We read these words in Luke 6:31. ”Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” This is part of Jesus teaching about loving your enemies. We call this the golden rule...words to live by. But Christians do not have a corner on the market as far as these words go. Buddhists would say "hurt not others with that which pains yourself.” Hindus say” this is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” In the writings of Confucius, we find ”do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” Judaism tells us ”what you yourself hate, do to no man.”
Many of us have heard these words for years. Perhaps we were taught them when we were young. These few words are a simple but powerful way of saying we should recognize all people deserve to be treated with dignity. And it is a reminder that each one of us is quite capable of inflicting harm and pain on others by our words and actions. Not only are these words found in Luke's gospel, Matthew writes them as well. We find them in Matthew 7:12. In Matthews gospel these words are part of the Sermon on the Mount. But Matthew uses them as a look back at the Old Testament. He adds “for this is the law and the prophets” to the end of the golden rule. Jesus is going back to Leviticus 19:18 which reads ”do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus sums up the entire Old Testament here. Being self-centered or selfish is not a new phenomenon. It is as old as creation.
While the golden rule seems like a simple few words, it is rich with meaning. Perhaps this phrase sounds like it could have come out of the old farmer's almanac...some pithy saying of Benjamin Franklin. But that is not the case. These words are from Jesus. They are heavenly wisdom. These few words challenge us to put ourselves in another's place and then act accordingly. Jesus knew the human heart. He knows we can be selfish and self-centered. People the world over want respect, love, appreciation and acknowledgement they have value. Jesus knew this. We know it as well, even if we do not want to admit it. If we want to be shown respect, then we are called to respect others. Do we want people to speak a kind word to us? Then we also need to speak using kind words. You get the idea.
Earlier I referenced other religions versions of the golden rule. But there is a big difference. The concept of treating others like you wish to be treated is the same. It is just taught differently. Other religions versions of the golden rule are started in the negative and they rely on passivity. But Jesus words are a positive command. It is a call to be proactive. The other religions say refrain from doing these things. Jesus says Do! The others say it is enough to hold your negative behavior in check. But Jesus says look for ways to act positively. We are called to take the first step, an extra step and maybe even the last step when we deal with others.
When Luke records these words of Jesus we find them in the same teaching as “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” And these words follow. ”If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them...love your enemies.” This is probably not our first choice. We like to hang out with people who are like us. Often, we see an us and them mentality. Jesus has been accused of ‘borrowing’ His words from other ancient traditions. But He uses words from Leviticus as His basis and Leviticus was written at least 1,000 years before any of the other religions were formed.
Jesus command for us to love is what separates the Christian ethic from every other religion's ethic. Loving one's enemies is unique to the Bible. Not only in Matthew do we read love your enemies. We also find it in Exodus 23:4-5. This passage falls under the heading of justice for all. Loving one's enemies is unheard of in other religions. In John 13:35 Jesus tells that kind of love...loving one's enemies...is the mark of a true Christian. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” And in fact, Christians can't claim to love God unless they love others as well. These words come from 1 John 4:20. “If someone says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
The next few weeks might just be some of the most challenging times we have known in this country, at least in recent memory. Battle lines have been drawn. There is division, conflicting information and hate. But the people who we see as them...they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all created in the image of God...like it or not. And Jesus was not just speaking to the crowds that gathered around Him that day. He is speaking to us as well. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
In His grip
Pastor Matt W
Not too long ago there was a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic newspaper. This writer was speaking of the year that 2020 has been. He called it a terrible year. This man referenced being trapped at home because of the pandemic. He bemoaned all the campaign nastiness. He spoke of the heat of the summer, once again the hottest on record. He said the summer had been a Dante-like experience. Not many would argue with him until his last sentence. This man’s last sentence showed the hopelessness so many people know today. He said, “For those of us destined for the infernal region, I pray we get credit for time served.”
Picture your life with your only hope for the future being the infernal region. Picture your life thinking there is nothing but the fires of hell to look forward to. This is the outer darkness that comes with weeping and gnashing of teeth. And, truth be told, that is what all of us were destined for until Jesus came. What sort of life might there be knowing eternity without God, and your hope is that the suffering might be shortened because of extra credit earned here?
The psalmist writes in 119:116, ”Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed.” God's people have been turning to Him for thousands of years because they know as do, we that if we put our hope in things of this world, our hopes will be dashed. Every single thing in this world has been tainted by sin...our sin. And because of that we know these things will fail us. Things of the world break, get stolen, rot and rust. When we put our sole trust in people we will be let down, guaranteed. Because we have been tainted by sin as well. The only place we will not find hopelessness is in the Lord.
The apostle Paul has much to say about hope. We read this in the Book of Romans. ”For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4. We have God's Word so that we have a place to meet Him. It is in His Word that we find the assurance that we never walk alone. We see that God keeps His promises. We find examples of His great love for every one of us. We see God's power, sovereignty and grace. Scripture is where we encounter God. It is where we read the promises of hope for an abundant life in Jesus now and eternal life after this life is over. And that life does not include time spent in the infernal region. It is eternity spent in paradise, where Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us.
To piggyback on the Romans scripture, we find these words In Ephesians 1:18-19. ”I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.” These months have been a challenge for many, and the challenges seemingly endless. Paul reminds us that hope is available to us...just for the asking. And it isn't just any old hope we might find lying around. It is a glorious inheritance. This is not a punishment but a mighty gift. We do not need to ask for credit for time served here. This is the promise we have been given. And it is for there for all who choose to believe. There are those who have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ. They live with no hope because they do not know it is a possibility. Others have been introduced to Jesus and have invited Him out of their lives. They have no hope for the future either, except the infernal region. That is a choice they have made. But Jesus always waits for them to return. He pursues those who have walked away, just like the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one who is lost.
We live in a world that is badly broken. We will encounter things in this life that seem hopeless, unending and evil. Jesus knew that. That is why we have these words of His to remind us that even when things do seem insurmountable, there is hope. These words are part of Jesus teaching just prior to the last supper and His arrest, trial, crucifixion and death. Jesus has promised to send the advocate...the Holy Spirit. He has promised to speak clearly to the disciples. And then John 16:33, ”I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Notice there is no promise of smooth sailing. In fact, it is in the rough times people look to those of us who believe only to see peace and calm. There are troubles. There always will be. But Jesus has overcome. He is still on the throne, large and in charge. We need only hang on and He will see us through.
In His grip
Pastor Matt W
This morning we kicked off our operation Christmas child campaign. It was festive and people were gathered around the tables, picking up boxes, buying premade boxes and soccer balls and pumps. It is the beginning of the end of the year. But there is still much left in the year. We have Reformation/confirmation Sunday, All Saints Sunday, stewardship Sunday, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas. All in two- and one-half months. I like the hustle and bustle of this time of the year. As we watched the OCC video today, I was struck by a couple of things. Usually we see videos of kids receiving boxes and the excitement that brings. It is fun and exciting. But this year the video was very different. Today we were reminded of the main reason we pack these boxes.
There are people all over the world who have never even heard the name Jesus. These people have no place to turn to for hope. They have no idea that Jesus promised to return to heaven to prepare a place for us, that in Jesus we have the promise of eternal life in paradise with Him. And we heard the words of Revelation 7:9. ”After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and people's and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” This is the picture of heaven. It is not just for some people, one race, one denomination. It is for every tribe, nation, language and race. But they won't be there if we do not share Jesus with them. Try to fathom your life, never even having heard the name Jesus.
Franklin Graham quoted the words of Jesus, to go to the ends of the earth with the Good News of Jesus Christ. The ends of the earth seem pretty far away. It seems like someone else should do all that traveling, take all those chances and do all that work. Except Jesus wasn't specific here. He simply said go. Go to the ends of the earth. Reach those who have not heard. Reach those who do not know me...the ones at the end of the earth. Where do you think of when you picture the ends of the earth? Africa maybe, or some of the remote islands? Perhaps Inner Mongolia, Siberia or Antarctica. Going to the ends of the earth means telling those who have never heard or met Jesus. For some of us, the ends of the earth might be a journey halfway around the world. For others it might be halfway across the house.
Because, you see there are people everywhere who have not heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. And some of them, we live with. The message of Jesus is one that is meant to be shared. If we eat at a great restaurant or see an amazing movie...we usually share that with others, don't we? How much more do we have to share with others about Jesus Christ. We are reminded that we are called to share the love of Jesus with everyone, even those we consider enemies. Paul tells us In Ephesians 3 about a mystery, and that mystery is good news for all people. Because Jesus came for all people and we are all members of the same body of Christ. The kid's song that says, red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight isn't just a song. It is the way we are called to live. Jesus does not look at the outside of people like we do. He doesn't see color or shape or ability or knowledge. He looks deep within to see what is in our hearts.
There are so many who do not have the assurance found in Lamentations 3:21-23. ”But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” When we talk about this love of God's we are not just talking about emotive love. We are speaking of His covenant faithfulness that reflects His character. God has made a commitment to His people...all of them. Our suffering doesn't change this covenant. Neither does our obedience or disobedience. He loves us when we draw close to Him and when we stray. We may ignore or forget Him, but He never forgets us.
If you need scripture to share with someone, Psalm 91 is a great place to start. It speaks to everyday life and to life amid challenges. And there are these words from Paul, ”For the wages of sin are death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” By all rights we should spend eternity apart from God. Our disobedience and sin have opened a chasm between God and us that we would never be able to cross. But in Jesus Christ, God has made a way for us to be able to come to Him. In Jesus we have been washed clean. In Jesus we have been made acceptable to God. That is the good news we have to share. Where will you journey to share that news?
In His grip
Pastor Matt W
This morning I read these words. “You'd be surprised who is watching your journey and being inspired. Do not quit.” Makes you stop and think doesn't it? After all, who might be interested in our journeys...right? Many folks are knee deep in their own. Except many folks are looking for inspiration, a reason to keep trudging along, some sort of hope for their day. You just might be it! There are inspirational stories on the news occasionally. Social media still has a couple now and again. Our inspiration may come from family, friends...even folks at church.
Scripture is full of stories of inspiration...people who have done amazing things in spite of what life and following the Lord has handed them. When we think about the early followers of Jesus and the tormenting, torture and death they endured, there is plenty of inspiration there. Paul said he counted it as joy, to suffer for the Lord. Sometimes we need to hear stories. Other times we need to immerse ourselves in God's Word. So here are some words of inspiration for today. Some of them I may have referenced before. Perhaps that means they really are places of refuge.
The psalmist writes "I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8. It is one thing to look for inspiration. It is quite a another to find it and then hang on to it. We are told over and over in scripture to keep our focus on the Lord. He has promised to always be with us. We see the assurance of that promise in Joshua 1:9. “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” These are God's words to Joshua as he prepares to lead God's people into the promised land. They are His words to us as well, no matter where we go.
Paul reminds us of this. ”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13. Here we see where our hope comes from, along with our joy and peace. This from a man who was flogged, beaten, shipwrecked and stoned and left for dead. And after the stoning, Paul got up and traveled on to the next town to preach the saving message of Jesus Christ once again. Perhaps Paul knew these words from the Gospel of Mark. ”Jesus looked at them and said, with man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27. Our God is the God of impossible things. He has made a way for us when there was no way. He has given us gifts beyond measure.
The rich young man asked what he needed to do to get into heaven. Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. And the man went away sorrowful because he had much. But God sent His only Son. He was sold for 30 pieces of silver...the price of a common slave. Jesus gave all he had...to the poor. The poor in spirit, the poor who mourn, the poor who are meek, the poor who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the poor who are merciful, the poor who are persecuted for righteousness sake. In other words, Jesus gave all He had to give...to us and for us. And He continues to give even today.
These words of Paul's always make me shake my head in wonder. This man who was so abused as he preached the Good News of Jesus Christ, wrote these words to the church in Corinth. ”So we do not loose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Paul saw his earthly challenges as a slight momentary affliction! I don't know about you but being stoned and left for dead doesn't really seem like a slight momentary affliction. And yet, Paul knew what many of us are learning. There are troubles and struggles. All of us have them, have had them, or will have them. But in the scheme of things they do not last all that long. It just seems like it. And in those struggles and troubles we are drawn closer and closer to our Lord and Savior. He will walk with us. He will uphold us with His mighty right arm. He will give us strength for the journey and peace as we go. It is in Him that we live and move and have our very being.
Because of that, we read these words of Paul's, ”I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. What we do for the Lord is not in vain. He will give us what we need to walk the journey we have been given. And He will give us what we need to complete the task we have before us. He will never leave us or forsake us. We can count on that.
In His grip
Pastor Matt W
The prophet Jeremiah writes these words of the Lord. ”I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” Jeremiah 31:25. God's people of Judah have been taken into exile in Babylon. They have been told to make themselves comfortable because the time of their exile will be 70 years. In Jeremiah chapter 29 we read the familiar words, ”For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” These words came to the exiles in a letter. Following this came God’s promise of the restoration of Israel to her former glory. And then the words quoted above. The journey back to Judah was long and arduous. They had been away for 70 years. And Jerusalem was a destroyed mess when they arrived. God promised to refresh His people after their journey and their exile away from Him.
Jeremiah's words are similar to Isaiah 40:31, "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Throughout scripture we see pictures of God refreshing His people. God, the Good Shepherd, leads His people by still waters and on to green pastures. And, He restores our souls. Not only did Jesus draw away by Himself to spend time recharging, but He also took the disciples with Him on occasion. Every one of us needs times away to recharge, refresh and renew. And if Jesus, the second person of the trinity needed to spend time away, how much more do we need to do the same?
All of us recharge differently. Some of us travel...looking for adventure. Some of us recharge with family gatherings. Still others go on retreat. And some simply take time off. But all of us need time to recharge, refresh and relax. This has been a challenging year...and it is not over. Perhaps some of our biggest challenges lay ahead of us still. Many of us have had the opportunity to work from home. We have had time to clean closets and sort through the things of our lives. We have even had time to reconnect with family. But that is not necessarily time to recharge.
This has been the week for Barb and I to recharge, refresh and relax. We have turned off our electronics, something I rarely do. We have read, slept in and spent precious time together, just the two of us. I have spent time reading scripture. It refreshes my mind and soul. There has been uninterrupted prayer time. That too is a precious commodity. Acts 3:19 tells us times of refreshing come from the Lord. We can receive refreshing every day. Scripture tells us God’s mercies are new every morning. Every day is a chance to start over, to renew relationships, to draw closer to the Lord. An extended period of refreshment not only draws us closer to the Lord, it also allows us to rid ourselves of the stresses and weight of the world. Days of refreshment allow us to store up strength for the days ahead.
Jesus speaks these words to us, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. Regardless of how we relax and refresh, our greatest refreshment comes from Jesus Christ. It is in Him and His Word that we find peace. It is in Jesus we receive grace. He gives us courage when we do not know where else to turn. Jesus has shown us what mercy looks like so we might show mercy to others. When we feel weighed down, He will carry the load. He has lavished His love on us...not so we can hoard it for ourselves but so that we might share it with others. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to out path.
We turn to Him when the world closes in. We turn to Him when we don't know where else to turn. And He is always waiting for us. He offers the refreshment we need, the relaxation we crave and the rest that seems to escape us. He is all we need.
As you think about your life, what do you do to rest, relax and refresh? Where do you go to spend time to refresh? And when was the last time you took time to do that?
In His grip
Pastor Matt W
The place where we are staying faces East. If we get up early enough, we can watch the sun rise, coming up over the sunrise mountains. This morning there are some clouds, the first we have seen here. And it is quiet. The rising sun brings with it the promise of another day. The light bringing hope for those whose is in short supply. As I walked this morning it was quiet. Las Vegas is a city of lights. From the signs to the advertising trucks moving up and down the strip, to the huge video monitors on every hotel and casino. There is light. It is difficult to drive on the strip at night because it is a challenge to pick out the stop lights amid all the other lights. This is an exciting place. People come here from all over the world. Some come for the shows. Some come to watch humanity, and some come hoping to win big.
I was here once when they were honoring a famous entertainer who had just died, and the lights on the strip were shut off for five minutes. Other than the stop lights, it was pitch dark. It was almost like the world had come to an end. Like Phoenix, you can see the lights of this city long before you are actually in the city. The lights are welcoming, sometimes a relief. But all these lights are man-made. Every one of these lights are subject to fail. Every one of them has the chance to break. And when the power goes off, we are often plunged into darkness. This is what happens when we rely on things that are human made. Everything we touch has the potential to stop working. But we put a lot of trust into these sorts of things.
We rely on light that isn't always reliable. We trust in the things of this world...a world tainted by sin. But there is other light. In John 8:12 Jesus tells us He is the light of the world. When Jesus says this, He is speaking from His relationship with His Father. Because Jesus speaks from God. He is God’s Son. Jesus speaks for God. He came to make God and His love known to His people. And, Jesus speaks as God because He and the Father are one. If we do not have Jesus in our lives, we walk in darkness. Not only is Jesus the light of the world, but His light shines in the dark places in our lives. Sometimes those places are struggles we are going through. His light guides us in the way we should go to find our way out of the darkness. Other times, His light shines on the dark places in our lives we do not want anyone to see, even Jesus. That light convicts us of our sins and helps us remove sin in our lives.
The Greek word used here is ‘phos’. It means the light...anything emitting light...brightness. Jesus says I AM the light of the world. He doesn't say I look like light. He doesn't say I reflect the light. He says He IS the light. Light is part of who Jesus is. Theologian Matthew Henry says this, ”Christ is the light of the world. God is light, and Christ is the image of the invisible God. One sun enlightens the whole world; so does one Christ, and there needs no more.” We use flashlights, candles and lanterns to guide the way in the darkness. But there is a far deeper darkness than night. That is the darkness of the evil one, the darkness of sin. In that same verse, John 8:12 we see the word darkness. The Greek here is ’skotia’. It means darkness due to the want of light. It is used to define ignorance of divine things. It is associated with wickedness and the resulting misery in hell. This verse shows us that if we do not walk in the light of Jesus Christ, we walk in the darkness of the sin of the world.
If we go back to the creation story, we read in Genesis 1:4 that “God said let there be light and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.” Jesus was part of creation. He is the light of the world. All who are separated from Him or far from Him live in darkness. Often that leaves us knowing something is missing in our lives, but we do not know what. Not only do we see Jesus in the beginning at creation, and in Johns gospel as the light of the world, but we also see Jesus as light at the beginning of John’s gospel. The prophet Isaiah reminds us in 9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” John tells us that Jesus has been since the beginning and it is in Jesus that we have life, and He is the light off all mankind. Jesus is the true light that shines in the darkness. Read the prologue of Johns gospel...1:1-18. It is enlightening...no pun intended. In the Book of Revelation 21:23, ”And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the lamb.” In other words...Jesus is the light.
We sing a song with the words. “The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning, it's time to sing your song again. Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.” It is called 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman. It was quiet this morning as the sun came up. And I wondered if it was quiet that first morning, when God said let there be light. Or maybe...the angels were singing.
In His grip
Pastor Matt W
Today is the day. It is the reason Barb and are on vacation. It is the reason we have both turned off our electronics. Twenty-five years ago today we stood at an altar, in front of family and a couple of Barb’s friends and told God and everybody there we would honor, love and cherish each other for the rest of our lives. The day reminds me of a piece of Swiss cheese. Some things are clear as a bell. Other things don't even look familiar when I look at the pictures. It was an adventure planning a wedding long distance. We had purple flowers but not the same purple flowers we had asked for. The cake was the right flavor, but it didn't look anything like it was supposed to. And the music? Let's just say...there was some!
However, we had all the important things right. Our Pastor was a classmate of mine from seminary. One of Barb’s sisters read the first lesson and my Dad read the second. By the time I met Barb both her parents had gone on to the church triumphant. Who would walk her down the aisle? She has two God sons. One of my favorite pictures...one of the things I do remember, was seeing her come down the aisle. One God son was in college, taller than she is. Barb had ahold of his arm. Her other God son was perhaps eight. And he was holding onto her elbow. It was a very serious and important thing he was doing that day. We were younger then. I was thinner and my hair wasn't grey.
Another of my favorite pictures was taken late in the service. We had communion as part of our wedding. The altar area was large, and the altar rail formed a square. It was big enough for the entire family to fit at one time. It was the most important meal we have shared as a family, but not the only meal we have shared. There have been birthday meals, welcome home meals, holiday meals and potlucks just because we could. We have eaten together at baseball, football, volleyball and basketball games. There is always way more food than we need. No one goes away hungry...ever.
We have been richly blessed, not so much with money, but in the life we have had together. We have seen God's hand at work in our lives many times. He has used us, sometimes in spite of ourselves. We have walked through fire together, more than once. God was always there. We might not have seen it at the time, but in looking backwards we could see His handprints all over everything. The things I am sharing can be said by many folks. How many of us has God walked with? And how many of us have gathered at the table with family...either biological or a family we have created from friends? Who among us doesn't have events in their lives that look like Swiss cheese? It might be a wedding. It could be the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one.
My point is, in all the days of our lives we have not been alone. Some of us are fortunate to have found a life partner. Many have been blessed with children. We have had kids too, but all of them have had four legs...and they shed. All these relationships are important. But nothing is guaranteed. We are busy people...all of us. Life is hectic. We run here and there. There is much to do. Sometimes we take the people in our lives for granted, like they will always be there. But scripture tells us that our lives are like a vapor. And those people in our lives...are much more important than many other things we chase after.
Paul's words on 1 Corinthians 13 are for all of us. This is how we are called to live as family and friends. It is how we are called to live as a church and out in the world. When we read the words of verses 4-7 how many of are convicted? Love is patient and kind. Sometimes patience wears thin and being kind is the last thing we might choose to do. Love does not insist on its own way. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It keeps no record of wrongs. Paul tells us “love bears all things, believes all things, hope all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Some days that may seem like a tall order. It is how we have been called to love. It is how God loves us.
There are many who have been married way longer than us. Some are just starting out. Wherever you are in the journey remember, it is a much better journey when God is at the center of it all. That doesn't mean it will be smooth sailing. That doesn't mean no harm will come your way. It does mean a solid foundation. It does mean that no matter what happens, you will not be alone. Take some time today. Who are the most important people in your life? Have you told them lately? If not, today might just be a great day to do that.
In His grip
Pastor Matt W
Have you ever heard news that caused you to stop dead in your tracks? News that somehow changed everything. Some will remember a presidential speech from December 7, 1941 declaring the USA was joining the war in Europe, the war known as WWII. Some of us had fathers or grandfathers who served. That war changed everything. Others of us know exactly where we were when President John F Kennedy was shot. We can share details that are somehow burned into our minds. That was November 22, 1963. I was in first grade. That event changed everything. Many more will remember where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. That news changed everything again. August 18, 1983 was another of those dates that changed everything. That was the day my favorite grandmother died.
Sometimes the news that changes everything is as death. Someone in the family, a friend, someone famous. It is a big deal when someone like Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Castro dies. The world watched as Princess Diana’s sons walked solemnly behind her casket. When the queen passes it will be another one of those time stopping, life changing events.
Other times it is a birth that causes us to stop dead in our tracks. Shepherds out in the fields were minding their own business when an angel of the Lord appeared with good tidings of great joy. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And you will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger.” Luke tells us the shepherds were sore afraid...terrified...and intrigued. And they ran to Bethlehem to see this thing which had come to pass. What they witnessed that night changed everything.
What did you do? Where were you when everything changed? In Matthew's gospel, 16:13-20 we see Jesus and the disciples in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus has questions for the disciples. He wants to know what people are saying about Him...who do people say I AM? They answered John the Baptist, others say Elijah and still others think you might be Jeremiah. Finally, an easy question...one they could answer! But then Jesus asked...who do you say I AM? And God bless Peter. He got this one right. It appears he did not hesitate before he answered. He did not have to think about this answer. He just knew. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” You are the one we have been waiting for. And Jesus said yes, I AM.
Can you feel the chills that must have run down their spines? Can you sense the awe, the wonder here? This is a pinch me, eyes as big as saucers, mouth gaping open sort of a moment. They knew Jesus was different than any other rabbi. They had heard Him teach. They had seen Him heal. They had even witnessed miracles...many of them. Perhaps they had wondered, speculated, even talked among themselves. But now they knew for certain. These twelve would always know where they were when Jesus said I AM the one you have been waiting for. He didn't speak this in parables they needed to figure out. He just said yes, I AM. WOW!!! This changed everything. EVERYTHING... for everybody.
The Old Testament prophets had spoken of the Messiah. John the Baptist had been preparing the way for Jesus. But the Israelites had waited so long that this hardly seemed possible. He wasn't exactly what they had expected. They thought their salvation would come in the form of military might...might that would remove them from Roman rule and restore their former glory among the nations. Jesus didn't look strong or mighty. He didn't have a white war horse. He walked everywhere He went. He didn't have an army. He just had huge crowds of poor, rag tag people and twelve disciples that He constantly had to explain things to.
When He came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, He didn't have to say a word. Kings rode on the backs of donkeys. The religious leaders watched in horror and fear. And they refused to believe this man could possibly save them from anything. Worse yet they were afraid of the following He had. But we see His strength. He continued to act in the will of His Father. He kept teaching, giving people another chance to believe. He celebrated the Passover with His disciples, knowing what was coming next. We look on as He spends agonizing time in the garden of Gethsemane. This is where we see His strength. This is where a war is fought. Jesus could have said nope, the cost is too high. He could have walked away, leaving us wallowing in our sins. Instead, in strength we cannot even begin to imagine He said” Not my will but yours be done.” In strength He bore the weight of the sins of the whole world upon Himself as He hung on the cross and died. Three days later He rose from the grave victorious. When we cry out, He is risen! on Easter Sunday morning we are telling the world that everything has changed. When you read the resurrection accounts in scripture, they are vivid. Because those telling them have had that stop you in your tracks kind of experience, that life changing experience.
We often say Jesus changes everything. Where were you the first time you REALLY heard Jesus was the One. Yes, some of us have grown up in the church and we knew the stories from early on. But when did you REALLY know, deep in your heart of hearts? When did it hit you like a ton of bricks that Jesus is the One? What happened in your life that made you stop dead in your tracks with the realization that in Jesus, everything changes?
In His grip
Pastor Matt W
How many times in the last six or seven months have you thought or said out loud, I am just over all of this! This could be quarantine, the COVID virus, racial unrest, politics, working from home, homeschooling, or a dozen other things. Some have simply tossed their hands up in the air, a sure sign of giving up. Others of us have struggled to connect because of restrictions. Some are achingly lonely. We have missed birthday celebrations, milestones and graduations. A few have had to endure the sickness and death of a loved one who was alone. It would be easy to just give up. But challenges in this life are inevitable. Jesus warned us “In this life you will have trouble.” We are not alone in our struggles. Nor are we the only ones who would have liked to have given up.
As I have written over the last few months it occurs to me that some of the people I reference for various struggles and challenges are the same time and time again. That seems to be a common thread in fact. God uses our challenges to stretch us, mold us and help us grow in our faith. Picture Abraham and Sarah leaving all they are familiar with when they are old. They move to a new place with new surroundings and new people. The food is different, and the rules change. That sounds like what happens to our loved ones who can no longer care for themselves and they move to assisted living or a group home. It would have been easy for them to say no. It would have been easier to ignore God. Instead they choose to follow God's plan.
It would have been easy for Joseph to give up after his brothers sold him into slavery. He could have been sullen, angry or hateful. Instead he trusted God to see him through one struggle after another. Perhaps waving a white flag was not an option but walking away from the Lord was. Joseph too choose to let the Lord lead and guide him. Midway through their wandering in the wilderness we find Moses talking with God, saying hey these are your people not mine. Do something with them. But even though the Israelites were stiff necked and stubborn, Moses continued to go to the Lord in his struggles.
In serving the Lord Ezekiel was instructed to lie on his left side for 390 days...one day for each year of Israel's sins. He cooked his food over cow manure and ate small portions as a sign and warning about the upcoming siege and exile. Then he was instructed to lay on his right side for 40 days...one day for each year of Judah's sins. The prophet Jeremiah was instructed to go to Gods people and proclaim a warning to them. And after those instructions God told Jeremiah no one would listen to him but go anyway. This was all about giving God's people a chance to repent. Hosea was instructed to marry a prostitute and Jonah was called to go to a people who were cruel and vicious. For all of them, it would have been way easier to simply give up and walk away. But none did.
Perhaps these words from 2 Peter 3:8-9 sum it up. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” When it feels like it is time to wave the white flag, toss up our hands and give up...that is the time to lean into the Lord. This is about His timing, not ours. In every situation there are things to be learned, even if it is simply to trust in what the Lord is doing. Our timing is often off, but God's is always perfect.
Sometimes our desire to give up comes from waiting. But this is what Paul has to say about giving up because we are tired of waiting. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Isaiah reminds us that ”Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.” It is not fun to wait. It can be boring, tiring...painful. During that time, we can complain, whine, grumble or give up. Waiting is not intended to be unproductive time. Joseph used it to build relationships with Egyptians who might help him later. And Joseph, Mary's husband used the waiting to prepare for the birth of Mary's first child.
We are waiting too. Waiting to get back to a life we may never have again. Waiting for the virus to go away. Waiting for the election and whatever the aftermath might be. We are waiting to be able to go places without a mask on. The question is, are we waiting on the Lord or IN the Lord?
In His grip
Pastor Matt W
Barb and I are taking a few days off to celebrate our anniversary and we are in Las Vegas. The city is just opening up and the crowds of people have not arrived yet. One of the things I like to do in the morning when we are traveling is to buy a newspaper and read it. National news, local news, the sports section. I like it all. But the place where we are staying does not sell newspapers. However, there is a circle K about two blocks away. Yesterday morning as I walked down the street, I noticed a couple of things. We are one block off the strip, and it is an entirely different world. We can still see the lights and hear the hustle and bustle. We can even smell some of the food offerings from outdoor restaurants.
The first folks I encountered on my walk were camped in a wash. Their “campground” was tidy and somewhat organized. It was clear they had been living there for quite some time. It was early and many of the folks were stretching, trying to work the kinks out after having slept on the ground all night. They watched me walk past and I waved as I went. No one moved. A bit farther down the street I encountered a man who also lived on the streets. He was eating breakfast...whatever he could have found in a dumpster behind one of the strip resorts. As I passed by him, I said good morning. He too stared back but said nothing. It occurred to me that all these folks are usually invisible. Those living in the wash could hide under the bridge, trying to stay safe and out of sight. And the man, even if he was on the sidewalk or street was still invisible to most who passed by.
On my return trip I greeted the man again and he said hi back. Who knows how long it had been since someone had actually spoken to him? And the folks in the wash...waved back! We, as a society tend to make people invisible. The poor, the homeless, the physically or mentally challenged...it is easier if we do not see them. It reminds us that we are called to tend to those who have much less than we do. These invisible people remind us that except for the grace of God, that invisible person could be us.
Perhaps some of us have felt invisible at some point in our lives. In my high school the most popular kids didn't even see the rest of us unless it was time to vote for student council or homecoming king and Queen. Many kids are seemingly invisible in school. Some try to be, and others just are for one reason or another. But while we might feel invisible there is One who always sees us. The Psalmist reminds of this. Psalm 139 begins with these words,” You have searched me, Lord and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” If you haven't read this psalm, I would encourage you to do so. For anyone who has felt invisible, this makes it clear we are not invisible to God. If we cry, God see our tears. If we cry out, God hears our plea. If we are in pain, God knows that as well.
There are many in scripture who have been invisible too. The lepers and the blind by the side of the road were always invisible. Even when they cried out for help, they were invisible to people. To everyone but Jesus who stopped, gave the blind sight and touched the lepers making them clean. The crippled man who sat on the steps by the beautiful gate at the temple was invisible as well. He sat in the same place every day and soon he became a fixture people did not even see. Sarah’s handmaid Hagar was invisible. She ran away from Sarah because of the way Sarah treated her. An angel of the Lord found her sitting in the desert in the heat of the day, intending to die there. But God saw her in her distress. Isaiah writes these words of God,” Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” Even if no one else knows who we are. Even when no one else speaks our name, God does. He has both named us and claimed us as His beloved sons and daughters. We are never invisible to God.
Isaiah also records these words. “lift up your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these stars? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” This is a reminder that no matter what in our lives is making us feel invisible...God still sees. If He knows the stars by name and calls to them, how much more do we matter to him. We are created in His image. He knit us together in our mother's womb. We are each special and uniquely created. God sees the flowers in the field and knows the number of hairs on our heads. The world may not recognize us, but we know the world will one day fall away. God will always recognize us. We will never be invisible to Him. He knows the names of the man I encountered as well as the folks living in the wash. He knows and sees you too.
In His grip
Pastor Matt W