoint me like a stream that goes dry in the summer?” 19  To this the LORD replied, “If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again. The people will come back to you, and you will not need to go to them. Jeremiah 15:15-19 (TEV)

419         An apostle must not remain at the level of the mediocre. God calls him to be fully human in his actions, and at the same time to reflect the freshness of eternal things. That is why the apostle has to be a soul who has undergone a long, patient and heroic process of formation.  (1)

A few days ago, I wrote a blog that we as Christians don’t really have enemies, we have adversaries.  That our goal was not to defeat them, or crush them, but instead to love them, to pray for them, to come alongside them, that they may know the love of God.  That is what following in the footsteps of Jesus is, that is what being a child of God looks like.  Growing in our trust of God to the extent that we begin to love as Christ does.

I got a bit of feedback, some quite defensive saying we can’t avoid enemies – they will come after us.  My point seemed to be lost, or maybe poorly communicated?  It is not that they don’t oppress us, or challenge us, or even hate us.  That’s on them.  But when we decide that they are enemies, when we make that judgment, it places us in a battle, either offensive or defensive, and negates our ability to minister to them.  Our reaction to enemies is different than our reaction to an adversary.

this morning in my devotional time, I read the passage from Jeremiah above. Jeremiah is one who had significant opposition, primarily for speaking out for what God wanted from His people, what He expected as part of the relationship, how He expected them to love each other, and Him.  Not a easy message then, nor is it one today.  He got a lot of opposition, and here we see him asking God to take care of it. The opposition is real, death threats have been made, serious ones.  This isn’t just whining because he didn’t get his way.

But his attention in the midst of the opposition has shifted.  It has become personal, this opposition to God’s word. Jeremiah has lost his focus, as we all do at times. He focuses in on his on righteousness, his own goodness.

And God rebukes him, takes him back to the beginning.

God doesn’t promise vengeance on them, instead He tells Jeremiah to return, to repent, to re-focus on the relationship between God and Jeremiah.

That’s a message many of us, including me, perhaps today especially me, need to hear.  For we get tired and weary, as we see people choose evil, make decisions that ignore God, and walk on paths that are self-destructive. The temptation is to compare their journey to ours.  “Wouldn’t they be better off like us, why can’t they see this?”

While what we should be doing is speaking to them about Jesus’ love, about His mercy, about their need for it in their lives.   They need to hear His message, His gospel, His word, and that may take some time.  It may take some time for us to get it right, to learn to speak His word, not focus on our situation, to bear His cross, to pray for those who persecute us.  Rather than just condemn them and desire wrath, or to give up hope for them, we need to learn that if God is patient with us, not willing that any should perish but all come to repentance… than that is our path, our desire.  This focus on the eternal takes time – even for prophets and apostles… we just need to remember to turn to Him…..

So we need to pray for them, ask God to save them, Speak the truth in love regarding their sin and ours, and that God offers hope… He will return them… He will welcome them home.

Lord, have mercy on us ALL…. AMEN

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1878-1880). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

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